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Integration: The Future of Construction Technology

Tech providers are in the midst of a shift toward a demand for more open, user-friendly technology solutions due to a progressively more informed user base and forward-thinking providers that understand the benefits of integration. The past 10 years have been about allocating the right corporate technologies to cut operating costs from tight budgets without complicating processes. The next 10 years will be about making sure those technologies fit together to achieve corporate objectives.

As more employees become savvy in technology needs, requests once limited to the IT department are pouring in from all ends of the company. Construction executives have an obligation to shape the corporate IT strategy and choose the right solutions, but technology providers also have an obligation to provide flexible solutions that accommodate the strategy — building a bridge that drives greater efficiency.

In the 2012 Construction Technology Integration (CTI) Report, 450 professionals in the commercial construction industry evaluated software technologies used in the office and how those technologies integrate and adapt to meet project management needs. Nearly 50 percent of respondents said they rely on four or more construction software applications on a daily basis. However, 40 percent of respondents noted that not a single one of their independent software applications integrate or communicate with each other.

Somewhere in the rush to develop the latest and greatest software technologies, the average tech provider’s objective changed from simplifying processes to simply automating processes. The end users of construction technology settled for time and cost savings in each automated process, without considering the net effect of trying to integrate across applications. Some of the companies surveyed pay upwards of $3,000 per year, per employee, in annual subscription licenses. A surprising 52.1 percent of those companies manually transfer data between those expensive solutions via spreadsheets. Considering all of those licensing fees, it doesn’t add up when not a single departmental software talks to the other and transfers data automatically. The findings of the 2013 CTI report, currently in compilation, are expected to reveal even more valuable insights from more than 700 respondents.

Historically, business technology has served a strictly operational, unbiased, input/output role; if the cost savings in using a software outweigh the number of employees it confuses, there should be adoption. However, in evaluating personal technology, expectations are higher in the form of graphic user interfaces, customization, predictive analytics, and best of all, open integrations. The expectation is that a smartphone should know what we want, when we want it, and give it to us all in one application. Even Apple has conceded it must integrate its offerings with major content platforms, releasing seamless integrations with Twitter and Facebook and ditching its proprietary social network Ping.

New initiatives in the construction industry, like the Construction Open Software Alliance (COSA), are working to raise awareness about the efficiencies of technology integrations. COSA members and supporters understand that a fundamental shift in the expectations placed on the IT department and external technology providers must happen before corporate IT solutions will integrate in the same user-friendly manner as personal applications.

In the construction industry, builders, project managers, estimators, project owners and executive teams must demand: “Our complementary software, no matter the provider, can and should communicate, to simplify our processes across the board.” The response then needs to come from technology providers willing to work with their clients to make their software the most useful it can be.