Why You Should Build an Agile, Integrated Construction Tech Stack

When it comes to construction technology, one size doesn’t necessarily fit all. 

Businesses often have different needs that require different tools to automate established processes, or standard operating procedures (SOPs). This creates a problem, however, because decision makers have to sift through the available technologies—and the depth and breadth of what processes they can cover—to find the right solution. While one “shiny new toy” might be the answer to one process, it can fall short in other, critical areas. Worse, it might not work directly with the other solutions, so it sits in its own silo.

You need more than just a well-defined set of apps and digital tools, also known as a tech stack. You need the expertise required to manage the data output, connect with other solutions, and periodically assess the feasibility of those solutions so you can maintain end user buy-in. 

A panel of industry experts with more than a hundred years of collective experience recently met to discuss different aspects of the tech stack. They gave their advice on how to manage the moving parts of digital tools and data output for construction projects. The following is a high-level overview of their best tips.

Identify Your Main Challenges

Some construction companies have made fewer technology investments than businesses in other industries, but they still need their chosen tools to deliver the expected ROI. When one solution does not deliver as expected, they have to add more software and cobble together a bespoke solution to make up for the shortfall and deliver the expected outcome.

But when firms implement multiple overlapping solutions in order to deliver the expected functionality, it not only increases complexity for end users, it seriously degrades your ROI. 

To address this challenge, periodically conduct a technology audit. Look at each application and ask these questions. 

  • Are end users getting the full potential of the technology, and are they fully trained to do so?
  • Does the technology match the current SOPs? Or have the SOPs been retrofitted to the technology?
  • Has end user buy-in been achieved?

This type of audit will identify where you are achieving your goals, and where you are falling short. It’s also at this stage where you would partner with your vendors. From the vendor’s perspective, customer success comes down to helping construction companies achieve their business goals. Stay connected with your vendor and get to know your customer success counterpart to get the most out of the technology and stay proactive.

We Are the Champions

End users have varying degrees of ambivalence when it comes to using technology, especially in construction. Regardless of their generation, if the technology is forced upon them, it could lead to a culture of mistrust or indifference. To achieve end user buy-in, create a “champions group.” 

The champions group emulates the structure of a software selection task force, but it actually has a more collaborative approach since it is often made up of members across IT, field staff, and the C-suite. It not only identifies the needs from all areas of the business, it also handles the training and rollout, keeping everyone comfortable and engaged.

Before any implementation can take place, however, the team has to address why the software is needed. It needs to speak directly to how the technology can have a direct, positive impact on end users’ work lives.

For example, an hour saved on daily field reports has a direct impact on work-life balance because it can be the difference between going home on time or facing yet another extended day. ROI is harder to measure, but certainly you can draw a direct line from happier talent to more productive talent.

When implementing training, start with well-defined SOPs so the champions group or SME (subject matter experts) team can orient the training around them and maximize the efficiency of the solution. 

How to Deal with Data

Because storage is relatively cheap, datasets have gotten progressively larger, due in part to the adoption of robotics, laser scans, 3D models, and other technologies that produce large volumes of data. (Think Spot the Robot Dog and everything he can fetch.) Projects are now measured in terabytes rather than gigabytes. 

However, end users don’t necessarily understand the importance of entering the right information, so outputs are often misleading. This can get even trickier if you rely on KPIs to monitor a project that might be off-track. Companies should proactively recognize issues and adjust accordingly. If data is not entered or used properly, companies may need to reactively fix problems, which leads to wasted time and resources. 

Once users understand the importance of entering the correct data (part of the champions’ mandate), it’s often best to start with a small project. Find one area to analyze and raise the consistency of the data input and reporting to help establish a template for other areas. Look for an area to analyze that provides relevant details to reach business goals. For example, don't try to push out 3D on every project all at once; start with a pilot project instead. 

Accessibility is another challenge with data. Field staff always need access, so make data readily accessible via phones or tablets so they can react accordingly. Integrations help mitigate data silos and duplication (human error) by connecting applications wherever possible.

What’s Next?

This panel, made up of representatives from construction companies and solutions providers, also weighed in on the future of architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) technology and its impact on the industry as a whole. 

As we move out of a period of forced change, technology adoption in AEC will continue to increase. Today, designers are adopting AI and VR, and 3D BIM is being used more in the field for clash detection, robotics, drones, and exoskeletons. We should continue to see practical uses for AI and machine learning going forward.

Once the construction industry moves in the same direction, an increase in productivity will naturally follow. As companies share their stories and get involved with organizations like the Construction Progress Coalition, they can find support for their tech stack development, and ultimately, the industry as a whole can grow. 

Overall, this can have a positive impact on the economy as new job functions will appear as a result of information being more readily available. These teams leverage data handed off by project managers to help deploy across the organization based on the templates they create.

For more insights from the panel, click here to watch the discussion in its entirety.

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