JBKnowledge published an extensive study on the state of construction technology in 2016, the 5th Annual Construction Technology Report.
By surveying more than 50,000 construction industry professionals and accumulating more than 2,000 responses, the climate of construction progress is clear: There is a lot of catch-up and work to do, but there is also a lot of potential to establish a promising future for construction. BIM is the answer, but companies need to be willing to devote the time and resources necessary to pave the road to BIM adoption.
The construction industry is long overdue for a technological overhaul in every department, from commercial, to residential, to industrial, and more. Let’s talk about why.
IT Is Undervalued
Given the age of the industry (75% of the companies surveyed were at least 20 years old), it’s not surprising that IT is understaffed, under-budgeted, and under-utilized. Even so, the numbers are alarming.
70.8% of the companies surveyed spend less than $500,000 on IT annually, and 8.2% simply don’t know what their IT budget looks like. Only companies with a sales volume higher than $200 million had an annual IT budget of over $500,000.
IT departments are still grappling with a lack of manpower. 42.6% of the companies surveyed either outsource their IT duties, have a small and understaffed team performing them, or don’t have an IT team at all.
IT staff expansions and downsizing are not based on any real metrics, except for “gut feeling,” “the business plan,” and the notion of “that’s how it’s always been.”
Departments and Roles
IT staffs also struggle with no consolidation. The roles are dispersed, instead of sitting comfortable under one department. Many of the survey participants were in managerial or administrative roles, which do not hold significant influence in budget or staffing decisions. The highest-ranking staff member was typically a president or a CFO, who enforces low budgets to protect the profits of the company.
Instead of being viewed as a department that adds value to the company, IT is considered an expense.
New Technology Is Lacking In Implementation and Usage
The construction industry recognizes the importance of technology.
Companies that use cloud solutions for security, for example, doubled in 2016. Where the industry turns a blind eye to security is on the personal devices they supply for their employees.
These mobile devices remain insecure and vulnerable to attacks. The 2016 Mobile threat Report from McAfee indicates that mobile malware has tripled since 2014. IT needs more support and more security than it is receiving.
Security for mobile devices is more important than ever for the industry, as more companies adopt mobile technology for their employees. The development of mobile apps, however, is not up to par with what is necessary.
While mobile solutions for field data collection, project management, and accounting have increased, there is a lack of solutions for time entry.
The time entry app shortage is problematic, because without one, workers have to spend extra time with administrative duties, like manually entering hours that may or may not be accurate. As it stands, most workers perform time entry by manually entering the numbers into a spreadsheet.
In 2016, most builders have no integrated software apps, a decrease from previous years. And more and more workers are relying on manual solutions like spreadsheets and CSV files for data transfers, a result of low IT budgets and small IT staffs.
Spreadsheets need to go. These manual administrative methods leave data vulnerable to errors, and they do not provide an easy way to make changes and notifications.
Solutions for prequalifying subcontractors for projects and assessing risks continue to remain as half-measures without proper tech integration. There is too much room for human error that distorts the accuracy of these processes.
BIM Is More Important than Ever, But It’s Not Being Used to Its Full Potential
While more companies are combining IT, BIM, and VDC, employees are not being trained on how to adopt these new technologies. There is no system in place to provide training and collaboration opportunities.
As a result, employees only have a half-formed or nonexistent understanding of BIM.
The 2016 survey revealed that only 50% of companies were using BIM on more than 50% of their projects. As such, most companies still don’t understand the value and profits that BIM provides for construction.
Technology Isn’t Being Adopted Fast Enough
Most construction professionals are eager to embrace new and emerging technology. What they lack is implementation.
A small staff (or lack thereof) and a small budget were the most common hurdles to proper implementation, at 40% and 37% respectively. When the survey participants were asked what technology they wanted, most answers were:
- BIM software
- Integrated project management
- Automated time capture
- Something to help capture job site progress with photos
What these answers indicate is that builders are still greatly in need of adopting modern technology before they can dream about future technology.
Part of the problem is that many of these companies don’t have research and development (R&D) departments, and even the ones that do mostly spend less than $500,000 on IT annually. Establishing a R&D department would help these companies better understand what technologies they should be adopting and which will raise their profits.
BIM Enhances the Value of Popular Construction Technologies
Augmented reality is regularly used in construction projects to visualize and share ideas. It goes hand in hand with BIM, projecting models directly onto job sites for better visualization.
Virtual reality goes best with BIM. A VR and BIM model combination produces walkthrough project designs. More importantly, the BIM and VR pairing helps construction companies coordinate schedules, detect design clashes, and visualize the different stages of a project.
3D Printing Is a Big Deal, and It Will Only Get Bigger
3D printing is set to revolutionize the construction industry. With prefabrication as part of the package, entire projects can be assembled off-site and in the same location.
The biggest hurdle for most companies is cost. Large printers are accessible only to a small amount of large companies. Even so, 3D printing will radically alter the industry, regardless of company size.
BIM Is the Future
Despite resistance from a large number of companies, the BIM revolution cannot be ignored forever. The UK recently placed a mandate on construction projects, and once the results present themselves, companies in the US will adopt it more and more. Sooner or later, construction professionals will reach out for BIM consulting to determine just how big of a difference it can make.