Top 5 Construction Technology Trends to Watch in 2021
The construction industry is not unfamiliar with disruption. In 2008, the Construction Engineering Index plunged 68 percent. Firms that survived the financial crisis that year faced severe margin pressure - dropping from 5 percent in 2007 to 1 percent by 2010.
The industry had to act fast and looked for more innovative ways to cut costs and boost profitability.
Many construction companies turned to technology; embracing mobile devices for “anywhere access” to data and streamlining collaboration to keep projects on time and within budget. Others tried to consolidate services by replacing traditional (and sometimes outdated) access methods like VPN and FTP, and moved to the cloud; always trying to balance security with ease-of-use, and functionality with simplicity.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created yet another set of challenges and demands for the construction industry.
With the pace of change and adaptation accelerating, construction companies are yet again relying on technology to survive and thrive.
According to CII, “Enforced home working has already revolutionised many workers’ reliance on technology. Digital working has also been at the heart of ongoing efforts to improve industry productivity. But true productivity gains will only materialize if construction businesses use digitization to support new business models and new, more collaborative ways of working.”
As we look to what the future holds for successful construction and engineering companies, several trends are emerging:
- Artificial intelligence and machine learning will be used to increase efficiency and speed for planning and building phases
- Construction firms will lean more on public clouds for compute-heavy processes, like 3D image capture and analysis
- Remote workforces are driving a shift in technology investment priorities
- Effective remote collaboration will be a major factor in reducing project costs and aligning IT investment priorities
- Data security practices will become a larger consideration in the bidding process
1. More AI and ML for Productivity and Safety
Balfour Beatty believes that the rise of digitisation and robotics in construction will bring about a huge increase in productivity by 2050, including:
- Robots will work in teams to build complex structures using dynamic new materials.
- Elements of the build will self-assemble.
- Drones flying overhead will scan the site constantly, inspecting the work and using the data collected to predict and solve problems before they arise.
- The role of the human overseer will be to remotely manage multiple projects simultaneously, accessing 3D and 4D visuals and data from the on-site machines, ensuring the build is proceeding to specification.
"Adopting and mainstreaming digital and other new technologies, such as advances in robotics and artificial intelligence, will be a game-changer for the industry, speeding up the otherwise slow-and-steady modernisation of the sector, and providing answers to the challenges and opportunities we face. The benefits of digitisation are clear to companies such as Balfour Beatty, which is already using them across the business and the projects it is working on." - Balfour Beatty, 2050
We’re still a long way off from Balfour Beatty’s 2050 vision, but already construction companies are embracing AI to streamline operations and mitigate risk. Procore highlighted that AI can also be found in construction training programs—realistically simulating real-world safety scenarios and guiding workers through them from the safety of a classroom
Whether it’s envisioning a human-free construction site in 2050 or improving safety and collaboration, applications of artificial intelligence and machine learning in construction are wide-ranging and primed to increase efficiency, protect workers and sensitive data, and advance collaboration.
2. New Technologies Will Shift More Workloads Into the Cloud
Construction companies happen to collect a lot of images from the field through a variety of tools such as mobile devices, scanners and drones. Sophisticated 3D models with VR visualization now make it possible to demonstrate closely to customers, builders, or investors what the building will look like in the end.
Powerful as they are, these 3D applications require higher processing power in order to address users expectations, safety regulation and integrations with 3rd party applications. To meet this need, many construction firms are transitioning legacy technology stacks to public cloud environments, like AWS and Azure, to accelerate access to data and lower the costs and administrative overhead of on-prem storage. These public clouds enable more complex computations, such as image analysis to identify safety and liability concerns like spilled hazardous material, broken windows, or field staff without hard-hats or harnesses.
3. Distributed Workforces Will Change The Economics of Construction Technology
As work has become more distributed and global events have led to even more remote work for companies of all sizes, it is increasingly important for teams and tools to work together to get more done. Company cultures have had to make shifts to accommodate the demands laid on businesses stemming from offices being closed — and remaining closed for extended periods of time.
With over 81% of construction companies now using mobile devices to access files and collaborate, it’s critical that companies are considering effective ways to go mobile, stay current, and avoid rework. The delay between the time a change is made to a file, to when the field employees discover it, is the window when costly errors can occur. The ability to view and edit large files on mobile devices not only provides employees with access to the latest and greatest, but can also avoid expensive rework, as well as save the company printing costs.
The information technology (IT) organization also needs to do its due diligence behind the scenes to make sure that the technology is working for everyone. Sometimes, remote workers adopt tools for convenience, and IT cannot vet everything. IT leaders need to make sure the enterprise solutions are workable and drive people back to them.
4. Remote Work Environments Require a New Approach to Data Security
Forty percent of IT leaders say that the increased risk of a data breach due to more employees working remotely is their top concern when it comes to remote work. The construction industry faces unique challenges when it comes to protecting data across a dispersed workforce. Employees are working across different jobsites, using personal devices across Wi-Fi networks and sharing data with subcontractors and stakeholders outside of the networks.
The main consideration should be ensuring that information sharing is secure not just for employees but also for third parties (contractors, supply chain) and customers.
According to Robert Sheesley, CIO of HVAC, electrical and plumbing services firm, the Wrench Group, “you have to think about how remote workers could introduce vulnerabilities they may not even think about. For example, if someone is using a personal desktop from home to access the corporate network through a virtual private network, there’s a risk that someone else in the family could use that desktop to go to other sites, making that machine vulnerable to infection with malware. To have an openly collaborative environment, you need good security controls and heightened user awareness.”
As firms settle into the new normal of remote work, these are just a few data security considerations that should be top of mind:
- Data classification to ensure that the locations of sensitive project files are protected
- Ransomware prevention, detection, and mitigation strategies
- Data discovery and classification that covers speciality file types like CAD
- Data governance and security protocols that work on personal devices in the field
- Easy file access in remote locations to mitigate the use of insecure “shadow IT”
- Regular system auditing to make sure that the people who still have access really need it, including vendors and specialty contractors
5. Data Security Will Become a Bigger Factor in The Bidding Wars
The 2020 ransomware attack on Canadian contractor Bird Construction again highlighted the need for cybersecurity measures in the industry. The attack raised concerns about national security interests because the contractor services federal and provincial projects like defense facilities and police stations.
In the United States and elsewhere, federal building contracts already require adherence to strict cybersecurity protocols, and more states and private companies are following suit. The pressure on construction companies to have strong data security and governance measures in places extends beyond just protecting company data and reducing liability — it’s a strategic consideration for winning competitive, high-profile contracts.
“Data security is a big deal for us, but it is a bigger deal because it is a big deal to our clients. Being able to show that we are willing to invest in a solution that takes data security seriously sets us apart in a lot of ways. It’s about scalability —not just being able to scale operations and grow — but to scale up into the kinds of clients and contracts that require a high level of security. We can go after any project that we want to because we have the infrastructure that supports high levels of security with Egnyte.” - Mark Crow, S&ME
The need for simple and secure access to large project plans is essential, but legacy file systems often become increasingly difficult to manage as projects scale. A secure built-for-business collaboration solution can make huge improvements to overall efficiency and meet client demands.
Building for the future has many companies leaving legacy file servers in the past. The rising need for a single view into company content for audit and governance is driving many construction companies to switch from on-premises to the cloud.
To learn more about Egnyte for Construction, visit egnyte.com/construction.
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