The construction industry is valued at $1.6 trillion in the US and $10 trillion globally. Construction-related spending is about 13% of global GDP It is expected that the construction market will only grow for the foreseeable future.
Construction has roots in almost everything we do. For example, electricity that runs computers, the data centers that empower the internet, the houses we are currently performing remote work in and the factories that manufactured our PCs and phones. Simply put, construction is too important to ignore.
Construction productivity has been stagnant for several decades while almost every other industry has benefited from growth in productivity; one might argue that we are still building in almost the same way the Empire State building was built in 1930 only it takes us five times longer and is far costlier to build.
We need to build more, build better, and build sustainably. Unfortunately, nearly 40% of carbon emissions in the world are the result of the building and construction industry.
It is great that we have brave souls like Elon Musk helping accelerate the transition of the world to sustainable energy--our world needs more people like him. It is also clear that the world needs other industries to change for the better if we hope to have a future for the next generations.
Root Causes of Construction Issues
We believe that long term improvement needs continuous improvement (CI). CI needs data and facts. Without 360 degree lifecycle data, continuous improvement does not happen or becomes extremely slow.
For example, Apple’s iPhone did not become a huge success without large numbers of iterations and learnings from mistakes and successes. Take a look at the history of cars to realize how far we’ve come.
The problem in the construction industry is that lifecycle data processes are broken due to very high fragmentation. This results in stakeholders not getting access to the right information at the right time. When things are highly fragmented, it is close to impossible to systematically learn from mistakes on other projects or even a different phase of the same project.
For example, as different phases of construction are happening from planning, design, and construction to operation, there are different companies involved in each phase. Each company has a different system of record and often times the timelines of the activities in different stages do not fully overlap. To make matters worse, a General Contractor (GC) has several subcontractors and they perform their job and move on to other jobs. This means that the team knowing the most about specific elements of a project will disappear before the end of the project.
There are misalignments in bottomline interests for each company. For example, the contractor business model is very different from designers or owners. This leads to even more problems as far as data is concerned.
From the software solutions perspective, the situation is not better. Each stakeholder company has their own system of record. No single software vendor has dominated all workflows of the construction process and each company has its preferences. Solutions do not have a complete set of APIs. Consequently, integration becomes a challenge.
And even if the integration issue is addressed, information in construction is captured as documents (files). For example, contracts, invoices, drawings, and specifications are usually represented as a file format (often a PDF) not structured data. There has been great investment in Building Information Modeling (BIM) and drawing apps but still most of the results are transferred as documents.
Companies have tried integrations but they are very expensive and take a lot of planning and implementation, which proves to be impossible for most construction projects, with the exception of mega projects.
The above challenges result in a data flow problem between parties, causing:
- A great amount of information loss
- A significant amount of duplicate data entry in different systems
- A large number of documents piling up making it impossible to find information
In summary: the right people do not have access to the right information at the right time.
With all of these gaps, it is amazing that our industry can still build the facilities we rely on on a day-to-day basis.
The industry has recognized the need to change to reduce silos in both process and information transfer. One focus has been on contract delivery methods; with more innovative collaborative and risk sharing approaches such as Design-Build contracts as opposed to Design-Bid-Build. These efforts, however, require regulation, culture, and business model changes that make their adoption slow. Others consider Design-Build-Operate in an effort to include operations, but this is most common in specific and specialized sectors. In cases where those methods are adopted, the information sharing and transfer challenge remains between teams, departments, and firms providing the service.
Another approach that never materialized is an ERP system built for construction. Even though software companies have tried for a long time to dominate the construction market; this has not happened yet and we don’t see it happening anytime soon.
One might think that digitization of software might lead to having fewer documents and more structured data. It seems, however, that even though there are more structured data on projects, transfer of information between phases still happens through documents.
The question remains: are these problems inherent in the construction process solvable with technology?
We believe that with the power of data, we can solve these fundamentally hard problems, thereby revolutionizing the construction process. To put it in Elon’s words: success is a possible outcome.
Gryps’s Vision / Approach
Our vision is to revolutionize the built world through the power of data.
We fundamentally believe that if we provide the right information to the construction decision makers at the right time, we can improve decision making. Through the power of data-driven continuous improvement, we can accelerate the transition of the built world to a productive, sustainable, and digitized future.
To accomplish the vision, we are tackling:
- Interoperability: We need to be able to connect to any construction software regardless of their API state. We can get access to the information we need or we can push data into other systems preferably using the supported APIs and when not available through Robotic Process Automation (using digital robots). We can design digital robots that replicate human interaction with computers and perform the tasks on our behalf. Orchestration and composition of API tasks with Digital Robot actions can enable interoperability between systems or data capture scenarios.
- Document Understanding: Without document understanding, the most important information in construction remains hidden or hard to access for decision makers. We need to extract information from documents to liberate truly valuable information. Our approach is to use Machine Learning / Deep Learning techniques to automate organization of information as well as extraction of information assets.
- Data Access: Without convenient access to information and insights, the deep impact on day to day decision making does not happen. We need to reach out to any stakeholder regardless of their go to platform. We believe that this problem can be elegantly solved using a combination of search, analytics, knowledge graph, and digital robot approach.