The COVID-19 pandemic has touched nearly every industry across the globe—and the impact on construction has been huge. Construction is the backbone of the U.S. economy. Combine the pandemic with the struggles with the labor shortage and the supply chain, and it has created the perfect storm.
Beyond the clear hurdles associated with closing many doors, there will be long-term impacts to the supply chain. McKinsey Global Institute suggests that economic activity could be back on track by early 2021—if the virus is contained within the next few months and the right economic policies are enacted. However, longer-term lockdowns or other severe restrictions could result in a severe and sustained economic downturn, with economic activity returning to 2019 levels by 2023 at the earliest.
Now, many construction businesses are forced to reassess their operations during this time of disruption. Enter technology, which can help reopen construction companies of all sizes.
Looking back to the financial crisis of 2008, companies that moved faster and had greater productivity, rapidly reallocated resources, and made bold moves came out ahead, according to McKinsey. There was also another common thread—many invested heavily in digital technologies. One of the first steps to emerge strong from this current crisis is to accelerate the rollout and adoption of digitization, according to McKinsey.
Now, looking forward, construction companies will need to leverage new technologies faster than ever before. In fact, construction was already headed in the direction of implementing the IoT (Internet of Things), AI (artificial intelligence), and data in new and exciting ways prior to the pandemic. Now, it is just being sped up.
Matt Wheelis, global business development leader for Buildings & Construction in the Geosystems division of Hexagon AB, is convinced that technology is going to influence the jobsite of the future, saying some of the lessons we are learning today might find their place in the field. For instance, technology gives us the opportunity to go experience a jobsite virtually and answer questions or approve progress without jumping on an airplane and flying out to a jobsite.
“I think some of those habits are going to stick with us and these technologies will play an increasing role in the future,” he says. “Perhaps not as intensely as during this time, but certainly I think we have learned some lessons about what we can take into the future.”
Another big factor seen during the situation with COVID-19 and the lack of access to the jobsite is this virus didn’t discriminate. All construction companies have been impacted in some way—and all sizes of businesses can tap into technologies to leverage their capabilities to rebound.
“The benefits of using technology are not limited to larger contractors. That has been somewhat of a fallacy over the years,” Wheelis adds. “Through the innovations around cloud computing and bringing down the access bar for the services, I see there are opportunities all the way from the smallest to largest of contractors to take advantage of technology to solve these same problems.”
He adds through various financing means and ways of gain access to the data, such as SaaS (software-as-a-service), these things are available whether you are a large contractor or a small contractor.
An Unexpected Opportunity
The pandemic is offering those construction companies willing to respond differently—by leveraging technology—to heighten productivity through digitization. Rising costs, labor shortages, and the emergence of new digital tools were moving the industry in this direction prior to the pandemic. Now, the implementation of new technologies has been expedited for many.
For instance, automation can help with digital construction, space management, and visualization workflows. As one example, Pointfuse and Leica Geosystems announced an agreement to streamline the use of reality capture into deliverables that will drive every stage of the building construction, operations, maintenance, and lifecycle management.
In a Constructech Thought Leadership article, Wheelis also suggests that the silver lining in all of this is the opportunity to be intentional about using 3D data, embracing the role of BIM (building information modeling), and managing crews with a better eye toward spatial interaction.
All of this was already beginning to happen but may play a greater role after the pandemic subsides. Going forward, technology will continue to find its place in the jobsite of the future and building on the lessons we are learning today.
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