Construction Technology is Showing Results, But Beware

The way construction industry leaders approach technology creation/adoption today will define whether we continue to lag behind, compared to other industries, or we become a thriving industry that promotes innovation.

Creative solutions to well known construction problems are brewing, the key to industry success will be in the integration. I want to make the case that if each construction company attempts to deliver their own solutions now, what’s going to cause is more barriers for innovation.

I firmly believe that construction companies should, mostly, focus on their processes and how they consume data. They should focus on specifying what information they need and how they want to receive it (to enable computer to computer communications), that will give them the flexibility to adopt and change new technologies depending on the particular needs of each of their projects. There is a wide variety of tools coming to market and companies should not take steps today that will prevent them from adopting and integrating these without much complications.

It’s exciting to see the changes that are happening in the construction industry, specially in terms of technology adoption. Finally, many internal and external factors are steadily aligning and these are enabling a significant transformation on the way we plan, design, build, finance, and manage infrastructure assets.

The technological breakthroughs that we’re seeing in the construction industry are, mostly, clever adoptions of well established concepts or technologies to solve key industry problems. Huge steps have already been taken, for example: the adoption of object oriented programing approach to construction documents/drawings enabling Building Information Modeling (BIM); the use of cloud computing and mobile devices to access construction documents on site; and the use of 3D printing, sensors and robots to build, inspect and monitor infrastructure in different ways. But there is still a very long way to go.

The complexity and variety of technologies required in the construction ecosystem is a reflection of the industry. It is particularly difficult to change an industry that employs millions of people worldwide, is highly regulated, manages complex contracts, and coordinates efforts between multiple independent parties in order to deliver capital intensive assets that are expected to last many decades (and that take decades to break ground).

A few months ago I started to do research about a series of different industry problems and how technology can be used to address these. I have focused on information technology solutions for the frontlines, but the wide variety of solutions that I’ve seen brewing is fascinating. People are using, for example, virtual and augmented reality, sensors, lasers, wearables, and blockchain to deliver amazing tools.

There is excitement and ideas coming from all fronts of construction. I’ve been interviewing engineering and construction professionals, lawyers, asset managers, IT managers, entrepreneurs, and investors, all of which are creating amazing things or thinking in different problems to solve. One can now see a fair amount of startups, incubators, accelerators, investors specifically addressing infrastructure and construction needs.

We’re on the early stages of an industry transformation and the industry players need to ensure that are not creating their own straitjackets. Startups need to design their products with an API first approach; funding needs to keep growing to support innovation in the construction industry; and, most importantly, construction companies should focus on mastering data consumption instead of developing large systems at the cost of flexibility.

We’re adopting all sorts of ideas from other industries, lets make sure that we don’t miss the ones that makes other industries flexible and adaptable.