Information Technology (IT) may not traditionally be linked to the construction trade, with workers often shunning new technologies in favour of tried-and-tested manual methods. However, thanks to progressive technological developments, the world is shifting into an increasingly digital era. The construction industry, therefore, needs to follow suit. But, this shift is about more than just keeping up with the times. It is about improving efficiency and efficacy, and remaining current and competitive in today’s technological climate.
Why all the fuss?
Twenty-three years after the Latham Report highlighted the need for adopting high-tech methods in construction, implementing technology is imperative as ever. Firstly, the construction industry depends on large amounts of information throughout the construction process. Employing IT significantly reduces the practical issues involved in this, by enabling data integration, material, resource, and task control. Secondly, construction often involves a large number of people in different locations collaborating on complex, sometimes one-off, developments. Thus, technologies such as building information modelling (BIM), and mobile computing (MC) are becoming a fundamental part of the construction site. Mobile computing, for instance, allows for effective communication between all project participants, regardless of location. Many in the industry are also looking to project or construction management software to keep projects on schedule, and to maintain budgets and profit margins. Additionally, computer aided design (CAD) allows models to be linked to project schedules and programmes, therefore integrating design and construction management, and ultimately enhancing the construction planning process. The online nature of these software packages means relevant documents, such as project drawings, are accessible to anyone who needs them, regardless of location or time. This aids the organisation of large and intricate projects and, in turn, benefits the overall performance of the construction industry. Policies regarding the use of IT are also changing the trade. For instance, fully collaborative 3D BIM (with electronic data, documentation, project and asset information) is now required by Government policy on all centrally-procured public projects, as of April 2016.
What can IT do for you?
We’ve taken a look at three of the easiest construction information technologies to integrate, even for those who may be a little adverse to using technology…
Mobile Computing and Management
With the vast majority of workers already owning and using mobile devices, this is the simplest technology to incorporate. No longer limited to text messages and phone calls, mobile computing now facilitates cheaper and more efficient communications. For example, the increasing use of apps and the internet mean video calling can be used cheaply to enable communication across project participants in various locations. In addition, multimedia content can be sent cost-effectively, ensuring project data is shared in a timely manner. As the number of mobile devices and applications grows, mobile device management is also becoming increasingly important for protecting the configuration settings and data for mobile devices in a network.
Project Management Software
As we touched on earlier, construction project management software allows for more effective organisation of complicated construction processes, enabling projects to be delivered on time and according to budget. Not only do these software aid the management of core project tasks, but they also provide tools to assist with invoicing, time billing, and custom reporting, making the construction process more efficient. These tools ensure the construction industry is able to execute projects to the highest standards, in a timely manner, thus increasing overall business profitability.
Cloud-based tools are convenient and improve productivity, ensuring everyone from the client, to the subcontractor, to the architect has access to the same files. With the constant change of location and workers in the construction industry, company data needs to be accessible remotely. Cloud computing, therefore, allows for reporting ability and timely decision-making in the field. This increases freedom, as information can be accessed at any time, from any location, whether that be on or off-site. Through cloud services, files can also be shared easily and edited, saving the hassle of multiple versions, and ensuring files are always up-to-date.
So, how important is IT?
In the construction industry, IT should be seen as a tool, much like any other tool used in construction. Without it, projects cannot be expected to run smoothly, nor be completed efficiently or effectively. With it, the trade can expect to see increased productivity, and a positive impact on the traditional project parameters of time, cost, and quality.