A couple of weeks ago, I traveled to see a customer of ours to film a video shoot for our annual Innovator Awards. The videos—of which we feature three per year at our annual Users’ Conference—highlight client companies that have shown excellence, growth and thoughtful business and operations management through the use of our Spectrum® Construction Software. While I won’t name the company now, so as not to spoil the official announcement, I did want to share a particular thought or two from my visit.
First, I was extremely impressed by how organized the company was. Invading the offices of a bustling construction company for several days to film a video around peoples’ schedules and workflow of the company is not an easy task. Yet the folks at this company thoroughly prepared for the video shoot ahead of time, putting together a working plan that made the filming a breeze. This level of attention to even the smallest details cemented my belief that we had chosen well in picking them as one of our finalists this year.
Which leads me to the second thought. On this trip I had a revelation about just how much the construction environment has changed in just the past few years—and how successful companies have taken advantage. On the video shoot, our videographer and I were escorted onto a couple of our client’s projects to do some filming and interviews. At the second site, work was just beginning—digging trenches for sewer and water lines for what would eventually be a huge auto mall, complete with about a dozen dealerships, paved lots, buildings and more.
I asked how long a project like this was expected to take. “Ten months from now, this should all be done and the auto mall readying to open,” was the reply I received from the project manager. I blinked for a few seconds. Ten months? I remember when I lived in Las Vegas, a similar, yet smaller project to build an auto mall was nearly a three-year endeavor. So isn’t 10 months pretty aggressive?
“You’d be amazed what we can do, and do effectively today with the tools we have at our disposal now…without sacrificing quality.” was the reply from the project manager. I kind of snapped back to modern reality. Oh yeah, leading-edge technologies, better construction best practices, innovative ways of building…I’m here on a video shoot documenting it all. It makes sense.
Still, I couldn’t help but reflect to a time not that long ago when construction was booming, but many contractors were not properly equipped to handle the demand. Instead, especially in Southwest markets, there seemed to be a race to see who could build the fastest. In Las Vegas in the late 1990s, you could drive down the street on Monday and see a wide swath of desert lots with a sign identifying a particular contractor (or groups of contractors). Drive by the same spot on Friday and you’d see the foundations laid for hundreds of new homes. Drive by a week later and the framing and landscaping would be complete. Days later, the roofing was finished. Maybe a week after that, the homes were complete and being sold. Yes, in roughly a month, whole subdivisions were popping up all over the desert. The same was true with office buildings, commercial properties, whole new roads and bridges seemingly completed overnight. Okay, so this might be a bit of an exaggeration, but only slightly.
I remember thinking to myself, “how well built are all of these new buildings, roads and homes? Can you really operate that fast and still have a long-lasting finished product?”
Sure enough, just a decade later (or sooner) these markets saw a bevy of lawsuits for shoddy construction—the quality on too many of these projects sacrificed for speed and quick paydays. In a five year period beginning in 2006, construction defect claims against homebuilders in Nevada increased 355 percent.* Leading construction companies, of course, did their projects right—and they took a little more time to complete. But it also meant they were losing valuable business to companies that might have been winning the speed race, yet didn’t have the best data and tools in the field. Meeting initial demand came first, quality came second.
Most of today’s construction companies are the beacons of proper planning and execution. Demand for speedy delivery is still there of course, especially as we climb out of a recession and enter what looks to be another building boom. But this time, quality is not being ignored—the lessons learned by companies that endured legal woes in the wake of the last big building boom.
The difference today is that contractors have a lot of new tools, innovations, access to data, collaboration and more to pull from to get the job done fast and right.
Building materials are designed to be more durable, and easier to build with. Many more builders are pre-fabricating necessary parts of projects ahead of time, in-house, so that they are ready to go when that particular stage of building calls for them, saving time on site. Innovative 3D printing technology is being used to build inside rather than on site as well. Meanwhile the advent of Internet connectivity, mobile devices and mobile-friendly apps and cloud hosting and storage devices have opened up access to software in the field. Today’s leading-edge construction software delivers data and actionable collaboration in the field in real time.
This means that contractors today embracing these technologies and principles can keep up with demand (the aforementioned contractor building the auto mall has as many as 20 projects of varying sizes running simultaneously). But perhaps more importantly, the speed of building no longer has to come at the price of quality.
*Source –Nevada Home Builders Association and Brown, Stephan P.A. and Kennelly, Ryan, “The Nevada Housing Market: Prospects for Recovery,” UNLV Center for Business and Economic Research, February 2013, p 17