How AI Is Helping Solve Inherent Challenges in Construction

Admit it, when you hear the words “artificial intelligence,” you don’t picture a rosy future.

Maybe you think of losing good jobs to robots. Maybe you imagine a machine uprising. Maybe you worry about “artificial stupidity“—when people trust an AI program that makes foolish decisions.

Those fears can be even more pronounced in the construction industry. Trusting the wrong piece of technology can lead to catastrophic project failure or even employee deaths. These high stakes may explain why the construction sector still has a reputation for resisting new technologies.

It’s a testament to AI’s power, then, that construction is starting to embrace this technology anyway. Tools such as Sage Intacct Construction use AI to enhance, rather than replace, human decision-making. It’s one of many AI tools helping the construction industry solve its biggest challenges.

What Does AI in the Construction Industry Look Like?  

Humans are smart in a way that’s tough to copy. We’re great at creativity, abstract thought, and adaptation. That’s why many AI specialists believe AI will never fully replicate human intelligence.

But humans aren’t good at analyzing huge data sets quickly. Artificial intelligence is.

AI technology relies on a process called machine learning. Machine learning is when a computer analyzes a huge volume of existing data to identify trends and principles. It can then apply its findings to new data inputs.

Those findings constitute artificial intelligence. AI is an efficient way to give humans a data set’s most important takeaways. They can use those takeaways to help make decisions.

Here are just a few examples of what this improved decision-making looks like in the construction industry:

Capturing Billable Hours

No one’s going to list filling out timesheets as the best part of their workweek. Yet that’s how companies capture billable hours. This means accurate timesheets are key to a company’s bottom line.

So it’s a problem that most construction firm employees under-capture their billable hours.

Short, spontaneous tasks such as answering a client’s email tend to go unrecorded. They’re also difficult to remember when an employee attempts to reconstruct their week. Yet these tasks can add up to significant unbilled time spent on a project.

Artificial intelligence can help stem this pervasive driver of revenue leakage. Sage Intacct’s Intelligent Time feature gives each employee an AI-driven timesheet “assistant.”

The assistant draws data from the employee’s work activities across the week. It uses this data to assign billable projects to small chunks of time. These “chunks” would usually get written off in a manual timesheet process.

Capturing a few minutes here and there may not sound like a big deal. But this AI-driven process can add up to some serious savings. An employee capturing only one extra hour per week can still wind up avoiding thousands of dollars in annual revenue leakage.

Guiding Timeline and Cost Estimates  

98% of construction “megaprojects” exceed their initial budgets or timelines. Even the simplest of projects involve many stakeholders and complicating factors. So while that statistic is frustrating, it isn’t surprising.

Fortunately, AI systems are an optimal technology for improving budget and timeline predictions as well as problem-solving.

Machine learning algorithms can interpret millions of data points captured from previous projects. Those crucial data points may include a workforce’s skillsets or weather patterns. The algorithm can then use data to extrapolate the future.

AI extrapolation can flag future issues. They can even catch problems an experienced construction professional might overlook.

Hours are an important data set for these algorithms. Firms that charge a fixed rate still need accurate timesheets to estimate how many hours they’re devoting to each project.

Under-captured hours lead to an inaccurate picture of each project’s true manpower needs. That leads to unrealistically short timelines, unrealistically small budgets, and unrealistically low bids. Sage’s Intelligent Time can provide better timesheet data, helping AI tools make better predictions.

Of course, no AI algorithm can predict the future with 100% certainty. But firms who use these algorithms can update and re-run them when conditions change.

Monitoring On-The-Ground Conditions  

Writing emails, running algorithms, and doing paperwork are crucial parts of running any project. But these tasks don’t help the project if they don’t reflect physical reality. Projects can’t survive unless everyone has an accurate picture of on-the-ground conditions.

But onsite employees tend to prioritize doing their work well and safely over capturing every data point. That creates a gap between captured data and on-the-ground conditions. That gap can cause significant problems.

Project planners may over-invest in some resources and under-invest in others. Critical safety and security issues might be overlooked.

Artificial intelligence may help bridge the gap. Many companies start by using drones, sensors, and IoT devices to capture on-the-ground data. AI tools can analyze these data sets and turn them into meaningful insights.

AI healthcare tools can recognize skin cancer even better than doctors. The same machine-learning principles can help AI detect “invisible” onsite problems. Overhead site shots captured by drones, for example, can help AI programs detect ground stability issues.

The Future of Artificial Intelligence in Construction  

What’s going to be the biggest driver of artificial intelligence in the construction industry? The answer is empowering the humans that work in construction firms.

These tools can help construction professionals make better, safer, and more profitable decisions. The more AI improves human decision-making, the more we’ll be seeing it both offsite and onsite.

That transformation is already happening today. Contact Bangert to learn more about Sage Intacct Contruction and other cloud computing tools. We’re ready to help your company embrace the future.

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