construction technology

Why old-school behavior should fuel new-school tech


  • Your business might perform better if you can jettison old-school behaviors that have been in use for years.
  • New school technology, such as advanced time tracking and mobile devices, can improve budgeting, scheduling, and estimating.
  • If you adopt new school technologies that improve visualization and collaboration, you stand to improve outcomes and reduce rework.

Many famous entrepreneurs have had things to say about old school behavior. According to Henry Ford, “Businessmen go down with their businesses because they like the old way so well they cannot change.” Similarly, Warren Buffet told graduating students at the University of Florida: “The chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.”

Why do we stick with old school behaviors?

Fear of change extracts a heavy price from construction businesses as people cling to old the ways that no longer serve them. Old-school behavior demands less. It’s easier and less time-consuming, ostensibly, to decline to learn something new.

If you never even consider whether a trusted process is flawed and continue to use it mindlessly, you won’t ever see any reason to change it. Old-school behaviors thus help you to put off making decisions you will eventually be forced to make. In the meantime, innovation suffers and the competition inches ahead.

What’s the beef with old school, anyway?

In fairness, it’s not that old-school behavior is innately wrong; it’s just that there often is a better, newer way. Plus, since this industrial revolution is all about technology, it’s usually tech that’s offering the new way. Here are well-entrenched examples of old-school behavior at work in construction:

  • Using pencils and paper
  • Telling instead of showing
  • Segmenting business functions
  • Using brawn instead of brains
  • Blindly maintaining the status quo
  • Passing down risk

The digital-analog divide

Analog is the popular metaphor for something that’s not digital. You can always find processes that work best the old-fashioned way. Having human eyes to make a judgment call about what looks best is one of them. That said, much of the old-school behavior related to processes in construction could use improvement.

Digital solutions excel at duplicating data accurately across multiple processes. They outperform analog when you want to track and analyze, account, keep processes timely, and improve site efficiency.

Today, you can use new-school tech to track labor costs in real time. Apps and devices can record employee time spent on job, codes let you track the budget in real time while vastly improving your ability to estimate on future projects.

Using video and images for punch lists take the vagaries out of what needs to get done. Mobile devices provide multiple ways for you to input data and interact with it from anywhere on the job site. Suddenly, recording, monitoring, calculating, and reporting become ubiquitous and instant.

Better ways to visualize and learn

Construction work by nature is visual and three-dimensional; with better visual aids, we can understand it better. Today’s augmented and virtual reality technologies put the viewer into a virtual world in which still-nonexistent structures (or their skeletons) appear fully realized. Figuring out a three-dimensional plan on paper requires a lot of mental gymnastics—but seeing it in 3D makes it instantly understandable and memorable.

Building Information Modeling (BIM) illustrates how components fit together and how multiple installations coexist in tight spaces. Cyber classrooms, light detection and ranging, global positioning, ground penetrating radar, and laser scanning now create new meaning and new views of the world that suggest ways to build better. The same “new tech” reduces mistakes, improves accuracy, and speeds results.

Better ways to collaborate

Slowly, the construction industry is learning that multiple heads are better than one. As new delivery methods take hold, the old-school behavior of command and control and hierarchical decision-making is giving way to collaborative thinking.

The new tech enabling this transformation does so by breaking down information silos. Enterprise platforms now bring all stakeholders into a singular project management environment. Application programming interfaces now allow multiple apps to link together, so interactivity extends farther than it ever has. Computer tech is finally delivering its promises to construction.

New frontiers are being breached and new technologies refined every day. Smart tools equipped with sensors and automated machines allow construction workers to exert less of their brawn and more of their brains. Geo fencing, modular components, and prefabrication represent avenues to more predictable builds with better control.

Old-school behavior arose from the realities of the old school. As old-school realities give way, the old-school behavior’s limitations should become the incentive to adopt new-school tech.

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