Stuck on the Wrong Side of the “Digital Divide” in Construction?

Stuck on the Wrong Side of the “Digital Divide” in Construction?

By Mike Anders, President, Agile Frameworks, LLC

Geotechnical, environmental, and consulting engineering firms that adopt modern technologies (mobile, cloud and SaaS-based services) gain agility, efficiency, and work better with clients, partners, and project owners.

Firms that under-invest in information technologies, viewing them primarily as costs to minimize, continue to fall behind as the construction industry increasingly relies on digital collaboration and mobile information.

From design to fabrication to construction and commissioning and into operations, the most successful projects, firms, and partnerships increasingly have this in common: a rapid, seamless flow of digital information between owners, firms, contractors, and stakeholders across the asset lifecycle.

Building and property owner’s expectations are undergoing a substantial shift, now favoring tech-savvy contractors and teams. According to recent Dodge Data & Analytics research, 68% of the Top Performing Owner Organizations view themselves as “highly innovative regarding the use of technology.” They also encourage risk taking and trying new approaches, and value technological proficiency more than Lower-Performing Owner Organizations. As these tech-savvy owners are exposed to and experience digital information-intensive projects, expectations for digital capabilities will continue to rise.

What does that mean for the future? My money is on smart partners following the owners across the “digital divide.” As owners seek firms that can deliver on digital collaboration, “real-time” information sharing and more, firms will recognize this, and feature digital capabilities as an important piece of selection criteria. Relationships, past experience, and industry expertise will always be essential, but digital acumen will become another differentiator and widen the “digital divide,” creating new opportunities and risks for firms.

Firms will cross this divide at different rates, to their respective advantage or disadvantage—but the need to cross has become clear. So what to do? Here are five ideas that can help:

1. Get and stay informed—be curious about the new technologies impacting our industry. Commit to learning and exploration. Attend conferences and talk with your peers and solutions providers. Pay attention to how your competitors, partners and clients are using digital tools to enhance their work.

2. Ask your clients and partners to describe the project experience they desire—and look for ways you can expedite delivery of your services in ways they can consume more easily. Ask “What if…” and “How are we doing…” questions to find areas where you can improve your delivery, and where you may be falling behind.

3. Demonstrate YOUR commitment to innovative methods and technologies. Engage with your partners, clients and suppliers to identify and try new methods that show the highest promise—within reasonable risk boundaries.

4. Identify people in your firm who “get it” and make incremental investments in technologies and talent to accelerate areas of highest value. Challenge your leaders to seek out and identify innovative methods and solution providers that can help streamline, automate, and digitize your business and client delivery.

5. Commit to being a “fast follower.” Many firms use a “Lean” program as a call to action—and select information technology solutions as an enabling component. That’s a proven approach that yields many benefits—and can help pay for the investments you make along the way.

Start now. Choose the best and most cost-effective ways to take your core business and technical delivery onto a digital, mobile and data-rich platform. Commit to it, learn from it, and move on.

That will position you best to make the leap across the digital divide.

Up next: Should you build or buy the critical business systems you run your business on?