The Construction Information Technology Shift? How IT helps the Construction Industry


May 28, 2015
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Construction-Information-Technology

Technology is always an agent of change and IT is on the front-lines of the paradigm shift. Companies from diverse industries are looking to synergize their technologies and optimize their IT portfolios to streamline processes and enhance their core competencies.

Some companies have a conservative streak when it comes to changing the way they do business, preferring face-to-face meetings, old-fashioned networking and speaking on the phone. The construction and building industry is one of them, especially when it comes to IT (information technology services/ computers). The construction information technology shift – from those who provide procurement to turnkey solutions to manufacturing to design – is happening on multiple fronts. Oftentimes in the construction field, you can hear construction subcontractors and full-time staff talk about how unnecessary certain technological devices are and how it complicates their work and is not indigenous to it.

Their voice of frustration and outcry is all too familiar to IT managed service providers who work with construction companies and this is amplified when age-old, time-tested processes do end up changing and have a technological tilt. This is ironic because many construction, procurement and engineering companies incorporate some of the most sophisticated mechanical (such as bucket trucks for power lines, forklifts etc.) and electrical equipment to help do their work. So the resistance to technological changes from the construction industry seems counter-intuitive from construction crews.

That is why a lot of construction companies focus on making lightweight, revamping-style changes to their IT infrastructure and slowly roll-out applications, because a holistic changeover requires extensive training and familiarity. It takes time. If changes are introduced too fast to construction workers and contractors, who are naturally resistant to IT-level changes, this will cause grievances on the ground and will slow-down productivity.

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Adaptability to new technologies need to be incubated, facilitated and encouraged by IT service providers and mid-level, engineers and senior managers, not forced without preparing the workforce in a careful, detail-oriented and planned manner. Construction industries have been resistant to changes made by IT services providers because they believe that IT engineers and technicians fail to understand their world. The two worlds of IT and construction are now symmetrical and are cooperating on multiple fronts.

The current is shifting for the construction information technology world. The construction and engineering world is evolving when it comes to IT. Their perspectives have changed and the old world that many have lived by, is undergoing a paradigm shift that is helping it streamline processes and gain advantages in a competitive marketplace. Construction organizations need tailor-made solutions that aligns their worlds, as their ecosystem is unique and differentiated. IT must fit into their world, they do not need to fit-into IT’s world and IT must pave the way and be an accommodating force. IT needs to integrate the right enterprise-grade systems and meet compliance and regulatory needs. All pieces of the puzzle must fit and the most critical aspect is that IT has to smooth the transition to information technology-heavy systems that are user-friendly, are easy to learn and are easily applicable.

This conversion-over to IT-intensive systems must address cultural challenges and present its own alternative that is grounded in a culturally-similar substitute. If the management does not buy into the cultural shift, then those who are lower in the pecking order, as far as duties and responsibilities, and those who work in the field will definitely resist and resent the switch-over to IT. As managed service IT providers, we know that the transition must be aided by upper-level management. We are not recommending that management has to be involved in every micromanaged facet of the systems’ changeover and the deployment strategies, only that management supports the shift in direction, appropriates the right resources to the IT projects at hand and open up communication channels with honesty to help expedite the process.

Clear Objectives must be Spelled-Out

The first step in helping aid IT implementation in the construction and engineering world, from our experience, is that clear objectives are laid-out and a framework for change is provided by management to staff. The management team does not need to articulate every detail and every layer of the IT changeover and integration. What is critical is that management must understand that the nature of project(s) or systems that managed IT service providers (MSP) are deploying and implementing is understood and resonates with them. As with all industries, there will be a disparity and gap in the languages that project managers will use with one another. That is why the IT technical staff / IT department must break-down the language and articulate it in a very clear manner so there is no room for misinterpretation. Once they internalize the message, construction managers, engineers and foremen must convey that message to those who are working on the ground. What IT needs to do is make sure they understand the end-goals and the desired results of what the construction company wants to do.

The key here for the IT department is that they do not get caught-up in the technologies they are trying to design and deploy but to consider these technologies only in the framework of the end-results of the construction company. For example, “we need a software that is connected to a private cloud computing environment” is not a business end-goal, it is a technical one. The business goal in this specific case might be that the construction company wants a secure pathway where administrators can share, collaborate and communicate and access company resources anywhere and anytime.

Business objectives have usually general business purposes and or make-up part of it. They usually have little to do with specific technological integration. Business goals that are quantifiable should be easily understood and should be used to justify the cost of implanting the IT project. So, as an IT provider, if you can definitively say that you will reduce productivity drains through an IT initiative, it will make your case stronger. It will take some time before workers fully absorb and digest the new incoming systems and applications. There is a learning curve for staff and that must be considered when deciding on the efficacy of the roll-out (for those who provide turnkey solutions).

