Survey Finds Tech Use Rising, Investment still Lagging

Survey Finds Tech Use Rising,
Investment still Lagging

by ROB McMANAMY | Aug 6, 2015

Prowling the stage like a cyber-panther flush with data, James Benham, aka JBKnowledge, 'owned' the final keynote slot last week at the 7th annual AGC-IT Forum conference in Chicago. The fact that no one ducked out early to catch an airport shuttle during his 90-minute, Friday afternoon talk was testament not only to its content, but also to its delivery, which mixed motivation, humor, statistics, and a measure "tough-love" realism.

Unveiling the results of his firm's fourth annual Construction Technology Report, based on responses from more than 2,000 U.S. contractors, Benham told the crowd of 300-plus industry technologists (the event's largest attendance to date) that he could hardly be more excited by the spectacular wave of new and emerging technologies flooding our industry. But he remains frustrated and bemused by what the survey results reveal about the nagging hesitancy of management to invest enough in tech.

"We are still underspending other industries by 75%," he said. "Over 30% of companies surveyed said that their 2014 IT budget as a percentage of 2013 corporate revenue (not building volume) was less than 1%. More than 40% of our respondents said that they still have no IT department, even for accounting and payroll... Think about that. That's like having a teenager do your books!"  

Copyright © 2015, JBKnowledge, Inc. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2015, JBKnowledge, Inc. All rights reserved.

Produced in partnership with the Construction Financial Management AssociationTexas A&M University’s Construction Science Department, and HCSS Construction Software, the latest survey was based on just over 2,000 responses collected in June from construction professionals across the U.S. The results will be compiled, verified, and analyzed in a full report to be published this fall. (To request a copy of the 2015 Construction Technology Report once published and to download the 2014 report in the meantime, visit 

  • For the ConAppGuru's wrap-up of the AGC-IT conference, itself, click here.

Overall, the results showed both surprising and expected statistics on technology adoption, budgeting and staffing at construction companies. For the second year in a row, the survey showed that the construction industry is still allocating, on average, less than 1% of revenue to IT budgets. The survey also showed that IT spending and staffing is determined by the number and size of upcoming projects, indicating that it is an expense still viewed as cyclical and not fundamental.

There is a fundamental problem in the way construction approaches technology. We’re still reacting to I.T. needs instead of planning for them.
— James Benham, CEO, JBKnowledge

The survey did show a few progressive companies trying to pave the way towards a new approach to technology. Nearly a third of those surveyed report that they "have an R&D department and/or budget for IT,” noted Benham. Among the builders who participated in the survey, drones and 3D scanners were among the top emerging technologies in use. Wearables saw the lowest adoption rates among emerging technologies but grew in use significantly from last year’s number.

Copyright © 2015, JBKnowledge, Inc. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2015, JBKnowledge, Inc. All rights reserved.

In our orbit: After the conference, our own Matt Abeles (left), welcomed Benham to BuiltWorlds. BW is pleased to be working with JBK in association with MCAA.

In our orbit: After the conference, our own Matt Abeles (left), welcomed Benham to BuiltWorlds. BW is pleased to be working with JBK in association with MCAA.

While noting the positives, Benham reminded the room that the industry still has much further to go to maximize the myriad efficiencies and improvements that technologies now offer. “Become a tinkerer, and make sure that innovators, not naysayers, are in charge of technology at your companies," he urged, while showing videos and displaying samples onstage of 3D scanners like Structure Sensor, advanced drone systems like Skycatch, and wearable headsets such as Microsoft® HoloLens.

“These will be common technologies on the jobsites of the future," he added. "Make sure you’re prepared by investigating them now.”

But Benham also reminded the group that increased spending on tech still needs to be done wisely. "I recently had a client, a $1.5-billion company, tell me that it was so excited about Oculus Rift that it had sent six executives on a three-hour drive --each way-- to try it out!" he said. "I told them, 'That's crazy -- do the math.' They could have easily just bought the device for less than the cost of losing all those execs for a whole day."

Of course, so many apps and new devices are flying (some literally) at firms now that it is easy for less sophisticated users and buyers to get overwhelmed by all the product choices, especially the many with competing similarities. That situation will improve, however, probably sooner than later. Benham predicted that a market reckoning is not far off. "There will be a big shakeout when all the private equity folks pull out of the market and these companies finally have to make money on their own," he said. "It's 1998 again, but 1999 is coming."

invest, experiment, discern

On a decidedly more optimistic note, he reminded the contractors that whatever winnowing of the herd or consolidations may eventually occur among vendors, they are still in the midst of an enormously promising time as a consumer and user of technology.

“The future is now,” Benham said, “and the pace of change is accelerating. It’s time for our industry to lead the way on tech adoption and show the whole world what can be done with progressive, proactive planning, budgeting, research and development.” 

With that in mind, Benham also introduced JBKnowledge's new R&D arm, JBKLabs, as well as several new projects in mobile, wearable and augmented reality solutions for construction. The first project, Buildstream --a mobile solution for tracking job site environmental conditions, project progress and worker locations-- is currently deployed on several undisclosed jobsites for beta testing, he noted. The second project, SmartReality VR, a virtual reality branch of the SmartReality augmented reality mobile app, now has apps available for visualizing construction projects via Project Tango, Samsung Gear™ and Oculus® Rift DK2. 

For more data and additional information on the new products, please click here.

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