By Aaron Geiger, Chief Technology Officer with Alberici Constructors & Brianne Stewart, Construction Technology Manager with Milwaukee Tool
The last 10 years in construction technology have been nothing short of amazing. An explosion of software and hardware options are making huge impacts on our construction projects, but limited jobsite connectivity undermines the full capability. That is why TAUC’s Innovation and Technology Committee has targeted “jobsite connectivity” as a critical building block that impacts the technology adoption throughout our entire industry. We are committed to working together to help TAUC members develop and implement real-life solutions to address these challenges.
The technology we’re trying to implement on job sites is more advanced than the connectivity that’s available to us today. It’s a good problem to have, but it’s also very frustrating. Our expectation is that the explosive growth of technological solutions for our industry will only continue.
On top of that, all these connected devices and cloud-based solutions are pulling reams of data that is growing every day. It’s sitting out there, and it is available to be utilized, but only if we can connect to it.
There are quantifiable benefits from connectivity, and there is a very clear correlations to safety. Connectivity allows more people to be out on the jobsite versus in the trailer trying to view a submittal, review an updated drawing, or navigate a large BIM 3D model. Those are examples of data driven decisions referenced in Jeff Sample’s article. With improved connectivity, they will be made quicker, and it’ll be very clear that you’re working on the most up-to-date information as you’re collaborating with your team in real-time.
As we began to dig into some of the research, there were a few short-term solutions that we discovered that contractors could take advantage of right now. ConstructEdge is an innovative technology services company that provides real-time data and live communications that enhance safety and productivity for the jobsite. This is accomplished through their suite of products: Last Mile Services, Trailer Connectivity Services, and Field Connectivity Services. There may be a solution provider out there that can help meet your company’s needs… Your IT team doesn’t have to do it all by itself.
Coordination is another untapped opportunity. If each contractor is trying to provide their own hotspots, their own Wi Fi, it can get really complicated fast. Early planning with the Construction Manager, General Contractor, and Subs/Specialty Contractors opens the pathway to have more collaboration, as you have those preconstruction discussions and let your IT teams talk to each other. What carrier or carriers are you going to use? Who can get the telecom there the quickest? Owners can really help with this process, not by necessarily providing connectivity. If work is being performed in any sort of existing plant/facility where the owner already has connectivity, providing carrier contacts to the GC can be helpful, as it leverages the owner’s large existing investment with that carrier and typically warrants more responsiveness. In some contexts, that alone can make a huge difference that can save months of time, which is beneficial to the owner and construction team. This highlights the need for better coordination, especially as owners are depending more and more on the solutions to monitor their jobsites, understand what’s ready, and track the progress of the project.
One recent industry survey showed that less than half of the respondents have a formal intake process for when a new construction project begins, and connectivity is required. How does that project team formally request connectivity either from the IT group, or whoever is going to provide it? In many cases, it’s done by the project team as one of the many tasks that they have when they’re staffing up for a project. Many members of TAUC’s Innovation and Technology Committee have found value in a jobsite connectivity checklist to support pre-planning. This is a simple predetermined checklist that project teams can fill out to communicate their needs to an internal Technology team or a third party. These teams can typically find better options if they know the scope and scale of what is required.
This simple suggestion can also take a significant load off the project team, allowing them to focus on getting the project ready to go, not spending time contacting carriers and chasing down options. This is one of those tactical things that really makes a big difference for both IT and the project team. IT gets better information or what each jobsite requires and can act quickly, while project teams are more pleased with having professionals take this off their plate. Removing this time burden from project teams is a big benefit.
The above suggestions can help in the short term, but the TAUC Innovation and Technology Committee also wants to make this a more seamless endeavor in the future. That’s why we’ve been meeting with all the major carriers to properly inform them about the specific needs of our industry. Our industry is different than most. Each project is somewhat bespoke. The open and honest dialogue and education with the carriers will hopefully spur them on to find better solutions that we can all collectively take advantage of. We’ve also initiated discussions with industry partners like Graybar and Althea. These partners are investigating opportunities for purpose-built solutions for our industry, which we hope will be available soon.
There are also national initiatives that are gaining momentum, especially regarding broadband coverage. Coverage currently can be spotty in different parts of the US, and Federal funding is now being employed to help reduce or eliminate broadband inequality in rural communities which has contributed to poor adoption of technology.
We are going to see more and more 5G coverage and hopefully be able to begin to realize the benefits of what it looks like when you have consistent 5G. The technology for satellites is also going to keep advancing, and there is a growing level of competition in that space. Starlink receives a lot of the coverage in the media, but there are many other carriers that are also actively pursuing satellite technology which will lead to better coverage. Traditional carriers are now partnering with satellite companies. Amazon and Verizon are working together to improve 5G access, Starlink and T-Mobile, and there are also rumors that Apple will get in the race and will have something dedicated just for their network.
In summary, connectivity is a universal pain point in all our construction businesses and a barrier to truly realizing the benefit of jobsite technology. We are all building different things in different locations for different customers, which is why this is a difficult problem to solve. The TAUC Technology & Innovation Committee is committed to improving the options that are available for our industry. There are proven short-term solutions that can be implemented by individual companies, as well as promising national trends towards expanding coverage and available solutions. Ultimately, we believe that these will provide short- & long-term gain, lead to better technology adoption in your company, and happier people.
You can download a copy of TAUC’s White Paper on “Jobsite Connectivity” along with the “Jobsite Connectivity Checklist” at www.tauc.org/jobsiteconnectivity.