Construction has historically been an industry slow to accept technological innovation, but that’s changing. It’s a pivot that is observably reflected in the trends driving the construction industry in 2020; general contractors are increasingly experimenting with technology like augmented reality and autonomous machinery on job sites. And the industry is not immune from the influence of global trends, like the move toward sustainable business practices.
The industry is also starting to realize the organizational capacity of project management systems. Slowly, too, general contractors are moving toward accepting digital payment from homeowners and project owners — perhaps one of the most important trends the industry is grappling with today.
As we settle into 2020, here are five construction industry trends to keep your eye on.
1. Augmented Reality
Augmented reality (AR) uses an overlay of virtual elements on the real physical world, creating a dynamic environment in which general contractors can move through projects while seeing a 3D mock-up of completed work. Yet-to-be-finished portions of projects can very realistically be within reach for contractors with the appropriate technology—boosting accuracy, efficiency, and planning on-project. Useful AR vehicles like goggles and smart helmets could make this kind of technology the standard for general contractors while on project sites one day.
As investors and markets turn toward sustainability, “green” construction will no doubt find itself even more in the industry spotlight than it already is. This is a trend that could easily become a kind of business best practice, and not just in construction. We’ve recently seen that embodied by BlackRock CEO and billionaire businessman Larry Fink, whose annual letter to the CEOs of the world this year focused on — you guessed it — sustainability and climate change. Fink’s take is that climate poses a risk to the stability of markets via threats to economic growth and to city-by-city infrastructure.
That’s where sustainability in construction comes in. Sustainable construction has already generated certifications like LEED for sustainable energy use and FSC for sustainably sourced materials. It’s a trend that will no doubt span everything from the materials the industry uses to the ways in which it chooses to build. Depending on the region where you’re in business, it may also include people-driven sustainability. Firms could be asked to provide housing for workers on a project or to build affordable housing in tangent with new luxury properties.
3. Automation, partially fueled by labor shortage
Construction as an industry has been grappling with a skilled labor shortage over the last few years. An automation trend has emerged—one that will likely only become more important to the industry as we’re staring down the barrel of 2020.
This trend is fairly expansive: we’re already seeing use of drones to monitor projects and sites, and increased emphasis on building with modular and prefabricated units. The industry’s also begun to explore various ways to utilize robotics technology. As technology improves, construction will likely find itself working with self-driving cars and self-operating (autonomous) equipment. These machines won’t be taking jobs away, but rather making the work of existing human workers easier.
4. Project management software
The construction industry has been trending toward use of management softwares like ProCore and BlueBeam Revu for the last few years, but continuing innovation within the construction-aimed technology sector has only fueled the trend.
Recent additions to the lineup of available project management platforms, like the Punch List app, have diversified what the market can offer to general contractors. Punch List, for example, is aimed at making the home remodeling process as efficient as possible — it’s a management software within which general contractors can message homeowners directly, share project plans and details, and perhaps most importantly, collect payment digitally and easily.
5. Digital payment
Another tendency of the construction industry: delay in payment. And it’s unfortunate, because accepting instant, digital payment is a broadly accepted tenet of most other industries. Payment systems like Square and Cash App have made digital payment accessible for even the smallest of retail businesses; now, Punch List is making it accessible for general contractors, too.
The app doubles as a management system, allowing general contractors to share project plans with homeowners. It’s unique, though, in that it generates automatic digital invoices for approved, completed work, so homeowners can pay contractors for their services in real time, all within the app. Additional features like an in-app chat function and uploadable project plans put Punch List squarely at the forefront of the digital payment trend.
It’s hard to know what the future will bring for the construction industry in light of a fast-changing technology landscape and consumer-influenced trends. Looking to the year ahead, though, each of these trends should have a marked, positive impact on the industry and its members. Each, in its own way, promotes efficiency and longevity: trends like AR on job sites, for example, could change the way we think about entitlement and build out. Then there’s the trend toward sophisticated project management systems and digital payment, which will no doubt improve the operational logistics of construction — and then there’s technology at the heart of both of those trends, like Punch List.