Where has all the good construction technology gone?

Ground-breaking. Game-changing. Earth-shattering. Countless technologies have made these promises, each proudly proclaiming an innovative solution that will change the entire construction industry. With what has become a near-constant stream of NEW and IMPROVED construction innovations entering the market, one must ask why so many contractors still rely so heavily on manual processes like paper or basic technologies like Excel.

Who is to blame?

Many outside observers have chalked up the industry’s lack of technology adoption to a general lack of vision and stubbornness to change. But one need only look to the physical tools the average construction team utilizes to see that this argument fails to hold water. No worker thumbs their nose at the nailgun over a standard hammer or gasps at the sight of a laser level. 

Pay attention to the field. The truth is that construction has always embraced a tool when it has been the RIGHT tool for the RIGHT job. Even when advanced, high-powered tools are available, craftworkers still carry a hammer and screwdriver. Why? Because there are times when accessibility, location, ease of use, and price outweigh all the bells, whistles, voltage, and BTUs you can throw into it. This standard holds true for contractors and their systems to plan, manage, and document their work production—usability means value.

This is where most technology innovations have failed construction. They have focused on the end value creation without genuinely considering the unique needs of each contractor or how vital accessibility and ease of use are.

How did construction technology solutions get it wrong?

Somewhere along the way, construction software businesses lost sight of their customers. They built complex solutions they thought people wanted and needed but failed to keep usability in mind, often costing management time, money, and even project success. 

Many construction companies see only two options—a one-size-fits-all product or a fully customized solution. While the one-size-fits-all route typically is cheaper and easier to implement, it rarely solves the whole problem, requiring construction teams to cobble together multiple solutions and expend additional resources in connecting them. How did most construction software stray so far from the intended goal of helping contractors to build better?

The problem is not whether new construction technology has benefited the industry—they have. The real question is whether these solutions have solved the correct problems and whether their actual value has justified the additional headaches and workloads spread across the whole organization.

  • Narrow POV. Today’s construction ERP systems are built for planning and accounting, not for capturing and measuring construction performance. These systems don’t meet construction where it is. 
  • Accessibility. They failed to consider the lack of access to digital tools on the jobsite. Not every construction company has outfitted their field teams with iPads, laptops, and connectivity. Technology tools that require specialized equipment or are only accessible on-premise to a select few lack scalability. 
  • Value to a few. Admin pain to a lot. When processes and technology create significant administrative burdens on team members who don’t receive value for their effort, it forces work down the chain.
  • Our way or the highway. Inflexible construction management systems require contractors to shift away from a workflow built from years of experience. This hinders the user’s experience and prevents usability. While best practices should always be considered, contractors ultimately face unique problems that cannot be dealt with one-size-fits-all solutions.
  • Built on a legacy of legacy. If there is any lasting lesson for construction coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is the importance of adaptability. Unfortunately, many construction technologies are built on the old, outdated framework, with some no longer being supported. This means many contractors who made an early tech investment are left building for the future on yesterday’s technology.

How can we make technology that works for construction?

While software solutions aimed at helping construction teams had existed in the market prior, the most significant shift in the adoption of construction technology was not due to more powerful processing or advanced algorithms. The recent modernization of construction technology arrived with an unexpected tool. Stay tuned for part two of Why Most Construction Technology Has Failed Construction to learn about the tool that created the single greatest shift in modern construction technology and how software solutions can adapt to the unique needs of contractors, not the other way around.