Academics and global strategists suggest that the increased adoption of technology is becoming vital to the collaboration of ICI project partners — all those who own, plan, design, or supply material. They relate the industry’s low productivity growth over past decades to a reluctance to embrace higher levels technology, going so far as to categorize it as a cultural failure.
Going forward, successful adoption of technology will separate the companies destined to thrive from those finding themselves left out of future major projects. In other words, companies engaged in ICI construction in Canada can no longer afford to ask whether or not to embrace technology — the question to ask is, “How can this be done?”
Creating a culture that can keep pace with the ongoing development of construction technology is no simple task. The path is often hampered by an internal “disconnect” between the executive suite, technology evangelists within the company, and workers and managers on project sites.
Even when company owners decide to commit to technology, there are dozens of questions requiring answers. “What does ‘technology’ mean to our company? How do we begin to understand the needs, or ‘pain points’, within our company that must be addressed?”
In addition to the range of technological solutions and platforms available — BIM, drones, robotics, Artificial Intelligence, software of all types — there remains the important question of who within the organization is best suited to manage the integration of technology. It’s likely this role is not directly addressed within the current framework of corporate functions.
This gap in responsibility has given birth to a new position most commonly called the Construction Technologist (CT). However, it’s a title that defies attempts to pin it down to absolute specifics.
“The Construction Technologist is not the person to call to fix a mouse or keyboard,” says DJ Phipps, Procore Technologies senior strategic product consultant BIM/VDC. “Construction Technology touches all aspects of day-to-day operations throughout a construction company. It’s different than Information Technology (IT). Construction Technology deals a lot more with software and not so much with hardware.”
Phipps describes the Construction Technologist as the person who can serve as a bridge between the various software platforms and operations on the worksite. “That person not only has to know technology and software and how they work, but have a pretty good handle on day-to-day construction processes in order to keep perspective.”
As simple as that may sound, it requires a challenging balance of skills. In addition to a good technical understanding and an appreciation of operations, the CT needs to liaise successfully with the executive branch. After all, they make the final decisions regarding the technological path the company will take.
“Construction Technologists must know how to write business cases that can be presented to company executives in order to get their buy-in,” says Phipps. They have to collect and establish baseline data that can be measured against calculations of the expected time savings and efficiencies in real dollars, and then present that information effectively.
Upper management needs an informed intermediary too, someone working on the company’s behalf. As Phipps explains, the CT can be the dedicated person acting as the line of defense against a barrage of marketing approaches from established and start-up tech companies. Too often these vendors offer only single point solutions that do not integrate into an overall tech strategy. “The CT can help decide whether a piece of software is worth evaluating by going out and gathering the insight they need. Then, if it’s a good idea worth pursuing, it can be brought to the executive for further discussion.”
That’s the top-down approach. However, it can be a challenge when any form of technology is suggested to project managers and their workers. People are sensitive, and part of the construction culture is an instinctive aversion to change, coupled with a fear that technology is being introduced to reduce jobs.
A more successful outcome is achieved when interest in technology develops from the bottom-up. “A bigger part of the CT position is to go out and talk to the people on the jobs to see what is going on, what they are struggling with, and learn how long it’s taking them to do something,” Phipps says. “It’s really important that the CT not only has a relationship with management and understands things like budgets, but also understands the perspective of people in the field and their desire to get the job done.”
“The CT is not there to be the bad cop — he or she is there to help people with what they are doing day-to-day,” explains Phipps.
The Construction Technologist can be described as an inquisitive problem-solver, working across all departments, able to understand the company’s processes, and then offering digital solutions to problems that arise. Depending on company type, size and complexity, the CT function may not even be assigned to a single individual but to a technology integration committee of some sort.
John Bleasby is a Coldwater, Ont.-based freelance writer. Send comments and column ideas to email@example.com.