I had the pleasure this week of representing Sage at Constructech Technology Day, held just outside of Chicago. While I have attended many construction industry shows and seminars, this event was unique in its own right. The event annually recognizes both individuals and companies who are industry leaders in the utilization and rollout of technology in their organizations! This year’s Technology Day also set out to acknowledge women in construction and many of the attendees, speakers, and panelists were women.
For those not able to attend, I thought I would share some key and recurring topics that came to light during the event:
One of the speaker’s noted how there is no one vendor who can address all the technology needs and requirements of construction companies today. Think about it: project management, estimating, BIM, ERP, RFID, mobile devices, document management, communications, e-mail, and many other technologies are all used by contractors. Multiple speakers emphasized how construction companies must look to minimize the duplication of work and seek out vendors who provide open Application Program Interfaces (APIs)—or integration links in layperson terms. With construction margins squeezed as tightly as they are, contractors must look to leverage every efficiency they can.
Every speaker’s company is seeking to find ways to be more efficient while promoting mobility to both their workforce and subcontractors. No surprise here. Every time I think about this, I reflect on how 10 years ago a smartphone meant a Blackberry with a full QWERTY keyboard. How times have changed!
One of the millennial speakers, Ann-Marie Jennette, who is a project manager with Suffolk Construction, said that today there is the largest spread of ages ever seen in the construction labor force. This was also displayed throughout the day with a number of millennial and Gen Y speakers, as well as some who were Baby Boomers. Everyone noted how this diversity poses challenges for technology adoption and rollout across our industry.
Ann-Marie also talked about the concept of “reverse mentoring,” noting that while she has learned from peers who have unbelievable construction expertise, she has also helped them to better use today’s technology tools. Blending these generational divides take finesse and it’s my belief that there is not a one size fits all approach to this.
Education and Training
Speaker after speaker highlighted the importance of training and education. Some of them talked about investing in training to get more out of the technology tools companies already have; others talked about the need to continuously train the labor force, especially related to generational challenges as new and innovative products are rolled out. There were a number of perspectives and ways contractors were handling these challenge. The key message, however, was to be proactive, define the plan and not let every-day work take priority over these important initiatives.
I especially could relate to comments on how companies need to continuously improve what they have. I often visit with clients who have not evolved their processes or how they use our products since they implemented the software (all too often dating back to pre-Y2K). Many of these companies could realize huge time and money savings just by “sharpening their tools.”
In the industry forums I’ve attended in the past, I cannot ever recall speakers who were so passionate about the safety of their jobsites. While drones are a buzz word in the industry, for example, much of the discussion around drones was as much about safety as it was about the technology enablement that they provide. It was pointed out that drones can often be a hazard to employees looking at these aerial machines rather than focusing on the work or surfaces in front of them. Safety was something all of the speakers talked about with immense conviction, and while we all know companies never want a lost-time injury, the focus on this area at a technology event was pleasantly surprising.
While this topic is nothing new, technology has greatly influenced how and what is expected of stakeholders in terms of communication on projects today. A variety of collaborative project management tools, like Sage Construction Project Center, are creating whole new processes and expectations on how owners, contractors, subs, architects, engineers and other groups interact with one another, and, more importantly, the speed at which key decisions can be made.
Christian Burger, with Burger Consulting, talked about how just a few years ago, his company was spending most of its time improving or replacing contractor ERP systems. Today many of his engagements are focused on operational components and simply making the ERP system work. The focus is “on the process not the system,” he said, pointing out that contractors have realized they can get more significant and quicker returns by concentrating on the operations side of the business. As I reflect on the day and the evening’s awards dinner, perhaps this shift was most obvious in that there were so few ERP companies present to accept Technology Enabler awards. Instead, many of the awards were related to pre-construction and operational process improvements.
Women in Construction
Likely the biggest theme of the night was women in construction. Constructech took a special interest in recognizing a variety of women for their contributions to the usage, adoption and efficiencies gained from the utilization of technology in construction. It was noted during the awards ceremony that women make up less than 10% of the workforce in construction today, and yet their representation at this event was roughly 50%.
It was a delight to be a part of this event. I was proud to represent Sage, but I was equally glad to have taken the opportunity to listen to a variety of topical sessions to better understand some of the challenges facing the construction industry today and to have a much greater perspective on what many of our clients are doing in their businesses to become more efficient.