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August Blog Post: Technology- Then vs. Now

Technology Then vs. Now:
Bridging the Generational Gap

Over the last five decades, there has been tremendous technological change in all industries, accelerating at an exponential rate in the last 10-15 years.  The Construction industry has always lagged behind other industries in adopting new technology which can be attributed to its customized & local project nature,  the many layers of fragmented specialties, and partly because of an inherently conservative attitude toward investment in process change - a "if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it" mentality.  

Uploaded Image: /uploads/office - old.jpgLooking back to when I started in the industry in the 1970's- communication, data analytics, and the speed and methods by which we design and build have fundamentally changed.  This change has led to substantial improvements in communication, quality, safety and an overall streamlined construction process. 


Technology Then.

The basic methods used in design and construction offices back then such as typewriters with onion skin carbon paper, and drawings hand drawn on draft tables and reproduced by ammonia blueprint developers are now virtually obsolete. Just imagine the painstakingly slow process of transmitting corrected shop drawings by snail mail for multiple reviews, using adding machines and calculators to do estimate “extensions” on paper, and archiving voluminous project paper files all without e-mail, internet, CAD, or BIM.

Value was placed on in-person communication, hand delivery and review meetings. There was more “float” in a schedule to account for the multi-layered change of hands. When there was a “hiccup” – a lost shop drawing, a missed phone call, or a redesign, people would convene face to face to work out the problem. This came with expectations of a longer schedule to get the work done. 

Technology Now.

We now live in a world of GPS tracking, 3D printing, drones, and laser scanning- just to name a few. All information is digitilized and shared across dozens of platforms. Mobile communication devices and the transmission of data have drastically transformed the construction industry and the entire design/build process. Now more than ever, the possibilties are endless

Everything about this process is about Big Data. The process creates and grows data in the design the data is then translated into building components or specialty contracted items to be measured and procured in the marketplace of that locality the building of that custom design for that particular site must be then communicated to all the layers of suppliers, contractors, subcontractors, permitting authorities directly and in a tightly coordinated fashion. 

Think about the information flow that occurs when a design change (change order) occurs in the middle of the construction timeline – and how the implications of that change must be considered and priced by all the layers involved, reviewed, approved, and implemented. This needs to be properly coordinated and supervised to ensure everyone is on the same page. Now, imagine this process without technology. 

 

Benefits of today’s technology:Uploaded Image: /uploads/Rubin-Hollander Photo.jpg

  • Reduction of total life cycle costs of a project
  • Speed of communication throughout all levels
  • Coordination of design documents with BIM, Clash detection, modeling 4D and 5D integration into the design.
  • Shorter timelines for construction
  • Lower costs for Owners
  • More competition through wider networks; training of workforce in new technology, tools, & mechanization (robotics, AI, modularization of components)
  • Substantial improvements in quality & safety of a project

 

It is critical that everyone involved in the contracting tiers be on the same technology platform or at least be able to communicate with similar devices and speed.  No longer can a construction team run a project efficiently with condensed timelines if a “weak link” in the supply chain still relies on fax machines.

As with anything, there are challenges and downsides to these trends as they’ve been adopted by the succeeding generations entering the industry.  One is the tendency to “talk less”- to avoid direct communication and understanding of nuance in the relationships and priorities of the design/construction process.  Too often it is easier to “hide” behind e-mails, and not take the time to chase down the correct players to collaboratively face the problem. 

Uploaded Image: /uploads/ipad site.jpgAnother is the inevitable shrinking of margins and fees as a result of the condensed timelines, reduced overhead (replacing people with automated processes), and the economic competition driving the spreading of management resources over more projects at once (i.e. more balls juggled in the air at any one time = productivity gains). 

Technology has driven the expectations for project timelines to be virtually half of what it was. As the technology has advanced, been tested, and adopted by each layer of the industry, training of the workforce is the most important challenge for a construction and/or design organization. Teaching the old dogs new tricks, and incorporating the “old lessons learned” to the younger generations as they enter a firm is an ongoing educational process, but one that is essential for overall growth. 

 

Bridging the Gap.

In order to truly implement and incorporate these changes it all depends (and always has) on people and how we work together and communicate as a Team. Bridging the generation gap will depend on whether organizations can provide an alignment of goals, methods to handle the stress while maintaining a work/life balance, and inspiring a workforce to have the passion to build

The key to bridging the gap for an organization, in my opinion, is making sure that the technology does as much to enhance the HR functions and enjoyment of the “Team dynamic”, as it does to advance the efficiency of producing the building product at the site.

The future of the construction industry is one of streamlined technology processes. Let us embrace these changes and continue to grow with the industry.

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About the Author 

Uploaded Image: /uploads/images/DR.jpg

David M. Rubin was born and raised in Albany. He attended Brown University, graduating in 1975 with degrees in Civil Engineering and Economics. In 1980, he received his Masters in Management & Finance from MIT’s Sloan School and returned to Albany to join his family’s construction firm, Sano-Rubin Construction. David was the third generation of the Rubin family to head the company, having taken over as President & CEO from his father, Donald, in 1985.  Today, he fills the role of Senior Advisor having transitioned the company to the 4th generation of his family, Cousin David Hollander in 2014. 

Serving in an advisory role, David provides expert counsel to the management team across all aspects of the business. Having been with Sano-Rubin for over 37 years, he imparts valuable insight and perspective about the construction industry.

 

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