Reshaping Construction Business Models with Artificial Intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) is changing the way the construction industry does business. The technology can boost productivity, safety and other critical aspects of business success. After years of hype, the technology is finally here—and is changing business operations.

Explaining how it works, Maciej Kranz, VP, corporate strategic group, Cisco, says an AI system can enable such services as predictive maintenance, which multiples the value of the Internet of Things (IoT).

“With AI, users can learn patterns that lead to failures and make predictions such as construction equipment failing if it is not serviced after a certain amount of time,” she says. “The AI system might also recommend how to operate the equipment to maximize its useful life, offering trade-offs between performance and longevity.”

Machine learning makes the analytics systems “smarter” as time goes on and more data sets and patterns are available. She even makes the analogy that AI is the brain and IoT is the body.

She explains, “IoT provides both input (data) and output (action) for the smart computing and analytics function of a centralized AI system. By working smarter together, users can make better day-to-day or planning decisions, whether on a construction site or in a manufacturing facility or in a retail store.”

This is in line with trends today, as roughly 60 percent of companies believe their future success depends on the implementation of artificial intelligence, according to Harvard Business Review. Another 36 percent say their organizations were in pilot or production use with machine-learning technology.

The good news is this type of technology can empower construction teams to better handle critical tasks. However, there are a number of challenges that are holding back widespread adoption that need to be addressed first before finding success with artificial intelligence.

Barriers to AI Adoption 

There are a few barriers that currently exist before widespread adoption will occur. The good news is that there are ways the industry can work together to overcome some of these hurdles. These include:

  • Fear among workers: Some employees believe that AI is a job killer and that it will require a deeper understanding of data science. Roy Pereira, CEO, Zoom.ai, eases these fears by saying as newer tools come out, AI is becoming an easy-to-use tool that construction workers are probably already using in day-to-day. “It is important to step away from fear-driven ideas like Skynet, and realize the applicable possibilities of AI in your personal and work life,” he explains. “By speaking honestly about AI and its limitations, we’ll be able to have a proper conversation about the tool and not create a divide,” he says.
  • Cultural resistance: Building on the concept of fear, there is also a cultural resistance to new groundbreaking technologies that also needs to be overcome in the construction industry. Kranz of Cisco cautions, “These technologies are often implemented in core business environments and critical infrastructures where people are extra careful about making radical large-scale changes that disrupt traditional approaches.” Pereira adds that it is important that people understand that AI is here, and that movement on adoption should be a priority, but only once a company’s needs and values has been assessed.
  • Security: From an IT perspective, one of the biggest concerns regarding implementing AI typically has to do with security. The good news is that the security industry is finally addressing the special requirements of IoT, inclusive of AI, according to Kranz.“Just as they responded to Wi-Fi 15 years ago, they are now focusing on security standards, interoperability, and certifications, from the device level through the network and to the cloud,” she explains. “Customers, technology and solutions providers are also working more collaboratively to create new value propositions, such as mass customization and personalization. For example a combination of AI, IoT and construction robots can perform site surveys in intrinsically safe environments.”

Many of these challenges are being addressed today, which opens the door for new use case and business models in the future.

New Business Models in the Construction Industry

How will artificial intelligence change business models in the construction industry down the road? Pereira of Zoom.ai says it will alter logistics, customer-relationship management, support, workflow automation and finance, as personal assistants begin to help in many aspects of the business.

Cisco’s Kranz adds that construction companies can build momentum and begin to tackle more transformative solutions. Here are three key ways that the combination of the IoT and AI will change construction in the long-term:

  • New business opportunities and revenue streams: One example is Guardhat, a maker of smart connected hardhats that use sensors, cameras, analytics and other technologies to help workers find their way through dark or dangerous conditions, avoid collisions with moving equipment and stay out of hazardous areas. This AI-enabled product combined with its cloud-based system can be used in multiple environments including oil & gas, mining, construction, manufacturing and other industries.
  • New business models: Japanese industrial equipment maker FANUC uses “near-zero touch” capabilities to collect data from its machines, transforming itself from a manufacturer into a data mining AI + IoT business. Remote monitoring, analytics and predictive maintenance services reduce customer costs and improve production uptime. Construction in particular can reap many benefits.
  • New business structures: In many traditional industries, customers have typically looked to a single vendor for a complete, end-to-end solution—often using closed, proprietary technologies. Today, IoT, with its flexibility, cost and time-to-market advantages, is driving a shift to an open technology model where solution and technology providers, together with customers, form an ecosystem of partners. In this collaborative “co-economy,” IoT and AI capabilities are pulled into customer-facing solutions by multiple players offering best-in-class capabilities.

 Even more, artificial intelligence can help in recreating realistic situations for training, reducing injuries and costly mistakes and making operations more efficient. This can enable operators to better use existing labor resources, helping with the skilled labor shortage in construction, according to Kranz.

In the future, cobots and robots can work alongside workers, helping to speed construction, make better decisions and reduce costs and injuries.                

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