by Chip Bay
Construction, at times, can be more of an art than a science. Plan changes, altered timelines and supply chain issues are often part of the landscape.
But that’s not to say the process cannot be efficient. Teams that have contingency plans for any potential obstacle and are best prepared to adjust on the fly greatly increase their chances of making the construction process a smooth one.
In many facets of multifamily, tech has become a critical component of creating efficiencies. The construction process is no different, although a balance exists in blending tech with standard building practices.
In a big-picture sense, homes have been built the same way for 2,000 years. Over time, innovations have been developed to attempt to change the way we build—particularly to move away from wood-framed construction. But none of those technologies have necessarily taken hold. Tech, after all, will never surpass skilled workers when it comes to the manual portions of developing a multistory building.
Tech does play a primary role, however.
Construction teams are utilizing tech to track issues, solve those issues and make sure they don’t reoccur in the future. The ability to manage information—and use tech to be more efficient in a sometimes-unpredictable space—has been the biggest improvement in the construction industry in the last 10 to 15 years.
For example, project management software such as Procore can be utilized throughout all phases of the construction process. It can provide leadership teams with real-time updates on any facet of the project. Entire teams can understand the status of any plans or timeline and identify stress points. A project executive can get a report at any time and ask: “Why haven’t these change orders been approved at Project X?”
Tech has also benefited construction teams in the form of security at job sites. Motion-activated cameras can alert teams to any unwanted afterhours visitors at construction sites. Leak detection technology includes audible alarm alerts and, perhaps more importantly, water-loss prevention triggers that can shut off water when too much pressure is identified. This can help prevent potentially catastrophic delays and ensure timelines aren’t short-circuited because someone mistakenly put a nail through a pipe.
With regard to the construction process itself, the tech isn’t quite there yet. Significant advancements have been made with robotics, but no one has yet been able to successfully scale it. Tech has also helped materials to become better and more efficient, but tech itself cannot install those materials precisely where they need to be within a building.
At the end of the day, the most critical component of the construction process is your people. Tech can be used to make them better at what they’re doing by providing them with materials and the information to be more efficient.
While people will always come first, tech will continue to provide value. The new generation of builders—whether superintendents, project managers or assistant project managers—are being trained on technology as much as they’re being trained on construction management. Tech is largely intuitive to them, and they are expected to use it in all facets of the construction process. Over time, the tech component will become even more intuitive and have a more significant impact as it becomes further integrated.
The benefits of an efficient construction timeline are widespread. From a financial standpoint, apartment communities can start bringing in revenue when they were originally projected to —or even sooner if things go especially smoothly. Time is the one thing you cannot get back. The sooner construction teams can move communities to operations teams, the more value it will create for the owner and their investors. Prompt timelines also help operators maintain their reputation as good neighbors in the jurisdictions that they operate in.
The tech helps create a more efficient project. The people make it happen. Construction teams can have the best plans, the best processes and the best sites in the world, but without the right people doing things the right way, it won’t really matter.
Chip Bay is the Chief Construction Officer for Mill Creek Residential.