Construction and IT: Are You Up to Speed?
Consider the typical building — a small high-rise or large manufacturing plant. Several hundred companies need to work in unison — a general contractor, an architect, engineers, designers and material suppliers — for it to become a reality.
Despite the need, somehow the construction industry has been one of the last holdouts to take advantage of technology. But the situation is changing quickly. Venture capital is pouring in, so many companies have popped up to fill the void.
The industry is learning quickly. JB Knowledge of Bryan, Texas, conducts annual construction technology surveys and reports that 51.4 percent of 1,028 respondents say they use mobile technology for field data collection, while 46.8 percent say they use mobile technology for project management; a whopping 72 percent say smartphones are the most frequently used computing devices by construction professionals.
Mobile phone photography helps firms forgo Excel files for pictures. Existing software was expensive and required training, but using the cellphone camera is so simple, it can be opened and used on the spot. So, even companies that have gone paperless, use email and create PDFs find that using mobile phones’ photographic capability adds that one last piece to the construction technology puzzle without having to add administrative staff.
Today, with construction booming, the rising tide is lifting the boats of construction tech firms as well. Besides workflow management, technology is energizing the bidding process by offering a network for subcontractors to become known to general contractors looking for experienced talent. The Blue Book, which started as a printed directory resource for general contractors and subcontractors, today, through technology, makes it easier for players to find one another using a digitized resource.
Plugging players in construction into an online marketplace allows management to track bids on all construction projects in one centralized place. Clients can broadcast qualifications and connect to potential customers with less expense than using printed directories. Data on every contractor in a given geography is available so that anyone looking to hire can make smarter decisions. And since these construction mobile apps can be used anywhere the internet can be accessed, they’re available in the field via cellphones.
Apps and cellphones offer a way for owners and developers to see vendors who compete with one another for projects. Despite construction’s late entrance into technology usage, the industry built on relationships no longer has only the fax to turn to for such big, unwieldy documents as blueprints.
What’s changed from earlier attempts at using computers is that technology today supports how people have always worked. The social connections happen first, and the digitization process simply improves what’s been occurring already in an evolutionary way. Exchanges make it possible for building owners to find general contractors, builders and designers, serving as platforms for players to discover one another and then, once they’re on projects, workflow from so many varied players is much simpler to contend with.
Construction bootstrap companies need off-the-shelf ways of doing business, using tools that are in an accessible price range. Being able to see and deal with documents without a lot of paper shuffling, such as distributing sets of copies for every member of the team, is what the mobile-app-in-the-cloud idea is all about. Real-time collaboration among all construction stakeholders is a major motivating force.