The information technology satisfaction index among ENR readers is high, but if past is prologue, users' bullish expectations for the future may be too optimistic, particularly with respect to their greatest desire: true interoperability of all their software and systems.
That's the conclusion after studying 445 responses to a survey conducted in late February by ENR. We asked readers to tell us about the best new tech tools they use now as well as the tech tools they would like to see in the future.
The survey posed open-ended questions, with no prompts to suggest any particular products or tools. The goal was to let the users frame the discussion and see what they said and how they said it. The target group consisted of the subscribers to ENR's FutureTech newsletter, which is delivered biweekly.
Asked to name an IT tool they recently have adopted at work and to describe its potential benefits for the industry, almost all the respondents were enthusiastic about a variety of tools and products.
With all its many flavors and different tools, building information modeling (BIM) topped the list. Although readers sang full-throated praise for BIM tools, their delight with iPads and mobile devices, which free project data in the field, also rang out. Blossoming collaborative project environments followed at a close third on the list.
In the charts on the following pages, we parse users' enthusiasm for technologies they are using and want to use. The tools are broken out by category and ranked by frequency of substantive mentions.
Expect some overlap in our technology index. Mash-ups are common in many of the responses because users explain how different tool combinations are creating benefits that can't be attributed to any one tool used on its own. And many tools cited are not new—some have been evolving for quite some time. But with the advent of faster internet connections and improved software, even older technology tools are finding new life, particularly with collaboration and cloud computing.
Many current products have become so intertwined that they are difficult to categorize. For example, mobile devices and field-data management services that interact with BIM data through project management websites over fast jobsite internet connections—with data and software exchanged in the cloud—are horses of many colors. It is impossible to say their increasing value arises from any one tool.
Further, some technologies were limited to few or even single mentions but were intriguing nonetheless. For example, Luke Grant, business development director at Perfect Pavers Inc., Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., says his company uses a product called I-PAVE to do area takeoffs from satellite imagery. "It helps us provide bid proposals without having to drive to a site and field-measure," he wrote.
Look on ENR.com for a complete listing of the products mentioned by survey respondents.
New Isn’t Everything
Ray Chen, director of information services for Menasha, Wis.-based electrical subcontractor Faith Technologies, was one of very few survey respondent who didn't want anything new. He believes the greatest potential for technology lies in the better use of existing investments.
In a follow-up interview, Chen says the construction industry should focus less on perceived needs for new technology and more on how to work with what it has.
"This industry is very conservative about technology," Chen says. "There are a lot of tools out there—BIM, Trimble devices, service modules, accounting packages—and not a lot of things need to be invented to make things better."
Chen says the inconsistent adoption of technology prevents the industry from capitalizing on technology's potential. "As a subcontractor, it doesn't matter what I've implemented in my own company—I'm going to do what the GC wants me to do," he says. If the GC isn't using a data-driven approach—and a lot of them aren't —Faith isn't going to, either.
"There needs to be agreement from the general contractors to start implementing some of these things," Chen says. "The industry doesn't really need one more new device, or one more new cloud solution. The systems need to be integrated better."
Integration is being done on the fly by many technologically adept practitioners, but it is still piecemeal. One real estate firm project designer's example: His company uses Google, Go2Meeting, Dropbox, Google Docs, Facebook and LinkedIn because they "encourage seamless collaboration, speed up construction and attract the next generation of wired workforce."