Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Construction Will Never Go Paperless

A lively discussion has been taking place in the Construction Professionals Forum on LinkedIn regarding the future of iPads in construction. The discussion thread titled "How Tablets Will Transform Construction" highlights many of the challenges our industry faces, not just in using iPads, but in going paperless.

In jest I have titled this blog post "Construction Will Never Go Paperless." But at times the challenges to an electronic system feel insurmountable: fragmented technologies, limited resources to invest in new technology, and, well, technophobia. Read on for excerpts from the discussion thread:
"[I]n regards to electronic submittals and shop drawings it seems like the first thing I see people doing is turning around and hitting print to have a hard copy to review."*
There is a tendency among construction industry professionals to be tactile. Often that means printing documents for review and annotation, even if they are received electronically. Also, drawings are printed on large pieces of paper for a reason. There is an incredible amount of information to take in at once. But just as maps are migrating online, technologies that digitalize drawings have the potential to provide more information than a 2-dimensional drawing can capture.
"[T]hese devices require deep pockets."*
Construction teams are not often granted big technology budgets. Despite the fact that technology will often provide immediate returns, teams don't feel they can justify the expense.
"I think [the iPad] has it's place and on a job site isn't one of them. There will be communications of private nature's going on... Thats the same as allowing staff to use their cell phones or pc's for personal usage..."*
To those who think tablets will lead contractors wasting time on the job doing personal tasks,
"They said they same thing about the Internet in the work place. We can receive emails in the field from suppliers or project managers we can troubleshoot electrified hardware that's failed... The money we save in one year alone pays for the four [tablets] that we purchased."  - Darren Patton, FDAI,CSI,CDT
Fortunately, there are voices in the industry that recognize the value of investing in technology and enabling better communication in the field.

But at times, it feels we as an industry have a long way to go...

*Quotes have been anonymized to protect the privacy of LinkedIn members. If you would like your quote attributed, please email mloftus[at] and I will be happy to credit the source!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Future of Construction Technology (According to FutureTech)

This week, Tom Sawyer of ENR published results of a technology survey among readers, Hot Tech Topics: ENR Readers Speak Up About Info Tech in Construction. So what is the future of construction technology according to FutureTech readers?

  • BIM
  • iPads and mobile
  • Collaborative tools
  • Cloud software

This will come as no surprise to many of us in the industry, but it is good to see momentum building behind these systems.

We do continue to face a very siloed industry with different firms employing different technology solutions. According to one subcontractor quoted in the article, Ray Chen of Faith Technologies, GC's are the ones who need to make the call for new technologies:
"As a subcontractor, it doesn't matter what I've implemented in my own company—I'm going to do what the GC wants me to do," he says. "If the GC isn't using a data-driven approach—and a lot of them aren't--Faith isn't going to, either."
But here's the good news. Whether it's the GC or the sub who makes the call to use collaborative tools, these systems add value far beyond the construction phase.
Ted Weidner, assistant vice chancellor for facilities at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, notes, "[BIM] is a nice tool for architects and structural engineers so far, but its real value will be... when the facility is turned over to me after construction."
Read the full article.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Contractor Purchasing Forecast for 2012

This week, a new study on contractor purchasing behavior came out from management consulting firm L.E.K. Consulting. You can read the full Building Contractor Behavior Survey, but here are some of our key take-aways:

  • Contractors are planning for growth in 2012.

  • Professional distributor channels will win more business. Big box retailers have done well with low prices over the past few years, but contractors have loyalty to the "pro channel." This shows that value-added services and personal relationships do make a difference.

  • Thirty percent of contractors are using social media more today than they were a year ago.

  • Contractors will continue to increase use of the Internet for product research, price comparisons, and purchasing.

  • Energy efficiency and sustainability continue to factor (in equal parts) into product choices for commercial contractors.

All this spells good news for construction manufacturers and their distributors who have been hard hit these past few years.

I leave you with this great take-home:
"Building products manufacturers have an opportunity to capitalize on growth by continuing to promote trusted brands, introducing product features that will command a premium and reevaluating how they reach their customers across traditional and online channels."
--Chris Kenney, Vice President and Head of L.E.K. Consulting's
North American Basic Industries Practice