I know that title sounds odd. Before you start flooding my email box with comments about the practicality of Building Information Modeling (BIM) or the utility of social networking like Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn in the construction industry, consider the life of the personal computer:
Were you around in the 1980s during the microcomputer wars between Commodore, Apple, Atari and Tandy? Can you believe that some of the first personal computers once plugged into a standard television that acted as the monitor? It's so hard for me to even imagine that the little IBM ThinkPad that I pound my fat fingers on every day once looked like this?
Even when I view the practice of law over the past 20 years, I see the dramatic changes that technology has brought. The legal brief is no longer typed on an IBM Selectric with carbon copy sheets and sent to court via courier—it is drafted on a laptop, converted to an Adobe .pdf document, and electronically filed with the court. The letter to opposing counsel is no longer dictated to a secretary who takes down every word in shorthand—the words are spoken into a digital handheld device, which is connected to a laptop computer that transcribes the entire letter using voice recognition software.
Given the transformation of how these simple tasks have been performed over the past two decades, it does not seem that far fetched to believe that technology can help sustain or revive a construction company in the years that follow this recession. Just read what Geoff Smith, Chief Executive for EllisDon told to Reed Construction Data about the livelihood of the construction industry in the post-recession recovery period:
Turning his focus to new technologies, Smith said that Building Information Modeling (BIM) is the way of the future, adding that those contractors who don’t adopt it will be left behind.
“If you don’t (embrace BIM), you’re not going to make it down the road,” he said. “It’ll take a little while to take hold, because it requires some upfront investment on the part of the clients and the builders. But it’s coming everybody has got to embrace it as soon as they can find a way to.”
The same applies to social networking, which Smith has embraced — he’s on Twitter, Facebook and he blogs. Social media is a key element of the company’s forward-looking strategy, he said.
“The construction industry over past generations has always been about people — we sell people; we put people on a project.
“Now there is the opportunity and the means to sell knowledge, intellectual capital and to create a competitive advantage doing that — and we see the social media facilitating that and creating that opportunity.”
I have written about the future of BIM being "in the pipeline." I have said that mainstream acceptance of BIM is a question of when ... not if. When I take a step back and look at an industry's acceptance of a particular technology (i.e., the law firm's use of laptops, electronic filing, digital dictation devices, Blackberries, etc.), it is not difficult to understand and agree with Smith's comments about BIM and social media.
The more difficult exercise is to crystal-ball the issue of defining when a particular technology becomes universally accepted ... of trying to pinpoint when everyone (...or almost everyone...) will use the laptop, cell phone, DVR, iPhone, or even BIM. But as an advocate of technology, perhaps our job is not to predict ... it is to advance, build up, campaign, encourage and support.