The State of Construction_High Tech and Human Touch
From the first time early humans made primitive tools to build shelters, there have been construction risks. They built structures to satisfy the universal human need for shelter and little else. But humans developed competitive and creative drives that pushed them to build more elaborate and artistic structures. As those structures increased in complexity, the associated risks increased.
Construction is one of the most creative industries in existence. It always has been. Look at what humans have built. From the Pyramids to the Burj Khalifa.
And as construction projects have become more and more challenging, the industry has innovated new tools, techniques and processes to keep pace with the demands of ever more complex designs. And the insurance industry has likewise been forced to increase our creativity to address the resulting risks.
One of the ways we’ve been able to mitigate construction risk is through the use of technology. Today, some of the most essential tools on a job site don’t use bits or blades, but bytes.
The proliferation of tech tools used to increase safety, reduce risk, enhance productivity and improve profitability has exploded in the last 5 years. We hear from vendors on a weekly basis with a pitch for a new piece of high tech safety gear contractors should be using. Sometimes it feels like auditions for Shark Tank.
From wearables that track a worker’s wellness to remote sensors that detect moisture to geotracking devices that monitor worker positions, there are devices that help address the pain points that contractors most acutely feel: Quality, Schedule, Budget and, of course, Safety.
But these connected technologies generate massive amounts of data, which is their job. However, that amount of data is a risk in itself. Imagine having a box of thousands of neatly sorted nuts and bolts. All different sizes. English and metric. Stainless. Brass. Zinc plated. Galvanized. Hex bolts. Tap bolts. Socket screws. Coarse thread. Fine thread. Now imagine the entire contents dumped out on the floor of the building you’re working on. That’s basically what it can be like trying to make sense of the huge number of job site data points. But if only it were that easy.
How do you get meaning from the data on your job site? How do you know what’s the most important? Then how do you know what the impact is on your project? Do you even know if the devices you are using are the best suited for your job site or project? And if you wind up measuring the wrong things or misinterpreting their meanings, you could be increasing your risks rather than lowering them.
Do you remember when everyone used to talk about Big Data? It always seemed like a monolithic thing. A big pile to be sorted through, like the nuts and bolts. But big data is even more complex now.
This time think about the pile of nuts and bolts and imagine they are now divided up into 100 piles hidden in multiple locations and on different floors. What thread size do you need? Where’s a matching nut. But first what style of bolt is most appropriate? How about the length? Oh, and the finish. How many of those matching sets do you need? It’s going to take time to find those piles and sort through them by hand. And you’ll waste a lot of going from pile to pile and floor to floor looking for the right combination.
Fortunately, there are powerful tools now to aggregate, filter and help us make sense of all these data. AXA XL has been dedicating significant resources to develop and apply Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning bring together data from the firm’s numerous legacy and custom systems to increase our own accuracy and efficiency.
These terms are sometimes misused or used interchangeably, however they are different concepts. Machine Learning is a subset of AI and uses algorithms to study small to large amounts of data to find meaning and interpret nuances. All the while, improving in accuracy without being programmed. AI is the underlying capability of a computer system to perform functions in a way that appears human, applying machine learning as a tool or set of tools.
AXA XL’s North America Construction team – working with several contractors – is piloting the application of Machine Learning and AI to help them gain a clearer picture of their risks not only from job site to job site, but from hour to hour. This will allow our team, as risk partners, to understand coverage needs, ensure coverage is crafted to fully meet those needs and price it fairly. The data picture will also provide our risk engineers with insights to further mitigate risks to people, progress and profitability.