PlanGrid Construction Productivity Blog
What it takes for technology to transform construction

What it takes for technology to transform construction

Ryan Sutton-Gee, Co-Founder of PlanGrid

In an article on TechCrunch in 2012, I talked about how tablets would pave the way for software to transform the construction industry in the same way AutoCAD transformed architecture and engineering. Tablets were the first computers useable in the field thanks to their size, weight, durability and battery life.

Since 2012, tablets sales have increased 86.2% to 216 million through 2014, and according to JBKnowledge’s 2014 Construction Technology Report, 50.1% of construction professionals surveyed now use a tablet for work purposes. The report also notes that a growing number of tablets in construction are company owned, while personal device usage is declining. This suggests that construction companies are buying into the promise of tablets and software.

But have tablets and construction apps improved productivity?

In 2012, the industry’s productivity rate was also in the midst of a 48-year decline (on average -0.32% per year). In comparison, the productivity for non-farm industries improved 3.02% per year over that same period. See chart below.

(Source: Census Bureau, Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Over the past three years, we’ve visited hundreds of construction sites and spoken with workers in the field at all levels. We found that, in spite of the growth and adoption of tablets and proliferation of construction-specific apps, most professionals haven’t noticed any change in labor productivity.

So why hasn’t construction productivity improved?

For technology to enhance decades of refined construction management processes and procedures, it has to significantly save time, improve organization, and boost collaboration. Otherwise, its impact will be minimal because the ends will not justify time and financial investment needed to make the technology useful, and you’ll be hard pressed to get buy-in from key stakeholders.

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For software to significantly improve construction productivity, it needs to be:

  • Built for the Field: The majority of construction costs are incurred on the jobsite. If your software is not designed to be used in the field, you will not be able to improve productivity where most money is spent.
  • Fast: Waiting around for screens to load, drawings to render or messages to send is frustrating, and sure to only improve abandon rates.
  • Reliable: With so much riding on effective execution, the end user must trust that the program will work every time, without crashing, glitches or delays.
  • Easy to Use: Software that requires hours of training and hands-on experience to effectively use severely limits who can use it, undercutting its value to the project team.

When we originally designed PlanGrid, Tracy and I were working as project engineers and knew that any product we created had to meet all these needs to be viable. Every decision we made while building our first version of PlanGrid was made with these ideas in mind, and is the main reason so many people initially loved it.

Since then, we’ve grown from small start-up to be the largest digital blueprint repository in the world (20-million+ sheet uploads) and are now relied on by more than 200,000 projects and over 500,000 users.

Our users tell us they’ve seen dramatic improvements to productivity at all levels — from superintendents to the crews doing the physical labor. We’ve also heard countless architects, engineers, owners and construction managers express how PlanGrid has simplified their work in the field and their oversight of their projects.

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In 2011, we set out to revolutionize construction management and enable those in the field. The success we’ve seen to date has only fueled our motivation. There are big things happening at PlanGrid, and we’re excited for what the future has in store.

Originally published on May 12, 2015