Commentary: Technology is constructions' new normal

 by Stephanie Basalyga

Dolan Media Newswires 

PORTLAND, OR -- It's been said that the construction industry hasn't always been the most flexible when it comes to change. In my 10-plus years covering the industry as a journalist, I've seen more than a few times when that's been painfully true.

Contractors, for example, were reluctant at first to come around to the green side of building sustainably. They also were less than willing to jump on the wagon when it came to promoting their businesses with websites in the early days of the Internet. 

So it's understandable that I was surprised to find a full house when I walked into the "60 Apps in 60 Minutes" session at this year's Associated General Contractors Oregon-Columbia chapter summer convention. 

An even more pleasant realization was that people in the audience didn't just have smartphones at the ready for the session. A healthy segment of the audience confidently tapped away on tablet devices as the session presenter led the group of more than 30 contractors through the often confusing world of social media, apps and other technology that's changing the way projects are built and construction industry companies operate. 

I'm a latecomer to the social media game. It was only out of necessity late last year, when I added "web editor" to my editor's title, that I began to push forward my news organization's presence on Twitter and Facebook. But I've learned quickly that the platforms offer endless opportunities, from offering readers a chance to weigh in on issues and stories to receiving tips and story ideas. 

Contractors, too, have embraced technology out of necessity, according to several people I talked to at the convention. 

The recession was a wake-up call for a lot of local contractors, architects and engineers. As Oregon has emerged from the economic downturn, and as the building industry has started to grow again, it has become apparent that the old business-as-usual approach won't work. Social media, I was told, is part of the industry's "new normal." 

As I watched the people around me during the "60 apps" session, I realized that while those in the construction industry may not always rush to adopt change, once they do, they tend to take those new approaches to new and interesting places. 

JE Dunn Construction, for example, took a software system and turned it into a technology tool that has eliminated the need for piles of paper documents on the company's projects. 

Meanwhile, a new wave of leaders in the building industry, like Corey Lohman of Emerick and Erik Timmons of Yorke & Curtis, are paving the social media path, showing by example that tweets and posts have an important place in the world of construction. If the enthusiasm and curiosity of those people experiencing social media for the first time during the AGC convention is any indication, they may soon have plenty of company and competition in the worlds of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. 

As the "60 apps" session drew to a close, I looked up to the sight of six or seven of the participants crowded around one end of a table in front of me, smartphones out as they scanned a code that connected them to an AGC convention app that offered a chance to comment, share photos and submit session evaluations. 

I would have taken a picture of the scene, but I was too busy at the time engaged in a little technology of my own as I merrily submitted my evaluation of the session … via a text message.