Wednesday, March 30, 2016

What Obstacles Stand in the Way of the Construction Industry Embracing Emerging Technology?


When it comes of the potential technology holds for transforming the construction industry, an interesting question to ask at this point is: what are the obstacles standing in the way of adopting new and emerging technology on a large scale? Those that are or have been employed in construction know what a unique industry it is. There are employment & labor, safety, management and legal factors that make construction stand apart from other businesses. When it comes to technology, the industry is typically late in making use of new innovations. We’re at a moment now when it seems like change is coming fast and strong, but what does that timeline really look like? Perhaps the industry should be moving quicker to utilize the advancements now available, but realistically practical uses could be much further away. Here are a few reasons why we see change come so slowly to construction, and what stands in the away of technical innovation being embraced by the industry.

One huge argument for why the construction industry is so slow to innovate is risk management. The sheer size and heft of the building industry make change difficult and expensive. Some argue that waiting until there is no longer a choice in the matter is bad for the industry, and by holding out, construction businesses put themselves in a position where they are unprepared for inevitable change. We already see products emerging that could force the industry to take the leap into a new era defined by digital technology. Much more work remains to be done until 3D and virtual reality become commonplace, and depends quite a bit on action to be taken by those inside the industry.  Some glaring concerns on the part of construction industry professionals when it comes to technology were illustrated by a study from Texas A&M published last year, which lists among it’s findings that although cloud-computing is becoming more widespread among contractors, proper security measures are not.

Alongside a need to mitigate risk, is a conservative attitude characteristic of many builders. In an industry where aversion to risk is paramount, seeing technology move through not just the communication and government sector, but entertainment and consumer goods, makes these innovations appear less relevant.  This is a current problem when it comes to Virtual Reality use in building and design, which could be overcome simply when the  technology becomes widely used, according to experts. When technology is allowed to prove itself as an invaluable business tool, that will go a long way to removing some of the stigma associated with some types of technology that may currently be viewed as a novelty. There can also be a tendency in the industry to view each new innovation as indicating a cumbersome overhaul.  At least in terms of Virtual Reality, the technology already exists and could potentially be worked into the professional setting, piece by piece.

Another obstacle to adopting technology in construction is the fact that on every level, the industry requires, at least currently, human labor.  The fact that technology has not yet mechanized the industry is what in effect also keeps further advancement at bay. Tech products must be easy to use by everyone who works in the industry in order to be effective and become a mainstay.

There in another trend is transforming the residential construction industry in particular, aside from technology, and that is demographics. Millenials are entering the housing market, but it’s not an easy transition for anyone. Young people are looking for affordability and convenience, and they also believe that if they invest a large sum of money into something, it has to reflect their needs and core values in very specific ways. For example, they might be more attracted to a smaller living space, as home maintenance activities fall low on their list of priorities.

With unprecedented access to information and resources, the younger sector of the population wants and is able to be more hands on than ever in every aspect of their lives. They want to participate more fully in creating their living environment. Millenials want a home that’s an accurate reflection of who they are. With access to technology and a deeper understanding of design elements, millenials have the potential to work very closely with builders to achieve their desired living goals. As demand for homes increases among Millenials, we could see the need for technology to become more urgent.

Technology has the potential to solve a lot of problems for the construction industry – it could reduce the need for labor at a time when the industry is experiencing a significant shortage, it could lower costs just as the housing market calls for more affordable new homes, it may allow for the customization young home-buyers are seeking. But we won’t know how quickly change is coming to an industry that is defined by tradition and is typically skeptical of new developments. We may need to see some practical applications and tangible results before a real transformation occurs.