As mobile-device adoption in general ramps up across the consumer and enterprise sectors, thanks to the availability of such devices as Apple’s iPad, the question on many minds in the construction industry is this: What impact will Windows 8 have on construction?
On Friday, Microsoft, www.microsoft.com, Redmond, Wash., is officially releasing Windows 8 and associated tablet devices such as the Microsoft Surface. One of the biggest discussions surrounding Windows 8 for the construction industry is focused on the ability to use the Windows 8 operating system on devices in the field. For an industry that has deep roots in Microsoft-based technology such as construction, this could make Microsoft a big contender going forward.
Peter Rumpf, integrated construction manager, Mortenson Construction, www.mortenson.com, Elk Grove Village, Ill., says, “The biggest impact (Windows 8) might have is improved performance on tablets combined with a user interface optimized for touch input. This could give us a productivity boost, but it is too early to speculate how much.”
Mortenson will most likely upgrade its mobile devices after the release of Windows 8, but currently does not have plans to upgrade its entire lineup of hardware. In Rumpf’s view, in order for Windows 8 to have a significant impact for IT departments, Microsoft will need to address issues like the closed iOS ecosystem, subpar synchronization options, and difficult software distribution.
Of course, when it comes down to it, there is already a strong trend toward mobile in the construction industry—with or without Windows 8. “Mobile devices will continue to become more and more integral in construction,” Rumpf says. “While the (Windows 8) OS may improve performance, it is not the critical component. The real success behind mobility is in finding new ways to use it, replacing old manual processes with newer, technology-driven ones.”
There is a lot of work behind developing a mobile strategy, and unless a company has all its ducks in a row, so to speak, it may not feel ready to “experiment” with new platforms and mobile devices in the field.
“We’re an industry that’s rooted in tried-and-true methods,” Scott Green, manager of construction technology, Tarlton Corp., www.tarltoncorp.com, St. Louis, Mo., says. “After (Windows 8) initially comes out, maybe update one (or) update two, (we may) start kicking the tires a little bit and exploring it, (but) I think we have some other larger challenges in the industry more on the information sharing and collaboration side to address before we’re worried about the individual tool or software to be able to get there.”
Once firms nail down the process side of things, Windows 8 could be a great tool to refine, tweak, and optimize the process of bringing mobile to the field. But, as Green says: “Without the right process, no matter what tool you have, it won’t work for you.”
Tarlton is currently using iPads in the field as the company makes its foray into mobile technology. Green says usability is the No.1 reason the company has turned to Apple. “Ease of use on Apple is why we’re there right now,” he says. “A great example is my grandfather is 85 and he reads his newspaper on the iPad now; my daughter is four and can (use the device) no problem. So (it’s) just that range of usability, especially when you’re talking about traditional construction superintendents (and) foremen not being those tech-savvy people.”
Yet, Tarlton is not stuck on using the iPad. Green says the company is looking forward to seeing how Windows 8, for instance, will improve mobility, functionality, and user experience. In his opinion, considering many businesses are rooted in Windows, there’s no reason Microsoft 8 won’t meet with success in the construction marketplace—if Microsoft can pull off an intuitive user interface.