What Lies Ahead: How Leaders Can Seize Opportunities by Focusing on the Future


Future Shock:

futureThink about the future of construction.  What if you could build a 6 story building in 24 hours and assemble it with a minimally skilled work force?  How about a 15 story hotel in six days?  How about a 30 story hotel in just six days?  What if there was a 3D copier that copied large architectural elements without any form-work for use on buildings?  What if a brick paving machine eliminated the need for paving masons? What if industrial robots built walls and eliminated the need for brick masons?  What if you could construct a building that had net zero energy usage?  What if I told you that all of these “what ifs” are realities today?

Imagine a future where contracting has changed so drastically, that you don’t even recognize it as contracting.  Imagine a future where there are no retail buildings, no education buildings, no banks, no bookstores, no music stores, no malls, and no commercial offices.  Imagine buildings that don’t even look like conventional buildings.  Imagine mega-structures, sustainable communities, mile high buildings, and construction methods that can only be dreamed about today.  Imagine a completely different process of procuring, executing, and delivering work.  Fasten your seat belts.  It will be like nothing you have ever seen.

Ch ch ch ch changes . . .

Our society is transforming itself.  Much of what happens during the day is virtual.  This trend will continue and accelerate.  There are fewer face to face meetings.  There will a declining need for office space, retail space, movie houses, warehouses, schools, prisons (due to a decline in inmate populations), and dormitories.  Our virtual world will affect construction like never before.  People will do most of their business online from shopping to banking.  They will work from home and go to school via the internet.

And as those project opportunities decline, others will be growing. Some areas to look for are data centers and other support for these virtual worlds, package delivery and pickup locations, hospitals and healthcare facilities for our aging population, senior living facilities for the baby boomer retirees, and more entertainment venues including sports arenas, casinos, leisure destinations, and hotels. There will be a focus on adapting the home for virtual work and play.  There will be a focus on smaller, customized manufacturing facilities.  You will also be repairing our crumbling infrastructure and transportation services that will include more roads and bridges, more airport and rail work, more port work, and water and waste water projects from treatment to distribution.

Look for more prefabrication, modular construction, 3D copiers that can replicate large, architectural elements, machines that can build projects, paperless projects, instant buildings, and innovative construction methods that cut the time of construction by up to 90%.  Virtual simulators will be able to build the entire project virtually and you will be able to literally “walk” through the project before it has begun.  You will see more dimensions added to BIM so that technology will be able to build the entire building and identify all issues before anything happens on a site.

The estimating process will become so automated that everyone will be pricing the exact same thing. There will be more focus on energy efficiency, sustainable buildings and communities, integrated design, minimizing waste, and net zero use buildings that use no outside utilities.  There will be more collaboration and alliances among all stakeholders in the industry from owners to architects to designers to contractors to subcontractors to vendors and suppliers.  Big companies are already swallowing up smaller companies, and projects are getting bigger and bigger.  More and more of these large projects will be bid with strategic teams utilizing different sets of expertise along with local presence.

There will be more creative ways to finance projects, more creative delivery methods, more innovative construction methods, and more creative ways to make buildings last longer and be more efficient.

How can you solve these future issues?

It is a fact.  Things are changing and changing fast.  Contractors are all looking toward the future.  There is a lot of talk about “the new normal”.  What do you need to know to prepare for the future of contracting?  What areas do you need to focus on now to be competitive in this brave new contracting world?  How will you lead your company into this future?

Currently, the industry focuses on how to improve traditional construction processes and methodologies to try and squeeze out a few more dollars to the bottom line from the traditional bid, build, and deliver method.  You look at productivity.  You look at the workforce and do our best to attract and train more skilled workers, lamenting the fact that there are no more skilled tradesmen.  You look at technology.  But you are looking at all of these problems through the lens of traditional construction processes.  Albert Einstein said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”

Contractors have a ton of knowledge and expertise, but their focus is on that narrow window of bidding, building, and turning over a project. Think for a moment about the entire construction process from the idea in the owner’s head until the end of the life of that project. We are in the information and knowledge age, but most contractors fail to capitalize on that knowledge and information that they possess.

The contractor of the future will address the entire construction process.  He will be extremely adaptable, knowledgeable, and tech savvy.  He will focus on education and the latest methods of construction and building maintenance.  He will be able to work virtually literally from anywhere in the world. He will understand the global nature of construction and be able to see that big picture.  He will embrace diversity and find ways to bring more women and minorities into the workforce.

The contractor of the future will learn creative ways to finance and launch projects, going beyond traditional bank loans and Public Private Partnerships.  He will learn to monetize this vast knowledge that contributes value to the entire construction process.  He will be a true master builder that knows every aspect of a project from start to finish.  The contractor that comes out on top will be the one that can add the most value to this process.  Pricing will become irrelevant.

Are you ready for all of these changes?  It will take strong leadership and a willingness to change.  All stakeholders in the construction process must take a look at these trends and educate themselves and their workers on how to capitalize on them. They must work on the skills they will need for the future including being an expert on creative financing, cutting edge technology, the latest construction methodologies, effective and seamless facilities maintenance, world class education, and relationships, alliances and collaboration.

Construction leaders who serve on AGC Georgia’s Board of Directors are working together to answer some of these questions, study new trends and contemplate a different future. Efforts to better understand the contractor of the future are critical to ensure AGC Georgia stays relevant to the changing needs of its membership and a changing construction landscape. Equally important are the implications of these changes for your company. Are you looking toward the future?

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This article was written by Brent Darnell and published as a feature article in Georgia Construction Today, Fourth Quarter 2012. For more information about this publication or the Georgia AGC, please click here. For more information about Brent Darnell, owner of Brent Darnell International, visit: http://www.brentdarnell.com.

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