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Construction Risk Engineering is evolving. Here’s why.
May 11, 2020
The construction industry has always been risky. But it has gotten riskier in recent years especially as contractors are contending with the added risks of the current labor shortage and construction projects that have grown bigger and more complex.
The good news is that new technologies – from AI to sensors to wearables -- are offering contractors opportunities to pinpoint, understand and manage risks on the jobsite and across their entire operation. It’s also offering construction risk engineers new opportunities to help. Scott Merchant, Construction Risk Engineering Leader, and Rose Hall, Strategic Operations Manager for Risk Engineering, on how technology is changing construction jobsites and what impact it’s having on the services and guidance their team provide.
How are contractors adapting new technology?
Merchant: In the past, contractors were not always quick to adapt to new technologies. One reason is that the industry had to get through a slowdown that resulted from the 2008 financial crisis. While construction has been going strong recently, they are still dealing with the ramifications of that slowdown like a shortage of labor. Fortunately, new technologies could help, and contractors are seeing the possibilities. Still with a small workforce, limited time and slim profit margins, many contractors don’t have the resources to test new technologies and see what could work best for their operations.
Hall: That’s where we are lending a hand. New construction technologies are emerging in the market at a fast pace. Wearables, reality capture, mobile apps, telematics, extended reality, sensors, drones, and even robots can be found on jobsites these days. But with so many new innovations coming at them, how do contractors know which ones to adopt? Which ones will give them the most bang for the buck? That’s where our North America Construction team decided to help by taking a lot of the guesswork out of discovering, vetting, and curating technologies that add the most value to our customers’ risk management efforts and their overall operations.
Why is it so imperative the contractors adapt?
Merchant: If they adopt the right technology, construction firms will have access to more data, and some in real-time, to help them make better decisions, boost productivity, improve jobsite safety, and reduce risks. As the insurance industry has always relied on data to make our underwriting decisions and guide our loss prevention efforts, we are in strong position to help.
Hall: Capitalizing on the modernization of the industry is going to be imperative for contractors to stay competitive. It used to be about slashing budget and compressing schedule. Now their market differentiators are innovation, creativity, and data analytics. While adopting and leveraging new technology is one of a contractor’s biggest challenges right now, it’s going to be the biggest opportunity too. (See more of what Rose has to say about cutting edge construction here.)
How is your team evolving to address your more tech-savvy contractors?
Merchant: Our risk engineers have always been at the forefront of construction innovation. Over the years, many of them have developed their expertise in key areas of new construction materials, such as mass timber, or new delivery methods, such as modular construction. But given the onslaught of new technologies we’ve seen in recent years, we’re all boosting our tech skills and knowledge so that we can be resources for our clients to help them vet the right technology for them and gain insights from all the information and data so that it can all be put to good use.
Hall: We’re upskilling for what we’re calling the “Next Generation” risk engineering. Our team is evolving from purely boots-on-the-ground risk engineers to tech-supported, data-enhanced risk engineers. We are going to be combining the traditional construction risk engineering experience with the power of data analytics. In this way, our risk engineers can garner more about our customers than simply what we see from project to project. We will have holistic operational insight – allowing us to understand our customers more deeply and enabling us to provide them with more focused servicing, benchmarking, and insights than ever before.
How are you helping contractors step up their tech adoption right now?
Merchant: As mentioned earlier, we’ve vetted a lot technology aimed at contractors. We’ve partnered with technologies that we feel can add the most value to our clients’ operations and even where we could help guide their technology development. Many tech companies have really great ideas but not always great knowledge of the construction industry. Even though we’re in the insurance industry now, Rose, myself and all of our risk engineers have worked in construction. Often, we’ve asked some tech companies who have come to us -- what are you trying to fix? We make sure that the tech companies we include in our library understand the construction problems they are solving and have real value to provide beyond merely “what’s cool”. We do this by running pilots and soliciting candid feedback from our customers.
Hall: For many contractors, the challenge of adopting new technology is limited resources. By piloting new technologies and providing our customers with a suite of curated solutions, we’re taking on some of the heavy lifting for them so that they can focus on what they do best – build projects. We’re also helping them stay competitive by providing benchmarking on their own technology maturity via our Technology Adoption Maturity Index (TAMI). We find that most contractors are keen to know where they stack up against their competitors. The TAMI provides a benchmark of their technology adoption against the industry. We pair this assessment with recommendations on how to progress to the next level of technological advancement through solutions that are valuable for their specific operations.
Most importantly, we’re helping them pull it all together. We’re getting ready to launch a platform that puts all their data into one place, giving them a more comprehensive picture of where their exposures are and what they can do about them.
Why is AXA XL so engaged in helping contractors become more tech savvy?
Merchant: Insurance providers like us have always relied on a lot of data to help develop and price insurance coverages. Because of our reliance on data and analytics, our clients value our opinion. Plus, while tech companies are eager to sell their technologies just for the sake of selling them, we have greater reason for finding the technologies that work best for our clients and their risk management efforts – we share their risk. We have more skin in the game. Greater use of qualified, tested technology helps us both manage their risks and minimize potential losses more effectively together. It’s a win-win for both of us.
How is this going to help your underwriting colleagues?
Merchant: The better we know our customers, the better we can provide them with the right insurance coverage. So, our underwriting team is gaining a lot from this added data and analytics this more connected technology approach offers. It gives them a more a holistic view of our customers.
How receptive have customers been? Are they ready for more technology on the jobsite?
Merchant: The feedback from our clients has been very, very positive. They know that in the long run, maximizing technology is going to give them a competitive advantage over others who are not. There is a handful of customers who have already spent some time and money on new technologies for their operations, but they still want our opinion. Since we work with so many top-notch contractors, we’re able to provide comparative benchmarking insight which no contractor can do alone.
Is your Construction Risk Engineering team ready for change?
Merchant: Every industry has to continuously evaluate what we do and see how we can do it better. Just because we have always done it this way, doesn’t mean we should continue to do it this way. We want to be the thought leaders. We’re not just keeping up with all the technology out there for our clients. We want to be a head of it.
Hall: We’ve not only ready for it but we’re ready to lead it. We have been able to source various technologies and their data, pairing it with industry-wide claims data, to develop valuable actionable insights, and aggregate it all on one platform for our customers who are very excited to have these tools. That excitement and energy is firing up our team to reach new heights as well.