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The digitalization of the construction industry is underway and accelerating exponentially, which is why this decade may be the best time for construction innovation. Breaking the equation into four main parts—price, bid cost, productivity and profit—explains how the industry is changing. This analysis, from the project-level perspective to a building as a whole, assumes that these technological advancements are converging to create a more productive industry. With any disruptions and “savings” there are always incumbents that may lose, e.g., New York City taxi medallion holders when Uber entered the market. 

Price

Price, which currently uses historical data for valuations, is changing quickly towards dynamic modeling as COVID-19 and other factors are changing daily, meaning that the added layer of adaptable spaces and parametric modeling will help assure funding as the investments become tighter in the midst of continuous uncertainty. 3D modeling will soon include energy usage calculations, finite analysis, sound characteristics and more. While to some extent this is already in place, with building management software, the future will be increasingly holistic in focus. Emerging start-ups today are already utilizing blockchain technology to begin to catalog and index this information. 

Bid Cost

Bid cost is basically the tribal knowledge of contractors and suppliers buying in bulk. Economies of scale will still provide larger groups a clear advantage, yet the fragmentation of the industry will change with the transparency of integrated systems. Previously, some larger firms self-performed certain jobs, becoming more vertically integrated with divisions that were essentially stand-alone companies. In the near future, this fragmentation will be an advantage. With integration (i.e., standardized protocol), the bidding process will allow for more accuracy as concepts like DFMA (design for manufacturing and assembly) start asking the constructability question much earlier in the construction process. Additionally, this clear index will allow for the adoption of new technologies that can offer partial services, such as automated robotic installations that can’t do the prep and finishing work, yet still offer the industry substantial productivity gains.

Productivity

Productivity gains will be seen in reduction of clerical administrative work, such as the reduction of change orders caused by the current bidding process, and from actual productivity gains as augmented and automated solutions gain traction. 

Profit

Some will profit from new technologies that enable productivity, while some may lose business if their disruption defenses are too low. At the holistic level, over the course of this decade, construction products will become increasingly more quantified for their inherent value, customization will become more accessible with technologies such as 3D printing and this transparency will yield premium products produced in efficient manners. Profit will undoubtedly follow. 

Change is coming quickly to an industry that has not changed much for decades, but with technology there is the potential for transparency and with that higher customization and productivity. While construction is  complicated, it is an industry with profit potential. How much will the industry (or outsiders) invest in R&D/prototype costs for a future profit? Transparency gains will make these investments less risky. Construction is an interconnected industry with a bright future and room for growth, so the question is whether construction is ready for launch. In many ways, it already has left the pad and is starting to accelerate.

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