The stimulus bill approved by the House of Representatives in late February was the first of two major budget initiatives President Biden is seeking in the opening months of his administration. The second bill, expected soon, will address the president’s longer-range objective of creating jobs by, among other things, overhauling the nation’s infrastructure.
It’s a fact that people on both ends of the political spectrum can agree on: The nation’s infrastructure is in immediate need of an update. The most recent Infrastructure Report Card from the American Society of Civil Engineers gave U.S. infrastructure a D+ rating.
As the new administration and Congress begin the process of updating the country’s crumbling roads, dams, and electrical grids, one unsettling fact looms large: no one knows exactly how the federal government will be able to solve such a large problem. Improving the country’s infrastructure will require extraordinary levels of investment and public- and private-sector cooperation.
Bassem Hamdy, CEO ofBriq, the leading financial management platform for the construction industry, looks forward to this massive undertaking but warns of potential pitfalls. “The lack of infrastructure development in many areas may be attributed to the bottlenecks existing in construction,” he says. Easing these bottlenecks is going to require tech assistance. This article will discuss how technology can help overcome the industry’s challenges and bring a federal infrastructure bill to life.
The construction industry has been notorious for relying on manual and paper-based workflows for decades. That paperwork can lead to scores of errors and delays that push projects further back from their intended completion. By digitizing all information, using paper as a backup only, information can be easily shared and accessed at all times.
Hamdy acknowledges the impact technology has already had on the construction industry, noting that “Over the last 10 years, a whole host of software providers emerged, turning paper-based workflows into digital workflows, and in the process, moved general contractors specifically to the cloud.” Moving documentation from paper to the cloud has greatly impacted project efficiency in just a few short years.
While cloud storage and instant messaging have become more widespread in the industry, other forms of technology are pushing the construction world even further into the future. One example is digital contract signing, which makes it possible for documents to be verified and signed digitally, eliminating or reducing the need for paper in most situations.
A federal infrastructure bill might not take into account the labor gap in the construction industry. “While the construction industry accounts for over 10 million jobs in the U.S., there is a significant labor shortage to execute the projects that currently exist,” says Hamdy. “Many of the subcontractors are typically responsible for providing labor but consistently struggle to meet labor requirements, which means that projects often fall into delay and cannot meet schedule requirements.”
Certainly, opening up new jobs is a good thing, but only if skilled applicants can fill them. One way to work around the construction industry’s labor problem is through automation. This could take the form of modular construction (think factory-produced or 3D-printed facades) or the digitization of planning, design, and management processes. Even bricklaying or road paving could be automated.
When automation lightens the workload, it frees up the construction industry’s scarce human workers to perform the tasks only they can do. One further upside: the savings that result from implementing automation could improve the industry’s often razor-thin profit margins.
3. Reduced Overhead and Improved Financial Planning
Even though the construction business is very profitable in certain areas, contractors inevitably face risks inherent to large-scale projects. Robust financial planning capabilities enable them to assume such risks and take the necessary precautions to ensure projects are successful.
Financial technology (fintech) allows contractors to more easily develop budgets and track expenses without an extensive finance background. Predictive modeling and analytics enable more accurate forecasting of cost to completion, while streamlined workflows reduce overhead costs. Both functions will help contractors keep projects within their designated budgets.
Some examples of fintech in action can be found at Harper Construction and Wescor, two companies that have seen massive savings by working with Briq. The technology has added the power of automation as well as additional tools necessary to improve financial analysis and workflows.
4. Data Analytics for Current Projects
Data provides insights for calculated decisions on how to proceed with discrete projects and the day-to-day running of their businesses. “The most important thing a contractor can use technology for is in the management of their cash flow,” observes Hamdy. Data can inform everything from the most cost-effective material choices to the most productive hours for employee scheduling.
Data analytics also helps contractors think bigger picture. “Contractors will embrace intelligent financial forecasting, data analytics, and predictive modeling to better anticipate risk,” Hamdy predicts. And as important as it is to anticipate and brace for potential risks, data analytics can also act like a compass pointing toward new opportunities. Pinpointing growth zones before they explode allows construction companies to tap infrastructural gold mines before the space gets too crowded.
The best of tech is yet to come, but what is available today in the construction sector can bring a federal infrastructure bill to life. In fact, it would likely be impossible to carry out such ambitious plans without leveraging technology in these four ways.