Digitization is on fast track in virtually every industry globally, but construction has been one of the slowest to modernize — until recently. The industry’s slow modernization trend, coupled with an infamous shortage of workers, makes construction primed to benefit significantly from digitization. The COVID-19 pandemic also helped spur the industry forward as it was confronted with new challenges.
What is being digitized in construction? How can project managers and subcontractors take action to digitize their operations?There are a few key areas where technology has significantly impacted the construction industry.
Areas of digitization in construction
Safety presents some of the most exciting digitization opportunities as one of the most important considerations on any project. Some of the industry’s most versatile and innovative technological advancements in recent years can be found in the safety space.
Accidents happen in construction. It is simply part of the industry. However, digitization can allow businesses to significantly decrease the risk of accidents or injury on your site and help keep your team safer on a daily basis. This mainly comes down to keeping better track of your team members around the worksite–knowing who may be in a hazardous area or working on a potentially dangerous task.
Technology offers a few ways of doing this. For instance, there’s a wide variety 1 of personal safety devices available nowadays, often using IoT technology to connect every team member. Personal safety devices could be a monitor that a worker wears clipped to their high-vis vest, with an emergency distress button. Personal safety devices can also be equipped with trackers that allow site managers and team leaders to keep an eye on everything remotely. If anyone signals for help, they can see exactly where the endangered person is.
Transforming site analysis
Site analysis is a vital part of the construction process, necessary nearly every step of the way. It can be time-consuming, expensive, and even dangerous, but technology presents ways to greatly improve the process.
Digitizing the site planning process saves time. It has been identified as one of the top ways to increase efficiency through digitization. It is often necessary to have workers assess the construction site on foot, collecting data on the ground and terrain. This can take days or even weeks to complete, depending on the size of the project. But digitizing site assessments using a drone can drastically reduce the time and expense of this step. A drone can scan a construction site from above in a matter of hours, collecting data and high-definition imagery that can be easily transferred to robust analysis software on a computer. This is especially valuable if your project planning team utilizes 3D modeling.
Additionally, day-to-day site analysis is much faster digitally than it is on foot. Cameras and drones can be used to deliver a 24/7 live feed of site operations. This is useful for nearly everyone in the project chain. Stakeholders and investors will appreciate being able to check on the progress being made on-site from their smartphones or computers. Project managers can keep an eye on operations anytime, anywhere. Site managers and subcontractor team leaders will be able to watch over everything throughout the day, making sure everyone is working safely and nothing is amiss. This eyes-everywhere approach allows a much more complete and consistent view of the project site than walking around on foot throughout the day.
Improving accuracy and efficiency in file management
If you are concerned that digitization may be a challenge for your team, consider tackling file management first. This is a great place to start your digital transformation because the initial investment is minimal, and the results are seen quickly. It is also easy to smoothly carry over between projects, whether in the office or on-site.
Digitizing record keeping is becoming more popular in construction because it is effective and efficient. Everything from payroll to employee time tracking can be done quickly and accurately with digital software, saving hundreds of hours and a lot of resources for different construction functions that deal with vast amounts of data. Finding digital files is much easier than locating paper documents since it can be done with a quick computer search or application query instead of combing through a roomful of file cabinets.
A great way to implement digitization on the worksite is by moving equipment manuals, instruction booklets, and other documentation online. It is estimated that construction workers spend on average 25% of their time searching for information 2. Professionals on the site could drastically reduce that if they could quickly search for the document they need and access it on a mobile device from anywhere.
Businesses in construction deal with government requirements for each project. Compliance with these requirements is made easy by digitizing internal documents and the streamlined digital filing of necessary notices, contracts, and other documentary requirements. These initiatives save companies time and resources previously spent manually filing documents by going to county clerks and other government offices. Accurate data also ensures that they’re compliant and protected. In the case of mechanics liens, failure to file necessary notices on time can cost contractors and other construction professionals their right to timely payment or payment recovery in case of delinquency. Through the digitization of notice management and filing, businesses can now ensure their legal right to lien is protected.
Tracking assets digitally
Tools and equipment go missing and need to be repaired or replaced once in a while on any worksite. Site managers could save significant time and money by using technology to digitally track where everything is on a daily basis. For example, instead of having a clipboard where team members check out equipment, use a digital spreadsheet or app.
Maintenance requests can be made digital as well.
Maintenance requests can be made digital as well. When it is quick and easy to submit a maintenance request or report a broken piece of equipment, workers are more likely to take care of it immediately, even for smaller issues. This can help reduce the necessity of large, expensive repairs.
Another popular technology on the rise in construction is telematics. Telematics can be used to track where objects are around your site in real-time. This is great for preventing theft and misplacement around a busy site. It also allows you to see which tools and equipment are being used the most and where. This information helps organize your site for efficiency and equips you with knowledge useful in deciding which tools and gear will be most helpful for your team. Additionally, telematics has been used to track fuel consumption, which has cut fuel costs by 40% 3 at some sites.
What is driving digitization?
Digitization and technological integration have been slow to take hold in construction for various of reasons, many of which are subjective to individual teams and projects. However, a few trends have been observed in the industry, along with a few core reasons why digitization is finally beginning to take off in construction.
A key difficulty when applying new technology in construction is versatility. No two projects are the same, and neither are any two teams of architects, managers, contractors, and subcontractors. Your specific needs are likely to change significantly between projects, so getting the same technological adaptation to have the same effect and result twice can be challenging.. The great thing about the digitization developments on this list is that they are easily applied to many projects and teams since they are generally not dependent on scale or particular circumstances.
Another common road bump for team leaders trying to implement technological integration is reluctance from employees to adapt. This may be more common with certain employees, but it is challenging for anyone to learn how to use a new device or piece of software. If employees struggle to see why a new piece of technology is a useful addition to the workplace, they may be unmotivated to adopt it into their daily work routine.
One suggestion from McKinsey that many team leaders may find helpful for their digitization efforts is starting from problem-solving 4. When integrating more technology into your team or in your operations, focus on finding an area that needs improvement and seeing how technology can solve those issues. For example, as discussed above, the processing time for paperwork and payroll can be quite a deterrent for efficiency and productivity.
So, if you notice this issue in your own office, consider going paperless with digital record keeping. When you focus on struggles your team is consistently facing, your technological solutions are more likely to carry over between projects. As a bonus, your team is more likely to be amenable to the changes.
The importance of embracing digital transformation in construction
While digitization may seem daunting to some, research has proven that it truly makes a difference when implemented correctly. Construction is a vital industry to the future, so the industry must take the leap in advancing the field by embracing new technology. The best part is, the digital transformation will benefit everyone involved in a project, from stakeholders to engineers, designers, site managers, subcontractors, and the people who will one day use the building you work on every day.
Welcoming digital transformation in construction is about stepping into a safer, cleaner, and more productive future.
This article is written by guest author Rose Morrison.
- Wearable technologies for improved safety and health on construction sites. (2019, November 18). CDC Blogs | Blogs | CDC. https://blogs.cdc.gov/niosh-science-blog/2019/11/18/wearables-construction
- Merrill, M., COO, & WorkMax. (2021, September 2). Construction digitization: Understanding the impact on profitability. For Construction Pros. https://www.forconstructionpros.com/construction-technology/article/21451673/construction-digitization-understanding-the-impact-on-profitability
- What is construction technology? (2022, January 5). Gregory Poole. https://www.gregorypoole.com/what-is-construction-technology/
- Decoding digital transformation in construction. (2019, August 20). McKinsey & Company. https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/operations/our-insights/decoding-digital-transformation-in-construction