Digital Transformation for the Average Contractor (Part 3)
I discussed the problem and overall objective of digital transformation in construction in Part 1. In Part 2 I outlined four activities you could take right now. Activities that cost nothing more than time. These activities can really help inform you. Guiding where you should start working when aligning your technology stack.
There’s a lot of things you can do to better align your technology. While there’s no magic formula there are a few categories these activities fall under.
1 – Technology Removal
Photo credit: Kyle Slattery License: CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
In many cases, you might be removing technology from your portfolio. Maybe it’s obsolete or ineffective. Whether your processes have changed or the technology didn’t stay mature it’s best to remove things that are no longer needed or don’t provide the value you were looking for.
It could also be that there’s overlap in solutions. Does more than one product serve the same purpose? You typically don’t want more than one solution for the same problem. There can always be exceptions. But you should have a very good reason if you have duplicate technology.
2 – Technology Realignment
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons License: Public Domain
In many cases, you already have good tech in place. However you may not be using it correctly or to it’s potential. This is often a result of someone solving a specific problem and buying a product to address it. This can result in technology you haven’t fully implemented or is implemented poorly.
This doesn’t mean the solution is bad or that the effort was bad. But it can be helpful to revisit. Is there more value you can leverage? More of your processes and workflows covered? Can you use the product differently to achieve a greater purpose?
When you realign existing tech, it often just takes time. Time to relook at the factors that led to it’s use. Relook at how things have changed. Changes in your process as well as how the product may have matured since first selected.
Can you change your process to better accommodate the product’s value proposition? Can you change how you use the product to better serve your needs? Here’s another case where it only takes time if you have a good tech savvy person in house.
It might also be wise to leverage a vendor or consultant to help. You might also consider leveraging vendors for training. They have experience with other firms using their tools. With their knowledge, they can often can point out use cases you might not have thought of.
The other cost during realignment of technology is licensing. If you’ve under or miss utilized technology, fixing this problem may result in additional use. This translates to additional licensing costs for you. This isn’t bad. It’s good. The whole point is to gain value and productivity. Both of those things should be worth paying for. If not, it’s a sign you’re using the wrong tool.
3 – New Technology
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When it comes to new technology, the number of choices can be overwhelming. You may not know what the future holds. And every vendor claims they’ll lead you there.
The fact is, you don’t need to be a prognosticator to choose good technology. There’s a number of basic concepts and criteria you can use when evaluating technology. Concepts that help you make better choices regardless of what the future holds.
When I look at technology, there’s a number of questions I ask myself about a potential solution. Here’s a partial list of things take into consideration. There is no right or wrong answer. They won’t all be true. But you can get an idea if you have a good solution or not based on these and other factors. When using these criteria, your choice will likely be better suited to the future even if it is unknow. Make your own list or add to this one….
- Is it cloud based or enabled?
Most things are migrating to the cloud. If it’s an on premises only solution, it’s not aligned with the future as well as a Cloud based solution.
- Does it reduce or eliminate paper?
Anything that reduces or eliminates paper will help reduce static obsolete data.
- Will it reduce or eliminate data files?
Much like paper, data files are typically copies of the real data in a system. Think of a PDF, it’s really electronic paper. Give preference to anything that gives you real time access to data without needing “files”.
- Is duplication of data reduced or eliminated?
Data duplication is never good. It requires extra effort to keep in sync or find out why it’s different. Find solutions that reduce data duplication in your environment.
- Will it simplify or eliminate processes?
If it makes things simpler, there’s less waste. Less training. Less things to go wrong.
- Does it simplify IT infrastructure?
Your IT infrastructure can often be impacted by technology. Solutions that simplify your infrastructure can often be an added benefit.
- Is it Model based?
Can the solution leverage your BIM or CAD models? Not just export data from them or convert them but use them directly to provide value? A Model Based enterprise is what you should be striving for.
- Can you integrate it with other solutions?
If you can’t integrate with anything else, you’re boxed in. Even if you don’t have anything currently to integrate with, you typically want that ability later should you need it.
