Holistic Advantages of
April 20, 2022
While working in the construction industry over the past two decades, I’ve seen tremendous change in how companies operate on the technology front, albeit at a decidedly slower pace than other industries.
But it’s inevitable that we will catch up. After all, in our everyday culture, there are already so many examples of digital transformations that we now take for granted:
- Ordering basically anything you can think of from your phone with real-time delivery tracking
- Attending high school or getting a master’s degree without ever stepping foot into a classroom
- Watching your favorite shows and movies on a handheld device from basically anywhere
Still, digital efficiencies gained in the engineering and construction sector have not kept pace with the other industries, or have they? I think things are definitely evolving. Digital transformation is arguably the hottest buzz word in construction, and one that continues to receive a lot of attention.
To see why, let’s dive into the past, present and future — and the holistic advantages of — digitalizing the construction industry via your project controls.
I’ll Be in My Silo: The Past
Prior to the digital transformation revolution, construction workforce experiences were disconnected, buried deep in the minds of seasoned, siloed employees and not easily accessible by others. In other words, they were anything but holistic. For example, on one of my first estimates, I completed takeoffs (by hand) and entered them into a spreadsheet. When it came time to enter productivity rates, the “seasoned” lead estimator seemed to throw arbitrary unit rates against all my line items based merely on the fact that those were the rates we used on previous jobs. If subcontractor quotes were needed, a plethora of phone calls, emails (or even faxes) would be sent back and forth between the different parties, often resulting in missed scope or delayed timelines.
Eventually, we started tracking past costs in spreadsheets and printing them off for everyone in the office to use. This seemed like a major step in the right direction, but it was still flawed.
We’ve all heard the expression “comparing apples to apples.” Well, that need is never more evident than when you try comparing as-built productivity rates across projects. Because when there isn’t a consistent coding scheme in place throughout the entire organization, it becomes very challenging to know which rates to compare.
As you can imagine, these “modern” spreadsheets didn’t update themselves. We had to hire clerks whose main responsibility was to comb through cost reports and update as-built data to be used for future estimates. These spreadsheets were compiled into a very nice three-ring binder that sat on one desk, in one district office. Back then, our digital transformation inefficiencies caused data to be (sometimes severely) out of date and basically non-accessible to other stakeholders.
Sitting on a Cloud: The Present
These days, with more and more software solutions moving to the cloud, digital transformation integrations across all business units have become readily accessible.
Today, takeoffs are rarely done by hand and estimators have real-time visibility into how their unit rates compare to other similar work, both as estimated and as built. When sourcing sub-contractor or vendor quotes, all parties can share details (pricing, inclusions, exclusions, RFI’s, etc.) via an integrated platform so that all stakeholders are working off the most up-to-date information in real time.
Major efficiencies have been gained in the execution phase as well. Paper timecards and workplans of the past are now digital, able to be surfaced on tablets and even mobile phones. Supervisors can now see cost vs. budget information in real time based on crew hours worked and quantities installed and take pictures of potential issues that can be used for RFIs or potential change orders. All of this can be done in the field so that they don’t have to travel back to the job trailer and leave their crews unattended.
Still, it’s important to remember that having an abundance of data might seem great at the surface, but data overload is also a threat if you don’t manage the data appropriately. Digital transformation, after all, isn’t a silver bullet. Why? Because like so many other technology applications, digital solutions are only as good as the information gathered. And if that data is on multiple point solutions, it may not lend itself to efficient collaboration or broad analytics. This is why construction organizations must first identify what they want to get out of the data, and what business processes they need to implement to make sure their data is meaningful.
Modeling, scheduling, risk, safety, quality and turnover all have been significantly improved due to digital transformation. The efficiency gains of becoming “digitalized” ultimately hinge upon improved collaboration through accurate, meaningful, real-time data.
By the Glow of the (Data) Dashboard Light: The Future
As cliché as it might sound, for a lot of engineering and construction companies, the future really is now. Though our industry is still considered by many to be the least digitalized, we are already using drones, wearables, artificial intelligence, machine learning and many other exciting physical digital advancements.
Central to the future is the adoption of digitalized construction software that not only enhances our processes with features like risk registers and data dashboards, but also attracts the best and brightest to the industry. Some of these core solutions include:
- Bidding and estimating software — Central to construction companies’ survival is their ability to win bids and accurately estimate job costs and timelines. Building off of past project data and valuable insights, these highly scrutinized processes are streamlined using software that eliminates from-scratch estimate creation.
- Building information modeling (BIM) — There’s so much project intelligence that can be gained and leveraged from BIM’s 3D modeling process that links rich data to each element within the model. Among its strengths are visualization capabilities to reduce the risk of jobsite and physical safety hazards and design capabilities to optimize structural designs as well as prefabricated components through clash detection.
- Commissioning software — A normally documentation-heavy task, commissioning software centralizes all that documentation up to and including the substantial handover packaging. Far from being a mere checklist-based activity, it’s a vital process that can be used to spot safety, QA and installation issues for real-time repair and resolution, which in turn can reduce late-stage rework known for higher injury rates.
Change is tough, but it is happening all around us. As more and more tangible benefits and repeatable outcomes are shown and lived, they will produce the full efficiencies of a complete digital transformation. One size doesn’t fit all, yet the building blocks to create a holistic, digitalized project controls overhaul are within our grasp, yielding better project outcomes more often.
Ready to take a deeper dive? InEight can help get your projects where they need to go and help you create a solution or view that matches your needs while leveraging your teams’ existing strengths. Let us show you how.