One of the biggest resistance points when it comes to adopting construction software is the upfront cost. This is a valid concern, particularly for smaller companies that don’t have a lot of cash on hand to finance a big tech upgrade.
Often, companies don’t realise how much of their resources they devote to dealing with the ever-increasing mountain of paperwork, so it’s difficult to get a good measure of the scale of the problem.
There’s also a fear of things spiralling out of control – new tech means handsets for workers, more software and more supervision needed to make sure data is inputted properly. Margins are tight in the construction trade and these concerns makes sense in the short term.
Businesses intent on staying profitable in the long term see that after the initial trial phase, a well-implemented construction tech strategy doesn’t mean doing more admin, but rather replacing inefficient processes and data storage with something that saves an enormous amount of time.
“The results of adopting construction tech for day-to-day operations are improved efficiency, lowered costs, maintaining budgets within construction, and safer projects,” says Zutec’s Senior Solution Consultant Thomas Heery.
“There’s full traceability on a construction site, so contractors can be confident the work has been hired out, everything is signed off and all tools, site assets and compliance responsibilities are accounted for.”
Decision makers in construction rarely work within sight of each other, in the same building or even on the same site. This creates a very different set of communication problems than one might find in an office or factory floor. Incidents when, for example, crane operators are not expecting workers to be at a particular spot on-site or when subcontractors put others at risk through shoddy work, can all be significantly reduced with a nose-to-tail construction tech solution.
At the moment, last-minute plan changes, where to put supplies and tools, and how to finish jobs up are usually communicated via email or text or even WhatsApp. It’s convenient for the workers on-site, but extremely problematic in terms of company liability.
The content of messages on a private phone, even if used on-site for work purposes, belongs to the owner of the phone. If there’s an accident, a worker might delete messages they feel could be incriminating, which makes it difficult for the company to prove safety protocols were followed.
Heery explains: “What we do is bring that into our ecosystem and make that transparent. Our software gives ownership of all of that data to the people who are running the project. That level of traceability and transparency makes everything a lot safer.”
Far and away, the biggest cost on a job is labour. Since most builds can’t be done with fewer people, the way to cut costs is to save time. At first look, it may not seem like there is much that can be done. Concrete doesn’t dry faster and girders don’t erect themselves, but what about all the time wasted because of unexpected problems on the build, supply delays or misunderstandings about who is doing what, when?
Construction tech gives a detailed overview of who is where, what they’re doing and how that compares to what they are meant to be doing, to every decision maker in the project. When a subcontractor has his workers show up on-site when the software schedule clearly shows another trade is still at work til the end of the week, he’ll no longer have grounds to bill for non-working days.
The time needed for back-office processes, like compliance admin, have been reduced by as much as 90%. Companies able to show that they can significantly reduce the lag between build finish and occupancy, because all the admin has been updated in real time throughout the project, will find themselves in a much stronger bidding position.
The industry functions at the moment with near zero trust and with power dynamics that swing through the project life cycle. A source of tension is often when subcontractors hold on to information until they are paid, while contractors refuse to pay until they get all the handover documents.
“To begin with, the main contractor has all the clout because he’s the one giving out subcontracts,” says Heery. “As the project progresses, the whole thing turns on its head and the subcontractor then has the whip. What can happen, if there is a breakdown between the contractor and the commercial guys for whatever reason, this information becomes a sort of ransom.”
A subcontractor might say they are 100% finished but it’s then discovered the job is only 95% done. If they’ve already been paid for work they haven’t done and refuse to return to finish off the job, the owner/main contractor then has to pay extra for it to be finished.
If a similar situation is found earlier in the process, where the subcontractor is claiming to be 75% done when they are only 65% done, and the main contractor catches it, it’s still very hard to fire that subcontractor and hire another one, because the first one has all the information and the main contractor is loathe to instigate a ransom situation.
Ultimately, these type of disputes often end up in court, which costs even more time and money.
If a digital construction solution is implemented for the project and all subcontractors have to agree to upload information in real time as a condition of winning the bid, the power dynamic shifts – the subcontractor never has the whip hand.
As it’s no longer possible for a subcontractor to be the sole party in possession of information, collaborating as fully as possible becomes the new power position.
With fewer opportunities for disputes to hijack a project timeline, projects will no longer become riskier as the balance of power shifts. Fewer lawyers and fewer exasperating phone conversations means resources, physical and financial, can be reallocated to more profitable activities.
Calculated against all that, the up-front investment in a construction tech solution is a no-brainer.