The construction industry, like broader society, is awash in technology. From digital collaboration and document management applications, to drones, augmented and virtual reality and robotics, it seems as if technology in the industry is evolving faster than construction leaders can keep up.
This is especially true for the industry’s small to medium-sized businesses, which may often feel left behind by their larger counterparts when it comes to being able to implement and derive value from the avalanche of innovative tools storming the landscape each year.
This is despite the fact that the construction industry is mostly made up of small business contractors and specialty subcontractors. Still, large construction enterprises typically have more resources to take on new technology investments and implementations.
Or so the thinking goes.
It’s true that larger construction firms may have more money to invest in industry-changing technology and people dedicated to leading new tools’ implementations and trainings. They may also have the infrastructure needed to evaluate each new tool’s effectiveness and return on investment.
Smaller = better?
However, being bigger isn’t always better when it comes to construction technology. Company size can also be a liability—especially in an era where change happens fast. And as construction technology continues to evolve, it is the smaller firms that are potentially in the position of being able to harvest the most value from these tools.
Smaller construction firms already have some inherent advantages aside from technology.
The larger the enterprise, the harder it is to enact change. As the world saw with the COVID-19 pandemic, sometimes being able to adapt faster than the competition can serve as an equalizer for small and medium-sized construction firms.
Being a small business enables quickness. With less overhead, small construction businesses can potentially pivot faster than their larger peers. From changes wrought by a pandemic to suddenly shifting consumer demands, small businesses are equipped with an agility many larger firms don’t have.
Small construction businesses can also potentially scale more efficiently. These firms can take on projects larger competitors cannot, because their teams are potentially nimbler and their profitability targets less stringent. While larger firms may benefit from economies of scale, they won’t always be able to experiment with or take on fast-moving opportunities that smaller firms can.
Decision-making is faster with smaller firms. Without layers of bureaucracy, smaller construction firms can streamline decision-making, turning opportunity into profitability much faster.
Combined, these characteristics may make small or medium-sized construction firms more attractive to top talent. And with a massive worker shortage currently crippling construction, the ability to attract and retain talent today is vital.
Tech to the rescue
While size alone can often serve as a competitive equalizer for smaller construction firms, technology is where they can supercharge their businesses.
In many ways, most construction technology today is designed for smaller firms to take on and implement quickly. This is particularly true of software and other digital solutions, which require less overhead to implement.
While cutting-edge advancements in technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning, reality capture, digital twins and robotics, among others, grab the headlines, many of these innovations are still years away from achieving mainstream adoption.
On the other hand, advancements in digital solutions are already paying dividends, and smaller construction firms are uniquely enabled to implement these tools.
Here’s how this technology can catapult small construction businesses to the next level:
Increased productivity: With fewer people, it’s critical that smaller construction firms find ways to automate, standardize or streamline workflows or processes that are manual and tedious. Digital solutions have the power to free up time and resources by performing repetitive or mundane tasks.
Bolstered competitive advantage: Digital construction technology can help smaller construction businesses “punch above their weight.” Using these tools to produce more accurate bids in a shorter amount of time, for instance, allows these firms to be in the running for projects they previously would have never considered.
Mitigated risk: Use of construction technology provides small firms access to project data they didn’t have before, which in turn allows them to better analyze performance and make decisions in a way that surfaces problems sooner. Reducing errors, re-work and miscommunication adds to a project’s profitability, and these technologies have all proven effective in thwarting such common construction project risks.
Improved efficiency: By using digital construction tools, smaller construction firms can start to standardize workflows in a way that makes them more efficient. It also allows leaders the chance to identify redundancies or other opportunities to automate previously manual, time-intensive tasks.
Quality enhancements: Together, these benefits will improve the overall quality of small construction businesses’ operation, improving a firm’s work and enhancing its reputation and prospects.
Buying made simple
Purchasing and implementing construction technology doesn’t have to be complex. Being small allows a construction business the luxury of simplicity when it comes to shopping for and implementing new technology.
Smaller firms, for instance, don’t have to move mountains to implement a new technology, much like larger firms with complex organizational structures. Rolling out and testing a new technology tool at a smaller firm can happen in weeks, not months or years.
Furthermore, more technology providers are able to tailor their solutions to fit small construction firms’ needs. Subscriptions and trial periods make testing new tools easier than ever for smaller firms. Alternatively, many evolving construction technology tools—even some of the cutting-edge ones, like drones and laser scanning—are available for lease, making them even more accessible for smaller construction businesses without robust financial resources.
Technology isn’t an option in today’s world—it’s a must-have. And in construction, the tools that are making the biggest difference have never been more accessible to smaller businesses. By using emerging digital construction technology, smaller firms won’t just survive but thrive.