One of the key things I took away from McGraw-Hill Construction’s recent FutureTech conference in San Francisco, besides the fact that several Millennial Generation employees on a panel are getting quite frustrated with the low-tech approach of the Baby Boomers on the jobsite (you know, those guys and ladies who actually know how to build things), was that mobile devices will play (or rather, is playing a) major role in a company’s success.

A panel, moderated by Tom Sawyer, ENR’s senior editor/information technology, confirmed this. The need for more detailed information for any technological skill level on a project, accessible by everyone, even subs, will save time, money and rework. Having BIM kiosks on site, for example, as Hunter Roberts Construction Group, New York, did on a recent project, according to Jason Burns, VP of technology, made everyone more productive.

Of course, on-site high-tech creates many new challenges, as Sam Lamonica, vice president and CIO at Rosendin Electric, San Jose, points out. “You have remote areas, bad weather, unsophisticated users and the need for big data,” he said. “This new demand for iThings also brings cost, management and security issues with it.” 

But Lamonica sees a big future with mobile and the interconnectivity it brings to the show. “Key to us is developing an app store environment and partnering with key vendors to develop interfaces for point of construction applications,” he said.

Panelist Will Senner, assistant project manager at Skanska, New York, said the firm partnered with a masters degree student at North Carolina State University on a new campus library project in auditing usage and returns on investment of new technology, including BIM on tablets and iPads. The results were impressive. By using online quality control software such as Vela Systems, the team’s mobile infrastructure cost came to $90,000 but prevented $150,000 of rework. Overall, Skanska said the ROI was 29% on project costs and 67% on overall costs. 

Technology is obviously changing the industry in so many ways – and very quickly. As the FutureTech keynoter, Chris Luebkeman, director, global oversight and innovation at Arup, notes, we will not recognize the future construction worker. These Internet Generation professionals will be participants of some amazing changes. He said his young son, for example, will possibly never drive a car (it will drive HIM) and there will be no need for paper ID (you’ll be scanned somewhere on your body for all the information needed). Interesting, yes, but in a lot of ways scary, in a Baby Boomer sort of way.