The idea of change in the construction industry is something that is often talked about, and many agree that something needs to change, but very few people or companies have the weight to actually make the change. Small, individual changes are made on specific projects or inefficiencies are improved by streamlining individual tasks, but as a whole the shot gun approach to change is not working or having an overall impact across the industry.
One of the main reasons for this lack of change across the industry is that it is splintered into individual silos. These silos are built from the ground up and encompass every aspect of construction, starting with architects, engineers, and then owners, all the way to the general contractor. The separation of individual tasks, responsibilities, information and knowledge does not get shared between any of the silos. Diving into this deeper, why is this industry like this? Why are so many other industries able to adopt change to be more efficient and increase revenue?
One part of the problem is a cultural issue within the industry and is practiced daily, which continues to reinforce its acceptance as the status quo. Let's start by looking at where the industry learns from. The Universities are one of the main sources. Most schools have Engineering, Architecture, Environmental and Construction Management programs, but they are all being taught from an individual trade perspective. This begins to build the idea about silos in education. Even though these departments are under one university label, each department acts, teaches and even operates out of different buildings. It is unfortunate that during the four years of education at a major university there might be only one or two times where the student is able to get the real world experience of having to share data, goals, project timelines and work though disagreements together. At this early stage in one's career we are teaching them individual skills but not real world skills where collaborative design and working together improve design efficiently and reduce spending.
Companies big and small have different visions of what change in the industry is. Since there is no common goal between them, the dysfunction continues. Individual trades and unions even compound this problem. In early 2016, I began to hear friends talk about a construction industry software solution that was formed around simplifying project management activities and integrating with other industry software. The people that were talking about it were from both big and small companies, did self-performance work, as well as large subcontracting. It is not too often that I have heard such great things from such a diverse range of general contractors.
By the end of 2016, as the Director of Technology, I began researching software solutions for our project management solution set. This was a six-month process where I and a senior project manager evaluated eight different solutions. At that time I began to learn about a new company out of California, called Procore, that was changing how the industry looked at project coordination, starting with project management. From the start you could tell it was a different company. The sales team was interested in what we needed to change to be more efficient. The industry norm is to have software sold from the top down and the company’s existing workflows will need to be changed or modified to fit the software. This was not the case. The greatest thing about the software solution was the project management solution set was just the backbone of their software. Procore has a QA/QC module, a safety module, document control, an ERP module and even a pdf viewing tool for plans. The standalone modules were nothing new, but the way they all tied together was. They were all increasing efficiency in the daily workflow because they were all linked together with the data being stored in one online location. To me this was a breath of fresh air. I was not looking at this as an opportunity to eliminate or reduce the amount of software that was being used in other areas, this was truly an opportunity to increase efficiency and quality while reducing labor cost. One of the most unique differences between Procore’s philosophy on software and the industry norm has what I believe is the biggest game changer. The idea of sharing their API and building the necessary framework to allow other software to integrate with theirs. Some of the software integrations include Bluebeam, SmartVidIO and nearly 100 other software companies.
The sharing of data and breaking down the silos of data between software companies will help everyone!
I had the great opportunity to attend the Procore Groundbreak 2017 where I learned more about the company, their software and how in 2017 they are “doubling down” with the concepts of openness, choice, freedom and truth. They are doing this by increasing the modules offered and creating a family of modules that is called ConstructionOS. I am not going to go into detail on the individual highlights, and this is not a sales pitch, but I believe this is a game changer for the industry.
When you have a small company that can identify the problem and execute a strategic plan where the consumer is driving the operations, development and the business as a whole, it is a major win for change within the industry. This is just one example where through the use of technology we are able to break down the barriers of silos, culture and spend more time doing what we all love to do in the industry, build! I continue to look for more applications like this that will shape the construction industry of the future.