There’s no doubt that the digital revolution is coming to the construction industry, but what’s not so clear is that everyone is happy about it.
The workers on-site fear it’ll add to their workload, project managers don’t want to lose their information advantage, and business owners don’t want to spend a ton of money implementing a new system they worry nobody will use. If a tool doesn’t add value, is not enjoyable to use, or making life easier, it will be used for a while and then discarded, which has bottom-line implications in time and costs.
On the other hand, the more companies that adopt construction technology, the less competitive paper solutions will be. Companies that use paper, “can’t possibly show progress as quickly,” says Zutec Vice President, Solution Sales Daniel Da Silva.
“People think that paper works and they don’t understand that in the long term using technology will save them lots of time. If they’re not prepared to accept change, they can be perceived as being a dinosaur, which means they’re no longer competitive.” The more construction tech is adopted in the industry, the bigger risk it will be for companies to cling to their paper-based system.
For smaller companies in particular, the cost of adopting construction tech is a major factor, as is the potential work disruption and time spent making sure employees are inputting the data correctly. Though the task seems daunting, there is good news: adopting construction technology is easier than it appears, largely because most quality providers have developed significant resources to help companies make the transition smoothly.
The number one way to make the transition to collaborative digital workflows as painless as possible is to choose a software solution created by people that actually know the construction industry and have form in projects large and small. Flexible construction tech works just as well on a house renovation as it does on the Shard in London and is designed to scale with a company as its business evolves.
Since major building projects have lifespans of at least 50 years, construction tech companies are increasingly making the data gathered during initial construction platform-agnostic. This ensures information about hazardous material and demolition best practice is accessible if the site is redeveloped.
When construction tech is designed by people who have worked in construction, as opposed to tech-first companies that saw an opportunity in the market, the software is built to reflect real-life situations. “It’s essential that the interface and processes are simple,” explains Da Silva. “One button pressed and the action is finished. Simplicity is what will mitigate resistance to change.”
Zutec is also committed to a “3-clicks to an answer” policy, meaning if someone has a question about the data they should be able to find the answer in three clicks or less.
Many business owners worry about workflow disruption during the transition to digital. Margins are already tight and competition is tough. Delays due to a fumbled technology roll-out could be a major blow. Quality providers will work with clients to adapt their software to best fit existing processes into the system.
“Give us your processes and we will put them into our system,” says Da Silva. “We don’t disrupt what is already working, we augment and improve with a proven process that keeps what is working and jettisons what isn’t in favour of improved efficiencies.”
A major point of worry for decision-makers when it comes to adopting construction tech is the amount of resistance they will encounter from subcontractors and employees. It’s a justifiable concern: the construction industry is especially resistant to change, preferring stacks of paper to an online database long after other industries have made the transition.
“We completely understand,” says Da Silva. “We’ve been there before and we’ve helped many companies through this resistance. The way that we manage our engagement is to deploy people that understand the construction process and can really help clients break through the resistance. We design the process together with the client, train their teams, track implementation and report on results.”
Because any sort of tech solution is useless without good data, it’s important to get employees and subcontractors on board willingly. This can be a bit of a delicate matter given the volatility and politics of the construction industry.
Software providers can also help with push-back from subcontractors the way external consultants are useful to companies implementing unpopular changes. Resistors hearing “no, actually, you have to input the data like this; this is the process that our client has specified,” from a third party generally find it more difficult to avoid adopting the new tech.
Sometimes time is all that’s necessary. It won’t be long before current concerns, such as who is responsible for the extra data or storage costs when workers use their private devices to input data, will be a non-issue. As construction tech is more broadly adopted and smartphones become standard kit, hold-outs will have to choose between participating fully in the data collection or finding another job.
Adopting construction technology is a complex process, but it’s not impossible and it doesn’t have to be done alone. Like most change, the idea of it is significantly worse than the reality. Once companies make a successful transition in one part of their business, the most common next step is to move another part over.
“Once clients experience a successful transition,” says Da Silva, “for example moving from paper or Excel-based systems to digital cloud-based one in one area of a project, they begin to see the savings and benefits involved and trust the process. It is at this point we see an exponential uptake of our solution in other areas as our customers begin to adopt digital through our platforms to other areas of their projects and their business.”
The important thing is not to get left behind. In every construction bid, there’s a section for innovation that needs to explain how the company is different to its competitors. Being able to state confidently that your company can complete the work faster, better and cheaper than competitors thanks to your newly implemented digital workflow isn’t a bad way to answer.