3 Big Challenges Builders Are Facing and How Technology is Helping Them Overcome
In the building industry as a whole, productivity has remained flat for decades. This is a global problem but is especially clear in the United States where, according to research from McKinsey & Company, many sectors including agriculture and manufacturing have increased productivity ten to 15 times since the 1950s, while the productivity of construction has remained stagnant at the same level for 80 years. Builders are taking longer to build houses than they could and making lower profits.
Why have we been stuck? Every construction site is different, presenting its own unique set of challenges and risks. Every trade has its own ways of working and challenges. It’s difficult to streamline the process to increase productivity, but it’s not impossible.
Ways to overcome many barriers to higher productivity have been known for some time, but the industry has been slow to change. However, the pandemic is driving us to embrace solutions we may not have seen the necessity for before. When you can’t function without technology — the situation created by WFH and social distancing — it becomes easier even for smaller companies to justify spending money on solutions.
Let’s look at three major challenges home builders face in raising productivity, and the ways technology can help.
Challenge #1 — Streamlining Administration
Teams that still work with paper spend a lot of time moving that paper around: delivering bids and contracts, picking up drawings, delivering invoices, picking up checks, distributing paperwork for inspections and approvals, sending out schedules, distributing change orders… This list goes on and on. It involves the entire team, not just the office staff. Supervisors on the job site also have to spend time shuffling paperwork just to keep the job running.
This is a challenge to which technology has clear and proven answers. Team members unable to pass paper back and forth during the pandemic have come to rely on electronic documentation. This can be stored in the cloud and passed effortlessly from device to device. There are cloud-based SaaS (software-as-a-service) solutions that can streamline processes for bidding, scheduling, ordering, accounting, payments, inspections, warranties, etc. and save hundreds of man-hours per year.
Challenge #2 — Increasing Transparency
Construction is a highly fragmented industry, with workers, suppliers, architects, project managers, trade supervisors, customers, office staff and inspectors distributed in multiple locations. Getting the same information to everyone quickly can be a major challenge, but not having all stakeholders on the same page kills productivity. Think about the potential disruption of a single change order. Even a short delay in notifying all parties can result in the wrong equipment or the wrong supplies on site, equipment and supplies arriving on site at the wrong time, storage issues, and scheduling problems among trades. Time and money can be quickly lost.
Smartphones and mobile apps make communication and collaboration easier and quicker. Information can be routed to all parties automatically and in real time. With all the information they need, trades and suppliers can reschedule immediately, minimizing delays. When collaborative decisions need to be made, there is no need to drive to the office to meet. Virtual online meetings and video-conferencing offer the tools stakeholders need to share ideas, notes, and drawings quickly and get solutions up and running sooner rather than later.
Challenge #3 — Standardizing Processes
Standardizing processes as complex as those in home construction requires detailed information. You don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time, however, if you know what certain project types have in common and if you can forecast the numbers accurately.
With all the data from projects centralized in a single digital platform, it’s possible to generate detailed reports that offer insights on commonalities and help with future planning. If the entire team has access to this information, each part of the team can contribute ideas on how to streamline the overall process.
No Crystal Ball Needed
All of these technology solutions are available and affordable for home builders of all sizes today. Tomorrow the home construction industry may look very different, as technology developed for larger projects becomes financially and practically viable for use on a smaller scale. We may have drones and wearable technology to monitor our building sites, perform inspections, and keep workers safe. Heavy equipment will follow cars in becoming autonomous. Artificial intelligence will help us identify our errors and streamline our processes. Virtual reality may be used to train workers to do their jobs. Bricklaying robots already exist, although you won’t yet see them on every corner.
However, whatever the future brings, home builders already have access to innovative software solutions that can make the present more productive and profitable. And these solutions will be proving their worth even after we can gather together face-to-face safely again.
Hyphen Solutions provides over 75,000 builders, installers, and manufacturers with industry-leading supply chain scheduling, procurement and collaboration online solutions. Every year, 40 percent of homes built in the United States are run through Hyphen, because Hyphen delivers greater operational control, better communications and increased productivity and profitability for home builders and their building partners. Contact us today for a free demo, and let’s start building something together.