‘Construction Technologist’: The New Role Moving the Industry Forward
As technology becomes a bigger part of construction firms’ operations, so does the job of ‘construction technologist’
New job titles seem to be popping up in every industry. From “chief evangelists” to “customer happiness heroes,” head-scratching employment designations abound.
For some in construction, the title of “construction technologist” might be unfamiliar, but it’s becoming common as technology continues to shape the industry. After all, if much of construction companies’ bottom line depends on the efficient use of software, tablets and other emerging technologies, it’s essential that they have someone whose primary role is to enable employees to make the most of the tools available to them.
“I play the role of problem-solver, innovator and educator,” said Lizz Babin, the chief operating officer at engineering and consulting firm PACE Group in New Orleans, Louisiana, who oversees the firm’s technology operations.
Here are three things construction technology leaders do to help their companies integrate technology into their businesses.
Kevin Kendellen, a construction technology manager at Riley Construction Company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, said intransigence is one of the biggest challenges he faces in his role.
“Every time I hear the term, ‘Well, we’ve always done it that way,’ I cringe,” Kendellen said.
“There’s definitely more of a cultural management aspect to the role than one would probably think,” Kendellen continued. “You have to be good at making sure people are comfortable with potential change and see how it can benefit them right away.”
To be sure, it can be difficult for employees who have done a job one way for years—sometimes decades—to change their approach. And, more often than not, telling an employee about how a new technology can make their lives easier isn’t an effective persuasive tactic.
Instead of telling, let them experience it for themselves.
“When you can show somebody how technology makes their job easier, their arguments against it go away quite quickly,” said Brent Gregory, a construction technologist at Encore Electric in Denver, Colorado.
“I had a project manager who hated technology,” Gregory said. “Once we built him a custom digital dashboard that resistance went away pretty quick.”
Moreover, make sure the new technology is creating less, not more, work.
“If it’s more work than it’s worth then the guys on the jobsite will drop those iPads and move on,” Gregory said.
Innovation is a tricky word. It can suggest both big, audacious projects and simple ways of improving mundane workflows and tasks. Some people are drawn into the big ideas only to find that sometimes the less-flashy aspects of technology can be the most meaningful.
Initially, PACE Group’s Babin was drawn into the world of construction from her job in Microsoft Retail construction by seeing how companies used technology like virtual reality (VR). Still, Babin said smaller pieces of technological innovation has also had a big impact.
“One common misconception is that you need expensive tools,” Babin said. “Honestly, it starts with the improvement of workflows, and then the addition of technology complements and improves efficiency.”
Riley Construction’s Kendellen described how both big ideas and small changes can elicit the kind of reactions among workers that construction technologists are always seeking when introducing new technology.
“We’re the ones always trying to push the limits of what’s available,” Kendellen said. “You can set up a virtual reality environment for a customer, blow their mind completely going for the ‘wow’ factor,” Kendellen continued. “Internally, you can show someone even a small change in their workflow and save them a couple of clicks and you get the same reaction.”
“Probably the most important end user I have is the craftsman on the jobsite,” Gregory added. “That person needs the most up-to-date information right there.”
And if these workers don’t find value from the technology, it’s probably not worth implementing.
“You can’t just come onto a jobsite and say to the workers: ‘Hey, you’re going to do this because I say you’re going to do this,’” Gregory said.
One of the most difficult tasks for a construction technologist is creating a seamless connection between the office and the jobsite with technology. Ideas may sound good in a meeting, but it’s a different challenge to get those ideas turned into action.
For Gregory, his experience in every aspect of the construction industry has made him well-suited to this aspect of the job.
“It helps me to not only know what information the people on the jobsite are going to need, but also how they’re going to use it,” Gregory said. “I have a good idea of what’s going to be valuable to them and what’s going to be a waste of time for them.”
Kendellen also said his years of experience in various roles helped him develop in his new role as a construction technologist.
“I’ve seen a lot of different ways that things work in my different roles,” Kendellen said. “You become more appreciative of those things when you’re trying to onboard new members and they start asking questions about things you’ve taken for granted for a while. And you think, ‘Wow, I’ve seen a lot of different things over my time.’”
When assessing the future of the construction industry, it’s clear that technology is going to continue to play a bigger role. That means the job of construction technologist will, too.