Back in 1965, Intel cofounder Gordon E. Moore proposed that the number of transistors that could be economically put on a computer chip would double every two years. While it wasn’t until 1970 that this hypothesis was accorded the status of “law,” its performance has shown such incredible durability clear to the present that it forms the basis for financial projections by many of the leading industrial and governmental organizations worldwide, and the model for other technological projections as well. So what does this say about the construction industry?
Technology has always played a role in construction, though it wasn’t until the approach of the new millennium that it began to move from the engineering and business offices to the field. Then, in the aftermath of the Y2K scare, we’ve witnessed the equivalent of a dam burst of technological advances as all aspects of construction get gobbled up by the digital monster…but to what end?
At some time in the future, it may be possible to equate computer and earthmoving performance, but for the present the two live in different time scales. When Moore voiced his vision, the semiconductor revolution was nearly two decades old, yet the bulk of computing at that late date was still performed by machines containing legions of vacuum tubes, housed in huge climate-controlled, dust-free buildings and served and maintained by legions of technicians in white lab coats who spoke a language unintelligible to the bulk of the people on the planet. The space race with its requirement for lightweight, miniaturized systems drove much of the growth in processing power during the 1960s, but it would not be until the late 1970s and the arrival of VisiCalc—the “magic app” spreadsheet—that the digital revolution moved from the Fortune 500 domain to Main Street and beyond in successive leaps.
How different is that from where we find ourselves today in the construction world? Not much, I suspect, except for where “bloat” comes into play. In the computer world, bloat is a consequence of increasing computing power. Without generations of baggage to take into account, programmers were able to start with what amounted to a blank piece of paper. Instead, the baggage (bloat) that’s there today is of their own making. In construction, the situation is nearly reversed: With the baggage well established, technology adds to the bloat before it can get to the business of paring it down.
For the past decade we’ve seen new tools emerge against a backdrop of what seemed to many an almost limitless demand for construction services. But with the downturn, those days are gone. In its place we have what amounts to a dog-eat-dog environment where only the strongest will survive. The strongest will be those who can do more with less, and the longer you wait to get moving forward, the further behind you’ll be.