EW Survey: Contractors and digital technology 2008

Way back in the dark ages of 2004 we surveyed you, our readers, about what you were doing with digital technology – GPS systems, computers, software and internet/web usage. After four years we thought it would be interesting to ask the same questions. The differences won’t surprise anybody – almost all of you are hooked up to the Internet and using a full range of computers and digital technology.

The biggest change we saw between 2004 and 2008 was in computer use in the shop. Only one in four technicians used a computer in 2004. By 2008 that figure had more than doubled to well over half of our respondents. (See question number 7.)

Software usage remained fairly consistent over the four years with the exception of fleet tracking and telematics programs. Use of these more than doubled. (Question number 8.) The use of digital equipment other than computers showed some interesting trend lines. Only 2 percent of respondents said they would be purchasing total stations in 2004. That tripled to 6.3 percent in 2008. And probable purchasers of GPS mapping/survey equipment and earthmoving equipment both saw a more than 50 percent boost. (Question number 10.)

Of the contractors using GPS technology, an overwhelming number are satisfied, with less than 4 percent saying in 2008 that it does not meet their expectations. (Question 12.)
Here’s a look at the numbers then and now:

1. Do you use a computer as a regular part of your business?
2004 2008
Yes 82.4% 92.9%
No 17.6% 7.1%
2. Do you use a laptop or a desktop computer?
2004 2008
Laptop 22.4% 23.2%
Desktop 88.7 36.6%
Both N/A* 40.2%
3. Do you use e-mail for business purposes?
2004 2008
Yes 70.5% 98.2%
4. Do you use the Internet/Web for business purposes?
2004 2008
Yes 83.3% 97.3%
5. Do you use the Internet/Web to research or look for new construction equipment?
2004 2008
Yes 75.2% 94.2%
6. Do you use the Internet/Web to research or look for used construction equipment?
2004 2008
Yes 67.8% 87.9%
7. Do any of your service technicians use a computer in the shop?
2004 2008
Yes 24.3% 57.7%
No 75% 42.3%
8. Do you use any of the following construction-specific software?
2004 2008
Accounting and bookkeeping 66.5% 65.6%
Bidding and estimating 37% 39.4%
Fleet management or fleet tracking 11.5% 27.4%
None of the above N/A* 15.4%
9. Do you use any of the following?
2004 2008
Construction lasers 78.9% 67.6%
Total robotic stations 4.2% 6.6%
GPS survey/mapping equipment 18.2% 33.2%
GPS earthmoving equipment 10.6% 16.6%
None of the above N/A 24.9%
10. Do you intend to purchase or use any of the following in the next year or two?
Yes No Considering Don’t know
Construction lasers
2004 38.4% 26.8% 25.7% 9.1%
2008 38.2% 31.1% 12% 18.7%
Total robotic stations
2004 2% 58.5% 6% 32.5%
2008 6.3% 66.9% 3.8% 23%
GPS survey/mapping equipment
2004 10% 48.6% 17.7% 23.7%
2008 17.4% 44% 22.4% 16.2%
GPS earthmoving equipment
2004 8.2% 47.7% 20.4% 23.7%
2008 13.7% 45.2% 20.7% 20.3%
Note: The following questions were asked first on the 2008 survey and were not present on the 2004 version
11. If you use GPS earthmoving equipment, what type do you use?
Indicate only 17.5%
Machine control 10%
Both 72.5%
12. If you use GPS equipment, what is your opinion of the technology?
Exceeds my expectations 28.4%
Meets my expectations 68.2%
Does not meet my expectations 3.4%
13. If you don’t use GPS, why not?
Not necessary for my applications 59.5%
Cost 20.9%
Don’t know enough about it 15%
Complexity 0.7%
Other 3.9%
14. Please check the category that best describes your business. Check all that apply.
General building construction 39%
Highway/earthmoving, heavy construction 37.8%
Water/sewer, utility construction 29.5%
Demolition 21.6%
Landscape construction 21.2%
Paving other than highway 11.6%
Other 22.8%
* Indicates that question was not asked in 2004

Comments from our survey takers:

“Digital technology continues to get better. Upgrading personal skills is my challenge.”

“Digital technology makes the best better, the fast faster and anyone who doesn’t get on board will be left still trying to invent the wheel.”

“Good, but still too expensive for the little guy.”

“Manufacturer sponsored seminars and demos would be very helpful to us because we are unfamiliar with GPS technologies available. I would attend a seminar on how to use such equipment.”

“Some individuals in the field are reluctant to use it because they seem to be intimidated by the perceived complexity.”

“Time and material savings using machine guidance is notable.”

“They need to have workshops for dummies. I would love to use more of it, just not sure how to get started.”

“Digital technology has greatly enhanced our ability to get and process information. Field conditions can be a limiting factor on the success and use of technology in the field, especially from a computer standpoint – durability and screen visibility.”