Is technology actually helping construction?

I am an ambassador for technology. I evangelize the benefits of AutoCAD, Revit and Bluebeam at every opportunity. My boss can’t ask me to do something without hearing about how I’m going to draw it up or formulate a table. I owe my career success to technology, because I wielded it as my own personal power tool.

While I reap the benefits of the construction industry's gradual modernization, my millennial colleagues don’t always feel the same way. This last week I attended a brainstorming session with other 25–30 yr old professionals, and when they started to exchange contact info, I thought, “maybe this time they will be interested in using Slack”.

They cringed. They groaned. “Can’t we just text each other?” “Of course, but haven’t any of you heard of Slack? No? It’s not a substitute for phones, it’s a communication medium. A…a replacement for emails. Don’t you want less email?”

This response, these blank stares, it’s normal in construction, and I’m in the office. While we migrate our contract documentation to the cloud and hire virtual development managers to maintain our perfectly detailed 3D models, there’s a gap between what we could be and where we are.

When I get confused about the lack of enthusiasm from my colleagues, I cycle through the questions, wondering “what did I do wrong in proposing that [latest idea]?” But I think that the answer is actually quite simple, just as it usually is in coding.

Technology isn’t making jobs easier for everyone in the construction industry. It’s unknown and overwhelming to employees who grew up in the field, who have made their living without knowing how to type or use a professional email account. Some of the college graduates who graduated with a construction management degree probably chose that degree specifically because they didn’t want to have to use a computer all day long. And where have they ended up? Maintaining spreadsheets and trying to navigate software that’s supposed to be better for the project. Our version control isn’t automated or even organized; it’s messy. An army of office engineers spend more time digging through plans and specs to figure out what changed than the number of engineers who worked on the original design. Cost and quality control requires two additional armies of engineers. Everyone gets CC’d on emails, everyone has to attend meetings, and everyone has more workload because technology gives a sense of improved efficiency. But that efficiency can be and has to be developed.

The industry needs training and procedures that work, which use software and hardware to make work easier. A great deal of my job could be automated, and I intend to contribute to that automation, so that we can finally start using technology to let us go home earlier.

Ways to implement technical resources that will help construction:

** This is in addition to TRAINING which I cannot stress enough**

  1. Automated processes, i.e. apps that automate the checklist process for quality control, prompting team to confirm that what is being built matches specifications (an app that will pull information from drawings, model, specs and confirm dimensions prior to a pour, confirm that the concrete is the right type, prompt engineer to check certain things)
  2. Version control for document control modeled after GitHub
  3. Go fully digital. The cross between hard copies and digital is bogging down the process
  4. Shared logs between General Contractors, subs, Owners, inspectors, other relevant third parties
  5. AR & VR — this is coming, but to me, it cannot come fast enough
  6. Design & modeling which pushes out shop drawings, rather than sending to specialty subs and detailers for all of the different scopes of work
  7. More tablets in the field with the right apps installed (and which come with training)
  8. Electronic timecards; mandated on projects, with built-in cost codes and integration directly into accounting systems
  9. Cameras on the job which as-built the project during construction (and check scanned dimensions for quality control, as well as other QC functions)
  10. Automated safety videos which create the content based on specific project parameters, current climate, and integrated with as-built camera mentioned above
  11. (More) GPS/digitalized equipment tracking — this is being done by some companies but should be done across the industry
  12. Hardhat safety device which measures & records noise levels, blood pressure, stress, substance impairment — this will be resisted, but I could see it in the future
  13. Advancements in geotechnical studies for underground work — smaller, broader soil investigative methods. Potentially in major cities, a city-wide soil scan. If property developers or general contractors wanted access to that info, they could pay fees to the city for their location.

These are some of my ideas, and they range from realistic for current times, to pie-in-the sky future automation. I think it’s good to bring up both near-term and far-term possibilities though, because the world is changing faster than most of us can register.