The paper and pencil approach to everyday business function is going the way of…well, of paper and pencils. Software, on computers or in the cloud, is taking over those chores and with the near ubiquitous connectivity present today, keeping multiple levels of the organization aware of each and every transaction is common.
As more software companies move to SaaS (software-as-a-service) utilizing a cloud platform, construction companies are seeking ways to use those services to their best advantage. That’s not only true in the U.S., but across the globe and aggressive companies see opportunities in foreign markets. One such company is Texas-based ECI Software Solutions.
In October this past year, it purchased Merchant Systems Group Limited, the U.K.-based developer of the eCommonSense platform, an eCommerce and product data management solution specifically designed for lumber and building materials, hardware/home center, and related home supply dealers. Designed by a tradesman specifically for the building materials supply sector, eCommonSense integrates with the most common business management systems so that building suppliers can improve efficiency, grow profitably, and increase customer satisfaction. eCommonSense will join ECI’s LBM and Hardlines group, which will leverage eCommonSense as both an integration to its cloud-based ERP solutions as well as a standalone global eCommerce solution.
BIM (building information modeling) provides a lot of information for construction and maintenance of structures. Computer aided design or CAD has been a major tool in “loading” a BIM project’s database. Now, other tools are being integrated with BIM for increased digital transformation of the industry.
We are familiar with the concept of AI (artificial intelligence) and ML (machine learning) as applied to robotics, often in a “coming in the future” format. But the future is coming sooner than expected if companies like Volvo have a say. And an enabler will be the growth of 5G communications.
The Volvo Construction Equipment division has demonstrated a fully autonomous, battery-electric prototype, the LX03, of what they claim is the first real-world example of a self-learning concept wheel loader with the brains to make decisions, perform tasks, and interact with humans. It is also the first time ever a LEGO Technic model has been turned into a real machine. While not commercially available, engineers expect that valuable insights from the LX03 will feed into applications for today and tomorrow.
The application of digital technology—computers, smart phones, Internet of Things, the cloud, etc.—has had a great impact on construction over the past decade. This digitalization has even spawned a term: Construction 4.0. But it has also generated a degree of concern that too much reliance on technology is a bad thing.
Then came COVID-19. And the growing emphasis on sustainability and environmental issues. And disruption of the supply chain due to tariffs and shortages of the basic material needed for building.
We are constantly reminded of the importance of the cloud in contemporary computing. This is especially important in construction because many processes in construction are fragmented, resulting in lost productivity, rework, and a lack of transparency. The construction industry lags behind many others with only 1% productivity growth over the last 20 years. This is significantly lower than the 2.8% experienced for the total economy.
One of the significant emerging disruptions that will drive change in construction is the digitization of products and processes. The ability to link technologies, tasks, processes, and multiple stakeholders—such as general contractors, subcontractors, designers, engineers, and owners—across the construction project workflow can transform and significantly improve productivity, quality, safety, transparency, and sustainability.
Construction companies have become aware of and concerned about the potential attacks—digital, physical, and natural—on infrastructure, especially utilities, both while they are under construction and while operating. If you are responsible for the security of the site before, during or after construction, that can weigh heavily on your decisions.