The construction industry is one of the world economy’s largest industries. The economy spends $10 trillion on its good and services every year according to the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI). Unfortunately, construction has lagged other industries in how quickly it evolves. For example, construction is among the least digitized sectors in the world, according to MGI’s digitization index. In the United States, construction comes second to last, and in Europe it is in last position on the index.

With some large projects running 20 percent over time and up to 80 percent over budget, the construction industry is looking more toward technology to better meet its commitments. This results in a variety of benefits.

Improved Coordination and Collaboration

Most every aspect of a construction project is dependent on some other part of the job. Office workers, such as project managers, must collaborate with field workers, such as foremen, throughout the entire project. While mobile devices can greatly improve communication, companies must also create processes that ease real-time collaboration. Using a cloud-based platform, construction companies can see a complete picture of the entire project from one place and improve efficiency across the entire project. This includes automating approvals and alerts as well as allowing collaboration between employees, contractors, and clients in real time.

Ongoing Transparency

To keep up with increasing pressures, today’s construction teams must be able to update a project’s status remotely from the job site, keeping everyone on the same page. When teams collaborate via a work execution platform, both office and remote employees get the same visibility into project status, as well as the ability to update tasks in real time. Instead of waiting for phone calls, field workers can update information using a mobile app. All departments that are involved on a project — from finance to project management — have the same real-time information, leading to improved productivity and faster results.

Increased Automation

The best software enables users to set up automation rules, so that team members are systematically notified about changes that affect their tasks. For example, if the plumbing contractor will not have their job completed until Friday due to a back-ordered part, the platform can automatically update the schedule based on this change. The most enterprise-ready platforms can send notifications to all team members affected by a change, so they can immediately change their plans. They can also digitize many manual processes such as punch lists, change orders, and safety logs, and keep them in a single central location, so time isn’t wasted chasing down the latest information. The time savings can be significant. In a 2018 TechValidate survey of customers in the construction industry, 47 percent said the platform saves them at least six hours every week.

Predictive Analytics with Artificial Intelligence

New York City-based startup Pillar Technologies is one of a number of companies trying to apply artificial intelligence (AI) to construction and engineering. The objective is to use predictive analytics to do everything from preventive maintenance to work schedule optimization.

Pillar’s wireless devices can flag all sorts of troubles on construction sites before they become multimillion-dollar messes or cause injuries to people. They can identify leaks, which can result in mold, and determine the level of particulates like silica, which can be harmful to construction workers.

Builders can now put dozens of its industrial-grade sensors on their construction sites and leave them there through rain and wind to monitor potentially destructive conditions and send emergency alerts as need be. All this information provides the data for an AI system. The devices include seven different sensors to monitor temperature, humidity, dust, particulates, air pressure, ambient light and carbon monoxide. Over time, as Pillar gathers more data from its own sensors, it will be able to model the data more dynamically to predict problems.

The construction industry has not necessarily been an early-adopter of the latest technology. However, the industry has recognized the gains the right technology can provide and is taking steps to put it in place.

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Ryan Lahti is the managing principal of OrgLeader and author of The Finesse Factor: How to Build Exceptional Leaders in STEM Organizations. Stay up to date on Ryan’s STEM organization tweets here: @ryanlahti

The Finesse Factor by Ryan Lahti

(Photo: Construction Site at Night, Pixabay)