For consumers, AI and data intelligence are daily activities. Purchase recommendations from Amazon simplify holiday shopping. Music options from Spotify helps employees focus during the workday and relax at night. Car-sharing apps remove the stress from post-happy hour transport.
It is time for this kind of data-driven ease to hit the construction industry. Building is booming, yet despite the good times, the industry still lags in terms of data intelligence and AI. With them, construction providers can transform document and jobsite information into intelligent insights, reduce errors, keep projects on schedule and predict and prevent costly inefficiencies. Artificial intelligence is the “connective tissue” that construction is missing–if it is used wisely.
Why Construction is Ready for AI
With its endless stream of owners, architects, engineers, contractors, subcontractors and suppliers, the construction industry manages more critical information on a day-to-day basis than nearly any other business. As a result, there are dozens of potential miscommunications just waiting to happen every day.
Poorly integrated communication systems – combining a mix of analog and digital processes – increase the chances for misinformation and document mismanagement. Due to separate and incompatible systems, data is not always accurately or easily shared among all parties, creating confusion, frustration and ultimately excessive costs.
According to a 2015 McKinsey Global Institute report, the construction industry possesses one of the lowest levels of digital adoption among all industries, contributing to a huge information management gap. In fact, the U.S. economy is realizing only 18 percent of its digital potential, the report states. A construction industry mired in antiquated processes will never realize its profit potential – in good economic times or bad. However, with the explosion of business in recent years, costs of labor and materials on the upswing and the number of projects increasing, maximizing profits and reducing inefficiencies has become even more important.
How Can AI-driven Data Intelligence Help?
A $10 trillion industry, construction is one of the global economy’s biggest sectors, according to the 2017 McKinsey Construction Report. For an industry built on collaboration — between owners, architects, engineers, contractors and subcontractors — construction workflows remain remarkably fragmented. Productivity lags behind other sectors, costing the global economy $1.6 trillion in 2016 — the equivalent of the GDP of Canada.
Imagine the efficiencies created when all parties can view important updates from the jobsite in real time, site supervisors know exactly when equipment will be delivered and suppliers know exactly when materials are needed. In addition, think of the cost savings when the chaotic RFP process is streamlined, projects are managed intelligently and collaboration between disparate vendors, workers, suppliers, architects and others is focused and seamless.
The Ingredients for AI Success
Today, the technology that has revolutionized retail sales, point-to-point transportation and office workflows can be utilized to create a similar transformation in construction. However, point solutions that attempt to deploy AI capabilities within existing document management systems and antiquated processes fail to address the key issue of collaboration. Beware of solutions that are nothing more than glorified document and email management systems that offer no way to communicate in real time and uneven distribution and sharing of information. Ultimately these options still create too many versions of the truth, with miscommunication and increased costs as the result.
In order to succeed, AI has to be delivered from a data-driven perspective, pulling information from all possible sources of data and eliminating silos between onsite workers, offsite vendors and all other parties. Information from across the project must be considered, including RFPs, resources available, budgets, RFIs, BIM drawings, work schedules, employee schedules, architect drawings and more.
As a project moves forward, progress must be intelligently tracked and shared across every necessary stakeholder. The AI-driven system creates a single source of truth among everything occurring on a project, for everyone from subcontractors to architects to suppliers. By utilizing the cloud, all parties can operate from the same platform and gain access to the same information, avoiding confusion and surprises such as budget overruns, delays or other issues. When problems do occur, they are recognized more quickly and resolved more easily.
A comprehensive, system-wide approach to data intelligence is the best and only way to ensure the industry adopts and utilizes AI to its full advantage. A truly integrated AI-driven system will progress the industry far beyond mere digital document management and into a unified, data-intelligent platform. There has been no better time or motivation for the construction industry to take advantage of AI possibilities. In order to take full advantage of this boom and those to come, construction executives would be wise to carefully consider their options.
Carter, Nick. 2019. Reprinted from Construction Executive.A publication of Associated Builders and Contractors. Used with permission.