When I transitioned from the High Tech sector to the construction industry over 12 years ago, the iPad was not yet invented, the “Digital Transformation” was still in the far distance, and there was very little in the way of mobile technology on construction job sites. Fast forward to today. The amount of mobile technology that is being deployed to Field Operations staff is almost mind-boggling and most modern construction workers have embraced the large variety of mobile tools now designed for our industry. Almost every light weight mobile technology (smart phones, tablets, and wearables) are running every OS available and are part of our field forces’ tool belt. It is becoming more difficult to maintain a standard set of apps for these devices as the vast array of construction-centric apps continue to grow at a rapid pace. Everything from managing employee time cards, to conducting safety inspections; handling vast numbers of plans, drawings, and specifications digitally, versus mountains of paper; conducting QA/QC inspections, and viewing 3D renderings of a floor under construction; the list goes on and on…..as I said, mind-boggling.
Have no fear, there is a paradigm shift emerging – IoT. Most of the technologies that make their way into our industry tend to come from the consumer space or the military. I, like others, do my best to stay up on the influx of IoT devices in our everyday consumer world. With the advances that we are allowed to see from our military, it appears imperative that a transition from our current mobile tools to a completely different set of technologies is coming, soon.
One example of these technologies is drones. Drones have been making their way into main stream construction over the last few years and are being used for more than just remarkable aerial photography for marketing and advertising purposes. Drones are being utilized for a number of practical construction uses including project progress tracking, and inspections in areas deemed unsafe for humans. However, drones are just the tip of the iceberg.
" I’m counting on all of us to work together. Who’s with me? "
I believe that this paradigm shift begins with wearable technologies. Once we are able to perfect the “hands free” technologies for the end users by incorporating into the standard PPE (Personal Protection Equipment), the need for physical hands on mobile devices changes drastically. Having the ability to perform daily job functions, “hands free,” opens the door to opportunities that better leverage Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, and Expert Consulting. Imagine being able to superimpose a 3-D rendering of the layout of a new operating room at a hospital in progress as you stand in the shell, or being able to have a distant expert seeing exactly what you are seeing through a wearable camera and simultaneously guide you through your task. These technologies are being employed today and are on the cusp of being introduced into mainstream construction.
Smart sensors are another IoT technology that is being considered in helping to keep our employees safe on the job. Take a moment to visualize imaging safety equipment as part of the employees PPE that is loaded with sensors to detect noxious gas exposure, severe trauma, monitor vital signs, and more. How about being able to effectively track and manage large prefabricated assemblies from the suppliers’ dock to the specific point of construction without significant manual intervention.
There are a vast number of exciting opportunities within our industry to leverage IoT technology. The challenge lies within the ability to have a robust infrastructure in place to support them. Employing smart sensors to keep our employees safe on the job requires real-time management of the information that the sensors generate. Anything other than that is unacceptable. The amount of data that the sensors would produce (up to 1TB daily) is significant, so the requirement to have a solid configuration of hardware, software, and bandwidth is essential.
It’s time for our vendors to come together and design a solution leveraging each of their strengths. We need true partnerships amongst our suppliers to develop a working program that takes the hardware (including OS), the required software applications, and a method of providing truly robust bandwidth at the point of construction. Today, we are faced with proprietary point solutions provided by competitors, which forces each of us to attempt to cobble together our own solution sets. At the end of the day, we all want to be successful companies, make a profit, and send our employees home safely every night. As we look to the future that IoT technology creates, we need everyone pulling in the same direction to develop a solution set that allows us to completely exploit the new technology.
From this, I urge our suppliers to collaborate and make a difference. To my construction IT colleagues, we are an enormous industry who should be able to exert our significant influence on our trusted providers to join forces and provide exceptional solutions for us. I’m counting on all of us to work together. Who’s with me?