Does the industry need to be more tech savvy?


IN TALKING TO construction companies about technology, they often tell us how keen they are to attract millennials and improve the technology engagement of their workforces.

That was one of the big takeaways from a recent construction industry roundtable we hosted in Sydney. Attendees told us that by finding technology champions, including millennials, they can influence technology-resistant “dinosaurs” and drive adoption of new systems.

 Attracting millennials is a great idea, with new technology set to change the face of construction as we know it. Roundtable participants told us, for example, that they expect traditional “man and machine” jobs will soon start being replaced by robots and other advanced technologies.

In this changing environment, the industry needs new skills and talent. Companies stand to benefit enormously from the energy and innovation younger workers can bring. But what’s the best way to attract them? And is it really the answer to construction companies’ technology issues?

Five constraining factors

IFS sees five information technology related factors constraining Australian and New Zealand construction businesses in their performance and ability to innovate. Poor visibility of project performance, lack of on-site data collection, double handling of information, delayed project actuals and forecasts, and inefficient management of people, safety and compliance are all holding companies back.

Most companies could improve their competitiveness right now with modern, integrated enterprise software providing a single, centralised system to connect business, people and processes. This would address the main IT issues constraining their businesses and also set them up to adopt disruptive technologies.

Hiring more tech-savvy workers, however, is not enough in itself to drive the changes construction companies need. Some degree of digital transformation will be required, both to attract the millennials that construction companies are looking for, and to stay competitive.

Promoting new technology

Construction companies at the roundtable told us that their IT teams needed to get more creative with enabling technology to better attract and retain talent. This meant taking on board the latest in consumer technology and applying it to the business.

A few companies described how they were promoting the use of new technology. They found it relatively easy to put shiny new devices in the hands of their field staff, for example. One firm had purchased Microsoft Surface Pros to give staff access to information in real time and take photos on site.

But companies said they often struggled to drive adoption of new business systems. They found it difficult, for example, to replace the Excel spreadsheets that are used across the industry to manage people, safety and compliance. These make onboarding of staff costly and cumbersome and result in business bottlenecks that negatively affect projects.

Overcoming resistance to change

Senior employees were often resistant to more efficient enterprise systems, with the mentality, “If it works, why change it?” But spreadsheet solutions are not working. One of our Australian customers has seen average staff onboarding costs fall from nearly $1000 to under $100 with an enterprise workforce management solution, with significant improvements in staff retention rates.

Firms cannot assume that if something is good for the company, that staff will automatically embrace it. One of the companies at the roundtable was looking at smart ID tags and perimeter tracking to monitor staff time and attendance and identify new people on-site for induction. Privacy issues, however, quickly put a stop to that.

By the end of the roundtable, participants agreed that strong leadership was required to drive top-down change to adopt the modern business technology that millennials and other tech-savvy workers are looking for to make their working lives easier.

Providing a good user experience

Support for the latest mobile devices is only the start. You also need enterprise software that provides a good user experience – not just access to a bunch of Excel spreadsheets – to make everyday tasks easier. Without that, tech-savvy workers will only get frustrated and disheartened and companies will still lack the real-time data and efficiencies they need.

In the construction industry, the key to success appears to be starting with modern enterprise solutions that offer benefits to companies and their staff, and building up from there.

Another local customer, for example, has implemented an IFS enterprise solution to increase visibility and control over project costs and revenues. As a result the company has increased efficiencies in managing contracts, subcontractors, purchasing and materials, and can deliver better services to its customers.

A range of improvements – including consistent processes, a modern user interface and a single repository for all information – has streamlined many everyday tasks. Staff including quantity surveyors and site managers report significant time savings accompanied by benefits to staff morale and team dynamics.

Organisations like this have no difficulty attracting millennials to come and work for them. These younger workers thrive in an environment where a combination of enabling technology and staff empowerment leads to constant improvements in how things are done.

Generational change by itself will not transform the construction industry, but it should certainly be encouraged.

This article first appeared in Contractor December 2017.

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