Can Innovating Slowly Help Speed Up Construction Technology Adoption?

They say slow and steady wins the race, and this adage is definitely applicable when it comes to construction technology adoption. The industry has made great strides over the last decade to become a more welcoming environment for innovation, but construction has continually lagged its peers in adopting new tech. 

This slow start out of the gate, and continued hesitance to adopt early, has deprived the industry of productivity and efficiency gains enjoyed by other industries. According to a 2018 study by global tax and audit consulting firm EY, which analyzed the trend of technology adoption in multiple industries, including construction, 98% of respondents said digital was key to their businesses’ success. 

Obviously, people know they can’t avoid tech adoption forever and realize just how important embracing digital technology has become. The tricky part is getting companies on board in a meaningful way. Nobody likes having the rug pulled out from under them, but introducing technology incrementally over time can work wonders.

Disruptive Innovation vs. Incremental Innovation

We’ve been hearing the word “disruptive” a lot, usually referring to technology that comes along seemingly out of nowhere and completely changes how an industry operates or functions. We saw it with Uber, which had decimated the traditional taxi service industry. Airbnb has been a consistent headache for the hotel industry. 

The other side of that coin is so-called incremental innovation. Instead of speed, it prioritizes efficiency or cost-savings in a specific business area at a time. Incremental innovation happens much more slowly, with a product, service, or method gradually improving over time. It’s also a lot safer than disruptive innovation, and it’s a lot more likely to work well when done methodically. Innovating slowly also increases the odds of getting more enthusiastic buy-in from workers, whose embrace of the new solution is key to its success.

Tim Mitchell, director of editorial development for CMD Group, recently told the Atlanta Business Journal that the construction industry’s level of inefficiency, which partially stems from slow or reluctant tech adoption, is as high as 20-30%.

“Building a building is not like building a plane or a computer,” said Mitchell. “Boeing or Dell will build everything on a computer before anything is done in the physical world. On a building site, everything is pieced together from drawings and specs. And because you have so many different groups of people collaborating on projects, inefficiencies tend to be fairly high.”

The COVID Effect on Innovation and Adoption

Sometimes, it takes a catalyzing external force to push a company toward new technologies. The COVID-19 is such an incident. It’s been driving companies to explore new technologies and methods out of necessity, both to ensure workers remain safe and to capture much-needed efficiency gains and cost-savings. 

“COVID-19 shut down jobsites and [contractors were] having to create changes in behavior overnight,” Erin Roberts, EY’s global engineering and construction leader, told For Construction Pros. “This wasn’t a decision about, ‘Do I have enough capital to deploy to get drones in the air?’ That wasn’t a choice. It was a requirement because you had no other way to carry out the health and safety aspects of that COVID jobsite.”

Working remotely was another technological innovation right on the edge of going mainstream even before COVID hit. Unfortunately, construction is not an industry that conveniently lends itself to working from home. While some shifts have been possible—back-office workers can now do their jobs from home using enterprise communication tools and platforms—front-line construction workers just don’t have that option available. Contractors, inspectors, and supervisors are still generally needed at the jobsite in-person. Construction was also deemed “essential” work during the height of the pandemic, so work will continue, COVID or no COVID.

To ensure proper social distancing and worker safety, companies have adopted a number of strategies. These include deploying drones or virtual walkthrough apps using phones or tablets for remote building inspections and scheduling technology that ensures that only a safe number of workers remain on a jobsite. COVID was an outlier, a rare instance where something so transformative came along that companies had no choice but to get on board. But, fortunately, such events are rare. Innovation in construction more typically happens one step at a time.

How Procore Enables Incremental Innovation

A platform like Procore is designed to connect teams and individuals to make collaboration easier and improve the flow of key project information. It takes construction processes like accounting, scheduling, and productivity tools out of silos and puts them all in one easily accessible place. 

Procore’s scalability is one of its major strengths, allowing companies to use only the applications they need. An extensive network of integration partners allows companies to continue using their favorite third-party apps. It’s not a bloated platform that disrupts processes and forces companies to change everything overnight, making it a perfect example of incremental innovation. A contractor using Procore has the option to fine-tune how they use it based on their business needs. Over time, applications can be added or taken away as those needs change.

“Unlike legacy solutions of the past, platforms are built on reliable, scalable, adaptive, and secure frameworks through which they can evolve to meet users’ changing needs,” writes Michelle Turner, product marketing manager for Procore. “Their flexibility also gives them the unique ability to easily adapt to new developments in the construction industry.”

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