Evaluating and Selecting Construction Technologies

By Hamzah Shanbari, Construction Technology & Innovation Leader, The Haskell Company

Hamzah Shanbari, Construction Technology & Innovation Leader, The Haskell Company
Hamzah Shanbari, Construction Technology & Innovation Leader, The Haskell Company
The construction industry is a unique one; it differs from many other industries in being fragmented, risky, and offers minimal profit margins for general contractors. The end result of each project fills every individual that stepped foot in it while under construction with immense pride. The industry has been undergoing a digital transformation for a little over a decade now. That transformation is accelerating every year, especially when venture capital groups dropped over $2.5 billion on construction technology startups. The abundance of cash and opportunity created an ecosystem that welcomed many startups regardless of the market segment they are serving. This, in turn, introduced dilemmas for end-users looking to choose the best technology in a saturated segment that serves their needs. Larger companies realized that difficulty quickly and created dedicated “innovation” groups that are tasked with finding the best technologies for the company. Some also recognized the opportunity such an ecosystem presented and spawned corporate venture arms to invest in promising startups directly.
Such technologies present promising opportunities to serve the industry in many different aspects, including:
Safety: such solutions provide teams with better and more effective training, higher visibility into at-risk situations, as well as data analytics that show trends and possible areas to focus on.
Efficiency: accessing needed information to complete the work has become much more efficient using digital tools. Other solutions provide crews with tools that would enhance their day-to-day operations and even automate repetitive tasks using robotics. Some solutions merely offer teams with the right and relevant information to make faster, more informed decisions.
Visibility and Transparency: many technology providers are introducing solutions to help break down silos and produce a more transparent environment where all stakeholders (from building owners to craft workers) are aware of progress, challenges, and upcoming tasks.
Quality: sacrificing quality for the sake of efficiency is not acceptable; that is why technology providers are offering solutions to help track any issues and documenting them in a structured manner to ensure higher quality deliverable. Other technology solutions provide value for prefabrication and off-site construction approaches that produce higher quality modules.
Speed to Delivery: with more challenging and complex projects, schedules play a vital role in ensuring delivery on time. Many technologies are producing artificial intelligence models that optimize schedules and adjust as updated. Other solutions ensure all users are assigned the appropriate tasks at the right time.
Ultimately, profitability: given that all these different types of technology yields safer, more productive, transparent, higher quality, and shorter duration projects, the bottom line for each stakeholder increases. The owner gets a functioning building sooner, the general contractor spends less overhead, subcontractors avoid rework, and designers get fewer RFIs to deal with.
Having options is a good thing, but having too many choices can become problematic. With many technology solutions to choose from, even dedicated innovation teams can be overwhelmed by the sheer number of similar solutions. Before jumping into evaluating new solutions, it is extremely essential to map out the organization’s current processes and identify all aspects that go into it; this would help clarify the main problem statement at hand without losing sight of the big picture. There is always a domino effect when implementing new technologies that can hinder other processes down the line. That is why it is important to keep that map in check and start implementing it on a smaller pilot-scale prior to roll-out.
Once that is completed, evaluation teams need to establish a methodical approach to comparing new technology solutions. While each team will develop its own approach to evaluating and selecting a technology for implementation, there are some rules of thumb to be effective and efficient at it:
Demo Call: websites and flyers are necessary to relay information about the solution and may list a customer quote or two to lure prospects in. Such marketing materials are specifically designed to be appealing but do not provide enough information on the solution, especially limitations. Jumping on a demo call can provide a much clearer image of the solution, what it provides, and what it lacks. In addition, it allows the evaluator to ask specific questions pertaining to their specific requirements.
Problem Statement: each technology sales team will present several value propositions in an effort to differentiate their solution. One question that always reels the conversation back a bit is: what problem statement is your technology solving for? The answer should be no more than one sentence; if the answer is a paragraph or a rant, it is good practice to ask the question again, politely. This usually yields a more condensed answer. It is important that this problem statement matches the identified one the evaluator is trying to improve and solve.
Additional Features: once the problem statement is clearly understood, additional features can be discussed in more detail. Each feature can provide additional value to the evaluator, or it could be of no use. Documenting all these features in a structured spreadsheet will help the evaluator plot them in a true side-by-side comparison with competitors.
Competitors: many sales teams dread this question, but it provides immense value to the evaluator. When the answer claims they do not have any competitors, it means one of two things: they do not know their competition, or they are lying. Either way, this becomes a red flag for the evaluator and should be noted for this specific solution. Knowing the competition is extremely important for further development and sharing that information with prospects shows a higher level of confidence the sales team has in their solution regardless of what the others provide.
Differentiators: evaluators would skip this step if they did not get a satisfactory answer to the competitors’ question. This can also be confused with the additional features segment. Differentiators are not about how much more value they can add by selecting a specific solution, but it focuses more on guaranteeing success in solving the main problem statement. All the additional features are nice-to-have, but the main problem statement is the ultimate goal. Such differentiators include dedicated customer success teams, implementation plans and execution, timelines to get up and running, security protocols, integrations with other solutions, and more importantly, scalability.
Feasibility: a lot of evaluators care about cost more than anything else and this becomes the focal point of the discussion. Cost is important, but it should not take priority over value. Feasibility on the other hand calculates that exact relationship, how much does the technology cost against how much value it provides, especially when fully scaled.
Once all this information is collected, the evaluation team would have a much better understanding of the landscape in that specific segment and can begin the selection process. Each team will have different criteria in the selection that prioritize different aspects. The process of elimination usually narrows down the search to the top 2-3 solution providers, which would give the team a more focused approach in looking at the side-by-side comparison. Additional calls and negotiations can aid in the final selection. Another approach is to pilot the top 3 technologies in similar scenarios to see which one performs the best, especially as it pertains to user experience since that is something that cannot be conveyed in demo calls. The end-users would have to actually use the technology to provide that feedback for consideration. Setting up pilot projects for success is also important by identifying goals, durations, roles, and responsibilities, as well as setting expectations. These pilot projects can range from 1-month access to the platform and go all the way up to a year of actual integration in a specific environment before compiling feedback and reporting.
As the digitization of the construction industry continues to unfold, many companies will find themselves in a position where they have to keep up or be left out. What worked well yesterday may not be able to keep up with the competition and their bids. As other construction companies become more efficient by implementing new technologies, bids in terms of cost and time would start shrinking leaving the old ways of how things were done behind. Starting the evaluation process of which workflows and tasks can be improved seems like a daunting task, but breaking that down into bits and pieces helps get the ball rolling.