Built Environment Sector Trends

Dec 12, 2019

By Ray Levitt, Operating Partner at Blackhorn Ventures

Technological Advancements Bend Construction’s Productivity Curve Upward

Moving Away from Pen and Paper


The construction industry has been a pen and paper industry for over 5,000 years. While technology has advanced sectors like health, energy, and transportation, construction has remained notoriously behind. Technology has been slow to penetrate the industry for logistical reasons: field workers can’t carry a desktop computer to work with them. Architects and engineers were able to take advantage of new technologies in the second half of the twentieth century, but a disconnect remained between those behind desks and those on site.

Only since 2012 have we seen significant changes in construction technology with advancements that are making job sites safer, more efficient, and yielding large returns for investors. Four primary trends enabling digitization in the built environment sector have converged to drive this growing market:

  • Cellular Broadband Internet
  • Smart Mobile Devices
  • Affordable Wireless Sensors
  • Cloud-Based Subscription Software

Broadband Internet

The advancement of 3G, 4G, LTE and now 5G cellular broadband have powered faster and greater access to the Internet from anywhere. Broadband allows workers to be online even in remote areas or inside buildings. Having the ability to access fast, seamless Internet means jobsite construction workers can utilize cloud-based digital tools, stay connected to their teams, access and upload real-time data, and become more efficient, more cost-effective, and safer.

Smart Mobile Devices

Today, every contractor, developer, project manager, and foreman has a mobile device more powerful than a 1960s mainframe computer in his or her pocket. Only within the last few years have phones become so powerful and matched with a more intuitive user interface, higher resolution cameras, a GPS locator, and integrated touch and voice commands. An example of this advancement started in 2012 with digital blueprints. Internet connectivity via Wi-Fi or cellular networks on projects allowed for the mobile delivery of high-resolution blueprint files, as well as daily updates to workers on job sites in lieu of paper blueprints, which are costly to print and distribute, and that quickly become obsolete when new versions of drawings are released. This new technology has saved an incredible amount of time and money for foremen, architects, developers, and engineers.

Affordable Wireless Sensors

Wireless sensors are now giving contractors and engineers the opportunity to track progress, safety, cost, efficiency, and more on-site in real-time. The companies that noticed the wireless sensor wave in construction early on are now in a position to lead the industry. Leaders include companies such as SafeSite, a platform of real-time safety analysis and site-management tracking, or Rhumbix, the leader for digitized project field data. Using mobile phones or tablets, stakeholders can gather detailed analytics with sensors for acoustics, motion, inertia, gas sniffers, and others. Both on and off the jobsite, people can gather real-time data and apply better analytics in order to more accurately predict timelines and costs, while also maintaining safe work environments.

Cloud-Based Subscription Software

Construction is a massive industry, but firms in the industry are mostly small, specialized, regional providers that face severe cyclical fluctuations in demand for their services. Because of this, construction firms must be flexible when it comes to their payroll and other costs. The ability to purchase software-as-a-subscription (SaaS) applications on a per-user basis allows contractors, engineers, and architects to stay flexible in terms of committed software license costs. For example, Pype provides a platform of automated tools to increase efficiency and accuracy in project bidding, execution and closeout, and Briq is a cloud-based solution that captures, automates, and learns from all of a company’s construction data to give them the information needed to make optimized decisions.

With the combination of these trends, the long-stagnant built environment sector is now seeing impressive gains in productivity. This is not only moving the industry forward but it will increase firms’ resilience in an economic downturn. The construction companies that have adopted these efficient, flexible digital technologies will be best able to survive and thrive through whatever the future holds.