- Does it have an API (Application Programming Interface)
Without an API, you can’t automate anything like data mining or integrating with other solutions. Even if you don’t have a programmer, you may want to use one later. Don’t limit your future options without a good reason.
- If it doesn’t meet some of your criteria, does it get you closer?
Sometimes we just can’t get everything we want. It might be too much of a change or maybe it’s just not available. But can you get closer? Don’t over look incremental improvements.
- Digital twin?
Does the solution get you closer to having a digital replica of your product, facility and/or process?
- Has manufacturing used a similar solution?
Manufacturing has led trends seen in construction by two or three decades. BIM in AEC is similar to PLM (Product Lifecycle Management) in Manufacturing. 3d Parametric Modeling? LEAN? Model Based Enterprise? Prefabrication and Modular construction use similar concepts as DfM, DfA or DfMA in manufacturing that helped re-shore a lot of work that was once offshored.
- Have other industries used similar solutions or concepts?
Shipbuilding has transformed to use modular. Healthcare leveraged a lot of Toyota’s Lean concepts. GIS uses CAD data linked to external data sets. A lot can be learned from watching others.
- Is time eliminated from your process?
Any solution should put time back in someone’s day or reduce lead times.
- Does it build in quality?
If using the solution, will it help mistake proof your processes?
- Will the solution require a dedicated administrator?
Many solutions sound good on the surface but require a lot of administrative overhead. Verify the cost of administration when looking at any technology.
- Is data better organized?
Will using the solution help better organize your data and information? Data is of no value if others can’t find what they need.
- Can it leverage or use existing data?
You have a lot of data already. Can it leverage or use what you already have and provide more value to an existing data asset?
- Does it turn data into information?
Data is worthless. Information is priceless. Make sure any solution provides information, not just data.
- What % of existing data/systems is being used?
How much of what the solution offers is actually going to be used or helpful? Features don’t provide value if they’re not going to be used or helpful.
- Is the data in system(s) or file(s)?
Data that resides in a “system” or database is typically more flexible than in a “file”. File based data typically requires additional management and processes. This makes them prone to user errors.
- Can data be captured as a natural byproduct of using the product or does it require a separate work activity?
If it takes you a lot of time to log, capture or report on data, that’s a separate work activity. Any system that makes you feel like you need a separate cost code to account for your time just to use it, is likely not a good solution.
- Does using the system help standardize data?
Standardized data typically yields more value with higher reliability and often eliminates a lot of human error.
- Will it help with “Aggregation of marginal gains”?
Sometimes a solution’s value isn’t the “one big thing” it does rather that it does or helps facilitate a lot of small incremental improvements.
- Can you get a return in 1-2 years?
Don’t worry about predicting the future. Tech moves fast. Be cautious of any solution claiming they’re the “Future”.
- Is it the lesser of 2 evils?
Never a decision anyone likes to make but sometimes a problem is big enough and the benefits in other areas are significant enough that what you do compromise on is the lesser of two evils.
- Does it get you closer to your vision?
Sometimes you can’t implement the solution you want. It may not exist or it’s just too big a change for your organization to swallow. Don’t dismiss smaller changes over time. Nobody said it’s a permanent solution.
- Are Licensing terms flexible?
Paying the same licensing cost for part time users as full time is wasteful. Likewise, solutions that want a percentage of revenue can be costly. You can’t always choose licensing terms but they’re often negotiable to a point. Verify the percentage of revenue is revenue from processes the solution addresses. Try to limit licensing costs early on in the implementation…you’re not using the full solution on day one.
- Can you replace the solution easily in the future?
Nothing is forever. How easily will you be able to swap the solution for another should your needs change?
Your list of things to consider when choosing technology solutions can and should vary. The point is, we don’t have to be able to predict the future with laser accuracy to select good technology. Use common sense concepts and principals and you’ll be well positioned for an unknown future.
In Part 4 (my last in the series), I’ll cover some aspects and approaches to prioritization.