Pandemic drives push for digitization

Remote work and social distancing underscore the industry’s labor challenges
Firms that had to learn a new software, while getting accustomed to a new remote workflow, had to get creative. (Photo: Wirestock, Dreamstime.com)

Construction tech firms weathered the market decline a little better than other stakeholders, an analysis by McKinsey & Company found. The research firm measured the market decline of the top five companies in various construction sectors and found the market capitalization for the top five tech firms fell just 16.3%, compared to 26.5% for AEC firms. Building materials distributors and manufacturers declined 28.7% and 35.8%, respectively. Home builders were hit the hardest; the top five builders saw a decline of 38.1%.

As the pandemic forces construction companies to adapt, McKinsey predicts a move toward increased digitization in the short term, with mounting pressure to invest in technology or innovative building systems in the long term.

“The industry faced a shortage of skilled labor before the crisis. With the prospect of rolling physical-distancing measures and restrictions on cross-border movement of labor, skilled labor shortages will become even more acute. The case for digital tools that are proven to increase productivity, such as 4D simulation, digital workflow management, real-time progress tracking and advanced schedule optimization, will become even stronger,” according to McKinsey.

[Related: 5 key indicators your construction team needs a computerized maintenance system]

Collaboration has been critical in keeping firms and projects on track, and software that facilitates working together from remote locations, or that allows sharing of multiple file types, is an important tool in that objective.

Firms that were already using collaboration tools were well-positioned to transition to a remote work situation, according to Luc Lefebvre, product marketing manager at Vectorworks, a BIM software provider.

“For an architect using Vectorworks, the transition hasn’t been too difficult, as long as they were already using the collaborative tools,” Lefebvre said.

Firms that had to learn a new software, while getting accustomed to a new remote workflow, had to get creative. For example, in smaller offices, “you’re in the same space and you can just pop in and communicate,” Lefebvre said. “In this case, working remotely, it forces people to think a little bit more outside the box.”

[Related: Restricted area – Why your business might not be as  safe as you think]

Cloud-based software allows teams to work on the same files at the same time, helping them work together while working remotely. Model checking tools like Solibri, from Vectorworks’ parent company, Nemetschek, or Autodesk’s Navisworks compare documents and identify potential problems before getting too far into the design process.

Another area where construction and design firms were able to take advantage of slower workflows is in training, Lefebvre said.

“With the downtime that people have, they’ve really invested more time in training. Our free training was very helpful to them, and was actually very popular, not only for our existing users but also for other users that are potentially looking at switching and moving,” he said.

Danielle Andrus

Editor, Colorado Builder Magazine

Danielle Andrus has 277 posts and counting. See all posts by Danielle Andrus

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