Construction technology: The cloud and beyond
Monday, October 13, 2014
We use technology to improve or simplify our lives and jobs every day — no matter what job you have or what industry you are in. The only thing that changes is the exact technology you use.
Despite the fact that everybody uses technology in some way, some industries lag far behind the curve in the adoption of certain technologies. And in these industries, a relevant and helpful technology is much more likely to be overlooked.
It's odd, but many construction industry participants have not yet realized how much simpler, easier, cleaner and more efficient the proper use of new technology could make their outdated and inefficient current process, even though they are currently using technology in some way anyway.
Current construction industry tech use
There are real dangers to lagging far behind others in your field in the adoption of technology, including lowered efficiency compared to competitors and the corresponding difficulty in competing in the market.
Companies that were slow to adopt an Internet presence in the '90s were forced to play catch-up as companies with a Web presence gobbled up market share. That initial adoption of the Internet was a game-changer both for companies on the leading edge, and those that lagged behind. Today, the game-changing technology has charged ahead from the Web 1.0 to Web 2.0, and now to "the cloud" and Web 3.0.
A recent survey of the construction industry performed by JBKnowledge highlighted some interesting and sobering truths about the current state of technology use by construction companies. Broadly, the construction industry is lagging behind other industries in technology adoption by a fairly wide margin.
In fact, construction companies spend only 25 percent of what companies in other industries spend on technology. And, notably, construction industry participants rarely, if ever, use collaborative or cloud-based technology platforms, preferring comfortable "technology" ill-suited for their purposes.
The vast majority of construction companies are using software that doesn't communicate with their other programs. For example, 85 percent of construction companies claim to be using an "accounting software," but fully one-third of those are only using Microsoft Excel.
Likewise, construction companies' use of client relationship management (CRM) technology is similarly proportioned. Of the 21 percent of the construction companies surveyed that use CRM technology, one-third of those that do are only using Microsoft Excel to track customers with spreadsheets.
What is the cloud, exactly? It seems like everybody talks about it without understanding what it actually is. The core concept of the could, however, is simply the maturation of the Internet's capabilities.
The cloud is the promise of having access to everything, everywhere, via your Internet browser. All of your business information needs are at your fingertips, wherever you can connect to the Internet.
Cloud-based technology has reinvented many aspects of business technology use, even in the generally slow-to-adapt construction industry. But it's not just the improvements and efficiencies promised and realized by cloud technology that matter. Just as important (or potentially even more important) is the fact that these technologies now serve as a foundation for new advancements — Web 3.0.
Web 3.0: Artificial intelligence & CFMs
Web 1.0 was solely a static information resource, kind of a company's digital business card. Web 2.0 made the Internet more interactive, and Web 3.0 will make the Internet more personal. Machines can utilize big-data information to learn things about specific situations, people, businesses and so on.
All of these phrases — Web 3.0, artificial intelligence, big data and others — rely upon the idea that a machine can be programmed to learn things using this information and then "act" accordingly.
This isn't a debate about thinking/feeling robots, it's an understanding that it is undeniable that computers are good, and even better than humans, at doing many tasks. One task that computers are especially good at is data analyzing, and applying specific actions to the output of their data analysis. Things like advertising or political messaging which, at their core, depend on aggregation of data and taking action based on those calculations, are already better performed (at least in some instances) by computer-driven processes.
Web 3.0, and machine-based decision-making is already here. For the construction industry in particular, that has huge implications for financial and credit managers. Because some of the most core functions of construction finance managers (CFMs) are data-heavy, these functions are likely functions at which computer-driven artificial intelligence and decision-making could excel.
The tasks that computers excel at are data-based — and CFMs are in the data business.
The construction industry and CFMs in particular are likely to brush off these Web 3.0 potentials, at least for a time. Since most construction industry participants are still stuck with paper-heavy manual processes or Microsoft Excel, the possibilities presented by cloud technology and computer intelligence driven practices may be overwhelming. But this presents an opportunity.
The fact that the construction industry is lagging behind in the use of technology means there is still time for construction industry participants to catch up. Construction companies should pay attention to, and start to utilize cloud-based technology applications to not only to be left behind, but also to secure a competitive advantage.
Companies that are able to use current and forward-thinking technology will see, as mentioned by the authors of The Gifted Technology Driven Contractor, "technology is not a necessary evil, but rather a competitive differentiator."
The construction industry has been traditionally slow at adopting new technology, but that is not an excuse to table beneficial available technologies for another time. Innovative construction industry participants have the opportunity to gain a competitive advantage by using the technology available to give them an advantage in efficiency.
The use of cloud-based technology now can position the early-adopter CFM to best use upcoming technology. And their business will be better off because of it.
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