The construction industry started out on a positive note in 2020.
Then the coronavirus pandemic hit – shaking up our industry and many other industries like withered leaves. Nobody expected having to overcome the challenges that resulted from COVID-19, so many organizations had to think fast and be resilient to keep business going “as usual,” although the circumstances were anything but.
As the country continues to deal with the economic and health crises caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, forecasters are cautiously optimistic for the future.
A lesson that we probably all learned after last year is that you can’t make plans. Nonetheless, new trends have started to shape the way that the industry pushes forward. Some of our own experts within Command Alkon have made their own predictions based on these trends:
How do you see project investments shifting in construction this year?
Steve Cox: I think you will see more projects investing in true digital collaboration between buyers and sellers of Heavy Building Materials.
What do you predict will change in the industry since this administration is focused on climate change and sustainable construction? How do you think the carbon tax will impact the industry?
Suzie Holycross: I think the government will either enact measures to reduce carbon generated by construction, or provide incentives to those projects that focus on reducing environmental impact. In previous administrations, policies were introduced to speed adoption of clean and renewable energy. Those include carbon capturing and sequestering as well as tax credits for the use of solar and wind energy solutions. There was relatively little federal funding that was earmarked directly for reducing greenhouse gas emissions across any industry. With an administration focused on climate change, I believe we will see direct funding for reducing climate impact, and increasing efforts to incentivize project owners to adopt technology that aim for a reduction in carbon output.
I think carbon taxes will encourage all industries, including construction and infrastructure to adopt procedures that help limit the use of traditional fuels and materials generating emissions. In many cases, these new technologies not only reduce environmental impact, but they generate savings for material producers and contractors. Carbon sequestering in concrete has proven to increase strength of concrete while using less cementitious material. When project owners have financial incentives to embrace new ideas, they open themselves up to potentially improving their bottom lines.
Do you think digital infrastructure projects will become more prevalent?
Suzie Holycross: Absolutely! With renewed efforts by the FHWA to adopt e-Ticketing via their EDC-6 initiative, DOT agencies are increasing their investigation into adopting digital tickets and other technologies. When transportation agencies introduce specifications requiring the use of digital tickets on projects, contractors and material producers must also evaluate solutions to provide that data. In most cases, the benefits of digital data sharing are realized by all project participants, not just the agency who owns and finances the project.
Which sector of the industry do you believe will have the hardest time adapting to the challenges from last year? Which sector do you believe has the biggest opportunities this year?
Steve Cox: Last year everyone was rushing to eTicketing in response to the unforeseen need for Social Distance. While many of these solutions served the desired purpose, they may have added complexity between buyers and sellers. The Heavy Civil segment stands to benefit disproportionately from other construction segments because of the high number of heavy building material transactions between buyers and sellers.
What are your predictions for automation solutions in construction in the quarry, plant, and on the jobsite?
Michael Bordelon: Predicting the future for technology adoption in construction is fairly straight forward because many other industries have already pushed through much of the changes that construction is just starting to face. For instance, the medical industry implemented e-prescribing through the adoption of messaging standards and an industry level centralized prescription Hub. Construction will need to move to a similar standards based hub for all material and hauling orders and delivery tracking. Eventually, such a hub could coordinate labor, equipment and sub-contractors. Once a broadly adopted hub emerges, a slew of applications will emerge that will “orbit” that hub for each of the key players including the contractor, supplier and hauler.
It is vital for software providers to use the right technology for the use case and not try to “shoe horn” all solutions into one technology stack. IoT devices, mobile, browser based apps, and traditional desktop apps will all have viable uses in the modern construction company.
Ken Cardy: Most highway material producers have reduced their product margins to a bare minimum. However, there remains a virtually untapped area for achieving greater profitability – feet management. When coupled with dispatch and point-of-sale systems, the result is a highly profitable reduction in overall trucking costs. With the major plant automation & scale software companies now offering integrated telematics, producers are not burdened with attempting to cobble together solutions from different vendors. As such, I expect (and we are beginning to see) wide-spread adoption of this technology.
Suzie Holycross: Automation on the jobsite will become increasingly common and sought after. Removing dated paper driven processes increases accuracy, access to project data in real time, and improves efficiency. There are options available for so many aspects of material handling, test recordation, and managing projects from end to end, I feel we will see rapid introduction of automation. There is technology available to monitor concrete load data while enroute to the project, sensors can be imbedded in concrete to monitor temperature and curing, drones are being used to inspect bridges and manage stockpiles. All of these require less hands on by project staff, freeing them up to focus on more important tasks. As these tools become more broadly used, additional applications for that technology will be realized.
What new plans and processes do you think construction firms will implement to future-proof for 2021 and beyond?
Steve Cox: I think COVID has caused people to recognize what Donald Rumsfeld once referenced as "Unknown Unknowns." These are things we never contemplated that have had significant consequences in all aspects of our lives. The construction industry has generally assumed that things won't change, or if they do, it will not be quickly. I think you will see leading construction firms take learnings from the pandemic and apply new capabilities, like digital collaboration, and accelerate adoption. They will do so to assure business continuation and, in the process, drive inter-company transactional efficiencies that will benefit them and their trading partners.
What are your predictions for the construction workforce, especially since the challenges of last year prompted many firms to adopt connectivity solutions and embrace remote working?
Suzie Holycross: One of the biggest drivers for the adoption of technology and digital tickets on the jobsite the past several years has been safety. That initially meant that by having ticket data accessible from a mobile device, workers no longer had to approach trucks delivering materials to a site to collect paper tickets, keeping workers out of harms way. With the advent of COVID-19, another layer of safety has been realized, in that social distancing can be achieved by limiting interaction between drivers and jobsite personnel.