Will Technology Giants enter the Construction Industry?

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In recent BIMIreland.ie BIM People interviews we learned that BIM experts think technology giants could enter and revolutionise the international construction industry.

Irish building magazine spoke to Fred Mills, Director of The B1M to get him to expand on what he said in his BIM People Interview. From his work Fred has a great knowledge of both the construction and technology industries.

We asked Fred if he had noticed any technology giants interested in entering the international construction industry. He said, “Many already have in subtle ways. The industry is not immune to the digitisation that we are experiencing in the wider world around us; we have seen smart phones, browser-based working environments, GPS, live stream video calling, automation, YouTube, 3D printing and instant messaging all coming into play.”

“In terms of the big technology giants, it’s been long-rumoured that Google are working on an intelligent programme that could ‘automatically’ design a building based on a variety of brief and site condition factors. Facebook are investing heavily into hardware research at the moment with their Area 404 Lab. They’re looking at everything from solar-powered drones that beam internet (and Facebook) into remote corners of the world and 360 cameras, to VR headsets and automated fabrication – so I suspect something could come from their stable in time too. YouTube actively want to diversify their video content out from gaming, music, and humour and have identified construction as a target genre. We are working on this with their UK team at The B1M.”

“The construction industry presents a vast challenge, even for the technology giants who have almost infinite resources at their disposal. To develop a solution to the industry’s long-established issues and see it achieve the mass-uptake required to make it worth their while – and for it to make a tangible difference – is a huge task. The subjective-nature of architectural design, regionalised supply chains, and culturally-embedded procurement practices, and other factors like ethical materials sourcing, sustainability, health and safety, programming and facilities management are just some of the many factors that need to be balanced. How do you create one solution to the many different outcomes that people around the world are seeking from their built environment?”

Speaking about what technology giants could bring to the industry and its clients, and how they would change the existing market. Fred said, “It may be that a fresh approach is their greatest contribution. The issues I’ve listed have been around for decades and haven’t really been solved. When Apple entered the mobile phone market they did so in a highly disruptive, revolutionary way. They didn’t compete with the other manufacturers all offering a similar thing in slightly different packaging. They reset the way the market operated. The same happened with the shift to music streaming; again part-catalysed by Apple’s iTunes platform.”

“Construction doesn’t need more of the same. We’ve just spent four decades proving that doesn’t work. In my opinion, the industry needs disrupting.”

We asked if technology companies entering construction is a possibility within the next five years or longer. Fred said, “I think it’s certainly likely to happen within the next 5 years. The rate of technology adoption and advancement is continually picking up pace and disruptive new tools or approaches have a way of taking hold very quickly, especially when they come from the tech-giants. The growth rate of Facebook, the fast-paced adoption of Apple’s hardware or the rapid expansion of Amazon are all clear examples of this.”

In the past year, BIMIreland.ie has covered many technology topics and the current application of technology on sites around the world. We covered 3D printing, drones, surveying instruments, virtual reality and augmented reality and other construction Information Technology topics. Readers of Irish building and BIMIreland.ie will know large technology companies influence on construction as intelligent clients demanding BIM and Lean, and how they hire construction professionals to oversee the design, construction, and maintenance of their global facilities.

Considering the presence of technology now in construction and the resources available to technology giants it is possible to see how they could further expand into construction.

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