The tech leaders from across the country who descended on Chicago April 20-22 for BuiltWorld's CEO Tech Forum brought with them more than just catch phrases and speeches.
They brought a glimpse of the construction industry's future.
A star-studded list of more than 50 company leaders--led by keynote speaker and X-Prize Foundation founder and chairman Peter Diamandis -- gave presentations and participated in discussions on the latest technological issues and challenges facing the industry. "Pushing the $8.5 trillion built industry forward has always been a top priority for BuiltWorlds," says Matt Abeles, co-founder of BuiltWorlds. "By bringing in 49 thought leaders to talk about innovation and technology helping to do just that is a big step in educating the industry leaders about the progress truly being made."
The event also offered a Tech Fair for vendors to show off their high-tech gadgets and gizmos.
Topics of discussion during the three-day event focused on disruptor technologies and the potential to leverage them to transform the way the construction industry thinks about, designs and builds everything.
Called "the Fourth Industrial Revolution" in one session, construction-related forum topics included using cloud computing for construction management, the rise of practical 3D prefab-construction, growing industry applications for drone technology and the increasing use of data-led urban planning.
"Exponential technologies are going to change everything--every aspect of our life in the next decade," Diamandis predicted. "New technologies already are doubling in power every 12 to 36 months. You can look at it as disruptive stress or disruptive opportunity."
It wasn't just a case of the tech leaders speaking to the wind, as the $7 trillion construction space is beginning to capture a lot of people's attention. At the summit, more than one-third of the attendees--the biggest single group -- were high-ranking construction company leaders, all riveted and seeking insight.
BuiltWorld's mission is in building an active community that integrates technological advancement into the construction industry. The company has a long list of corporate and academic partners and regularly hosts industry-specific conferences.
Their focus is the "built environment," a multidisciplinary concept that takes human interaction into account prior to the construction of any space inhabited by them. It applies to building construction, urban planning and even engineering processes, all as they relate to human use. "The built environment encompasses a largely untapped but massive opportunity for technology disruption," says Gabe Greenbaum, an investor in the space and venture capitalist at Pritzker Group Venture Capital. "Companies realize if they do not begin to evolve, they will lose to competitors in the war for business, as the end customer will gravitate to the firms that are utilizing new technologies in order to offer better products, insights, services and pricing."
Matt Gray, BuiltWorld's founder, said the forum series is living up to the company's goal of pushing the industry envelope.
"When we started BuiltWorlds in 2014, the goal from Day One has been to push this industry forward, to embrace change and innovation, and to foster greater collaboration across the board," he said. "Technology has opened up new worlds of once-unthinkable opportunities. Firms just need to know where to look."
Industry leaders at the forum said the construction industry has been a little late to the tech game, but it is starting to sense that it needs to catch up in a big way.
The new frontier, according to BuiltWorld, is "built environment" thinking, which has the potential to place technology into just about every space inhabited by humans--and in the process, embed itself in about every space inhabited by companies that sell construction-related items.
As with any new technology, humans have to embrace it first for it be effective. And to do that, it still has to solve a problem, be dependable and easy to use. The BuiltWorld's CEO Tech Forum 2016 brought together tech leaders from across the country to discuss the construction industry's future. "Efficiently delivering the built environment by leveraging technology and seamless collaboration is extremely exciting," said George White, CEO and co-founder of Pavia Systems. "We are encouraged by the efforts and leadership shown amongst attendees to streamline the process through integration of mobile devices and technology tools within their organizations." For an industry that many of us don't think much about, the star-studded event inspired passionate conversations amongst thought leaders.
So why is the construction space just now catching the tech fire?
One possible reason is that the industry consists largely of a scattered workforce of small contractors and sub-contractors who work mostly on small projects. As computer and cellphone technology became ubiquitous, the contractors adopted their own independent systems--systems that didn't necessarily mesh well with the technology used by partnering companies. "Technology adoption in construction has accelerated for many reasons, but most notably is the transparency in ROI across the construction firm's organization. With the rapid adoption of technology comes the need for easy integration between solutions. The Construction Open Standards Alliance (COSA cosa.build) is leading the way to allow for interoperability in construction. " said Benny Baltrosky, Chief Strategy Officer, eSUB Construction Software.
Until now, the construction industry has lagged is because there haven't been ways to integrate these systems. But that's changing as forward-thinking companies like the ones at the CEO Tech Summit rush in to explore and identify new needs. A younger workforce already comfortable with technology, and demanding it in the workplace to do their jobs more efficiently, is tipping the scale even further.