Is construction ever going to embrace software and technology?


In a previous life, I used to be a web developer.

My time spent as a developer saw me work on projects in both the public and private sectors. The main focus was to add value by improving a number of the client’s internal processes. It was easy to see the benefits if XYZ were implemented, which positively impacted the end user and it really only came down to how much it cost and how long it took to develop (it always took longer by the way, always).

The primary challenge would be just to get the application looking correct in about ten different versions of Internet Explorer and on different screen sizes, forgetting any tablets or smartphones!

I don’t miss those challenges, but I didn’t really appreciate not having to worry about how well the client’s end user would receive the product. Would people be prepared to use it and get on board with it, ignoring whether they actually liked it? That was never my concern nor indeed was it the concern of the paying client. This was the general mentality with everything being less competitive and everyone working it out as they went along.

Then came along BuilderStorm

So when I got involved in developing the early versions of BuilderStorm for the construction industry, I was in shock.

I’d never had the challenges of potential clients looking at advanced functionality and saying “Yeah, but our guys aren’t going to want to do that” or “yeah, but none of the team have a mobile phone, let alone a smartphone.”

At the same time, simple features like providing a basic Photo Gallery, allowing a picture to be taken and uploaded, whilst logging a longitude and latitude was the best thing since sliced bread.

I’d never been in this spot before. We had a great product (admittedly seen through rose-tinted spectacles in the early days), but that was not enough: far from it. It was quite a frustrating point to clearly see the benefits the company (our potential client) and the client’s client would achieve (albeit with an initial and ongoing cost :)) but it was another thing to get them on board and convince them that this was a technology they needed.

To convey to them that this was a solution that they couldn’t live without; this was a solution that in three or in six months time they’d not remember being able to live without and that without this solution or similar, they would be at risk of not being competitive enough in just a handful of years. That was another thing, altogether.

Why is this important?

Well, it’s clear that there is a divide between us on some level – the construction industry and those of us who make software and technology – which we need to cross.

A lot of doing that is about how we look at things.

I probably look at things quite differently from the way others do. I’ve been programmed to work with technology since I was 8, with my Dad’s first computers running on DOS. As I got older, with no apparent issue of adoption, I was free to use them to as near full advantage as they could provide. The digital world was my digital oyster, and there really were no limits. I did not have anxiety about trying to figure out how an application was to be used and I was free to try and find ways where an application would allow me to work more efficiently, save me time and let me focus on something that I felt my time was worth.

This was clear to me but not necessarily to others, and this applies to the point in hand. We can’t just presume that a definite improvement in a product or service is good enough, no matter how good it is. Not everyone is as ready to embrace technology as I am. Sometimes something needs to be not just really good, but really, really good before people sit up and take note.

So how do we resolve this?

For me personally it first raised some questions; is the software not good or straightforward enough? Am I approaching this from the wrong direction? Are the clients right, and I’m wrong? Is this a skill-set that I don’t have and need? Is it just bad communication?

Already being confident in our product and service, all I cared about was getting that sale and convincing that client that I was right and that they were wrong. But the issue isn’t who’s right or are there benefits; the issue is with adoption and change, and, in my mind, has nothing to do with software or even technology. So I tried to look at things solely from the clients’ perspective. It was very different.

Why was I surprised that people were going to protest at change, the need for more accountability, more things to do, more things to go wrong? Especially when it affected thousands of people who had been programmed to look at things in their own comfortable way? Because everyone knows that people don’t like change, the fear of not knowing; it’s nothing new. To some degree this fear is valid. The more time goes on the more you will be analysed and attempts made to make you more ‘optimised’, to get more out of you with no clear limit in sight. But this is just the way it is. This is not something that you’re going to win. This is life. ‘Modern Technology’ is becoming as much a part of our lives now as electricity already is. We don’t and won’t see it and can’t live without it.

So what did we do?

Luckily, as a team, in the beginning, we had just enough experience that spanned both the construction and the IT industry, that we did a good enough job of developing an application that would be received well enough for an industry that has always been behind the technology curve (at least when it comes to software).

We took advantage of recent software developments, provided and communicated clear benefits to our end client that would continue to be built upon as our product improved and the industry started to adapt and adopt. We opened our eyes, listened and focused on these very real challenges, not just adding another feature to the list. This approach helped no end.

What have we learnt from this?

For the construction industry to get the best out of itself (which is what it’s all about), it needs to work on looking at things a little differently. I’d nearly go as far as to say re-program itself, a bit, to try to be more open to some of these tools like BuilderStorm.

We are here to help you, not hinder you. There are clear benefits and, yes, there are definite hurdles, like the ease of adoption. But these can be solved with training, education and yes, a bit of time and money. It’s not as bad as you think.

For business owners, taking the time to reflect, review and make changes will be for the better. But it’s difficult. We understand that not only are you worrying about how your employees, contractors and clients are going to receive and use software and technology, but you also have to look at your whole business and question what the best way of doing absolutely everything is.

You may have to reassess your business processes, look at staffing, their roles, your competitors and make some difficult decisions. It’s not easy when you’re too busy building stuff to get everyone around the table to do that. But you have to, so embrace it and move on. You have to make an effort and give in to some of that fear. You need to be telling your guys, “You have to get on board with this, but we will support you and walk you through it.”

Now a part of this blog is, of course, me trying to sell software. But at the same time, we desperately want to prevent you from being too late to the party. If you don’t embrace software and technology in the construction industry now, you run the risk of your competition taking advantage of these benefits and forcing you out.

For one reason or another, they’ve been less stubborn, more flexible and have taken the time to reassess, regroup and change. Doing all of that doesn’t need to be so difficult. The main thing is that you are there for your employees and other 3rd parties… and so are we.

It’s our job to help you to develop and get better, just like it’s yours to construct. You’re in good hands.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my take and experience on things and I’ll talk more about this on my next blog post regarding artificial intelligence, big data and machine learning and some of the implications this has on construction and your business.

By the way, your ‘guys’ are prepared to use the software if it means they get paid on time. Support them, but also Just tell them that! Before you know it, their stereotypical big hands will be jumping around the screen with the finesse of an experienced excavator operator. One less thing to worry about.

By James Sandwick
CTO & Co-Founder