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Catch up to tech or get left behind

0 519 Technology

by Russell Hixson

The world of technology is sprinting forward, and the construction industry needs to catch up.
Catch up to tech or get left behind

Just around the corner is a brave new world of clouds, drones, virtual reality, thinking machines and armies of computers.

That's the message James Benham, founder and CEO of Texas-based JBKnowledge, brought to delegates at the B.C. Ready-Mixed Concrete Association's convention in Vancouver.

A recent survey of 1,000 companies by Benham revealed a disturbing lack of financial investment, interest and general savvy for technology that he said is going to leave many in the dust.

Cloud-based solutions, big data and machine learning were three areas of innovation Benham said are rapidly changing construction.

Cloud technology allows unlimited content to be available "anytime, anywhere and on any device," Benham said.

He explained that dozens of workers can access community documents for real-time editing from anywhere. The access, storage and editing advantages can be applied to nearly all facets of a business, including accounting, bids, pre-qualification, plans and more.

"There is no magic pixie dust involved," Benham said.

"It is just a giant room filled with machines, with really advanced software running on them."

The concept can be taken even further.

Massive armies of these computers can be leased by the hour.

A 30 second video clip that would have taken 900 hours to render could be changed and rendered in less than one.

"The future of construction involves a lot more computers, a lot more than you have in your offices," he said.

He brushed off concerns of security, an argument he has heard voiced many times, explaining that in reality, it is easier to gain access to someone's office computer than files on a cloud server.

Benham said companies also need to be aware of the implications of harnessing big data – huge amounts of data from many sources arriving in high volume.

Big data could be used for determining the best contractor or predicting future costs.

Another term to watch for is machine learning –machines solving problems that they haven't specifically been programmed to solve.

An example could be finding where you are losing money on your job.

Benham said Google, which is starting to stake a claim in the construction industry, showcased the power of cloud, big data and machine learning technology when it unveiled Flux Metro for the city of Austin, Texas last month.

Flux Metro is an online tool that combines data from cities, tax assessors and third-party sources, including building codes from all levels of government, in one place, so planners can understand a parcel's parameters.

It generates a 3D map of the city with the proposed building and all the codes and regulations that apply.

The user can even preview shadows from any time of any day of the year.

What would have cost tens of thousands of dollars and taken months can be done in no time for about $100.

"This is going to fundamentally change how we plan buildings," Benham said.

He also teased delegates with new technology coming down the pipeline and how it is being applied to construction projects.

Like drones that catalogue construction progress from the air, augmented reality goggles that can plaster 3D graphics onto the real world to preview a structure, or mobile tablet sensors that can scan a room and create a 3D model in seconds.

While the possibilities are tantalizing, Benham said many in the industry still devote far too little time and money into developing and integrating technology into their businesses.

"All this new technology is cool, but if you are still using paper and Excel sheets, I can't help you," Benham said. "You have to move forward to get to BIM, real time collaborative software and augmented/virtual reality. You have to take the baby steps to take the big steps."

He added that those who do adapt and put technology to work for them are going to dominate the construction industry.

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