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The construction industry faces a unique mix of challenges and opportunities in the year ahead as market demand, critical business needs, changing workforce demographics and technological advancements continue to drive digital transformation. This focus on innovation is expected accelerate in 2019, as tech moves from a competitive advantage to an operational necessity and contractors leverage technology – and most importantly, data – to unlock new efficiencies. 

The connected jobsite, which provides various stakeholders with unprecedented insight into where and how resources are being used on site and the interactions between them, will lead to smarter jobsites. Over the next 12 months, as firms move from tire kickers and early adopters to the early majority, more contractors and industry partners will leverage the groundswell of data to work safer, smarter and better. 

Trends for the coming year

Scaling Solutions and Strategies

 The construction industry will continue making up for decades of under-digitization, replacing assumptions with insight gleaned from data, and for the first time, moving toward real-time resource and safety management. Fundamentally altering the way things have always been done is never an easy task, however, and it will require management and employee buy-in, a clear vision and strategy, regular communication and dedicated resources.

As more jobsite technologies hit the market, which is expected to continue at a healthy pace given ongoing record-level investment in construction tech start-ups, expect accelerated innovation and adoption of technology throughout the organization. Gaining true competitive advantage will require changes to internal infrastructure and the commitment of technology champions to oversee implementation and use. Whether it’s unnecessary wear-and-tear of machines or injury detection in the field, the most successful organizations will clearly articulate their goals for data collection as well as develop integrated processes for analyzing the data and acting on the results. 

Growing the Construction Tech Ecosystem

While software and mobile apps help digitize existing workflows and create a central stream of project information (e.g. certificates of insurance, blueprints or requests for information), they still require a fair amount of manual entry. In 2019, the real game-changer will come from IoT-enabled data insights and analytics. Adoption of internet of things-based devices – from wearables and equipment sensors to drones – will grow as builders increasingly depend on them to monitor site operations and safety more efficiently, effectively and affordably than was possible using manual methods. In addition to showing what’s happening across large work zones in real time, such as how equipment is being utilized on site or where trades are located, these devices are collecting valuable data that can be used by contractors to change unsafe behaviors, improve resource deployment and more accurately price new jobs. In the coming year, companies will not only refine their own processes for integrating and analyzing new and existing data sets, but also better communicate what they’re looking for from technology and industry partners. This will result in new and creative use cases and applications for IoT tech and data that will affect various stakeholders across the project lifecycle.  

Leveraging Tech and Data to Mitigate Insurance Risks 

One of the areas where data will create change in 2019 is in contractor and insurance carrier relationships. With real-time feedback into what’s happening on the ground or behind the wheel, contractors can better report and respond to incidents or near-misses, measure safety behaviors and achieve overall safer work environments. Automatic data collection devices, whether worn by workers, tagged onto equipment or placed around the jobsite, enable contractors – and increasingly, their insurance partners – to identify, assess and mitigate potential risks. 

Wearables, for example, automatically detect falls, capture safety data, alert safety personnel to jobsite emergencies and enable two-way communication between workers and supervisors. The real-time notification enables safety personnel to provide faster medical response and attention, enabling better outcomes. Data captured in the field also helps identify unsafe behaviors that were previously discovered only after there was an incident or claim – or maybe not at all – and provides contractors and insurance partners with the opportunity to proactively improve risk management practices. In addition to these immediate benefits, managers can gain critical, objective incident data, including the time and height of a fall, to streamline incident reporting, aid investigation and combat potentially false claims. 

Accelerating Lean Construction Practices

To improve efficiency and maximize project quality and value, contractors continue to focus on lean construction principles. Even though lean construction is a widely accepted concept, many firms struggle to implement and measure the effectiveness of lean methodologies in practice. To date, lean construction has largely focused on the preconstruction and planning phases, such as how a project team is structured, and the role of technology has been primarily limited to scheduling and project management software.

IoT-based jobsite technologies collect data that was previously cost, time and risk-prohibitive, yet essential to identifying bottlenecks and site-specific sources of waste. In 2019, armed with data, more companies will kickstart their lean journeys, using utilization, location and activity data from humans and machines to drive improved daily resource management. For example, wearables might show that workers are wasting 20 minutes each morning waiting for elevators to get to their designated work zones. Innovation will turn anecdotes and observations into real-time management so project leaders can begin to take steps like staggering the workforce or material deliveries to minimize downtime. 

Data will be central to the construction industry in 2019. Knowing what data needs to be collected – or what business challenges need to be solved – and not just discussing, but actually practicing how the data will be stored, integrated, analyzed and acted on, will make a key difference over the coming months. And as builders move from collecting data to applying it to improve stakeholder transparency and accountability, leading organizations will turn to their industry partners to discover new applications and use cases and drive further investment.

Heading into a new year, the construction industry is firing on all cylinders, enjoying a steady period of growth, investment and technology innovation. As more solutions become available, there will be a greater divide between those who invest in the internal resources and structures to support innovation and those who don’t. Firms that strategically plan for how technology will be adopted and leveraged to benefit their businesses will give themselves a strong competitive advantage that will be critical to meeting current – and future – market, business and workforce challenges.

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