…and improve the way the world builds.
Originally published on TechCrunch, March 2012
Why construction is inefficient
The basic process of any construction project goes like this: A person with a lot of money (the owner) decides that, for whatever reason, they want a building — and so they go hire an architect. This architect hires a bunch of engineers, and they all start furiously designing the building until the owner seems happy enough to move forward. Once that happens, the design is printed on piles and piles of paper and then handed to the construction team who begin actual construction.
This is obviously a gross oversimplification, but the interesting thing to note is that this entire process is digital — right up until the actual construction begins. Because all of the design information is digital, tons and tons of amazing software has been created to make that part of the process better and more efficient. In fact, architects and engineers have gotten so efficient that they now typically only make up 8% of the total cost of a building. Meanwhile, the poor guys in the field have gotten less and less efficient.
Enter: the iPad
The iPad is the thing that will change all this. Although the things it does better than laptops (smaller, more durable, longer battery life, doesn’t need a table) seem more evolutionary rather than revolutionary, in the context of construction field workers, it’s the difference between using a tool that almost works and a tool that is able to get the job done. It’s basically the first computer that is usable in the field, and as a result, it’s starting to be rapidly adopted by construction companies. My guess? The iPad 3 is only going to accelerate things, and over the next few years we’ll undoubtedly start to see software that will transform construction as much as AutoCAD transformed architecture and engineering.
Here’s just a short list of some things that will change in the next few years as the iPad delivers computing to the construction site:
- Adios, paper blueprints! The first thing that will disappear is paper. It’s expensive, always out of date, and with this new push for green buildings, owners are increasingly asking their contractors to ‘go paperless’.
- Way better communication. Here’s a process that happens every time some guy in the field needs clarification from the architect on how to build something: He leaves the jobsite, heads to the construction trailer, grabs his set of blueprints, heads back to the jobsite, looks at the problem, makes notes on his plans, heads back to the trailer, scans the plans, goes to his computer, opens his email, sends the scan to the architect, and then walks all the way back to the jobsite. This takes at least 20 minutes every time someone has a question! With the iPad, he just opens up his blueprint app, marks up the problem, and sends it out right there.
- Hello, analytics… One of the most frustrating things about running a construction company is that you are constantly writing these huge checks, but you have no idea what is actually going on in the field. No field computing means no field data, which means you have no idea that your electrician, who you picked because he was 10% cheaper, is 30% slower than the other electrician you used last time. The Google Analytics/Palantir for construction is going to really change how things are done.
And that’s just the beginning. My hope is that construction will become much more efficient and affordable in the next few years and that PlanGrid will be one of the things that helps make it happen.
About the author: Ryan is the COO of PlanGrid, and one of the four founders. Ryan has an MS in Civil Engineering from Stanford, and worked at ITSI Gilbane Company for several years before founding PlanGrid.