As more technologies become table stakes for contractors, the construction industry is becoming particularly keen on those leveraging artificial intelligence (A.I.) and machine learning, according to InEight Inc.’s Global Capital Projects Outlook 2021.
“On the one hand, A.I. and machine learning technologies are still maturing, so you might think the industry is moving too soon on it,” wrote Catie Williams, product director for connected analytics at the Scottsdale, Ariz., construction software company. “But on the other hand, these are technologies that are well suited to being trialed on discrete, contained use cases.”
For example, contractors could input historical data for initial estimates versus final costs, combined with one or two parameters, such as location or sector, and apply some “relatively simple” A.I. algorithms to predict where costs may overrun in current projects as a result, according to InEight.
U.S. contractors responding to InEight’s survey said AI/ML (63%), project management software (63%), data analytics (60%) and building information management models (50%) would be critical to their organization’s success in the next one to three years.
Less popular technologies—at least right now—for U.S. contractors are operations and maintenance software (43%) and sensors and real-time physical data collection technologies, such as IoT and RFID (27%).
Contractors in the Asia-Pacific region responding to InEight’s survey are even more bullish on investing in technologies. All said they have already invested in project management software, connected work site communications and operations and maintenance solutions. Most are planning on investing on AI/ML and digital twin technology in the near future, if they haven’t already.
A common theme across Asia-Pacific countries is “a culture of embracing technology,” wrote Rob Bryant, InEight’s executive vice president for the Asia-Pacific region.
“Here in Australia, for example, federal and state governments—which are major project owners—have pushed contractors to adopt technology in a way that isn’t always seen elsewhere in the world,” Bryant wrote. “Then you have countries like Japan and South Korea, which have tremendously technology-led consumer cultures, which inevitably bleed into peoples’ work lives too.”
Survey respondents across all regions, including contractors and project owners, are generally pleased with the benefits of the technology investments they have made so far. For each technology category, 87% or more of the respondents that invested in the technology rated its impact as either “very” or “fairly” positive, based on their experiences. Almost all of the respondents (96%) say that technology can potentially help improve productivity, and 71% say deployments have already led to improvements.
The vast majority of respondents (90%) view their organizations as innovative, and 38% believe they are “very innovative.” Nearly all have a digital transformation strategy in place, and a majority believe there is specifically an integrated strategy in place, versus a more disparate, siloed strategy across their organizations.
Still, respondents feel there is still important work to do on “today” technologies before moving onto critical “tomorrow” ones, according to the report.
“This discrepancy isn’t one that should be cause for concern,” wrote Brad Barth, InEight’s chief product officer. “In fact, it’s good to see the industry knows it must walk before it runs and is considering the practicality of its ambitions, rather than getting swept away in the hype. The fact the industry is investing today to get the foundational stuff right is great to see.”
The report also discusses the industry’s slow move toward the collection of electronic data. Among all respondents, meetings (53%) and end-of-project reviews (49%) continue to be used (even if respondents record their outputs electronically), while “more modern approaches,” such as using in-field sensors (44%) for automatic data collection are less popular, except in Asia-Pacific, where just over half (51%) of respondents use them.
“Every company’s path to digital transformation is unique, shaped by its needs, motivations and the speed at which it can move,” Bryant wrote. “But it is clear that there is one job that all companies will need to do first, and do well, and that is to get the basics down: capture, organize, cleanse and most importantly, connect the data.”
“The more hyped elements of digital transformation—the predictive analytics, the artificial intelligence—will only be as good as the data and the processes that underpin it,” he wrote.