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Emerging Ways of Working

by: Lawrence Smith, Vice President and General Manager of Construction Management Solutions, Trimble
Lawrence Smith, Vice President and General Manager of Construction Management Solutions, Trimble
Lawrence Smith, Vice President and General Manager of Construction Management Solutions, Trimble
The construction industry has long been a cornerstone of economic development, but it’s also had its fair share of challenges. A persistent shortage of skilled labor, supply chain issues, and ongoing economic uncertainty put a strain on contractors who must adapt to thrive in an increasingly competitive market.

At the same time, history has shown us that obstacles can be a catalyst for progress. It wasn’t long ago that the pandemic accelerated construction’s digital transformation with the sudden need to share information and collaborate remotely. In the same way, contractors are tackling today’s biggest challenges by rethinking how they work, from the office to the field.

Here are three emerging ways of working that are helping contractors collaborate with ease, work more efficiently, and do more with less.

Integrated Platforms and Interoperability
The construction industry has been plagued by technology solutions that don’t work together. Many project teams are still manually importing and exporting data across systems or, even worse, using some systems for specific tasks and other systems for other functions, never integrating the data because it’s simply too much work.

Disconnected data is particularly burdensome on large projects when stakeholders insist on working within their software system of choice, leading to different systems that each tell a different story about where a project stands.

Fortunately, a world where completely different systems and software sold by separate developers connect is becoming a reality. Leading technology providers are prioritizing interoperability, connecting the data between their solutions and other systems. In addition to developing individual integrations, some vendors have created a marketplace of integrations that can be used by a contractor’s software team.

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Automating the flow of data between different systems without effort from the end user ensures data consistency and makes it possible for all stakeholders to work from the same information in real time, regardless of how (or where) it’s entered. It also centralizes project governance to the preference of the controlling stakeholder, often the general contractor or project owner.

Technology Subscriptions
For most contractors, the benefits of technology compete with resources. Technology can be transformative, but having the ability to invest at the right pace often conflicts with other priorities. Stutsman-Gerbaz, an earthwork and demolition contractor based in the Roaring Fork Valley of Colorado, knows this scenario all too well.

Stutsman-Gerbaz first incorporated GNSS and universal total stations for grade control onto its heavy equipment in 2016. That investment led to growth and allowed the company to diversify its services, moving from primarily residential to an equal balance of commercial and municipal projects and some demolition.

“We wanted to upgrade our entire fleet,” said Shay Stutsman, President of the company. “But the initial capital investment to outfit all of our machines with 3D grade control was daunting, so over the years we’ve been selective about which machines to automate.”

It was the launch of Trimble’s Works Plus, a subscription that lets contractors upgrade to the latest hardware and software, that made it possible for Stutsman-Gerbaz to upgrade more of its fleet.

“This subscription option was a real opportunity for our firm to equip the majority of the fleet with some additional benefits that go well beyond the availability of 3D grade control on a job,” said Stutsman, whose subscription includes a total station, a rover, and Trimble Earthworks on a dozer and multiple excavators.

Technology subscriptions lower barriers to entry, allowing contractors of all sizes to leverage the latest hardware and software without a costly upfront investment. For instance, with the Works Plus subscription, contractors can scale up and down as needed, which Stutsman sees as an investment in flexibility.

“We can sign up for subscriptions based on our backlog of work,” he said. “If we have a project that will only take a short time, I can sign up for a two-year subscription that covers all of the technology for that job. It eliminates that sizable upfront capital investment and allows us to make better business decisions.”

Artificial Intelligence
It’s no secret that construction projects generate mountains of data that can be used to automate administrative tasks, streamline workflows, and inform real-time decision-making — to name a few. With its ability to quickly process and analyze massive amounts of data, AI brings value to nearly every aspect of construction.

In preconstruction, AI can analyze countless combinations of designs based on predetermined factors and output the best design fit for factors such as earthwork cost or optimal energy consumption. In the future, AI will expand to analyze countless supply chain options and subcontractors, and plan for post-construction operational costs.

During construction, AI can track job site safety through video recognition, scanning for proactive equipment such as gloves, hats, and high-visibility gear. AI can also identify when workers are in dangerous positions, helping to avoid accidents by alerting project teams in real time.

In the office, AI is streamlining invoicing by automatically turning paper and PDF invoices into validated, unapproved invoice entries in construction ERP systems, saving contractors valuable time, effort, and money. Because construction projects involve intricate financial processes, even minor invoicing inaccuracies can lead to major setbacks. Using AI to automate the data extraction process increases accuracy, improves financial workflows, and streamlines overall project management.

Looking Ahead
As we enter the second half of 2024, contractors will continue feeling the pressure to deliver projects on time and within budget while struggling to find enough workers to meet demand. Exploring ways to maximize investments in technology and trying new solutions will help contractors weather uncertainty and pave the way to future growth.

Lawrence Smith is Vice President and General Manager of Construction Management Solutions at Trimble, responsible for the company’s civil, general, and specialty contractor software solutions. Trimble’s technology, software, and services span the entire architecture, engineering, and construction industry.

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