Constructive Conversations: Taking tech to the jobsite
Today’s construction jobsite looks a lot different than it did 10 years ago. From monitoring sensors, exoskeletons, imaging and BIM to project management software, there are plenty of tech tools to try out, and investment is pouring in. Funding in U.S.-based construction technology startups surged by 324 percent, to nearly $3.1 billion in 2018 compared with $731 million in 2017, according to Crunchbase data. While some contractors are dipping their toes into the tech waters, others are diving in with multi-site pilots to test out innovative tech solutions that can transform that way work is done. As an industry veteran, AXA XL’s Gary Kaplan shares his view on the intersection of tech and construction, its potential to revolutionize the way contractors work and the opportunity for insurers to better analyze the related risks.
How do you see technology transforming the construction industry? What does this mean for risk management?
Kaplan: Over the last few years, we’ve seen explosive growth in technology on the jobsite. It’s transforming every phase of the construction process – plan, design, build to operate, and replace. The way work is done is dramatically changing as technology is helping to improve the ability to monitor, react, mitigate, and in some cases, even predict and eliminate errors. When you think about the growing adoption of BIM, the way sensors and cameras are being utilized across the jobsite, it’s all part of digital transformation that can allow risk managers and insurers to capture data across contractors’ top pain points. This data can then be analyzed at the enterprise and the site level. From a risk management perspective, this is incredibly powerful. The influx of technology and its related data can boost safety, quality, and can help with budgeting and scheduling. It can help Risk Managers to make better business decisions across all their operations.
How will it impact risk engineering services?
For our risk engineering services, technology only brings upside. Our construction risk engineers are out there every day with our clients. With decades of experience, they are the ‘eyes and ears’ for underwriting, but even more so, they’re the front-line risk partners for our contractors. With every site visit, they observe, monitor and advise with specific recommendations for what can be done to boost safety, improve efficiency and quality. With technology, there’s now an opportunity to up the game by harnessing the data. This means having our risk engineers take a closer look at how the pieces fit together on the jobsite – what are the biggest risks, what’s causing the delays, what’s causing the accidents, and most of all – what can be done to address these concerns.
Tell us more about ‘harnessing the data’. What are the opportunities and challenges? Any specific examples you can share?
Right now, we’re living in the age of information overload. While technological advancements on the jobsite create huge opportunities, it also creates the challenge of extracting meaningful data from the vast volume of information that’s generated. The challenge is in connecting the dots, finding the correlations, and identifying crucial trends or critical risks that customers need to act on. This isn’t easy, but since our risk engineers have long-term relationships with clients, they can take their experience, combine it with the customer-level analytics to identify the key actions. Testing out technology also requires a shift in traditional thinking. Can we use algorithms to help the decision-making process? Can we automate the outputs for quicker insights on the jobsite? One recent example is with our Subcontractor Default Insurance (SDI) product line and our partnership with TradeTapp. In SDI, subcontractor prequalification is the cornerstone to a successful program. TradeTapp’s platform helps our clients in assessing the companies they hire as subcontractors by using an algorithm designed to identify risks based on industry data. The platform compiles subcontractor data into detailed, comprehensive profiles that include financial benchmarking, ratio calculations, and maximum exposure recommendations. All of this comes together to support better hiring decisions.
Some speculate that construction and technology is a passing fad, while others say it’s here to stay. What’s your take?
One could argue that it’s a cluttered tech landscape with new players and new technologies continually popping up. However, I’d say there are several technologies that are here to stay, such as monitoring atmospheric conditions, weather analytics and wearables. Over the last few years, we’ve been evaluating and testing these with our clients. For monitoring atmospheric conditions on a jobsite, we’re actively working with Pillar Technologies. With the ability to monitor temperature, humidity, pressure, carbon dioxide, dust particles, and other element, this delivers immediate value to a client’s risk management program. Plus, from an insurer’s perspective, it gives us insights for underwriting risks across property, general liability, excess and professional and pollution products.
With weather analytics, we’ve done groundbreaking work over the past couple of years with Athenium. There’s huge opportunity in de-risking weather exposure out of the entire Construction Project Lifecycle (preconstruction, while constructing, and post construction). Think about some of the recent crane accidents during extreme high winds. With weather analytics and real-time insights, in the future, we’ll be able to help prevent these tragedies from occurring. Wearables is another breakthrough for the industry. With the ability to monitor movement of assets, both people and equipment, wearables are bringing tremendous benefits to several of our contractors. By gaining insights on where, when and how injuries can occur, this helps contractors improve jobsite safety and allows us to optimize risk engineering strategies.
Looking ahead, there’s still more work to be done, but we’re at the forefront of the tech space, working hand-in-hand with our clients. For the last two years, we’ve made innovation and technology the main theme of our annual customer council meeting. We bring the technological expertise to the table and have an open, collaborative conversation with our clients. We want to know what’s working for them, what are their top concerns, what do they value most, and where do they want to be in the new few years. Our goal is to be the insurance partner to get them there.
Gary Kaplan leads AXA XL’s North America Construction business. Gary’s professional career spans nearly 40 years primarily focused in underwriting management positions of Construction and Energy. Want to talk Construction Tech with Gary? Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is the latest article in our ongoing series focused on construction and technology. Read Gary’s previous article, Technology is reshaping the construction industry.