CHIEF INFORMATION OFFICER, MCHUGH CONSTRUCTION
Historically, the construction industry has been labeled as resistant to change. Relative to other sectors, many have argued that the acceptance of technology and innovation into the construction workflow has been notably slower. But rarely is the rationale behind that concept explored.
Within the scope of traditional research and development processes, manufacturers and product developers are given space, freedom and resources – both human and capital – toward identifying the opportunities that disruptive technologies may hold without the expectation of production or productive results. General contractors trusted with the fulfillment their clients’ architectural and creative visions – on time and on budget – do not share the same luxury.
However, there’s no denying we are in the midst of a global digital revolution, and the architecture, construction and engineering communities are not immune. The challenge lies not in understanding the promise of technology, but rather harnessing it and integrating it into our projects in meaningful, productive ways. And doing so involves the support and buy-in from all stakeholders.
Consider the foundation of the construction worksite. It used to be that preparing a site for operations was as simple as pulling in the trailer and securing power and water sources. The advent of cloud technology has altered that reality, added several new layers to what was once a fast, simple process.
Today, for example, securing a reliable Wi-Fi connection and firewall protection are among the fundamental components to establishing any jobsite and are key to facilitating basic communication and collaboration among stakeholders. It is no longer viable for a project team – regardless how skilled – to initiate operations without these systems in place. It’s important to recognize this basic shift in workflow as source of resistance so it can be addressed proactively.
This cloud migration, driven by both clients and the younger generation of skilled workers, has created a new class of teamwork altogether. Technology integrators, those individuals charged with expediting technology services – from internet connections to cable services – to the jobsites, have become critical to the success of a construction project, both at the outset and over the long term. Developing a comprehensive network of preferred technology integration vendors and maintaining good relationships with them is foundational to success.
It’s also important to explore the implications of cloud technology on individuals working throughout the company’s network, whether in the home office or on the worksite. This includes leadership, clients, information technology teams, human resources professionals, project managers and subcontractors. With connected systems increasingly at play, new technology in one division is likely to impact workflow in another, a fact that cannot be overlooked.
For that reason, the first step toward selecting – and garnering support for – a new technology application is to ensure company workflow supports it. When applying a new software as a service platform, whether Procore, eBuilder, Microsoft Dynamics CRM, or another, leadership must ensure it both meets specific project needs and, simultaneously, minimizes disruption to work, not just on site, but that which is conducted across the company.
This begins with a review and definition of company workflows prior to selecting a SaaS. Tracking internal processes, including how cost, equipment, activities and people are managed in the day-to-day, will illustrate the impact technology may have on team members and facilitate selection of the right tools at the right time. For example, if left unexplored, a new digital timekeeping system may result in immediate time-saving on the jobsite, but on the back end create additional work for project managers and human resources professionals, resulting in resistance or, at worst, disengagement.
Next, you have to build support. When it comes to client-facing technology, such as new equipment or processes implemented on the jobsite, leadership must first assess the client’s appetite for involvement. Whenever possible, the builder’s vision for how technology can enhance the construction process should be presented to the client as early as the initial bidding and proposal phases. These presentations are an optimal time to educate the client on the technology’s benefits and ROI while remaining transparent about cost and risk. It never hurts to start with clients with whom a trusting, longstanding relationship is already established.
Internal support for technology integration can be built and maintained by first developing a keen awareness of the benefits, impacts and challenges it poses for team members, and then by deploying a solid plan for how it will be introduced. A strategic approach to both beta testing and rollout is key.
Jobsite innovations, such as state-of-the-art surveying systems and new-era building equipment, can cause variable responses from project team members and are best rolled out incrementally. While it can be tempting to lean on innovation champions – those who are open to and excited about change – it’s important to get feedback and buy-in from individuals who are more resistant to evolving workflows. Beta testing of any new software or technology should occur within a representative sample that includes all core conditions: company employees, tradespeople, subcontractors and administration. New mobile applications, for example, should be tested among teams who aren’t as savvy with computers and mobile devices.
An incremental approach to testing within a smaller sample may help build demand for new technology. Inherently, the presence of something new and exciting on the worksite can create a sense of intrigue, generating interest and questions from crewmembers, which may help pave the way for more streamlined integration and acceptance.
Finally, a strategic approach to training is key to garnering support. Platform-designed training is important but should not become a substitute for company-driven training that accounts for how the platform interacts with the contractor’s existing workflow. Further, just-in-time training that occurs in the days or weeks, as opposed to months or years, before technology is formally introduced or becomes integrated into a project, will preserve company resources and eliminate the need for retraining.
Among the biggest challenges facing general contractors is how they can most effectively align their technology objectives with those of their subcontractors. While it may seem logical to mandate participation and specify technology and software expectations into subcontracting agreements, this approach can be ineffective and formulate anxiety, which is unproductive in today’s competitive market. A flexible, more nimble approach that considers the importance of subcontractor participation within a specific SaaS based on their individual roles and responsibilities will help attract talent and ensure the GC remains a partner of choice.
The fact that technology is disrupting the construction industry is no longer in question, but how firms navigate its integration with the support of their team members remains a core concern. With an acute understanding of how company workflows function and interact with technology, combined with a sustained awareness of the impact it has on people throughout the system, this disruption can be harnessed, and everyone can benefit.
Ron Sinopoli is the chief information officer at McHugh Construction, a Chicagoland member. Sinopoli is responsible for directing McHugh’s information technology teams and facilitating the integration of current and emerging technology into McHugh’s workflow, creating efficiency and value while achieving company and client objectives.