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August 22, 2018

Digitizing the construction industry requires a view from the field

 

Construction is booming, and with growing population and increasing urbanization requiring new homes and offices to be built, industry momentum shows no signs of slowing down. Despite increasingly sophisticated structures, construction remains one of the least digitized industries.

If you drive by any construction site, it’s astounding to see the flurry of activity — with hundreds of workers in a structure that changes daily — still operating in much the same way it did 40 or 50 years ago. But what worked then is no longer feasible today. Imagine how difficult it is for supervisors to know which workers are on site and which tasks are being completed, or to communicate safety incidents or other hazards when they are relying on paper time sheets, daily logs, emails and other antiquated solutions. This reliance on manual processes limits visibility, analysis and reporting, and impedes improvement.

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But the industry is beginning to turn this around. By measuring and understanding how things are done today, it’s possible to identify key problems that can be solved through innovation. Asking how something was built, how it works and, most importantly, how it can be improved is essential for identifying opportunities, developing intelligent solutions and staying at the forefront of technology. These “how” questions also ground a problem — and solution — in reality, taking it from hypothetical (“under these ideal conditions…”) to the reality of how things will perform in the field.

As the internet of things (IoT) continues to become more ubiquitous, it is having a greater impact on how people live and work. Individuals today expect information instantly, and as more devices become connected, IoT technology is transforming the way entire industries conduct business — even in historically tech-lagging sectors.

Spurred in part by increased construction activity, a labor shortage, mobile adoption and more readily available solutions, contractors are starting to use IoT technology to automate previously manual and paper-based processes, enhance visibility, and, ultimately, build safer and smarter. There is a lot of room for productivity, safety and process improvement at the job site, and new tools, including wearable devices and sensors, are collecting job site data more affordably, efficiently and effectively than previously possible. With leading-edge technology, for example, on-site supervisors and off-site managers can now see snapshots of daily operations and safety in real time, including where workers are located on site.

In the short term, reports and analytics on this influx of data will provide actionable insights into site operations. In time, the application of machine learning and AI will allow companies to leverage this information to predict — and even prevent — specific future outcomes.

Keep reading on Forbes.com

 


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