At the turn of the century, when Wi-Fi was in its infancy and the world had miraculously survived the imagined dangers of Y2K, the term construction tech would have seemed more like a joke than a term that would eventually change the way the industry works. At the time, everything from plans to records and project schedules was completed (and updated) on paper. Even while the rest of the world adopted automated technology to automate office tasks, the most popular programs were inefficient for the complicated billing structure of construction.
Although the technology evolution in the construction industry has been slower to take hold than in many other areas, Construction Tech has made an impressive arrival. Learn about the earliest efforts to integrate tech into a complicated system and how recent advancements accelerated by the effects of a worldwide pandemic propelled the technology into a reluctant industry.
2010-2015: The Emergence of Construction Tech
The introduction of the smartphone could be considered a wake-up call that alerted construction professionals to the potential for increased productivity with technology use in the field. However, the industry was hardly the poster child for new tech. The mass production of tablets in 2010 brought with them the introduction of apps. These apps were designed to help construction companies automate and digitize field activities.
Still, while the industry had the technology, and even implemented it for use in a vastly different environment than other industries, the process failed to evolve naturally. The use of advanced technology along with the collection of years of data about the industry wasn’t enough to connect the many working parts of a construction project together. For a large part, this lack of connectivity still slowed the use of Construction Tech to advance productivity and reduce human error.
2015-2020: Construction Tech Evolves
Although technology hadn’t shown the same promise in construction as in other industries, company leaders could see the potential for improvements. A 2017 study revealed that 85% of construction contractors use or plan to use Construction Tech solutions. This is a notable leap from 2012 when only 16% believed cloud computing was important for construction businesses. Perhaps the change in perspective is related to the variety of tools. These tools have been made available for different applications in the construction industry.
- Field Technology: Drones, wearable technology, and laser scanners can be used to eliminate costly errors and improve production and documentation.
- Mobile Tech: Mobile devices, collaboration software, billing software, and paperless documents save time and eliminate miscommunication among team members and office personnel.
- Prefabrication and Modular Construction: Individual components can be assembled faster than a traditional build in a controlled environment.
- Analytics: Predictive analytics and data gathered during projects can be used to fine-tune operations and eliminate inefficiencies.
- Business Information Modeling (BIM): BIM is being used to create 3D models that allow key personnel to plan and manage projects throughout their lifespan, allowing for better planning and design, reduced errors, optimization of materials, and support for prefabrication.
The Effects of COVID on ConTech
The utilization of technology in the construction industry increased rapidly between 2015 and 2020, spurred by a desire for increased production and hopes of compensating for a growing shortage of skilled workers. Yet, the impact of a global pandemic accelerated the process exponentially. An October 2020 survey by McKinsey found that the pandemic may have pushed tech adoption across industries ahead by as much as six years. Another study noted that in 2020, because of the pandemic, the construction industry adopted more Construction Tech in one year than what would have normally taken three.
Construction was one of the first industries to get back to work after essential lockdowns. This meant companies had to adapt to challenges they’d never experienced before including remote office work, virtual communication, and no-contact signatures. While most companies admittedly were not prepared for the pandemic, many adapted well with little impact. A 2021 global construction survey revealed these reactions to the pandemic.
- 36% were well prepared and responded a little with little impact
- 62% were not prepared but responded quickly to recover
- Only 1% of companies fear they may not recover
- 77% of companies attributed the organization’s success or failure in dealing with the pandemic to the adoption of technology
- Technology that promotes integration and data analytics topped the chart as tech with the potential to deliver the greatest ROI
While the pandemic made implementing certain technologies in construction a necessity, there are many other drivers that suggest the change was in the works for a long time. As skilled workers in the industry retire, fewer recruits are available to fill vacant roles. The demand for new businesses, infrastructure, and housing is consistently growing, and production must keep up with these developments. There’s little doubt that ConTech is here to stay. However, future trends may lean toward better utilization instead of technology advancement.
The construction industry deals with a complicated billing/pay structure, strict regulations, and real-time changes in the field. Company leaders of Rives Construction pointed out that these factors make time the most valuable commodity in the construction industry. ConTech that fails to make tasks faster and easier isn’t worth taking the time to learn how to use. Instead, developers must focus on easy-to-use software that increases communication across a project with seamless integration. Connectivity is at the heart of all technology. The types of Construction Tech most likely to take hold in the industry will achieve hyperconnectivity through integration and innovation designed specifically for the pain points of the industry.
While technology may have been slow to reach many areas of the construction industry, changes are occurring rapidly. Companies that fail to include Construction Tech in their plans moving forward may have difficulties keeping up with competitors and finding ongoing success in the industry.