Event Recaps
The Future of Construction Technology
Explore the future of AI, robotics, data ownership, and more in construction through insights from top industry experts
The Future of Construction Technology
| 4 minute read

The construction industry is undergoing rapid change with regards to new technology adoption and deployment on jobsites. With new advancements in technologies such as AI and robotics the construction industry is ripe for unprecedented change. To help make sense of it all and gain valuable insights into what the future might hold, we pulled together a panel of contech rockstars to dive deep into these important topics:

This post recaps the key points and takeaways from the session.

Successful Scaling of Technology Across Construction Organizations

The panel highlighted the crucial role of integrating technology within construction firms, not just as tools but as strategic elements. Alexis shared Suffolk’s pioneering approach by hiring the industry's first Chief Data Officer seven years ago, leading to the development of a data lake, predictive analytics, and their real-time project management platform, Mission Control. This platform and their LOD 400 model serve as a single source of truth for the field. Alexis emphasized the need for professionals to evolve beyond being only technologists or VDC specialists, becoming integral parts of a technological ecosystem, understanding construction deeply and driving process improvements from the field.

Similarly, Tomislav discussed Clayco's journey, involving a transformation, moving from viewing Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) as a catch-all for technology to a more nuanced approach that considers design technology, reality capture, and project delivery as distinct components contributing to the overall operational effectiveness. This transition was partly driven by the need to maintain a competitive edge and cultural identity in the face of rapid growth and the shifting dynamics of the construction industry, especially in response to COVID-19.

Hammad highlighted EllisDon’s shift from traditional VDC and BIM to a broader construction technology strategy, integrating digital tools into core processes for a cohesive approach. He discussed their journey from the pioneering work on the Frank Gehry-designed Art Gallery of Ontario, to addressing fragmentation within the industry and shifting towards a more integrated digital construction strategy. This strategy encompasses not just the adoption of innovative technologies but also the integration of these technologies into core construction processes like scheduling, QA/QC, and field management, moving away from siloed solutions towards a cohesive, holistic approach.

Overall, the panelists emphasized the critical role of people in scaling technology across organizations. They pointed out that technological proficiency needs to be paired with deep industry knowledge to drive meaningful adoption and integration of technology in construction projects. The challenge of aligning technology strategy with overall business objectives was a common theme, as was the need for a culture shift within the industry to fully leverage the potential of digital tools and platforms.

Robotics in Construction

The second topic, Robotics in Construction, featured insightful contributions from the speakers, underlining the transformative potential of robotics in the field. The conversation opened with a focus on the transition of technologists from office-based roles to active on-site roles, emphasizing the need for a deep understanding of construction methods and the integration of technology into these processes. Michael Contreras (MC) from Structure Tone Southwest shared his hands-on experience and the positive impacts of robotics on construction sites. He highlighted the proactive approach to addressing labor shortages through the augmentation of the workforce with robotics, such as the use of layout robots like Rugged Robotics and Dusty Robotics, which not only perform tasks efficiently but also add value by embedding detailed information into the construction process.

The dialogue further explored how robotics is enhancing safety and efficiency, emphasizing the importance of skilled operators in leveraging these technologies effectively. The discussion acknowledged the challenges of integrating robotics, including the need for careful planning and the creation of a supportive ecosystem that fosters innovation. Tomislav voiced a pragmatic view, suggesting a focus on controlled environments and planning to maximize the benefits of automation. Hammad highlighted the critical role of planning in adopting robotics, suggesting that advancements in robotics offer an opportunity to rethink construction processes fundamentally.

The conversation rounded off with the consensus that while robotics presents a promising avenue for innovation in construction, their successful integration depends on strategic planning, skilled human oversight, and the creation of an ecosystem that supports continuous improvement and adaptation. Most importantly, the future of robotics in construction, as discussed, lies not in replacing the workforce but in complementing it, leading to safer, more efficient, and technologically advanced construction practices.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Construction

The discussion on AI in Construction delved into the integration and challenges of implementing artificial intelligence within the construction industry, underlining the pivotal role it can have in enhancing project delivery and management. Alexis highlighted Suffolk's proactive approach to leveraging AI, emphasizing the rapid pace of technology development that often surpasses the project teams' capacity to keep up. By utilizing a combination of dashboards and predictive analytics, Suffolk has developed systems to provide real-time insights and predictive models for project outcomes, focusing on safety, cost, and schedule. This approach enables the pre-emptive identification and mitigation of risks, illustrating a forward-thinking strategy to integrate AI in enhancing project predictability and efficiency.

Tomislav discussed the broader industry perspective, including the challenges of data standardization, sharing, and ownership that impede the full realization of AI's potential in construction. He stressed the importance of data governance, common data environments, the need for a shared starting point in standardization, and the hurdles in data sharing among stakeholders, which remain significant obstacles to leveraging AI across the board.

MC expanded on the importance of understanding the source of data used in data lakes and in training AI models, pointing out the potential risks of biases and inaccuracies that could lead to detrimental decisions if not carefully managed. He also highlighted the competition with the tech industry for talent, underscoring the necessity of attracting and retaining skilled individuals to drive AI innovation in construction.

Overall, the conversation around AI in construction underscored the critical role of data as the foundation of AI applications, the challenges of adapting to rapid technological advancements, and the importance of strategic planning and industry collaboration to overcome obstacles. The potential of AI to transform construction practices is immense, but realizing this potential requires addressing the complex issues of data standardization, sharing, governance, and talent acquisition and retention.

Data Ownership

Tomislav shared insights on the broader industry perspective, touching on the hurdles of data governance and the necessity for standardization across the industry. He underlined the importance of aligning on data ownership and the challenges posed by legal constraints on data sharing. His narrative shed light on the intricate balance between technological advancements and the legal and ethical frameworks governing data use in construction.

Hammad expanded the discussion to include the complexities of data ownership, particularly in the context of AI applications that necessitate broad access to and analysis of project data. He emphasized the critical nature of navigating proprietary information, legal agreements, and the evolving landscape of client expectations regarding data privacy and security. His inputs highlighted the industry's ongoing efforts to reconcile the transformative potential of AI with the imperative to safeguard sensitive information and maintain trust among all stakeholders.

Together, these insights paint a picture of an industry at the cusp of a significant transformation, propelled by AI but constrained by the pragmatic realities of data ownership, privacy, and the legal frameworks that govern technology adoption.

Build vs Buy vs Invest

In the dynamic landscape of construction technology, companies, especially larger organizations constantly navigate the "Build vs. Buy” dilemma. With the ever increasing importance of specialized software solutions, this decision has evolved to include not just building in-house solutions or purchasing existing technologies, but also investing in promising startups or forming strategic partnerships i.e. Invest. This strategy lets construction firms access innovation more easily and affordably, bypassing the need to develop solutions from scratch. It also means investing in startups that are creating new industry solutions, offering a chance to benefit from their success in a way akin to venture capital. For instance, EllisDon has developed and spun out their in-house cost estimating platform, Edify, transitioning it from an internal tool to a marketable product, illustrating a blend of building and investing strategies. Suffolk's approach emphasizes investment and partnership, recognizing the value in guiding tech development to ensure products are pragmatically aligned with the construction industry's unique needs and constraints. They have an accelerator program for construction tech startups called BOOST. Clayco's cautious stance towards development within the ecosystem highlights the complexity and risks involved, underscoring the importance of objective, strategic decision-making to navigate this "minefield." This multifaceted approach underscores a broader trend towards viewing technology adoption not just as a choice between building or buying, but as an ecosystem strategy that includes investing in and partnering with tech startups to drive innovation tailored to the construction industry's evolving needs.

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