Top 10 Construction IT trends

This is the original draft of an article I wrote that has just been published in the March 2010 issue of Construction Manager magazine (link to digital edition), alongside a bigger feature looking at the new generation of construction collaboration platforms (including Woobius, Collabor8online and SliderStudio‘s StickyWorld – all of which I’ve recently talked about in this blog – here, here and here, for example).

  • Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) – Analysts Gartner say a fifth of enterprises will hold no IT assets by 2012 as cloud computing and mobile working practices become commonplace. SaaS has certainly changed inter-company design and construction collaboration, but vendors like 4Projects and BIW will need to be nimble and creative to stay ahead of a new generation of low-cost collaboration vendors such as Woobius.
  • Tablet computing – Apple’s recent launch of the iPad highlighted the potential of tablet computing, but we already have ruggedized tablet PCs with construction-specific applications (for example, Motion Computing’s devices support programs by Latista, Vela Systems and others – see post). However, assuming wifi and/or WiMax connectivity becomes more wide-reaching, browser-based SaaS could eventually replace PC-based tools.
  • Mobile apps – Construction is not immune from the iPhone phenomenon. There are concrete calculators and CAD utilities; some collaboration vendors (eg: Business Collaborator [sorry, BC, should have made that Unit4]) have downloadable applications for smartphone platforms; and Woobius Eye takes mobile collaboration to another level. But, again looking to the future, why have a local app for that, when you might access online services via your smartphone browser?
  • Augmented reality – By incorporating GPS, a compass and accelerometers, a smartphone can provide its user with location-specific information overlaid into the phone camera’s view of the surrounding environment. Layar provides various sources of data, from Wikipedia to the international architecture database, archINFORM (see pwcom post). Want to review property prices or local planning applications? The data is out there.
  • Web-conferencing – Skype has changed how many organisations use telephones, and corporate use of WebEx and LiveMeeting means expensive and time-consuming travel to meetings isn’t always necessary. Seminars and conferences can be opened up to non-attendees, with users watching streamed video (Ustream), viewing slides (SlideShare) and providing feedback via CoverItLive or Twitter.
  • Web 2.0 – Alongside new social networks for construction professionals (eg: the CIOB-backed Construction Network, tCn), expect grudging acceptance of the value of Twitter-type messaging and other forms of networked collaboration. Controlling the message is so 20th century; it’s now about participating in and shaping conversations about your company and its products and services.
  • Virtual worlds – Fancy teleporting to an island to explore and discuss a 3D simulation of your new school or office building? In Second Life you can. Birmingham-based Daden (see post) is among the UK leaders in helping clients and designers visualise new built environments. Gaming technologies can also help democratise design – Slider Studio’s YouCanPlan has already been used to help local people review and comment on an urban regeneration scheme.
  • The ‘Internet of things’ – Think bus-stops that relay real-time travel information, buildings that tell you how much energy they are using, appliances that can be controlled via the web. Environmentally-sensitive technologies such as Pachube can help building designers, owners and end-users make better informed decisions.
  • APIs – Instead of trying to add new features to existing software themselves, some construction IT vendors are creating application programming interfaces. For instance, SaaS collaboration vendors Aconex and Asite offer APIs, potentially enabling customers and developers to build their own applications and integrate data from other solutions (eg: accounting, ERP).
  • BIM – Most of architecture, engineering and construction still works predominantly in 2D, but building information modeling (BIM) has the potential to revolutionise how we work, sharing a single 3D model which can also be used to show the sequence of activities, costs of materials, energy use, etc. BuildingSMART is helping firms apply consistent standards but the issues are more than technological – BIM also involves rethinking contracts, procurement and other issues. Longer-term, I expect we will also see SaaS-based BIM: BIMaaS.

Of course, I had a tight word-count limit, and was asked to restrict myself to ten themes, but I also canvassed the wisdom of my Twitter crowd to seek ideas. Did we come up with a representative list? What would you have added (and what would you have take out)?

Update (12 March 2010): Space didn’t allow mention of all firms with APIs, so I am grateful to 4Projects’ CEO Richard Vertigan for pointing out:

“4Projects has had an API since about 2003. Sir Robert McAlpine used it to integrate with Lotus Notes and Bass Leisure Retail (became Six Continents Retail and now Mitchells and Butlers) used it to integrate with their back-end ERP system. The web services API for our third generation solution is very comprehensive.”

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    • Stuart Hall-Cooper - Marketing Manager, UNIT4 Collaboration Software Limited on 12 March 2010 at 10:40 am

    Hi Paul
    I thought you might be happy to know that BC Mobile is not a downloadable application, but an online service for mobile devices, so that users can access their BC system.

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