An Outsider's Perspective: Technology in Construction

By Tim Goggin posted 9 days ago

I attended my first Construction Financial Management Association Annual Conference in June of this year. It was an inspiring conference that illustrated the complex intersection of business, technology, and culture in construction companies. As an expert in advancing change in these areas, and as a relative newcomer to this industry, I wanted to share my perspectives on what I heard, learned, and observed during the event. 

Talent, Talent, Talent!
The break-out sessions I attended, regardless of topic, included commentary on the talent shortage in the industry. Financial executives of construction firms of all sizes are concerned about the ability to attract and retain young talent.

  • Anirban Basu, a leading economist who presented at the event, said that productivity is at a 20-year low because the skilled workforce is aging out (40 – 60 years) and the new wave of workers coming in don’t have the necessary skills for the growing complexity of the jobs.
  • Many construction leaders are concerned that they won’t be able to attract young talent because they don’t have the technology that recent college graduates expect (demand).
  • Many sessions were dedicated to the necessary leadership skills, and cultural considerations necessary to attract/ retain young talent… even a session on having fun with your employees.
My perspective: Leaders need to prioritize fixing this issue, in their company first and then industry- wide. Fixing starts with inspiring a new mindset around what is needed for successful recruitment— and it starts with a vision for the future.

Technology Matters
There was an entire track dedicated to technology at the conference, along with a room of software vendors in the Exhibition. It was clear that people think technology is key to the industry’s health. They also recognizes that the industry is behind and that companies need to start looking at technology differently to mitigate some short and long term risks – and set their companies up successfully for the future.

  • According to research from McKinsey, the construction industry is second to last when it comes to technology adoption (agriculture and hunting are the last). The ranking is due to the industry’s consistent resistance to technology.
  • There was strong interest to connect business value outcomes to use of technology – and how some new technological innovations can dramatically improve efficiency and effectiveness, reduce operational costs, and improve safety.
    • As an example, in a session participant poll, the biggest barrier to the adoption of mobile field technologies is fear of resistance in the field.
  • There were sessions with strong messages that leaders need to act now—or risk being disrupted and left behind-- when it comes to adopting technology. Leaders need to address the status quo thinking and look at technology implementation as an opportunity to transform a company for the better – people, process, products.
My perspective: The greatest barrier to adopting technology is not the technology or software – it’s the people element: they need to know why the organization is moving forward with this technology, what’s in it for them, and how to use it (especially seasoned members of the team).

Leadership Matters, even More 
Not only was there an entire track dedicated to leadership, several of the sessions focused on effectively leading during this interesting time in business. Sessions illustrated that managers need to be great and transformational for people to follow and for them to work as high performing teams. And a new approach is needed that takes into consideration the talent shortage and changing expectations for the use of technology.

When it comes to people
  • It’s important to keep on learning and growing, coaching people (be a good finder, not a fault finder) and using the skills of the team.
  • Finding ways to connect your younger staff with seasoned members helps with knowledge transfer. A great idea was having younger, tech-savvy staff teach the seasoned team members new tech, while the seasoned employees can teach the craft—this arrangement would create a unique bond.
  • Keeping people focused on what benefits the business, versus following bright, shiny objects.
  • It’s essential for leaders to prioritize effective communication within teams and throughout the company. People need to know why something is important and how their role matters for transformation to occur.
When it comes to technology
  • Technology is a benefit if it improves the business and leads to positive changes (such reducing the time to close the book within 14 days).
  • Managing distractions created by technology was a major topic of discussion – finding focus time that is devoid of distractions (including email) is a great way to ensure you are working on the most important things.
My perspective: Leadership cannot be reactive. With the diverse generations working in the workforce, combined with technological innovation creeping into every aspect of the business, leaders need to get ahead of challenges by providing clarity on company ambitions, roles, responsibilities, and expectations. A vision for how their business will look in the future is essential.

Final Thoughts
There is a tremendous amount of untapped potential when it comes to aligning your business goals with people and technology. It's time to make technology a first-class citizen in your business like safety and the environment by creating a broader dialogue on its potential. Creating a vision and roadmap for how you're going to use technology will create a substantial competitive advantage.