Technology

The Five Best Tech Opportunities for Construction Companies

As more technology comes into play, the construction industry is realizing the impact it can have on bottom line profitability.
By Jason Krankota
August 22, 2019
Topics
Technology

Technology in the construction industry is changing. As younger generations enter the industry, they are embracing technology as project owners increasingly requiring the use of technologies on their projects. There are more tech solutions specifically designed for construction.

Connectivity and computing power have increased dramatically, making mobile applications more reliable, robust and user-friendly. Cameras, drones, GPS and RFID technology are making it easy to capture data without human intervention.
As more technology comes into play, the industry is realizing the impact it can have on bottom line profitability.

Technology Opportunities Contractors Should Have on Their Radar

1. AR and VR

Whether it’s on a computer screen or through a headset, augmented and virtual reality are taking the output of BIM software and creating virtual models of a structure subcontractors can walk through before it's even built, allowing them to collaborate and spot potential issues in a virtual environment.

For example, an electrical contractor can walk through the schematic of what the mechanical contractor built and see a standpipe and determine to run the electrical conduit next to it. That leads to less rework and fewer scheduling delays. AR can also be used to help train workers in a more effective and cost-efficient manner.

2. AI: Not yet

Artificial intelligence could potentially have a big impact on the industry, but probably not for a few years. One immediate application is job site safety. There are already rudimentary tools that can analyze video from job site cameras and spot hazards. They can also determine from workers’ movements whether or not they’re accessing a scaffold or carrying materials up a flight of stairs correctly.
Eventually AI could be used to help improve project scheduling by learning from data from past projects and flagging issues that could lead to delays. It could analyze the performance of buildings over time and offer materials recommendations. But AI needs relevant data to learn from, so the industry needs to digitize first.

3. Internet of Things

Industries are starting to see some success with IoT, such as health care and manufacturing; everything is happening more or less in one place. That makes it easier to put sensors on a machine or robot and capture data. It’s a bit more of a challenge on multiple job sites with a lot of movable equipment, so taking data capture out of the hands of individuals and automating it, and storing data in a centralized place where it can be managed is the frontier right now.

4. Back office efficiency

Most firms are using some sort of automated accounting platform. But there are still gaps that need to be filled. Invoice routing and approval is a big one. Contractor office staff may still scan invoices then email them to the project superintendent. Invoice images are “digital paper,” meaning they’re not actual digital artifacts. Any data that’s on them has to be manually entered, and the whole routing and approval process is manual as well.

Then there’s the payment process itself. Solutions built to handle procure to pay actually only handle procure to invoice approval, so a payments automation solution is also needed. The good news is that automating payments is pretty easy to do and doesn’t depend on automating the invoice workflow, which is a much bigger project.

5. Business intelligence

Most ERP systems offer tons of reports, but people want to combine that with data from other sources. They want to be able to look at the data three-dimensionally and be able to drill into it. ERP systems don't have that kind of capability, and as the amount of data companies have access to grows, so does the need to have a business intelligence platform to pull it together and generate analyses and models.

There are a lot of challenges to overcome before construction becomes a fully digitized industry. It’s still hard to deploy technology organization wide when there are workers on multiple job sites. It is difficult to pull everyone off the job to come in for training. Adoption can move slowly, with some workers using the technology and others holding to traditional practices, resulting in the industry overall heading in the right direction of the benefits, even if it’s not happening at a rapid pace.

by Jason Krankota
Jason Krankota's expertise in construction business technology spans 20 years, with more than 10 years focused on corporate payments, accounts payable and expense management solutions.

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