PlanGrid Construction Productivity Blog
rethinking the role of it in construction - hire construction technologist

It’s Time to Rethink IT in Construction: The Rise of the Construction Technologist

Does your construction company leave all-important tech decisions up to IT? If so, it might be time to reconsider.

We have all come to depend upon our resident IT staff. After all, they are our saviors when it comes to getting our computers up and running after a dreaded crash and resetting our passwords when we forget…once again. Basically, today’s modern workforce couldn’t do their jobs without a helping hand from those in IT.

As fond as most workers are of this incredibly essential department, many construction companies may be maxing out this role’s potential. According to the 2018 Construction Technology Report from JBKnowledge, the vast majority of construction companies (65.7%) only have between 1 and 5 dedicated IT staff. Likely, this means that your current IT staff are at their capacity managing the day to day needs of your construction company. Yet, at many companies, IT teams are further tasked with finding, implementing and overseeing the right construction technology to improve productivity in both the field and office.

As a result, companies are finding it increasingly more challenging to implement new technology. Again, according to the 2018 report, lack of staff support was the number one most limiting factor in adopting new technology.

The truth is, IT departments have a critical role to play in construction companies–however, some companies could be over-depending on this department for all things technology and cannibalizing their efficiency. Construction companies should depend entirely upon this department to make decisions about new technology. Instead, construction companies should explore a new approach to IT’s role.

In our post, we’ll discuss why your construction company cannot afford to leave technology decisions on the shoulders of your IT staff, and instead, the new job functions and roles that can help fill the void and improve tech usage overall.

The Growing Technology Needs of IT in Construction

Around the world, construction companies are realizing the importance of investing in more technology. According to the JBKnowledge report, “The percentage of respondents that reported spending 1% of their annual sales volume on IT increased to 21.8% in the 2017 survey from 14.1% in the 2016 survey.” In other words, the number of companies willing to spend out significantly on their IT needs is increasing at a rapid pace.

Despite this, technology decisions are falling short of expectations. While 52% of companies say the needs of field staff is a top consideration for investing in technology, only 28% of companies take field input into account, according to FMI. As a result, construction technology for three primary reasons; it’s a poor fit with current processes and procedures, it’s difficult to use and few workers are actually using it.

An IT department in today’s average construction company typically handles the day-to-day hardware and software administration of the company. While you might think it’s intentional and upfront part of the job description, many companies toss IT workers the job of important decision making almost as an afterthought. That leaves those overtasked IT professionals vulnerable to making on-the-spot decisions with limited information and resources.

Given the ever-growing reliance construction companies place on software and cloud-supported technologies, it stands to reason that the people making these decisions should also be its core users, or at least integrally connected to them.

And that, in turn, means construction companies need to rethink their IT teams’ functions and structures. In fact, IT’s lack of connectedness to those using the software could be hindering a company’s productivity.

The State of Construction IT: Limited Decision Making Power

Because of this, IT can’t effectively make construction technology decisions. They’re simply spread too thin. They don’t have the time and resources to be in the field, and most companies don’t make an effort to rectify this problem.

Plus, most actions and implementations are coming from the top down, rather than being informed by field workers and IT in construction professionals. In many cases, technology is extremely limited in the field altogether, let alone well-managed by a robust IT department.

Which leads us to wonder: what happens when IT makes the wrong decision? What are the consequences of a disenfranchised technology team? Among others, you can expect that:

  • Technology presence and usage will suffer in the field
  • Time and money will both get wasted
  • Data and information will be siloed
  • Processes will fail to connect intelligently
  • Safety and security will both suffer

To recap briefly: IT departments, if they exist at all, are overwhelmed. They lack the resources and support to make critical technology decisions for the field. Because there is too little communication between the field and hub, they are further compromised in their efforts to make informed choices.

The Case for the Construction Technologist and Technology Taskforce

If your company hasn’t already, it’s time to consider hiring for a new role to make critical field technology decisions: The construction technologist.

To complement IT and put the focus on getting the right tech in the hands of staff, companies should consider hiring for this new role or appointing a full-on task force. Below, we’ll define these roles and discuss more about what an integrative structure can look like in a construction company.

Construction Technologist

Construction technologist is a term coined by JB Knowledge, and describes a specialist who “can centralize and manage priorities and processes to drive innovation and return on investment.”

To fill this role, look for:

  • An employees interested in construction tech
  • Someone passionate about bringing the right tech on board to improve productivity
  • Not an IT professional, but someone who comes from the industry, knows the processes, can find solutions and can effectively test whether or not they work
  • An individual who understands the needs and pain points of the field

Ideally, you can roll this individual into heading up a construction technology task force.

Construction Tech Task Force

While it may be easy to transition all of IT’s field tech decisions to one construction technologist, consider taking a more collaborative approach. As we mentioned above, technology often fails due to being a “poor fit.” Therefore, to reduce the risk of making a poor decision, it’s helpful to garner feedback from multiple roles and departments.

A construction tech task force is a combination of workers spanning a variety of roles. It can include project managers, foremen, supervisors and other stakeholders as long as they have a genuine interest in technology and are motivated to find the best solutions rather than settle on solutions that are simply “good enough.”

To benefit your IT in construction goals, these team members should be the ones actually using technology on jobsites. Their combined and deep understanding of tools, construction processes and business goals uniquely positions them for overall company success.

IT + Technologists + Task Forces: Putting the Pieces Together

So how do all these roles–IT workers, construction technologists and tech task forces–work together to create the best possible results? While each company is unique in its structure and ability to dedicate resources, here’s one approach that might work:
The technologist should be the key stakeholder when it comes to researching ideas and proposing potential technology solutions. While they can rely on help from the task force, they should be in charge of the initial reach out to potential vendors and the primary contact for broader inquiries.

The construction technologist should head up the task force. This committee of employees should be field testers of the ideas to determine whether they complement existing processes. Working in their departments or areas of focus, they should be able to see if the proposed technology is a good fit for your company and provide detailed feedback on why or why not. When it comes to implementing change, construction technologists should be the stakeholders actively championing for change on the frontline. Part of this involves education and even some hand-holding to gain buy-in, as change can be scary. In a recent session at Autodesk University (AU) Las Vegas 2019, Sean McGuire, Director Innovative Technologies at Mechanical Contractors Association of America (MCAA), wisely said:

“People hate to change. If given the choice, they will rarely be self-motivated to do so. You have to make people uncomfortable to get them to change.”

Construction technologists need to be the leaders in the face of change to help facilitate a smooth transition.

Finally, the IT department should be included in financial decisions and administration of the technology once it’s ready to be implemented. In addition to general technological support, the IT department should also handle mobile device management (MDM), which is critical if you want your solutions to permeate the field and lead to the best possible IT in construction results.

Making the Most of IT in Construction

IT in construction is an essential function that needs to stay mobile. While it might seem logical to give every technology task to this team, it does not benefit a company overall in the long term. Instead, consider a new approach to hiring and structuring employees dedicated to making important technology decisions, especially for field workers. While it might take a while to headhunt the right professionals for the job and integrate them into their new roles, it’s worth the time.

Construction is without question reliant on technology, and at this point, it’s safe to say that’s never going to change. Don’t wait to find out the hard way how vital these roles are; start today.

Grace Ellis

As a Content Marketing Manager at PlanGrid, Grace is the managing editor for the PlanGrid Construction Productivity Blog. With over eight years of experience in marketing, communications and PR for technology companies, she is specialized in high-quality content creation across both traditional and digital media platforms.

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