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Digital Workflows Provide Benefits for Construction Industry

By Katie Kuehner-Hebert | Jan 18, 2023
A man sits in front of a laptop, behind him are illustrations depicting a workflow. Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay.

Electrical contracting firms and other specialty trade contractors may still be in the early stages of using digital workflows, while other construction project stakeholders are farther along, according to a SmartMarket Brief from Dodge Construction Network and Trimble.

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Electrical contracting firms and other specialty trade contractors may still be in the early stages of using digital workflows, while other construction project stakeholders are farther along, according to Connected Construction: The Specialty Trade Contractors’ Perspective SmartMarket Brief, from Dodge Construction Network, in partnership with Trimble.

The brief is part of a series examining digital workflow implementation across the design and construction industries and is based on a survey of 232 specialty trade contractors. Project owners, general contractors/construction managers, architects and engineers were also surveyed.

“In an increasingly connected world and with the rapid adaptation of remote work due to COVID, construction companies are looking for ways to more efficiently, securely and quickly share data with key stakeholders,” said Pete Large, Trimble’s senior vice president for the civil infrastructure sector, in the press release announcing the series. “This research project with Dodge shows that teams and projects utilizing digital workflows saw a substantial increase in project quality, supported by faster delivery and decreased delays related to rework.”

Specialty trade contractors have begun to use digital workflows, but most are not yet using them to exchange most of their project data, according to the report. Use of internal digital workflows is more common among them than external ones (i.e., multicompany workflows), which is consistent with all other project stakeholders.

Specifically, the survey found:

  • Use of internal workflows is far more common among large trade contractors (60%), and they also more frequently use multicompany workflows (30%).
  • The internal functions connected by digital workflows at more than half of the trade contractors are estimating, project management in the office, administrative/payroll and finance accounting.
  • Nearly all (89%) of trade contractors using multicompany workflows are exchanging data with general contractors, but only around a third are sharing data with the other members of the project team.
  • Generally, trade contractors have the digital sophistication necessary to implement more digital workflows, with 78% primarily using software tools for most functions and 34% already integrating them together.

“Even in these early stages of use, specialty trade contractors are experiencing critical benefits,” according to the report. “Many achieve direct process and company benefits like better informed decision-making and greater productivity through their use of digital workflows. These lead to better project outcomes like improved quality, faster delivery and higher productivity.”

One benefit of using digital workflows is improving contractors’ ability to understand how the processes they use can cause negative project outcomes, according to the brief. Trade contractors evaluated 20 administrative, construction operations and field/crew management processes based on how frequently they could identify these processes as the root cause of delays and errors on their projects.

Then, the processes believed to have caused these issues were rated based on their severity. A direct comparison of those using digital workflows for these processes and those who do not yields a critical finding: Digital workflows give trade contractors greater insight into what causes issues on their projects.

Among those using digital workflows for these processes, 84% report that they can trace the root causes of challenges they face back to them. Only 49% of those who don’t use digital workflows can do the same.

“Without insight into the specific ways their processes can lead to problems, specialty trade contractors are unlikely to be able to fully address and improve upon their processes to make their projects better,” the authors wrote. “Given this finding, it is not surprising that a top benefit of using digital workflows is better decision-making.”

For other sectors within the design and construction industries, survey findings include:

  • Architects lead the industry in their use of multicompany digital workflows, with one-third deploying them.
  • Engineers are deepening their engagement with workflows for specific design practices, with 83% of users planning additional investments in digital workflows.
  • General contractors that focus on building construction are using more digital workflows for their construction operation processes and reaping greater benefits than those who largely engage in civil construction.

Despite the differences in their degree of use and how they engage with digital workflows, all project stakeholders receive the same key benefits from their use:

  • The key benefits for companies and projects are more informed decision making and increased efficiency of internal processes.
  • The primary benefits for improved project outcomes are quality and faster delivery.

“It is quite likely that the increased insight that comes with the use of digital workflows is one of the main reasons that so many report being able to make better-informed decisions,” said Donna Laquidara-Carr, industry insights research director at Dodge Construction Network, in the press release. “What is more exciting, though, is that this finding suggests that the digital transformation of the industry may be able to finally help the industry achieve the productivity gains that have proved so elusive over the years.”

About The Author

KUEHNER-HEBERT is a freelance writer based in Running Springs, Calif. She has more than three decades of journalism experience. Reach her at [email protected].  

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