Moving from where you are as a contractor to where you want to be takes more than what-worked-before thinking. Past successes may no longer be reliable because the game is changing. The little guy can compete in a way never thought of before. Contractors can use their human and technology resources to move from status quo to innovation, from being disrupted by other companies to becoming the disrupter.
LEVEL THE PLAYING FIELD
“Technology is the great equalizer,” says James Benham, CEO and founder of JBKnowledge, a technology solutions company serving the construction and insurance industries. “It’s far cheaper, faster and better than years ago.”
Benham has seen small contractors successfully compete with much larger companies, and enterprise level companies become more productive and efficient by embracing change. He is aware that eight out 10 contractors struggle with technology. “They may have adopted a technology 15 years ago and are still hanging their hat on that. They may not realize there is a subset of companies that have upset the game.” Such tech-savvy companies are winning projects while others are being disqualified because they lack the technical capabilities to successfully bid on a job.
Common technical capabilities currently in use include BIM (Building Information Modeling) and productivity trackers. BIM is a strategy tool that can be used during bidding, preconstruction, active construction, and facility management. “It offers massive gains and significant reduction in preventable mistakes,” Benham says. Another important strategy tool focuses on productivity tracking. “We’re in the labor business in construction. Tracking and improving productivity eliminates waste and improves efficiency,” he says. An electrical subcontractor he worked with reached an on-site productivity level above 68 percent, significantly higher than the construction industry average of 40 percent.
GIVE THE RIGHT PEOPLE THE RIGHT TOOLS
Technology won’t put you in a winning position without people who can implement it in a smart way. If you want to innovate give the improvisers, the tinkerers, and those willing to experiment a forum to express their ideas. Along with the right tools, they can move the company forward. How can innovators be supported through funding as well as verbal and emotional support? “These are questions contractors may not have thought to ask but they are important to becoming an innovative company,” says Benham.
Change involves risk. Many construction companies are hesitant to adapt and innovate. Such caution is understandable. It is wise to start small, build up profit margin, and not get distracted by options. Focus on processes and methods. “Technology enforces and institutes processes that benefit the bottom line,” Benham says. Methods mean nothing if they can’t be measured. Learn best practices for measuring results of innovation. “If you don’t measure, you can’t see the impact. Documenting an existing state and a future state is critical. People are quick to forget things,” he says.
With many people retiring from the construction industry, vast knowledge and experience could be lost. Curious, innovative thinkers can find solutions that will retain and build upon that knowledge. Documenting existing processes will help the next person avoid confusion. They will have a playbook.
LOOK TO THE FUTURE
It is necessary to stay informed about current innovations in technology, how best practices change, and what lies ahead. There are a multitude of blogs, industry magazines, videos and podcasts to choose from. Know where you can find the top choices for construction software and mobile apps.
As an adjunct professor in construction science at Texas A&M, Benham is closely connected to the next generation entering the construction industry. “My students are passionate about building. They want to work with technology they use every day — phones, tablets, virtual reality. They insist it be in their work environment as well.”
James Benham will be presenting a session on Driving New Innovation at Complacent Companies during CONEXPO-CON/AGG 2020 in Las Vegas. He will share ideas and best practices in Ballroom A on Thursday, March 12th from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. Benham will encourage attendees to focus on budgeting, staffing and starting to experiment. Contractors who are curious and interested in technology, who are passionate or want to innovate, should attend.