If You Build It, Use Technology

There’s a famous movie instantly recognized by its tagline, “if you build it, they will come”. That’s exactly what Kevin Costner did—he built a farm land baseball stadium and the great players of the past came. In the movie Field of Dreams the construction process lasted a few frames and was executed with nothing more than a hammer, a saw, and some nails. We all suspend belief for the sake of the story being told, but once we snap back to reality, the truth is any construction, regardless of size, cannot be properly executed without the right technology in place.

The advances in construction technology are real, they are here, and they aren’t going away. If construction contractors are not already implementing these new ways to build, they’ll be as obsolete as the dot matrix printer.  Grassi & Co. recently completed our 2017 Construction Industry Market Outlook Survey and the results, when it came to technology, were thought-provoking—of the responding companies, 53% reported their technology investment would increase in 2017. However, the overall revenue percent spent on new technology to improve project construction/delivery is minor as the participants plan to spend less than 1%. One could read the message being sent by the thin technology budgets as these advances, which cost money, are still viewed as overhead with a still undefined return.

The reality is that when properly utilized by everyone in the organization, technology will increase productivity and profitability. Most contractors’ work on-site is enhanced by mobile devices. Integrated with the company’s ERP, these platforms are designed to increase communication between the field and home office—fostering real time collaboration between employees, regardless of their location or role, to make informed decisions based on current information to execute a profitable project.

For example, if labor hours exceed the budget, the project manager and office no longer need to wait to understand why and what the contractor’s recourse is. Technology, used properly, will allow the project team to make immediate and impactful decisions based on real-time data. Taking it a step further, once overruns or out-of-scope conditions are encountered, a properly equipped field team can use adopted technology to ensure documentation and other compliance requirements are properly utilized and submitted timely. Think about the immediate savings this translates to for the construction company.

Attracttrain and retain has become the motto of most contractors when it comes to labor and the ongoing shortage. Construction companies who implement and use cutting edge technology have an untapped recruiting tool in their hands. By marketing their tech savviness to the millennial generation, a labor group who understands and embraces today’s technology can open the door to skill sets and new ways of thinking, which can translate to building better and more profitably. The opportunity to work within augmented reality models, with job site drones, using wearable technology focused on worker safety should be touted as an experience “you’ll only get here”. Further, talent will be less likely to seek career opportunities elsewhere if they know the construction company continuously makes an investment in the advancement of technological solutions and new ways to build.

Another consideration is the safety benefits to the contractor’s labor force from investing in technology. Construction companies today need to take proactive steps in differentiating themselves to demonstrate that labor is the most important resource. Developing and implementing an industry-leading safety program is an important step in helping the construction contractor solve labor issues as it demonstrates the welfare of workers and the worksite is priority number one. Coupled with the proliferation of wearable tech, an opportunity has emerged for the construction contractor to differentiate themselves from the competition. Making an investment in wearable technology designed to monitor the workforces’ vitals and project conditions can revolutionize on-site worker safety.

Consider these three pieces of wearable technology and how they could impact worker safety:

  • Smart Vests – safety vests that can alert you to any fast-moving objects and detect unsafe environmental conditions as well as provide a log of the wearers safe work practices. Not to mention monitoring personal health indicators of its wearer, such as body temperature and heart rate.
  • Smart Watches – smart watches can track the workers vitals: body temperature, heart rate, etc. Further, these assist in clocking time between breaks, so if one is warranted, the project manager is alerted. Management can also use the device’s GPS functionality to discern a workers’ location at all times—consider how valuable this becomes with respect to an employee who may be injured or lost on a job site.
  • Bionic Suits – granted, these are uncommon in the construction industry today, but when one considers that the majority of health and safety issues on a job site are related to arduous physical labor, (which could lead to long-term physical problems for a worker) the argument to invest in a technology that will provide the contractor’s workforce with the ability to pick up and operate heavy machinery with ease, becomes stronger. In addition, bionic suits have the ability to reduce labor time for manual intensive tasks which leads to greater efficiencies and job productivity. (And, of course, fewer accidents and/or injuries mean fewer insurance claims and lost dollars.)

Cutting edge contractors are already employing emerging technologies to help develop new ways of building and alternative methods of delivery. They understand technology is here for the construction industry to build better, eliminate the silo effect and truly get every person in the organization on board and focused on overall strategic business goals. Decisions to invest dollars in this area are not made on the fly, in fact, hours of productivity are invested and those dollars spent on researching and developing new technologies could qualify for R&D credits, which could be sizeable income tax savings to the construction company as well.

Will the stable levels of technology investment, cited above, hold through 2018? One cannot say, but it is reasonable to conclude the way we build will only rely more heavily on technology tomorrow.

Hollywood loves to remake the classics, so I cannot help but wonder when Field of Dreams will get this treatment. Will we see Kevin Costner’s replacement building in a bionic suit, on farm land riddled with drones? We can only hope.

Carl Oliveri Carl Oliveri is the Construction Practice Leader and a partner at Grassi. He has over 25 years of experience advising owners and executives in the Construction industry, particularly in project-centric and companywide financial modeling, operational strategy development, financial statement accounting services and income tax method analysis. This extensive industry experience allows him to provide insight and advice to construction clients on marketplace trends and... Read full bio

Categories: Advisory