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Project Owners Drive Tech Adoption

by: Scott Crozier, General Manager, Trimble Civil Construction
The needs of the project owner have always defined the parameters of a construction job, but all signs are pointing to owners playing a bigger role in the use of technology on their projects in the future, especially as we begin to see federal funds put to work on transportation infrastructure projects. While there are pockets – like some Departments of Transportation – that are already requiring the use of technology on jobs, many owners are starting to express frustration about the level of technology being put to use on their jobsites.

The recent Dodge Construction Network Connected Construction: The Owners’ Perspective report shows that 59 percent of project owners reported frequent breakdowns in communication between themselves and other project team members, and 51 percent reported that their most frequent connectivity breakdown is with their general contractor or construction manager. Fewer than half – 45 percent – report that they are satisfied with their connectivity to those external companies.

At the same time, the federal government is funding the adoption of digital construction technology through programs such as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Every Day Counts, through which DOTs, in particular, have access to funds for the sole purpose of trying out proven but underutilized digital construction technologies.

Across the board, contractors of all types and sizes are adopting the use of technology to help them complete projects faster, cheaper, safer, and with more sustainability. Site positioning, machine control, and field-to-office connectivity have achieved widespread adoption, and many civil contractors are now gaining a competitive advantage through more advanced technologies like task automation, augmented reality, and Building Information Modeling (BIM) tools. But what will the implications be for contractors as project owners start playing a bigger role in the use of technology for their projects? And how can contractors start to prepare themselves to compete in this new environment?

Building Technology Into Project Bids
In many countries around the world, project owners are already requiring the use of technology on some projects, including in Australia, Japan, the Scandinavian region and recently, the UK with its massive HS2 project. The United States is several years behind in terms of building technology requirements into the bid process, but it’s coming. According to the same Dodge report, more than two-thirds of owners contractually require contractors to use some digital documentation and practices today, and we expect to see this number increase over the coming months and years, particularly in the public sector.

The impacts of this are simple: contractors will need to adopt and demonstrate proficiency with the required technologies in order to be considered for these projects. Gone are the days when a contractor could acquire technology just to check the box on the form. Today’s owners are requiring digital construction practices on their projects in part because they want the increased visibility and connectivity they provide. They need the real-time updates connected construction offers, particularly on projects with federal funding and more complicated reporting, and contractors who want to be considered for these jobs will need to be able to provide them.

Technology for the Win-Win at Minnesota DOT
For engineering firm WSB and Ames Construction, the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s technology requirements have been a win-win. The three organizations are working together on a $158 million highway project where the use of digital design and collaboration technology has made it easier for engineers and the contractor to collaborate and helped shave $10 million off the cost of the pre-construction phase alone.
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WSB is the first engineering design firm in the U.S. to implement Trimble Quadri, an integrated data model collaboration platform that drives BIM-based workflows and helps users maximize the value of the 3D models through construction. The benefit of this collaboration platform became evident in the early design phase. In one case, the engineering team sought to raise one of the bridges by 6 feet. WSB and Ames were able to use that same design file to balance earthwork quantities at the different stages, reduce the number of retaining walls and even minimize noise.

“Through this cohesive and collaborative workflow, we were able to make iterative design changes such as moving a noise wall closer on a berm to reduce the wall size by half,” said Peter Muehlbach, Senior Director of Transportation Program Management at WSB and Project Manager for the Highway 169 effort. “Our team can design the iterative changes, quantify it in real time and work with MnDOT design, construction, and maintenance to move it forward. It’s a great way to keep innovating and deliver the best possible solution.”

Preparing for Tomorrow, Today
Globally, the public sector has been the first to drive the use of technology on construction projects, and the U.S. is no different. However, we’re now seeing signs of private project owners also starting to require the use of technology, both here and abroad, and savvy contractors are already honing their skills on the types of technology they are seeing owners require. There are a few easy ways contractors can start to prepare now for owners to require more in terms of technology sophistication.
Talk to Project Owners in Your Region
The shift to owners requiring technology on their jobsites won’t happen overnight. It has already started in some regions and on certain job types, and will continue to evolve across project types and geographic areas. Contractors who aren’t already should start paying close attention to gain an understanding of the owners in your area. Simply having a read on this dynamic can help put you at an advantage.
Consult With a Technology Dealer
Contractors all across the U.S. can call a local SITECH dealer to get additional insights on the local market and talk about how to either start or expand your use of technology. Getting started can be as easy as purchasing a base rover and doing your own layout. No matter where you are in the world or in the process of adopting technology, the local SITECH dealer is a great – and often overlooked – resource.
Start Educating Owners
Contractors who are already adept at using technology might want to start educating project owners about the benefits it can provide, which can help tip the scales in your favor when it comes to future projects. The more project owners know about digital construction solutions, the more likely they are to require – or at the very least favor – contractors who are already using them.

Technology is the answer to many of the challenges faced by a construction industry with full project pipelines and a global workforce shortage that doesn’t show any signs of letting up. Getting project owners on board and engaged with the use of technology on their projects will have widespread benefits for everyone, including contractors, subcontractors, engineers and everyone else along the construction lifecycle. Owners are growing more and more interested in technology. The contractors who will be most competitive in the future are taking note – and taking action – now.

For more information about Trimble Civil Construction solutions, please visit https://heavyindustry.trimble.com.

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