JBKnowledge’s 2014 Construction Technology Report takes a look at the IT strategies that support technology decisions and influence research and development of emerging technologies.
Conclusions from the report are outlined below. However, it’s important to highlight the overarching conclusions that permeate through every section and stand to make a visible impact on the construction industry.
THE IT DEPARTMENT
Budget allocations for information technology in the construction industry are abysmally low; reportedly lower than most other industries. The 1,000 builders that contributed data to this report confirm that common assessment, with more than 30 percent indicating their IT budget was less than one percent of 2013 corporate revenue.
The Hoover Dam was built without the power of the Internet or modern computers, so it’s easy to see how, despite the maturity of hardware and software in 2014, builders still think they can handle projects without the latest technology. They are forgetting that it’s not about whether they can get the job done; it’s whether they can get the job done faster and cheaper than the competition.
Information technology provides unprecedented competitive advantages across all industries. There is a reason other industries spend, on average, two to three times as much on information technology as the construction industry. When done right, IT transforms resources, most importantly human resources, from expense lines into revenue drivers. Information technology is a sustainable resource with a disappearing learning curve: Consumer technologies push business technologies to be easier and more intuitive every day.
Nearly 60 percent of companies responding have a dedicated IT department; most often these companies have 201 to 500 employees or more than 1,000 employees. The next generation of builders has been using Facebook and Google since before they could drive. Their work and personal lives are centered around technology and they will be the driving force behind technology adoption during the next couple of decades.
Construction higher education programs are hiring more computer science faculty into their departments every year. Those departments recognize that computer science and construction science are merging as fields of research and study. IT budgets need to be ready to receive and deploy this upcoming generation of students raised in this methodology.
Two years after the first survey was conducted, most participants finally understand what “the cloud” means, but unfortunately their companies still have no better grasp of what it entails. Sixty-three percent admitted that their company has no cloud security policies in place. The amount of data still being stored and transmitted without monitoring or protocol is alarming. Until data is lost, manipulated or stolen by a remote predator accessing the company’s cloud or in-house computers, the data security threat may not be fully tangible. But the threat can be affordably mitigated and policies can be created to govern employees and how they handle critical corporate data. Companies are trusting their technology providers to protect their data, whether that’s in the contract or not. Knowing data vulnerabilities across every stage of construction is critical to ensuring that technology remains a competitive advantage.
Since 2013, the categories of software in which construction professionals have seen the most growth in mobile development are solutions for field data collection, BIM and customer relationship management. The proliferation of mobile devices connecting the office to the jobsite is being met by increased capabilities from field data collection solution providers. Project management solutions touch every phase of a construction project so it is fitting that mobile technology connects that data through the phases. Accounting lags behind in mobile offerings.
While BIM software in general falls behind in mobile development, 25 percent of the top 20 mobile apps in use by those surveyed are BIM mobile apps. The construction industry is starting to see mobile-first solutions that later add limited web functionality. This is a byproduct of a more sophisticated development community, a more tech savvy user base and much more powerful mobile devices.
Outside of desktop computers, smartphones are the most frequently used computing devices by construction professionals, and the majority of those smartphones are corporate-provided. The largest percentage of builders are employing mobile devices running Apple®iOS operating system.
Forty-nine percent of survey respondents said they use a personal laptop, smartphone or tablet for work purposes, but only 32.7 percent of those professionals companies insist on securing those personal devices before they can be used at work.
Companies are honing in on the optimal number of software solutions. They’re understanding the cloud, employing mobile technologies and implementing the best combination of solutions to serve their corporate missions. Then they are reverting to pre-Internet tactics to communicate that cloud data across departments. The efficiencies of software solutions are severely undermined when dynamic data is seamlessly organized, only to be exported to static spreadsheet files for rough imports into software for the next phase of construction.
However, only 4.1 percent have full integration across their software platforms and more than 30 percent said they have no software integration whatsoever. Maybe construction professionals still don’t understand the power of integration — of two-way automatic data transfer from prequalification, bidding and estimating to project management, superintendents, subcontractors, owners and onward. More likely, construction professionals don’t think requesting integration from their solution providers will have much of a result.
THE GOOD NEWS
It’s certainly not all bad news. Builders are trusting the cloud, they are demanding mobile operability and they are using fewer spreadsheets than ever before. Construction professionals are staying current on the next generation of technologies, such as augmented relaity, virtual reality, drones and wearables, even if their companies aren’t budgeting for them yet. Survey participants are more receptive to IT solutions than ever before, even if those solutions come without the support of IT staff and involve a good deal of self-help.
The good news is that it’s not too late for companies to reassess their information technology strategies, learn from what they are doing right, and remedy what could be done better. Construction companies have many compelling reasons to continue to investigate new technologies and improve on their current technologies. Those reasons include an upcoming generation of tech-savvy builders; its potential as a billable service instead of an operational expense; and the next generation of technologies that will revolutionize visualization, communication and collaboration. All companies should establish a research and development fund that allows their technologists and tech-savvy employees to experiment with new technologies without having to go through a multi-month or year-long justification process. Expanding the broader IT budget to match cross-industry averages also would enable the industry as a whole to not only keep up with, but eventually surpass, non-industry peers in innovation and technology adoption.
The 2014 Construction Technology Survey was issued by JBKnowledge in conjunction with the Construction Financial Management Association (CFMA) and Texas A&M University Department of Construction Science and was based on responses from more than 1,000 construction professionals.