Construction and building stakeholders are well-acquainted with how to allocate resources, what milestones are mission-critical in the development of the project and the importance of deliverable. On the IT side, this is no different. IT departments/ staff must create a team to implement the technologies involved and how we can provide the right training to a construction crews and work force that will minimize confusions and misunderstandings. There a plethora of IT companies that sell you on software or applications that do one-or-two things that you really need and through up-selling you on irrelevant add-ons to increase their profit margins on a project. While electrical contractors, such as companies that deal with power-lines and overhead construction, and manufacturers promote work safety at every turn, this rigorous training model can be applied to learning new technologies.

Selling you disconnected and disintegrated functions will leave a construction company vulnerable, disjointed and prone to seeing costs skyrocket on a quarterly basis. A properly integrated system will pay-off because it reduces redundant functions, minimize the error logs, and improve your ability to deliver accurate information. Multifaceted and industry-specific applications can help integrate the right business processes by criss-crossing functionalities and making them multidimensional. Scalability is a key indicator that a software can handle the industry shifts and is there to grow alongside your business. Management again plays a pinnacle role in ensuring that business processes are enhanced by the software that is being used and that the company gains optimal benefits from the integrated software. In today’s world, software is used in all areas of construction, from street lighting, to underground power distribution, to power-lines, to fiber optic cables that enable telecommunication.

IT is responsible for ensuring that the company is using the software in the best way possible and is in-line with the construction organization’s business goals. IT support is also there to make sure that if problems do occur, they can spot it before it is felt on the ground. A problem at the industry level in construction is that costs and benefits are analyzed right away without a feel for long-term prospects. It is critical that information technology departments can showcase the changes that are already being felt after implementation and in a post-implementation environment after servers, cloud computing or general IT infrastructure is implemented. There is a balancing act that must be kept in mind: the growing pain of IT must be offset by the changes that will be felt on the operational and industrial front once the systems have matured and the staff is receptive to the IT changeover and the applications become second-nature. As in the IT world, infrastructure for construction, manufacturing, hydro, electrical and engineering companies are crucial.

Training Staff is Crucial

Training is critical when new systems have been deployed. Much research has been dedicated to the productivity drains that companies feel if proper training is done in an insufficient way. Going back to how construction companies are major proponents in minimizing expenditures at all costs and economizing and cutting-back wherever they need to, training should not be one of them. Lack of proper training will be felt both in the short and long-term. The justification for companies is that they’ve spend considerable amounts rolling-out new technologies and revamped systems, they do not want to pay their staff and external IT consultants/ IT departments to train them.

They shorten training cycles. This will have disastrous results because if your new staff does not have proper training and are not comfortable with the IT solution that has been deployed, it will send shock-waves across your company on the productivity front. Management needs to be involved and ensure that all staff take the training aspect seriously. In most cases then not, there are always those who are tech-savvy and those who are not well-versed. Special attention must be paid to the latter because training them and ensuring that they have embraced company policies and doing what the construction organization wants, will aid their development and ensure that the new systems are being adopted.

Once the construction company has on-boarded the new IT systems, it is critical that the staff, end-user community have bought-in to what has been implemented. The deployment is usually time-consuming and can also be unpleasant here-and-there when things are being implemented. It is critical that management and, if need be, communicate with staff during this process and convey to them on why this new system has been adopted, how the company will benefit from this implementation, how some job responsibilities may change and what the staff needs to do in order to help transition this in. Not being afraid to communicate is critical. A good idea would be to use the IT implementation roll-out as an opportunity for promotion. Construction companies can use the opportunity to give it a marketing spin and give it a name.

Showcase the importance of implementation and highlight how this will help make everyone work better. The important thing is to communicate it through smart marketing. Another way to promote the information technology implementation is to keep everyone up-to-date on the latest happenings. A great way to do this is by periodically launching e-mail blasts to the user community within your office walls and with updates. Trying to simplify the message and taking the engineering streak of it, will be helpful. This way, you can control the message, as an organization, and not let rumors run rampant and allow for disinformation to disseminate which can sabotage the whole IT roll-out. The IT support department must step in and take off some of the responsibilities of the construction client. They can go on-site to the location where the IT implementation will be deployed, and offer presentations that break-down how the new IT systems / servers / networks will help the organization and help the employees work more efficiently. Like the construction business, third-party IT companies like construction companies, also provide turnkey solutions.

IT can focus on the business objectives by using non-convoluted language and using laymen’s term so as not to alienate the naturally disinclined staff. You can also discuss the IT support and IT help desk that will go into supporting this new IT initiative and how the construction company and its employees should not panic if there are hiccups or if staff do not know about every single feature of the applications or new IT systems. IT support should be emphasized so that the staff feels that they have the backing by real technical professionals and networking specialists, so they do not feel they need to fend for themselves.0 IT support channels should always be open. On a final note, make sure that both IT support teams and construction managers are receiving feedback from the end-users. This way, you can get a real sense of where, how and why it is working and what is not working so you can remediate it with future versions. The main goal of all communication is to ensure that your employees are ready, willing and excited to embrace new technologies so that they can do their job and advance their careers and the company’s profile in big cities like Toronto or beyond.

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