Take it Back-to-Basics When Chasing Shiny New Objects
Over the past 5 plus years, there have been an amazing number of technological advancements introduced to the construction industry. Many, if not most, of these technologies evolve from either the consumer space, military, or other established industries, and, with these advancements, comes a plethora of vendors and suppliers. Some are new fledgling businesses, some already established in the construction sector and growing through M&A, and some are more mature companies trying to enter into the construction market space.
There is an important factor that we have to be constantly aware of, and worried about, as we emerge these new technologies into our work force. It is what I consider to be common sense basic IT planning
It could be said that these are really exciting times to be in construction technology and, for the most part, I whole-heartedly agree. Advancements in the use of mobile devices, drones, Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR), and IoT within our space is pretty cool. At times, it feels like there is a rush to get the new functionality pushed out to our end users. . . our workers in the field. This makes IT folks like me who love this stuff, and other geeks at heart, excited! However, there is an important factor that we have to be constantly aware of, and worried about, as we emerge these new technologies into our work force. It is what I consider to be common sense basic IT planning.
Long ago, when I worked in IT for a large utility company, one of the things that I took away from that experience was the importance of a well thought out project plan. This can seem a bit “old school,” but if I think about some of the amazing things we build in this industry (corporate campuses, medical facilities, data centers, renewable energy farms, high rise residential complexes, and more the most successful projects are predicated in a well thought out construction plan. Through all of the excitement of these cool new technologies, we have to consider going back-to-basics in terms of how we deploy them intelligently. The three most important factors are:
1. A Well Thought Out Deployment Plan – The nature of the construction business is to have many large scale projects in motion at any given point in time. The notion of doing a company-wide deployment of a new technology across the business is basically a non-starter. Just getting a technology pilot program started in the construction business is challenging. Yet, in the ever-increasing world of instant gratification, there is sometimes an expectation that rolling out new technologies is similar to updating our favorite mobile device app. We owe it to our business, and the industry, to develop and adhere to a well-thought out plan of execution for trialing, deploying, and supporting programs that can make us far more productive. There is no secret sauce for this. We have to draw on the experience we have gained in the technology world to “plan the work, and work the plan.”
2. Integration Capabilities – Most of us who manage IT in the construction world have the challenging dilemma of integrating new, rapidly evolving technologies into our current environments. Who in our trade hasn’t heard the phrase, “But we have an API,.” when discussing potential new programs with our partners. Many of us have to consider a large and complex collection of legacy platform components provided by vendors and suppliers who are looking out for their proprietary end “all-be–all” solutions to our woes. Then, there is the fun we have when one of those platforms go through an upgrade which breaks the interface. Construction needs a standard interface protocol for the many common bits of communication we trade back and forth daily. But, that’s another story for another time. In the meantime, we all need to keep integration points to our legacy systems at the forefront of every new technology deployment we undertake.
3. Security – I saved the most important one for last. Data and systems security considerations are paramount in any deployment. There are ALOT of security risks out there today, and the number and sophistication of these threats grows each minute. Every now and then I find myself in a discussion about ease of access, especially when it comes to mobile technologies. While I completely understand the challenges for someone using mobile technology when it comes with a difficult access process, the opposite side of that is a major security breach that is not even open for debate. The “bad guys” are looking for any hole or opportunity to get in.
I understand the simplicity of this and the old mindset involved; however, I see great technology professionals (including myself) getting wrapped up in the exciting new technologies and the opportunity to deploy them quickly. To quote Clay Shirky, “The change we are in the middle of isn’t minor, and it isn’t optional.”