First published in Construction Today November 2015 – Article by Brian Dickinson
– All of the digitization examples mentioned are highly relevant for the cement and concrete industries as well as other construction segments.
Technology has placed unprecedented power in the hands of construction customers. Customers know more about the companies they are working with than ever before and the general contractor they used last time can easily be replaced. So are construction firms powerless now? No. The same new technologies that have helped drive efficiencies throughout the building process also can be used to create closer connections with your customers. In the new digital world, construction companies are discovering new methods of operation that improve efficiency, increase profitability and create strong, sustainable customer connections.
Five major technologies have matured and collided to create what is being called the digital economy. Hyper-connectivity, super computing, cloud computing, cyber security and smart products have shaped a new world where the traditional boundaries of construction no longer exist.
These high-tech methods are not only for high-tech companies. Construction companies also can leverage them to unlock new opportunities for improving operations, business planning and customer communications.
The construction world is just beginning to realize the tremendous benefits of using data to improve its daily operations. A few examples of how data-based technologies are being used by construction companies and their suppliers include:
• Vendor-Managed Inventory (VMI). Just-in-time materials delivery allows companies to efficiently complete jobs on time. Suppliers of construction materials or building products can collect and analyze data in real-time to manage inventory levels for you – their customers. For example, Georgia Pacific, a manufacturer of engineered lumber products, gypsum panels and other quality building materials, offers a vendor-managed inventory program in which customers do not pay for the lumber products until sensors confirm that they have been received and the straps are cut. Accurate inventory management can help construction companies keep projects on track and communicate accurate status to their customers.
• Predictive Maintenance. You can’t afford the lost time associated with broken equipment. Today’s assets like cranes and vehicles are more intelligent thanks to embedded software and analytics that can diagnose their health. Assets send signals about their status and performance, which is used to predict possible malfunctions and maintenance needs. Action can then proactively be taken to service the product at the time when it will have the least impact on a project, helping you manage customer expectations about timing.
Data is only truly valuable when it is captured, analyzed and available at the right time to the right decision-maker. Here are a few examples of how data analytics can help construction companies gain business insight:
• Market conditions and economic forecasts are important for weathering changes in demand. Construction companies that can partner with their suppliers to share information in real-time could see significant cost savings. Engineered wood for large span beams are being requested more often because they are aesthetically pleasing, structurally strong and are seen as an environmentally responsible choice. The ability to anticipate this demand before it happens allows construction companies to meet inventory needs while avoiding potentially higher prices.
• Big data analytics also can help construction companies know what materials to purchase for which location and when. Analytic systems combine multiple market factors such as number of new housing starts, wages, unemployment rates and demand for do-it-yourself projects into a single dashboard. The information can then be overlaid with specific regional data. For example, if market data shows that single-family housing will increase in a certain area, then builders should stock up on light structural lumber.
To meet a customer’s demand for real-time status updates, construction companies must be able to access their supply-chain data at any time and present it to customers in an easy-to-understand, graphical format. Technology is helping to amplify communications in several ways including web-based portals and certification tracking. Web-based portals allow construction companies to access real-time order status and detailed product information using a manufacturer’s website. Cloud-based certification tracking applications help construction companies maintain accurate material certifications.
The technologies powering the digital economy not only offer opportunities for operational improvements and smarter decision-making, but also are helping forge new customer relationships through better communication. Construction companies that can take data and use it to develop new, customer-focused processes and services will become undisputed leaders in the new digital economy.