By Ryan Hale, CIO and Director of Strategic Initiatives, Lithko Contracting, Inc.
The technology landscape of the construction industry is changing and changing quickly. This rapid change is happening in a 1.1 trillion-dollar industry that has historically been viewed as a late-adopter of technology. Moreover, the Financial Crisis of 2007 and the Great Recession between 2008 and 2012 slammed the construction industry, making it hard to justify funds for new technology when the more pressing worry was keeping your crews busy and making payroll for the week. The combination of these items made an industry known for being a late-adopter of technology, a no-adopter of technology.
But as the sting of the recession subsided and new construction started to rebound, software vendors viewed the construction market as a target-rich environment with a renewed flow of capital and few firmly established technology giants to compete against. In addition, construction companies were facing a labor shortage, due to the workforce flocking to other industries to survive the recession, so they knew they needed to become more efficient. In parallel, the proliferation of mobile devices, advances in cloud computing, and the growing promises of big data analytics was moving from an idea to mainstream usage. When you combine these inputs, you had a perfect recipe to put timely decision- making information in the cost-conscience hands of those standing on a construction site.
For the past 6 years, this target-rich environment has seen handfuls of new software solutions present themselves and older software solutions get facelifts. The majority of these software packages are offering point solutions targeted at solving a particular business need.
These point solutions have all of the items you would want a modern technology solution to have: web-based, configurable, user-friendly, and flexible reporting. However, the selection of the best point solution is often extremely difficult. Many of these solutions have not been implemented long enough to prove that the software can deliver on the promises made during the sales process. Additionally, many are still trying to procure additional rounds of investment funding to sustain themselves in the long run.
At Lithko, to navigate the complexity of this environment, we strive to follow these five principles on every initiative:
1. Put yourself in the User’s shoes – For us it all starts with the operational pain points. Our IT department does not generate revenue by building buildings, so we must ensure that the money we invest in technology generates the maximum return on investment (ROI) for the business. Thus, we spend significant amounts of time understanding the pain points of coworkers that plan our jobs, manage our jobs, and pour concrete. We then prioritize those pain points and determine how we can alleviate them by applying technology. At Lithko, we do not adopt technology solutions and then find the problem to apply them to; instead, we identify the problem and then find the technology to resolve the problem.
2. Process always wins – Once we choose what pain point to address, we focus on the process by seeking to understand the interactions between different stakeholders, the information that needs to be exchanged, the metrics that need to be reviewed, and the best way for our stakeholders to review those metrics. With all of this in front of us, we then overlay the timing of how the process, data, metrics, and reports come together. Then, and only then, do we begin to look at technology solutions. This mindset ensures we don’t get awestruck by the flashiest user interface or slickest dashboard, and it keeps the user requirements in front of us. It also ensures our Technology team becomes subject matter experts on the topic and can adequately support the users in the future.
3. Look for a strategic partnership – To us technology is not a quick fix to a solution, it is a long-term commitment between us and our vendor. Thus, we have conversations with all levels of the vendor’s management team to ensure we understand their vision and roadmap and they understand ours. If we get the feeling they are not willing to grow with us or have our best interests in mind, then we stay on the hunt for the right vendor, even if that means delaying the project.
4. Integrate the data flow between systems – Technology solutions are great until you need a staff of individuals to move data from one point solution to another, or worse yet, when reporting from one does not match the other. Whenever we look to add a new technology solution to our best-of-breed portfolio, it must integrate with our other systems so that the data flow can be scheduled and seamless. At our size and scale, we cannot afford to hire a team of people to push and pull data by hand.
5. Always implement with 2-in-the-box – As mentioned, the business need should lead the way; therefore, a technology solution should never be implemented by just IT. Every technology solution we implement is co-led with one person from the Technology team and one person from the Business. This approach not only ensures that the technology implemented meets the business need, but that user adoption becomes easier when a trusted expert of the business is on-board.
There is no doubt that it is extremely exciting to see the proliferation of software solutions in the construction industry – not only are these solutions long overdue, but they could dramatically change the competitive environment for those that are first adopters. With that said, it can also be difficult to determine which ones to adopt, how many to adopt, and how to implement them so that they drive maximum business value and impact. For us, creating and standing by our list of key principles provides the bell-weather so that we do not lose our way in the rapidly changing environment.