Studies produced in academic journals on construction and engineering dating back to 1994 and even earlier emphasize the importance of integrating construction projects to improve design, communication, and project outcomes.
That said, construction, an industry historically slow-to-digitize, is only more recently becoming disrupted by technology and for good reason – despite an uptick in college-aged students choosing trade school and apprenticeships over a traditional college education, the employment numbers remain mismatched with project demands (e.g., see: record job openings) and higher material costs won’t seem to dissipate. Under these conditions, the industry requires smarter solutions that can help teams deliver projects more efficiently.
We recently highlighted the construction technologist as a quickly emerging role that has the potential for attracting more young people into the industry and affording them the digital tools an advanced technologies to shape construction’s future and supercharge a new level of productivity in any labor market.
In this article, we offer construction technologists—current and aspiring—seven ways to build toward company-wide interoperability and facilitate high-performing teams.
What Is a Construction Technologist?
As the industry moves toward digitization and technology adoption, the role of a construction technologist is one of growing importance. These individuals are responsible for researching, piloting, and maintaining a company’s construction technology stack – whether that’s cutting-edge tech in automation like drones and robots; integrating the team’s various apps and software systems; finding and testing emerging solutions like wearable technology that can help onsite project delivery teams perform installations more safely and efficiently; or industrializing team processes to improve quality assurance while reducing waste.
Now that we’ve recapped on what a construction technologist does, here are seven ways these professionals can build toward interoperability:
1. Educate Leadership and Get Buy-In
Technology doesn’t come without its associated expenses. The natural first step any technologist can make toward advocating for using their expertise to build better technology systems is educating leadership teams on the importance that efficiently running software systems has on business outcomes:
- Cross-functional teams may rely on cloud-based applications, for example, but data synchronization between these cross-functional platforms can reduce information silos that occur when each team builds their own technology ecosystems; opportunities exist to reduce manual entry and duplicate data that can cause human error in the process and outdated information leading to project errors and ensuing rework.
- Furthermore, access to capital investment/expenditures (capex) for technological infrastructure like automation, robots, drones, etc. may on the surface seem needly costly and excessive from a business standpoint, but when framed in the light of what they can do for the business, c-suite buy-in is more likely to offer alignment – e.g., studies show robots having the potential to reduce repetitive site work between 25-90% and reduce time spent on hazardous tasks by 72% on average, while also improving accuracy by 55%, reducing rework by 50%, reducing schedule by 2.3x, and reducing costs by 13%. Or, in the hands of the project execution team, how smart tools have been used in the field to install heavy-duty mechanical lugs with greater accuracy and quality assurance reporting.
2. Team Discovery and Collaboration
Real-time collaboration among cross-functional construction teams has resulted in nearly half of firms routinely exceeding expectations in their work.
It’s true that communication in construction projects is critical – 60% of general contractors see problems with coordination and communication between project team members and issues with the quality of contract documents as the key contributors to decreased labor productivity, a joint-Autodesk/Dodge Data & Analytics report found.
Thus, when starting a company’s digital transformation, it’s important to conduct cross-functional team discovery sessions, where stakeholders across the business are interviewed to understand technology needs.
These meetings can help determine:
- What opportunities exist for upgrading systems (e.g., sunsetting a legacy software system and piloting a cloud-based solution)?
- What technology resources are needed, for example, to build third-party integrations?
- What opportunities exist for improving processes through automation?
3. Integrate with Your ERP
While cross-functional teams may use apps and software of their choice in a piecemeal way that needs to be accounted for, the majority of firms (83%) rely on a single, dedicated ERP solution (enterprise resource planning) for broad strategic planning, according to the ConTech report – and a corresponding increase in ERP integration in academic literature has been observed.
It's crucial to build integration between your cross-functional teams’ technology solutions and the ERP because it helps strategic leaders track business resources in real time (e.g., cashflow, raw materials, production capacity) as well as keep them up to date on business commitments (e.g., purchase orders, change orders, payroll, etc.) and help them make necessary approvals in a timely manner and keep projects across the business afloat.
4. Integrate Your CRM
Another important integrator is with your company customer relationship management (CRM) system. 96% of customers say that their experience plays a large role in deciding which brand to remain loyal to, so focusing on improving the customer experience (e.g., creating virtual experiences and showcases via BIM and LiDAR) should be top of mind – integrating these platforms with your CRM can ensure timely communication and project updates with these customers.
After all, considering the previously mentioned industry workforce challenges and communication breakdowns, the need for real-time information sharing between customers and project teams is ever critical to ensure project progress, a complete understanding of scope and project expectations is achieved, and timely project updates are made to prevent miscommunication and rework.
5. Integrate Important Team Apps and Systems (E.g., Project Management, BIM, Inventory)
Integrating between various cross-functional teams’ suite of software and apps (e.g., tying in BIM to the tool team as well as to the project team) can help reduce data silos and improve collaboration between these teams.
Consider these staggering statistics in Autodesk’s “state of data” in construction:
- 75% of respondents stated an increasing need for rapid decision-making in the field.
- 23.6% say “none” of the software applications they use integrate.
- 14% of all construction rework may have been caused by bad data creating $88.69 billion in avoidable rework globally.
- 41% of contractors agreed that non-standardized data input leads to inconsistent, inaccurate, incomplete, and unusable data.
As the industry looks to execute projects with continually operationally challenged teams, it’s essential that these teams collaborate in real time. The previously discussed discovery work can help inform necessary integrations that will help reduce duplicate data creation across teams, increase information sharing, and increase real-time collaboration and communication necessary to identify risks and address them before they become problems that could risk a project timeline or budget.
6. Synchronize with Third-Party Suppliers
Another important project collaborator and critical data integrator is the third-party supplier – whether that’s whom you’re buying raw materials from or who’s helping you execute projects (e.g., third-party prefab shops, 3D printers, etc.).
Building pipelines between these partners and keeping customers abreast of important milestones and functional reequipments is crucial to what you can realistically deliver across your project delivery ecosystem. Like in supply chain, how too many suppliers can lead to needless complexity, finding ways to strengthen these relationships while reducing fractures plays an important role in improving the customer experience. You may not be able to in-house everything, but creating communication mechanisms and strategic partnership can help your outsourced work become a united front that prioritizes your customers above all.
7. Loop in and/or Build a Data Governance and Security Team
A final consideration in building data sharing that should be top of mind is how this data is managed to prioritize security for both your customers and your company. As construction becomes continually targeted by cybercriminals, cybersecurity in construction companies from bid management to secure inventorying should be of utmost concern.
Building a process—whether hiring a cross-functional internal team or involving your company IT department—for data governance and knowing confidently how company data and customer data is handled is paramount to protect you from possible vulnerabilities as well as legal liabilities. If a third-party supplier, for example, doesn’t have the proper data security controls in place that your team views as necessary, you can push back and mandate these controls are put in place before agreeing to a potential business relationship. Alternatively, you can choose a different supplier you believe has a better security posture, or you can solicit help from a third-party security firm to conduct a security audit and provide recommendations on how to improve your company’s security posture across its infrastructure.
The construction industry has the potential for being transformed by technology, while construction technologists are positioned to lead this technological revolution. Leading the team toward building interoperability among systems should be a central first step in ensuring your company’s tech stack is efficient and secure, able to deliver project milestones, exceed expectations, and delight customers like never before.