Construction Can Be the Next Major Productivity Breakthrough

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Thinking at scale

One of construction’s major problems is that it has not able to scale like other industries. The manufacturing industry learned how to standardize production of everything from toothpicks to cars, and it allows those industries to reach a critical mass.

With construction, on the other hand, projects are customized from the beginning and that limits the ability to scale across countries, or even across counties. Building codes in one part of the United States differ significantly from those in another. Starting from scratch across the entire design, build, and operate scale is costly.

Construction manufacturing– with the likes of Katerra– is certainly looking to find the secret formula that allows the building process to be standardized, but this may not be the magic answer to achieving scale. Rather, the first step to achieving better scale is through better data management.

What should this process look like?

The first step that should happen in this effort is organizations need to recognize their data management program needs investment. To be clear, construction does not need one standardized data format. The reality of implementing an industry-wise data standardization around RFIs, punchlists, or submittals is too massive, too expensive, and not really important when it comes to data management. What is important is having better data normalization platforms, which allows applications to share information more easily. There needs to be better data warehouses and secure data sharing that allows for more effective design, construction, and asset management. This is more important that forcing one data standard on an industry where scalable standards have very little traction.

Collecting more data and choosing better methods to store that information (such as in an immutable blockchain that allows for safer and smarter information sharing), will help speed up the scale at which construction becomes the next major productivity breakthrough in today’s global economy.

Automation will be key

If we want to improve the scale at which we build (i.e., build more projects and do so with better margins), we need to improve the productivity of the entire process. This means looking at how workflows share information, how applications are able to speak to other.

Automation will play a big role in unlocking construction productivity lag. Not just in automating robots on a job site, it will also mean automating data tasks. Automation is not just a manufacturing concern, it is also a software concern.

Humans will continue to play a major role in the industry. Jobs won’t disappear, rather they will morph. Today’s data entry positions will become more like “data concierges,” where rather than perform double data entry tasks, they will set up automation channels– something the tech industry calls “human-in-the-loop”. Automation and software won’t replace humans, they will instead be better tools to allows humans to be more productive.

Embrace a big software ecosystem

Construction is seeing a lot of new startups and new technology applications that are creating new ways to streamline these processes, and this should be embraced. But, it should also be noted that these new data silos will actually delay productivity if companies do not have a sound data integration strategy in place. Data only becomes productive when it is properly normalized, automated across systems, and stored in easy-to-transfer formats– such as a blockchain– that allow it to be easily shared.

Vertical integration is not the cure-all for construction technology products either. In fact, the opposite– diversity in application platforms– has served the internet very well, particularly in B2B industries. Just opening Apple’s App Store shows how many applications are available across verticals.

Construction has the elements and the tools to breakout as the next productivity revolution in construction. The question is how willing are companies to make an honest assessment about their data.

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Ellis Talton