Anyone who studies history understands that looking back is looking to the future. And it seems that construction technology is following suit.
As construction moves quickly toward a digital world, companies are seeing major changes through the way technology helps them streamline practices, reinvent management of people and equipment, and even to use virtual and augmented reality to do it, build and maintain their buildings. The exhausting pace of innovation has turned heads, often leaving businesses feeling a sense of fear of a lack of control.
But as technology moves forward to modernize construction, could an innovation from the past provide the industry with the next big thing that keeps everyone in control?
One for all, not for all
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, ERP systems came within the scope of companies that wanted a one-stop-shop to combine their functions, streamline operations and aggregate important data. With complex business needs, these ERP solutions provided commercially available solutions that required companies to adapt to their unique business practices. In many cases, companies have been forced to reorganize their business processes to reflect the logic of the software. It has become a necessary and arduous task for companies to streamline the flow of data in their organizations.
The build was a victim of the ERP system, having to force unique and carefully orchestrated processes into the limited software feature strings. The virtual "shoe" never really fits. How can a system built for a less chaotic industry meet the needs of the industry as complex as construction?
This is the next point.
What is the interest anyway?
Driven by frustration, ad hoc solutions were then developed to fill the gaps where ERP systems (even those patched with easy break code) simply could not perform. Originally built to solve a particular problem, when new or multiple problems arise, new one-off solutions are born. Given that construction uncovers approximately 100 new or more "problems" per day, these singular solutions quickly become plural, opening the door to larger management problems. All of these unique solutions, living in every corner of the business, contain important information that companies need to share or collaborate with.
In addition, multiple stakeholders must have access to multi-point solutions and are forced to duplicate data so that each system has the most up-to-date information. This, in turn, opens the door to the next question. How can companies gather all these unique point solutions so that collaborators can collaborate, data can flow between all systems, and problems can be properly tracked?
Where There's a Platform, There's a Way
Integrated systems allow users to be able to work in a variety of different ways, and to share information with others. Utilizing an integrated platform helps to reduce the number of errors, breaks down communication issues, and streamlines processes. However, many solutions have not been built to integrate. In the fast-paced world of construction technology, developers often have a single-minded approach to building their solutions. If the solution was not built to be extensible (i.e., have an open API), it was limited in usability when trying to integrate with systems it was not built for.
So are these two steps forward and one step back when it comes to construction technology?
The next step is actually, a few steps back.
Not literally of course. But if the construction is looking at the early eighties, there has been a huge technological change that has opened up the world of computing, the operating system. Made famous by Microsoft (before the hyphen went down), a "universal" operating system allowed competing vendors to authorize the operating system and then create their own hardware, in which ecosystem hardware and software have evolved. Since the operating system could connect hardware to software developed for various singular tasks such as creating Word documents, or Excel spreadsheets (or applications for project management), companies do not have to worry about building complex codes "brain" and reinvent the wheel. They could connect software designed for their needs and rely on standardized operating behaviour that laid the foundation for their success.
The next big construction change?
Construction needs unification. And a universal building platform is where we should look. To build the projects of the future, construction will have to connect people, technology (think: agnostic device), and software. A universal platform, providing this connectivity, would eliminate the friction between development, data extraction and the ease of use of construction. And in turn, give construction companies much more than increased collaboration, establishing unity, consistency, data security, and revealing ideas.
From the architect and the engineer to the guy who manages the site and the subcontractor pouring the concrete, imagine everyone working on the same data, perfectly connected, and contributing to the evolution of the construction landscape. It is the future that learns from the past.