Investments in construction technology continue to attract attention. In fact, funding in U.S.-based construction tech startups is over $3.1 billion, according to data from CrunchBase.
There’s no question that a slew of cool, new technologies are making their way onto jobsites. The real question is which of these technologies, if any, offer real value.
Ultimately, every general contractor (GC) needs to come to their own conclusions and calculate ROI numbers specific to their business. However, there are ways to analyze an investment in construction tech before you spend the money. Here are five questions to ask before committing to a purchase.
1. Does the technology address a real business issue?
There have been countless exciting and innovative technology products that offered little value in the real world. Who could forget the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) hit “The Umbrella Drone.” Perhaps we all forgot about that one, except those who paid $1,600 for it.
When determining if a technology product addresses a real business issue, think about:
- who will be using it
- how often they’ll use it
- if it’s a gimmick or if it offers real business value
- and if the product makes work easier or harder for your team
Another consideration is that the technology may work wonders for a certain GC, but may be a horrible fit for your operation.
2. Do the people behind the technology have solid experience working on a construction jobsite?
That experience should go deeper than site visits. Ideally, the technology is built or shaped by someone with direct experience working on, or managing a jobsite.
3. How easy is the technology to use?
A lot of construction software is developed by knowledge workers, for knowledge workers, that also expect the people in the field to use it. This is unrealistic.
Any new tool that’s introduced to workers and subcontractors should build on the user’s existing experience with technology. For many, this will be smartphone apps. Since they use smartphones frequently outside of work, there is little to no learning curve when introducing a new technology through an app.
4. What are the additional costs of buying the technology?
Separate from the cost of purchasing the technology, you also have to factor in how much time it will take to integrate and maintain it, as well as train your staff and introduce new processes across the company. These additional costs may require hiring staff or adding more responsibilities to existing employees – every year that you license the technology.
In addition, putting sensors in everything on a project for the Internet of Things (IoT) effect could mean setting up a custom network for each jobsite.
5. Does the technology streamline communication between the front office and workers on a jobsite?
If one of the primary goals of construction technology is to improve efficiency for the GC, it should be easy for people in the field to communicate with the front office.
For example, a camera that allows a worker to take a 360º of a site and upload it to colleagues back at the office is both cool and productive. Another example is collaboration software like Bluebeam, which has proven to be a huge help, especially during the pandemic. Using a smartphone, a worker can take a picture and mark an area in a drawing or pull up a blueprint and zoom in to get details on a room. This is a massive time saver, especially when compared to the traditional way of faxing information – which is still being used on a lot of jobsites today.
Another newer time-saving technology is digital check-in apps. Along with eliminating the cumbersome and frail paper-based process, pandemic-initiated technologies like Safe Site Check In are evolving to address the needs of jobsites by providing detailed information about who is on site, when they arrived and the specific job they’ve been assigned. They can even specify the details of an assignment, such as having the blue paint rolled instead of brushed on a wall. Applying analytics to the check-in data lets GCs know how profitable a project is or if they need to take swift actions to recoup potential losses.
Selecting the Right Technology for Your Jobsite
All of the recent innovations in construction technology have been amazing to watch, try and buy. Drones, sensors, tablets, robots, exoskeletons and scanners are eye-catching and provide tremendous value for a lot of companies in architecture, engineering and construction.
But for the vast majority of GCs, most of whom are categorized as small to medium-sized businesses, investing in the latest and greatest technology requires proof of high and immediate ROI.
Just like the claw hammer for a framer, some buying decisions are easy. Others are more complicated. As more money flows into construction technology, GCs will continue to be cautiously optimistic. While some technologies like collaboration tools and digital check-in quickly pay for themselves, others are harder to justify. Before any outlay of cash, a GC must carefully conduct a cost benefit analysis that starts with the five questions outlined above.
Kyle Peacock is CEO of Peacock Construction, a mid-sized general contractor in the Bay Area that focuses on healthcare facilities.