COVID-19 has disrupted the construction industry in unimaginable ways during 2020. However, in some ways the disruption has fast tracked many initiatives already underway at numerous construction companies. The most significant initiatives relate to technology and automation. Over the past few years we have observed a significant increase in technology with our construction clients. As we have talked to our clients throughout the pandemic, the urgency to adopt new technology has only increased and companies are rethinking the use of capital and resources. The urgency centers around remote working arrangements and job site regulations such as social distancing.
Fortunately for the construction industry there is already a tremendous amount of technology available to help companies adapt to a new normal. We expect these technologies to play a critical role in determining the ability of organizations to weather the COVID-19 pandemic, both in the short term and for the years to follow. While some of these technologies are not new, companies may want to revisit current processes and vendors to take advantage of advancements in the past few years. Technologies to consider include the following:
Building Information Modeling (BIM)
BIM is an intelligent 3D model-based process that gives architecture, engineering, and construction professionals the insight and tools to more efficiently plan, design, construct and manage buildings and infrastructure. In an environment where in-person meetings are restricted, BIM may allow for remote collaboration that may have otherwise not been possible.
4D BIM Simulation
4D BIM is a process that enables the intelligent linking of a 3D digital model with time or schedule related information. 4D BIM incorporates time related information such as lead-time, construction and installation time, drying and mixing time, and inter-dependency on other products. With job site restrictions such as social distancing, 4D BIM should provide for minimized reworks and a more accurate schedule of the personnel needed on a job site at a given time.
Digital Workflow Management
There is a difference between digitizing a paper-based workflow versus digital workflow. Digitizing a paper-based flow simply changes the medium, such as scanning paper documents. Digital workflow may result in increased automation and entirely new simplified processes. Digital workflow may be incorporated into many processes including capital expenditures, vendor and contract management, new hire and onboarding, safety reporting, quality control, human resources, and finance and information technology. Digital workflow is critical in a remote work environment. We observed some clients sending entire workforces home at the flip of a switch during the pandemic and function as if everyone was sitting in one office together. So while field operations may have been limited, the back-office operated as normal and continued to process payroll, send invoices, and collect payments.
On-Site Automation and Robotics
A much more complex solution is on-site automation and robotics. However, these systems have the potential to revolutionize the construction industry. The adoption of robotics in construction has been very slow compared to other industries, most likely due to the high cost of implementation. However, the costs of implementation have decreased in recent years and we have observed increased implementation at both large and small companies. Examples of on-site automation and robotics include:
- Single task construction robots for bricklaying, steel-truss assembly, steel welding, façade installation, wall painting, and concrete laying.
- Drones and autonomous vehicles for inspection, monitoring and maintenance especially for extreme and dangerous environments.
- Autonomous vehicles for drilling, excavation and earth moving.
All of these technologies should be on the table in our current environment. With no timetable for a return to “normal,” all companies will need to rethink how they operate in the field and in back-offices. We are not suggesting that the technology does not come at a cost, but companies also need to consider the cost of not adapting to this new environment.
McKonly & Asbury is here to help. Contact us today for your construction accounting needs including assessing tax incentives for your investment in new technology. For questions regarding this article, please contact Daniel Sturm, Partner at email@example.com.