Take a look across the skyline of any Australian capital city and you’ll see the hallmarks of a healthy building and construction industry. Hundreds of tower cranes busily feeding materials to teams of contractors working together to bring the architects’ futuristic multi-story tower designs to life with extreme precision.
These complex multi-billion dollar projects, run to strict schedules, with the slim operating margins for builders under threat if projects overrun and resource costs blowout.
Under such conditions you would expect the sector to be huge adopters of technology that can help reduce risks and increase efficiency and productivity. Yet, as Australia’s first ever construction technology conference heard in June, construction is one of the least digitalised sectors across the globe.
In fact, according to keynote speaker Mukund Sridhar, McKinsey & Co partner, out of 22 global sectors, the only industry worse than construction when it comes to technology adoption is hunting and agriculture.
However, there was some relief amongst the tech startups, architects, engineers and construction companies in the room, with Australia globally recognised as one of the countries more open to innovation, nipping closely at the heels of our colleagues in the UK, Scandinavia and South Korea.
So while the construction sector consistently ranks in the bottom three innovative industries in Australia according to ABS data, there is a sense that the tide is beginning to change and this represents a massive growth opportunity for the more than 50 startups and tech vendors at the event and countless more operating around Australia.
But how do you get your foot in the door of an industry that has traditionally been reluctant to invest in technology and new digital innovations?
Hearing first hand from senior managers and technology leads of some of the biggest players, including Lend Lease, John Holland and Stockland, here are five key pieces of advice for startups hoping to become part of the building industry’s toolkit:
- Don’t sell technology: sell a solution to a problem. Construction is littered with manual processes, so show the productivity and efficiency benefits of your solution. Talk the language of the C-suite and sell your solution based on ROI (Return On Investment). Showing the tangible, positive impact you will make on costs, schedule or risk reduction, makes a stronger case for adoption.
- The UI (User Interface) must be super simple: Often software is highly complex and designed for desktop use by tech savvy university graduates at head office. But with 70% of the building industry’s workforce out on site, your software or app needs to not only be functional on a smartphone, but be simple enough that a tradesman can use it one handed while he’s got a pen or a pie in the other. You need to hide the complexity and make your user interface as simple as using a sports betting app.
- Invest in training:A number of industry leaders made it clear that new technology can only provide maximum benefit if used correctly by all levels of an organisation. There were countless examples of failed software deployments, which almost always came back to poor training. And training shouldn’t be webinars and software walk-throughs. The building sector is process driven, so users need to be upskilled in a more efficient process that your technology may currently facilitate. If workers feel like the technology makes their job harder, they simply won’t use it.
- Sell from the bottom up:Often tech startups can become obsessed with selling into the CTO, CFO or CEO, CDO or CTO and forget about the people who will actually be using their product. If you can rally an army of users behind your product, from the one-man subcontractor with a ute all the way up to the head of construction or COO, your sales targets instead come knocking on your door.
- Sell from the top down: Once you’ve got proof of ROI and active users on site, you can make a case for developers, owners and consultants to mandate your technology in the project contract. Building owners and developers have significant influence to stipulate what technology is used on a project. If your technology is proven to reduce risks around time, money, quality and safety and is applicable across a portfolio of projects, rather than one off individual sites, then you’ve got the opportunity to become an industry standard.
About the author
Lincoln Easton is the founder of Progressclaim.com, a cloud-based contract billing and approval collaboration platform for the Australian construction industry.