Three ways to increase onsite adoption of new technology

I’d like to start with an enigmatic quote. Shall we?

“One example of the use of expert systems developed in the Bechtel Group is a three-dimensional coordinate system that allows people to “walk through” a facility before it is built. It significantly benefits construction by reducing interferences because the facility and its systems are displayed in three dimensions, not just the two dimensions of traditional plan and section drawings. The system automatically raises a flag when two components in the drawings occupy the same physical space, and allows corrections to be made before the problem reaches the field.”

Most of us within the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) industries would recognize the process described above from the National Research Council as a use of Building Information Modeling or more specifically clash detection. But how long ago do you think this passage was written? Five years ago, ten years ago, … fifteen years ago?

Believe it or not, this excerpt was taken from a book called Globalization of Technology — International Perspectives that was published 30 years ago this month!

Having previously managed an entire BIM coordination process from start to finish myself, I will be the first one to be an evangelist for allocating budget to R&D, further integration of BIM into coordination processes, etc. as it would be money well spent.

The fact is that that we have been talking about implementing technology like this for over 30 years now. However, while it has significantly improved the design and coordination aspects of construction, it hasn’t had as much of an impact on where it’s needed most — the men and women actually putting work in place.

At the end of the day and similarly, an increased focus on initiatives like VR/AR, drones, robotics, 3D printing, IoT, etc. is obviously important for the future advancement of construction.

But we can’t simply ignore the problems of today during that process.

So how do we bridge this gap in technology implementation, sometimes lovingly known as the classic divide between ‘office’ and ‘field’?

1. Focus on changing the culture first.

As the graph above from JBKnowledge shows, even though the industry has made great strides over the past three years in the Maturity of Technology category (a decrease from 36.1% to 17%), human factors still remain as three of the top four contributing factors to limiting technology adoption. What is even more alarming is that the limiting factors of Lack of IT Staff, Employee Reluctance, and Management Reluctance have all been increasing in importance in the past three years!

We all want to change this culture of reluctance, and while there is no one size fits all solution, there are a few structured methods that can be applied.

First, identify what problem you are trying to solve first, and then (and only then!) apply the technology to that process/problem. In other words, don’t let a particular solution dictate your processes to you simply because that’s how it has always operated.

Second, don’t simply assume project teams will buy into a top-down rollout. Instead, take the time to talk to the project staff about how it will help them and make their day-to-day job easier. If operational level employees can understand and buy into the vision of how this new technology will help the company as a whole, they will be much more willing to help the company along on its journey to increased productivity.

2. Don’t be afraid to own the process and lead the way.

The industry is in need of strong leaders on every project, and on every team. No one is too ‘junior’ to take part in this transformation, and implementation from the bottom up is the only way the technological gap between office and field will get smaller.

As part of this leadership, don’t be afraid to have a conversation with those out on site. Most of our field staff and subcontractors are more than willing to learn a new way of doing something if you give them your time, and most importantly, listen to their questions and concerns. Following up these conversations with actions based on their feedback will generate increased engagement and buy-in, putting you on the right path to bringing everyone along with you.

3. Choose technology solutions that will allow integration into new or existing processes with as little friction as possible.

Don’t underestimate the power of a frictionless user experience, similar to the way Amazon has succeeded in the online retail environment. Is Amazon always the cheapest retailer? Of course not! But how many people do you know that price check other websites versus Amazon for a particular product when they can simply check out in one click with free shipping? As mentioned above, cultural change is difficult enough as it is, so the user experience and onboarding need to be as simple as possible if any real uptake is going to take place.

As far as the hardware itself, products have come a long way from tablets being a mere novelty to becoming borderline powerhouse options today. Manufacturers such as Microsoft, HP, Dell, Lenovo, and Apple have all recognized the opportunity for tablets in the workplace, and for industries where technology uptake has been historically slow, the pen and paper feel allows for a new opportunity to transition those who have lagged behind.

Finally, it is vitally important to be aware of the different skill sets and expertise of all project stakeholders within architecture, engineering, and construction. There are different levels of comprehension, linguistic ability, and education within the AEC industry, and the more seamless the transition is, the more rapid the productivity gains will be able to be realized.

Our most important challenge

Increasing adoption of technology within the AEC industry has been a hot topic for years now. But today it is more urgent than ever before, as skilled labor shortages mean that our current field employees will need to upskill and become even more efficient with their time onsite in order to keep up with the rising demand for construction services.

Through focusing on cultural change first, encouraging decentralized project teams to lead the way, and procuring technology solutions with great user experiences, we can reduce the technology adoption barrier from a steep mountain climb to a mere step along the journey to improvement as an entire industry.

It’s my hope that with a little motivation and a great deal of effort from within, the AEC industry can finally bridge the gap between office and field on the way to significant productivity increases for all of the project stakeholders.

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About Me:

I help design and construction teams increase their drawing markup efficiency with our platform Bullclip: PDF Markup and Collaboration for Teams. If you are interested in learning more, reach out or visit drawboard.com/bullclip.