As digital transformation in construction gathers pace, the industry needs to focus more on how it will be used – and we want to know your experiences
By Gary Sprague, CEO & Founder, Kinship
As the co-founder and CEO of a construction data startup, it’s safe to say that I’m a big believer in the potential of new technology to transform our industry. And in many ways, it seems that we’ve never been closer to fulfilling that potential.
There are now a constant stream of new tools and businesses launching that deploy machine learning, robotics, virtual reality/augmented reality or other cutting-edge technologies to disrupt traditional methods and business models. On the other side of the table, there are now a plethora of investment funds focused exclusively on property technology and construction technology opportunities.
It hasn’t always been like this. Ten years ago, early in my career in AEC technology, it often felt like the concept of “construction innovation” was treated as an oxymoron. Everyone bemoaned the industry’s failure to innovate and its constant technological debt compared to other major industries.
We should be excited about how far we have come in recent years. At the same time, I believe we have only won half the battle for digital transformation. There is still another aspect of innovation that too few people are talking about, but which is an essential ingredient for achieving profound and lasting impact: usability.
In order for new technologies to become part of the fabric of our everyday reality, they need to feel “natural” and “just work”. This is as true for modern day inventions like mobile phones and computers as it was for past inventions that we don’t even think of as technology anymore, like the lightbulb, the refrigerator, or even the humble pen. In fact, their extreme usability is precisely why we don’t think of those as technology anymore.
The need for usability is not limited to consumer technologies either. It is equally applicable in the context of industry and business. Consider how companies all over the world now use Dropbox to share files. They could have done the same thing using FTP servers 20 or 30 years ago, except that FTP is not particularly simple or convenient to use. It just wasn’t worth the trouble.
Today’s AEC innovations are too focused on what they can do and not enough on how they do it. Too many “solutions” require an expert, training, documentation and ongoing support to implement. They are built for the techno-enthusiasts and early adopters, without any realistic shot at reaching the majority.
One of the most well-known evangelists for usability in recent times was Steve Jobs. The story of his involvement in Apple’s attempt to create a program for burning DVDs is a funny and insightful example of usability’s prime importance for achieving widespread adoption. Apple took burning DVDs from being something that required know-how and felt like work to a convenience that any computer user could enjoy.
Radical democratisation of technology only arises when adoption is radically easy. Prioritise intuitive user experiences over increased functionality. Design features that work seamlessly for 80% of use cases, rather than features that cover 100% but require configuration or tutorials.
Construction’s current obsession with technological capability to the exclusion of usability is perhaps a natural phase for an industry that has felt itself starved of innovation for too long.
Or perhaps it’s the consequence of having lived for decades with complex and cumbersome digital tools — ironic for an industry focused on design. Whatever the reasons, they are ones that belong to our past and not to our future of digital transformation.
In order to reach that collective future, we also have to be honest about where we are now. There is a ton of excitement in our industry about digital transformation, but what is the actual reality “on the ground” for design teams, in the planning offices or at the site?
Are we still mostly using digital paper? Or are we unshackling ourselves from spreadsheets and PDFs, and starting to manage and transform our work and the industry itself through data?
In collaboration with Digital Construction Hub and other industry leaders, we recently launched the Reality Check Survey to help answer these questions.
Going beyond the various national, discipline-specific, and commercially-driven surveys that already exist, the Reality Check aims to offer a truly global reference that’s accessible to the entire AEC community.
The survey is open to all AEC professionals, responses are anonymous and GDPR compliant, and the results and analysis will be shared back with the community free of charge.
I firmly believe that our industry’s future belongs to those that make solving today’s problems simple, convenient and even enjoyable. I hope you will join us in sharing your experience and perspective through the Reality Check Survey. By gathering the views of practitioners at all levels around the world, we can all gain a clearer picture of how to best advance on our path to digital transformation.
Click here to access the Reality Check Survey. Results from the survey will be published on DC Hub after the summer, once analysis of the global results has been completed.
Kinship is a data management solution for AEC firms working in Revit. Our mission is to help firms unlock the full value of Revit by providing content management, project tracking and analytics in one fast, automated and easy-to-use tool.