I build things for a living. For almost four decades, I’ve worked as an architect, a general contractor, a developer and as CEO of both an architectural and building company. In terms of the way we do things as an industry, not much has changed during that time. But it’s about to.
The building industry is on the brink of a revolution that will change the way we do things in all phases of the life-cycle of a built asset, from conception to design to demolition.
Yes, digitization will be a driver of change—and it’s a good thing. We’re talking about a significant reduction in the total life-cycle costs of a project, and a big-time boost in productivity, quality, safety, sustainability. And profitability.
This should be cause for excitement. But, for most people, it’s quite the opposite.
There is a slow uptake of change in the building industry. The prevailing mindset is to resist, not embrace new technology. In fact, many fear change.
And you know what? I don’t blame them.
Contemporary culture, whether in the movies or the media, often represents technological change as apocalyptic. That is, as instantaneous, total, catastrophic.
Witness a recent Washington Post article on the Fourth Industrial Revolution
Technological disruption in the 21st century is different. Societies had years to adapt to change driven by the steam engine, electricity and the computer. Today, change is instant and ubiquitous. It arrives digitally across the globe all at once.
Yikes. Instant and ubiquitous? Sounds like a natural cataclysm in a disaster movie. If I’m running a business, I’m thinking: “How the heck do I adapt to a change that is instantaneous?”
But here’s what apocalyptic thinking gets wrong: in reality, large-scale change is neither instantaneous nor ubiquitous. Its impact is uneven, affecting different sectors of society in different ways. And there is always a period of transition between the old order and the new.
Right now, we are in that time of transition.
Granted, it’s not 1908, when the first Model T rolled out of a plant on Piquette Ave in Detroit, MI. Back then, if you were in the horse and buggy business, you still had well over a decade to wait before the automobile took over urban America.
The pace of change has accelerated. That’s undeniable. However, even now, there is still time to adapt.
Today, the industry is at a crossroads. Companies that embrace the digital future will flourish. Companies that continue to do nothing—whether in willful denial, or in fear of apocalyptic upheaval—will struggle.
The evidence of other industries offers us a clear conclusion: soon, the benefits of digital technology will be too big to ignore. Better to innovate from within, rather than be ubered from without.
Whether you’re a CEO, a young professional, or anyone whose own future is tied to the future of the building industry, you’ll need to ask good questions, stay informed and prepare yourself and your organization to confront the coming changes—and challenges.
And, yes, the challenges will be unprecedented. And you know what else will be unprecedented?