Even with the advancements we have made in personal technology, the mention of a “digital transformation” continues to set off alarm bells for the majority of companies, especially in construction. And understandably so, as according to McKinsey, the often considerable time and budget commitments tend to miss truly sustainable performance improvements. In addition, the continually evolving nature of technology means that a digital transformation is more akin to an ongoing cultural shift than an actual project with a finite budget and end date.
The move to digitize the way we work has become such a fundamental part of our everyday lives that it can no longer be dismissed by organizations as an idea reserved for those corporate big boys with virtually unlimited resources. Construction companies of all shapes and sizes are now able to reap benefits, thanks to the leaps forward we have made in consumer technology. And likely more important than that, the process of implementation is no longer as complicated, and labor intensive, as it once was.
Digital transformation: Hidden in plain view
Do you remember when the BlackBerry first landed? Originally released in 1999, it quickly became the go-to advanced communications device for millions in the business world. Meanwhile, the everyday consumer was stuck trying to text on a flip phone, hitting the same number two or three times to find the correct letter that came next. From the advent of the first computer, digital transformations were being consumed at different levels based on your available budget and savvy. However, in June of 2007 that all began to change with the announcement of the first-generation iPhone. The race to create consumer level advanced technology was on, and now almost everyone carries around the most advanced mobile devices in their pocket.
Cloud computing witnessed a similar journey, if only in reverse. Platforms such as iTunes and YouTube were quick to the consumer market in the cloud, joined soon after by Netflix. But it was a few years later before the world’s enterprise platforms, like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft were able to make the shift to cloud for their core product services. Today though, the cloud is everywhere – from the banking you do to the shows you watch and the photos you keep. It is no wonder with our ever-increasing use of data that cloud businesses are continuing to see exponential consumer growth.
But there is a third component, often overlooked, that arguably has been as vital to those major shifts as either of the technologies themselves. User experience (UX) and user interface took center stage as developers went to work accommodating these new screens and speeds. No digital transformation is ever successful if it is not intuitive to the end user, regardless of their demographics, and the quick move to mobile and cloud was no different. As evidenced by the rapid UX professional growth over the last decade, rising from 100,000 in 2010 to over a million in 2020, technology developers scrambled to make platforms easier to use, and thus easier to saturate into the market.
How consumerism has accelerated business transformations
By now you are likely asking yourself “So what? I’m not in the business of making mobile phones.” The thing is, this rapid consumerization of digital transformations has incredible business benefits as well. The first versions of estimating software out on the market required a dedicated set of twelve floppy disks, installed in a particular order, before you could launch the system on a single machine. But thanks to the enterprise advancements in cloud computing, no longer are there specific hardware needs to host project management software. Today it is a simple URL typed into a web browser, already installed on your machine, and away you go.
Similarly, as mentioned before, most of your on-site personnel are already carrying an advanced mobile device they are familiar with. These devices come out-of-the-box with all the specifications a business needs to begin a digital journey, and a simple app download transforms them into a project management tool. When the device is something they already carry, not only will it significantly reduce hardware costs, but it will also reduce the time it takes for users to become comfortable with navigating the technology. That way, any training that might be needed can be delivered in-app, allowing the user to learn while on the job.
And again, the foundation of all of this is 30 years of user interface improvements. Today, people do not need to be taught that red is bad, and green is good. Just think about all the international symbols and colorways that have been integrated into technology as a part of society’s collective applied knowledge. Power buttons, volume sliders, swipe left to advance… the list is endless. If you still do not believe it, take a quick look at the photos on a demo phone the next time you are in an electronics store. You only have to look at the ability of toddlers to take photos of themselves to realize how simple digital technologies have become.
But it is the synergy found by combining of each of these factors that brings the real win to organizations. When you combine intuitive, mobile technologies with the capabilities of cloud computing and Software as a Service, the implementation of digital transformations will save money AND time. Gone are the days of consulting efforts that consume your best employees’ time in long, complex process overhauls. With a little training, delivered on-device right when the user needs it, performance improvements become the new normal out on the jobsite.
Signs that a transformation could be in order
If you have come this far and are now wondering if this is for you, good news. There are some common industry challenges for construction and capital projects that tend to signify you are ripe for a digital transformation. First, the way drawings are managed in preconstruction and on-site has struggled to evolve over the last 30 years. Many of us can relate to the manual process of handling drawing updates, cutting out new sections from an addendum and pasting them into place! What was acceptable then is no longer capable of addressing the large data demands of a rapidly changing, modern-day construction site. While there has no doubt been some improvement, version control of the drawings is still a very real struggle for most construction projects.
Another paper process that is primed for digitization is how we have traditionally handled timecards and progress management. Payroll is no longer the only department that needs to process this vital data. Safety will require those hours to calculate incident metrics, quality will want to understand what hours and quantities were assigned to rework codes, and the project manager will be looking to aggregate all of the progress in order to accurately bill the client. Without a level of digitalization, this all remains a very labor-intensive, manual process.
Speaking of aggregating timecards, if reporting across your multiple systems in general is a tedious process with a lot of manual Excel intervention, it might be time for a digital transformation. When digital technologies first began to penetrate the construction industry, the general methodology was to solve a specific process or pain point as fast as possible. Integrating with other platforms was not top of mind for most developers and now many construction projects find connecting platforms together their biggest challenge. In the absence of an integrated, full project life-cycle system, managers are left with a rather laborious approach to reporting with several rounds of reconciliation.
Finally, without digital transformation, much of the future value of the data being collected remains hidden. History and past costs might be stored somewhere, but without proper access and reference points, you are unable to take productions or durations from past projects to improve plans for the next time, or to reduce rework. It is no wonder the construction industry continues to be plagued with projects that are behind schedule and over budget. Without a deep understanding and access to where you have been, history will continue repeating itself on every future project.
Where to begin a transformation journey
Even with everything that has been discussed, a digital transformation may still seem daunting. While it is often difficult to understand where to begin, here are three questions that can help set you up on a road toward success:
- Are we truly prepared for this? Time and budget commitments may not be as great as they once were, but they are still a consideration, nonetheless. Make sure to allocate time to research products and a budget to invest. Nothing is more disheartening than finding the perfect solution and then being forced to wait another year or more for approval to proceed.
- Do we know what is important to us? The answer we hear from companies almost every time is “we want to be more efficient” – but what does “more efficient” mean in the context of your business? More profitable? Increased throughput? As they say, begin with the end in mind and define what metrics drive business value for you. Focus there first.
- Do we have the right people in place? While everyone wants an exec-level champion in place to sponsor and approve transformations like these, it is important to remember who the key stakeholders are for the solution. The button-pushers in the process flow matter, and with digital transformations being as much a cultural shift as they are a technology shift, it is important to get the feedback of those who execute the work. This will help to prepare a change management strategy that will gain buy-in across the board.
And remember, as we mentioned at the top, “digital transformation” is an ever-changing journey, not just a single one-time project. Have one eye on that important problem at hand but keep the other watching out for what might be next. Even if you are unable to address it right away, by monitoring it, you will be collecting valuable insight into what might be your next digital transformation opportunity. Because now, more than ever, digital transformation success is waiting for companies of all shapes and sizes in the construction industry.
By AJ Waters, Director Industry Solutions, InEight
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