Technology Drives Innovation in the Construction Industry

BY PETER MAGLATHLIN
CO-FOUNDER AND CFO OF TRADE HOUNDS

Construction technology is undoubtedly one of the most exciting pockets of innovation in today’s economy.

Funding in U.S.-based construction technology startups surged by 324 percent to nearly $3.1 billion in 2018, compared with $731 million in 2017, according to Crunchbase data.  Investment spans hardware, software, AI and other exciting technologies.

For too long, the construction industry was essentially neglected by the technology and VC worlds. However, the industry is finally experiencing an injection of innovation that — if deployed and nurtured appropriately — could have a meaningful and lasting impact across safety, productivity and connectivity.

It’s important to note that the majority of these new-age construction technologies are geared toward businesses — they sell a piece of technology, be it hardware or software, to a company in the construction space, and that technology is then used by some subset of workers at that company.

Many of these companies’ offerings help solve important problems in the industry — safety, productivity, communication, etc. However, it’s not entirely clear that top-down solution, versus a bottom-up solution, will drive the most change.

A product or platform that is geared towards the worker, not management, will be most widely adopted and engaged with, and therefore have the most impact. It’s human nature to react adversely to something that you’re being forced to use, versus something you’ve discovered yourself and you feel provides the most utility.

Slack and Dropbox, while not construction technologies, are examples of exactly this. Slack is a messaging/team productivity platform and Dropbox is a file storing/sharing platform. Both Slack and Dropbox were built solely with the end-user in mind, and their initial go-to-market efforts were geared toward acquiring that end-user.

They were wonderful products that provided real utility, therefore they were able to establish a critical mass of users to a point where these users began demanding their companies purchase the products for their companies. They were obsessed with serving their end-user, which then enabled them to eventually become dominant players in the enterprise space.

The same dynamic may exist in the construction workforce. Sure, construction is a bit more regulated than other spaces, but that doesn’t necessarily preclude this type of growth strategy from succeeding.

So, what types of problems could a ‘bottom-up’, end-user-first strategy solve?

COMMUNICATION

Why isn’t there a Slack for the construction industry? Probably because the communication habits of construction workers are fundamentally different than those of the office worker.  But, whoever takes the time to understand these habits, and builds a product that workers actually enjoy using, will be the one who captures this opportunity.

A new platform on the market connects construction workers, allowing them to network while helping to solve the industry’s workforce shortage crisis. Read more.

JOBS

The construction labor market is undeniably inefficient, largely due to the lack of effective tools at the market’s disposal. Generally, construction workers don’t use resumes, since written resumes are not an effective method of demonstrating a builder’s skillset.  Workers who build things prefer to show their stuff via photos and videos because it’s a far more compelling medium for what they’re trying to communicate.  This is why these workers aren’t on LinkedIn, and why the traditional job boards have struggled to capture them as well.  A common complaint among contractors/builders is that they can’t find enough skilled workers for their projects. There isn’t (yet) a deep platform to access skilled tradespeople, since nothing has been built for the worker.

The AGC Career Center offers professional services to help construction workers build and manage their careers for maximum potential for success. Check out all the resources available at https://careers.agc.org/.

PAYMENTS

Somehow the construction industry is still heavily reliant on paper.  Digital payment platforms like Stripe have exploded to support industries like e-commerce, but no one has yet been able to definitively capture the construction space. Getting paid on time is a massive concern — and growth inhibitor — for sub-contractors and workers alike.  Payment systems need to work differently for this industry, which is a solvable problem. It’s just not one that has yet been solved.

There’s a lot to be excited about in the construction technology space these days — it’s an industry that’s ripe for innovation and disruption, and it feels like we’re in the early innings of this new age of innovation. The companies who will capture the biggest opportunities are the ones who build their products with the end-user — the worker — top of mind.

Peter Maglathlin is the co-founder and CFO of Trade Hounds, https://www.tradehounds.com, which created an app and social network that connects construction and trade workers all over the United States, providing them an online forum to find job opportunities, share their work and life experiences.

FUTURE FOCUS
One of AGC of America’s key focus areas for the foreseeable future is its Future Focus initiative. This initiative is premised on the fact that the commercial construction industry is on the brink of some very profound changes. The point is to track those changes and develop programming and educational materials to help member firms profit from them.

As part of this initiative, the association is sharing information about some of the new technologies and techniques that are transforming the construction industry via articles like this, webinars, in-seat meetings and on-site demonstrations. The association is also exploring how member firms are harnessing these new technologies and these new techniques to their benefit. And the association is also cataloging these transformative technologies and providing information about where firms can learn more about them.

AGC of America is also putting a special focus on the future as it develops new educational programs, schedules presentations at the Annual Convention and other in-person meetings, crafts new online courses and maps out its schedule of webinars. The association is also looking for member firms with experience — both positive and negative — in adopting new technologies and new techniques.

AGC officials say their objective is simple: They don’t want their members to become the construction industry equivalents of taxicabs in an Uber world. The new content, new classes and new connections focusing on how the industry is changing are all designed to help firms not only weather this transition but benefit from it. For the past 100 years, AGC of America has helped member firms cope with change. It is not about to stop now.