SmartBuilder founder reflects on UK mobile AEC market

smartBuilder-logoWhile writing about SmartBuilder‘s closure earlier this week, I was engaged in an email exchange with the company’s founder and CEO Peter Daly about the challenges of promoting mobile applications in the UK construction market. Here he reflects on his experience over the past four years.

What are the factors in construction adoption of mobile solutions?

Peter DalyPeter Daly: I think the key thing is that this is a market that has been emerging for 14 years very slowly since the era of the PDA. While iPad and other tablet and smartphone use has increased in the sector that has not meant that in-field software has taken off.  Such use as there is is confined mainly to Tier 1 firms while early vendor entrants such as Priority1 have satisfied a lot of the very limited market demand in the UK.

We hear it discussed often at COMIT events: is mobile device use a health and safety issue for construction firms?

Peter Daly: The H&S angle is I think largely an excuse in the UK – although that is certainly not to minimise the need for safe use of smartphones and tablets. A clip-board needs no site safety assessment, but if you get too absorbed in it at height you are just as much at risk!

In the US where smartphone and tablet adoption are more widespread this is less of a problem. Certainly there is a reluctance  to buy devices – due to a lack of perceived ROI. Whether BYOD [‘Bring your own device’] can have an impact here as in other sectors (especially in the US) remains to be seen.

I think that your previous post on collaboration platforms (16 reasons why no one yet dominates the collaboration platform space, 2013) also hits the nail on the head about many common problems with the mobile space: the project-centred selling, the ‘churn’, the piloting, etc.

One key thing is that, apart from the compulsion to adopt BIM in the UK, there are not many far-sighted firms like Costain who see IT as a source of competitive advantage. In lots of other sectors, management are using IT to re-invent the business model or to compete successfully with lower costs.  There has been a huge improvement in the last five years in the UK – due in no small measure to Paul Morrell – but that embrace of BIM has not been translated into a general interest in what else technology can offer the industry.

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