COVID-19 pandemic has impacted how people work in many industries. Conducting in-person meetings and diligence has been challenging. As we all know, remote meetings via Zoom have become the norm in our everyday work life. Historically, the construction industry has been centered on hands-on, in-person interaction. The question is, how will the construction industry adapt to new norms and will the changes last? Many building owners and real-estate developers, commonly visit their sites to track progress and watch events unfold on their job sites. We all know defects, logistics and contractor coordination issues cause delays in projects and delays bring huge costs. Conducting site walkthroughs has always helped understand what is happening on-site and proactively address issues before they happen. However, in the current COVID-19 environment, it is not feasible to visit sites at will, yet real-time project visibility and accountability is still a must. Practically, overnight remote construction monitoring solutions are a must-have technology versus nice-to-have as we are no longer able to travel to sites for scheduled tours.
Photo Documentation is not enough
In the past, we relied on still photos sent by contractors or captured by full-service photo documentation solutions for remote monitoring and visual documentation of sites. These photos and videos have been helpful, but over time they lack full context; they are not measurable, and they can be very quickly outdated. Builders also had to create new workflows. They spent time taking pictures of every area of the project and pinned images against floor plans to attempt to get an idea of what has been accomplished. This workflow has challenged their productivity.
"COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we work, but the visibility and accountability required by owners and project teams have not"
Turnkey full-service solutions were helpful from a liability perspective, however, considering their turnaround time and cost, they quickly became of limited use for real-time coordination and communication. Without near real-time and measurable visual walkthroughs, it was almost impossible to verify progress, review payment applications and lower project risk.
Reality Mapping is necessary to improve project monitoring
New solutions are now available to automatically transform photos, videos from cell phones, drones, 360-degree cameras into measurable, street-view walkthroughs which can be compared against drawings. Our firm, Serra Ventures, has recently built a building. So, we put this new technology to the test. Before weekly coordination meetings, our builder would do a drone capture outdoors. On a daily basis, they would do a walkthrough with a 360-degree camera mounted on a hardhat. When necessary, they would also take pictures with cell phones. The photos and videos from drones, 360-degree cameras and cell phones were automatically mapped to project plans, indoors and outdoors. We were able to review these photos and videos per work area, measure various assets and their conditions, and put them in the context of the project schedule - all within the same online environments. With COVID-19, reality mapping is a game-changer solution. I would like to highlight five specific benefits:
1. Travel costs: Travel costs can be measured in time and money. Prior to the pandemic, I spoke with owner reps that had to travel to multiple sites per week. Aside from the travel costs, most of their week was consumed by travel. Remote monitoring solutions were an attractive solution then, and now are imperative.
2. Better collaboration and communication: The near real-time visual documentation with measurement capability and the flexibility to use all types of photos and videos during makes coordination meetings more efficient. Issues are addressed right away by having measurable images and the ability to compare them against design and project schedules. The result is saving thousands of dollars in rework and change orders.
3. Historical Record: Some solutions offer a complete historical record of the construction projects. The measurable as-built records help maintenance and operation teams understand what asset is where, and what systems are behind closed drywalls.
4. Time-saving for builders: Taking videos with a hardhat-mounted 360-degree camera has freed up the time builders spend on taking pictures. Documentation tasks are more efficient, allowing them to focus on their construction tasks. Builders also use these measurable photos with their teams and sub-contractors to accurately and efficiently coordinate construction tasks.
5. Payment application review: Measurable photo documentation offers builders with backup evidence of the completed work. These visuals streamline payment application reviews and expedite the payments to builders.
COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we work, but the visibility and accountability required by owners and project teams have not. They still must answer the critical questions like - is the project on time, was the work been done right and what future work is at risk? Remote construction monitoring solutions enable construction leaders to answer these questions in real-time without having to be at the site. I believe as the industry adopts this new technology the benefits will be clear and remote construction monitoring will be here to stay.