Construction Technology Adoption Gets a Boost From the Pandemic

Key technologies experiencing adoption boosts related to COVID-19 include digital collaboration software platforms, scanning tools, safety wearables, BIM/CAD and drones.
By Henry D'Esposito
February 25, 2021

Time-tested construction technology has proven essential in keeping jobsites open and projects running amidst the pandemic. With COVID-19 sparking an urgent need for remote work solutions, the construction industry’s demand for reliable tech tools accelerated dramatically through 2020, compressing three years of construction tech market growth and adoption into the past nine months alone.

According to JLL’s State of Construction Tech 2020, established technology categories like digital collaboration platforms, virtual scanning tools and safety-focused wearables each gained significantly more ground this year than had been projected, due to the unforeseeable impacts of the pandemic. These proven toolsets quickly became industry lifelines, as small and large firms alike hastened to implement virtual inspections, connect remote project teams to workers onsite, and support social distancing.

Adoption has grown for foundational technologies, yet investment in emerging technology has been more tempered. Although venture capital funding is still flowing to construction technology startups, most new funding is concentrated in categories that have grown because of the pandemic.

Following are key drivers behind the current, if uneven, momentum, and insights on the categories coming out ahead.

How 2020 Exposed All-New Value in Construction Tech

While COVID-19 continues to ravage the broader economy, it’s had a net positive impact in the construction tech space, with social distancing and remote work pushing many new requirements. In 2020, 67% of construction firms enabled remote work for construction office jobs, driving up industry need for cloud-based digital collaboration platforms.

Remote collaboration tools have also made it possible for execution to continue at the site itself by cutting down on the number of people typically needed there. Usually, coordinating with teams and subcontractors requires many-hands-on-deck meetings and walkthroughs. By leveraging scanning tools, virtual walkthroughs, virtual inspections, and digital issue tracking, however, firms can accomplish much of that remotely, with only a couple of people physically onsite.

Construction firms have also found tech solutions make it easier to facilitate safety protocol onsite. For example, wearables and monitoring devices provide real-time data to help companies enforce social distancing, and support contact tracing if needed.

Five Construction Tech Winners, Ranked

The overall story is positive for tried-and-true construction technologies. Following are key categories experiencing adoption boosts related to COVID-19:

  1. Digital collaboration software platforms. By allowing virtual access to design drawings, punch lists, schedules and other project documents, cloud-based digital collaboration tools were already experiencing high rates of adoption prior to the pandemic. Now with remote work and social distancing accelerating adoption dramatically, digital collaboration software has become the most mature and prevalent within the construction tech umbrella. Beyond the singular benefit of helping projects move forward without the need for in-person collaboration, these foundational tools also often serve as the anchoring tool for all other technologies to connect.
  2. Scanning tools. Many firms have found that tools like automated optical cameras and laser scans, backed by effective software, enable teams to collect data at an unprecedented rate. Whether handheld, strapped to helmets, or mounted on tripods or even robots, the scanner delivers quality data to analytics software and visualization components to supply virtual walkthroughs. There’s always a strong business case for investing in powerful data collection and analytics tools. But in an era where fewer people can be onsite at the same time, interior scanning has become an essential way of ensuring all parties can effectively tour a space, without having to do it in person.
  3. Safety/wearables. Harnessing real-time data to promote safety has been a long-term industry goal–and one significantly amplified by COVID-19. Wearables that track things like environment and/or biometric information can be clipped on or embedded in hard hats, vests, or boots. Together with data gathered by site monitoring devices, this important information feeds into a unified software platform that monitors and analyzes for safety issues or concerns in real time.
  4. BIM/CAD. As the foundation of all types of construction technology, CAD and BIM have both seen a boost in adoption during COVID-19. Because other technologies require a base computer model to either feed data into or pull data from, both have been essential first-line construction technology investments.
  5. Drones. Although primarily used for outdoor tasks like inspections, monitoring, surveying and site awareness, construction drones are also experiencing an uptick in use due to the pandemic because they help reduce the number of people needed to congregate at the site. A single drone operator can scan an entire jobsite, sharing the data with whoever else needs to access it remotely.

Demand for ConTech is here to stay, but momentum will be uneven

Foundational construction tech tools have become a must-have for many firms, while less mature technologies remain in the nice-to-have column, and yet others land somewhere in between.

Early-stage technologies have also experienced comparatively less momentum. The economic downturn continues to reduce demand for new projects, and with backlogs falling, firms often have fewer discretionary dollars to risk on less mature technologies like robotics, augmented and virtual reality, and 3D printing. As such it’s likely that overall growth in construction tech investment will be tempered, thinned out by smaller startups struggling to regain traction and revenue.

But one thing is clear: construction technology adoption reached historic levels in 2020, with foundational tools emerging as an essential means of weathering the many impacts of COVID-19.

by Henry D'Esposito
Henry D’Esposito is a senior research analyst at JLL, based out of the firm’s Washington, D.C. office. He leads construction research in the America’s for JLL, with focus areas on construction technology, construction costs, and broader macroeconomic trends impacting the construction industry. His work includes JLL’s Construction Outlook reports and Fit Out Cost Guides.

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