Contractors and digital technology

Not long ago conventional wisdom had it that heavy equipment contractors didn’t need computers and all the other assorted technologies they bring with them. The criticism was that heavy construction was the least automated business in the country.

We set out to test that theory in February and surveyed our readers on this topic.
What we found defies that conventional wisdom.

Most of our respondents use a computer as part of their business, and many are doing a lot more than just shuffling digital files and paperwork. E-mail is popular with 70.5 percent of respondents using computers, but what really got our attention is that three out of four of the respondents use the Internet to look for and research new construction equipment, and two out of three use it to hunt down used equipment.

Another area of interest is the use of laptops and computers in the shop to help manage equipment maintenance issues. Almost a quarter of our respondents are doing this.

The most popular type of software in our survey was accounting and bookkeeping. But it’s also obvious that our respondents see a lot of value in bidding and estimating software, with 37 percent using it. We were surprised to see nearly 20 percent of our readers using CAD/engineering software. These are expensive programs and require a person with a civil engineering background to run, but their high adaptation rate makes more sense when you take into account that many of today’s CAD programs also tie in with bidding and estimating software. Fleet management programs logged a respectable 11.5 percent.

In the field it’s not surprising that almost 80 percent of respondents are using construction lasers. Use of sonic systems and total robotic stations only registered in the single digits. But GPS survey and mapping equipment racked up an 18-percent participation rate and 10.6 percent of our readers say they are using GPS-enabled machines.

When we looked at your peers’ buying intentions for the upcoming year we start to see a division between the contractors who are interested in this technology and those who said “no” or gave “no reply” to the buying intentions questions. When asked if they intend to buy or use construction lasers, 64.1 percent said “yes” or “maybe.” For sonic systems and total robotic stations 11.7 and 8 percent, respectively, said “yes” or “maybe.” And approximately 28 percent said “yes” or “maybe” to GPS survey and mapping equipment and GPS earthmoving equipment. But a substantial number (around 50 percent) said flat out “no” to sonic systems, total robotic stations and GPS, and a little more than a quarter said they had no plans to purchase lasers in the next year.

On the software front around half the respondents said they would not be purchasing or using any software products in the coming year, which stands to reason since most companies wait several years before upgrading their software. Despite the slow turnover in software, 39 percent said “yes” or “maybe” to bidding and estimating software, 43.4 said “yes” or “maybe” to accounting and bookkeeping software, 21 percent said “yes” or “maybe” to fleet management/tracking software and 28.1 percent said “yes” or “maybe” to CAD/engineering software.