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Inside Innovation: Building a technology innovation ‘shopping list’

John Bleasby
Inside Innovation: Building a technology innovation ‘shopping list’

One bright spot in modern construction has been the adoption of management software. It’s transforming preconstruction and back office tasks such as estimation, bidding, procurement, human resources and equipment management. And as construction technology grows further, so does competition between software suppliers, each offering their own solution.

If you’re a construction executive or supervisor, you’ve likely received invitations to explore dozens of management software products, either through webinars or online demonstrations. Often marketers will offer a list of issues that need to be addressed throughout the construction process, followed by a pitch describing how their particular software product or platform can check off each item from the to-do list.

Marketing efforts aside, these lists can be informative. They raise questions that you, the potential customer, might ask yourself as a form of self-analysis. You might say, “Hey, that’s a good point. I wonder if we’re properly considering this issue within our company?”

Construction technology has both a price and a cost.

“Price” is the dollar amount directly expended on the product. “Cost” can represent many things, including the cost of doing nothing.

Let’s leave it to the marketers to expand on those thoughts. But at the end of the day, each company must rationally analyze whether it should or should not make an investment in new technology.

Let’s return to the lists. Without naming the companies putting the various topics forward, what issues do they say need to be addressed?

The big “why?” Technology for technology’s sake is not a solution. Management software today must go beyond the static information presented on spreadsheets of the past. You need real-time 24/7 access to data. This will improve collaboration between suppliers and subcontractors, within your own company, and among project partners.

Urgency, or the immediate need to solve a specific problem. It could be bottlenecks in the back office that are costing time and inefficiencies that can lead to inaccurate estimations.

Buy-in. This relates to the ease of adoption of any new solution. What are the challenges within your organization getting everyone onboard and using the new technology should the company decide to go ahead? Key factors include availability of training for all relevant players and ongoing support from the software vendor.

Value. Any expenditure of company capital requires an analysis of the value it will bring to the worksite, the office and, of course, to the customer. The company may already have an internal process to analyze such costs and benefits. If not, one needs to be developed or there can be no understanding of the return on the investment.

Risk reduction. Some solution suppliers speak about reducing “contractor risks.” These risks come in many forms. In fact, they may be better described as “problems that need solutions.”

For example, project rework is extremely costly. Keeping multiple subs and suppliers moving forward in the correct sequential manner reduces the need to go back and do something again, simply because a process was performed out of order. Even worse are the mistakes discovered only after completion. Think of the Grenfell Tower fire or the Surfside condominium collapse.

Capital and human resources. Related to ongoing project management are issues dealing with equipment location, purchases and leases, maintenance and replacement. Add to that skilled trades hiring and worker training, safety and compliance. There are technology solutions that can improve the efficiency of both the capital equipment department and human resources.

Data security. This is a critical matter in today’s world of data breeches and ransomware attacks. Attacks can occur with any system, old or new. However, with technology systems moving away from desktop storage towards “the cloud,” it is vital that data protection be co-ordinated with platform providers and that staff is trained to keep it that way.

Streamlining workflows and building a single source of usable data, available securely anywhere 24/7; these should be the objectives of any forward-thinking construction industry player considering upgrades to their technology. A shopping list is a great way to start that process.

John Bleasby is a Coldwater, Ont.-based freelance writer. Send comments and Inside Innovation column ideas to

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