Integration of information technologies has allowed every U.S. industry achieve notable productivity gains over the last 40 years. In construction however, productivity has remained essentially unchanged, despite an increasing usage of technology, reports a design and construction white paper. To be effective, a company must incorporate three distinct pieces: adopt, embrace, and invest in technology if they want to take advantage of all of the “horsepower” it makes available.  

Adoption of technology is increasing and accelerating in the industry. The JB Knowledge Construction Technology Report indicates that over 40% of construction professionals use four or more different software/programs every day, and only 3.7% don’t use any software. Technology usage isn’t limited to a PC or laptop either, 72% use a smartphone, and 50% a tablet. Over 79% report that mobile technology is “important” or “very important” to them, a number that has increased steadily since 2012. 

These numbers indicate that adoption of technology may no longer be an issue in construction, but adoption is only the first step. After that, personnel at all levels must embrace the technology. The report found that 27% of employees and 32% of managers were hesitant about technology. An executive at one GC, recently shared the challenges he had in getting older personnel to embrace company-implemented technology. He told us it was cheaper for them to hire one of our students to follow his older guys around and use the technology for them, than to allow the job to be done without it. Think of what it would cost your company to employ an assistant superintendent, project engineer, or assistant PM because a veteran employee won’t learn to use the technology! If it makes sense to hire someone to use the technology, what advantages are possible through its use? 

The third and perhaps biggest hurdle to technology adoption in the industry is investment. Among construction professionals, 53% report that budgets limit their use of technology. As with many things, it comes down to the money. And unfortunately, among 19 different industries, construction ranks dead last in information technology (IT) spending, according to a study by Gartners called IT Key Metrics Data. The average IT spending across those 19 industries is 3.3%, but in construction that percentage is only 1% (measured by corporate revenue, not building volume by). Investing in technology is difficult at best, particularly as already small budgets get used up just keeping hardware and software up to date and operating. So pursuing new opportunities and exploring future trends is even harder. 

Failure to invest is likely the biggest barrier to implementation of new technology in construction. As one veteran superintendent told me, once they showed me what I could do with it (a tablet) it was a no brainer. In fact the survey found that almost half of construction professionals are using their personal laptop, smartphone, or tablet for work purposes. 

Margins in construction are notoriously thin, and the industry is filled with people who don’t like to be told what to do or to change. At many companies today, adopting or embracing technology doesn’t lead to investment. Nor visa versa. But, as young professionals continue to enter the industry, who already embrace technology, investment is going to be the primary barrier for companies to improve. Every company’s unique circumstances will determine where their emphasis needs to be right now (adopting, embracing, or investing).