Investors Fund New Construction Technology
Investments in construction technology continue to get headlines. In fact, funding of 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 job sites.
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.
5 Questions for GCs to Ask Before Buying Construction Technology
- 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 $1600 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 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.
- Do the people behind the technology have solid experience working on a construction job site? 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 job site.
- How easy is the technology to use? A lot of construction cost management 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.
- 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. Additionally, putting sensors in everything on the job site for the Internet of Things (IoT) effect could also mean setting up a custom network for each job site.
- 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.
Some Examples of the Right Technology
For example, a camera that allows a worker to take a 360º degree 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 job sites today.
Another newer, time saving technology is a digital daily construction log app. Along with eliminating the cumbersome and time consuming paper-based process, these pandemic-initiated technologies like Safe Site Check In are evolving to address the needs of job sites by providing detailed information about who is on site, when they arrived, visitor management system assisted living, 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 Technologies for Your Job Sites
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. Products like Safe Site Check In are intuitive to use, work on any device, require no training or IT services, and you save money immediately.
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.