We Need Tech Now

Mark L. Johnson / November 2021

A recent McKinsey & Company survey of business IT activities over the past year has found that “technology investments are proving their worth” for companies that have made them. In fact, technology-driven changes “are more ubiquitous now than ever,” the McKinsey Global Survey says.
    
Would tech investments prove their worth for wall and ceiling contractors? Do we need more tech investment? Will advanced technology play a role? I say yes, yes and yes.

Sophisticated Negotiating
First off, some feel our industry lacks some sophistication.
    
In September, the Steel Framing Industry Association presented the webinar, “The State of Steel Framing—And What You Can Do About It,” which featured industry thought leaders discussing the cold-formed steel framing supply chain. During the webinar, Travis Vap, CEO of South Valley Drywall in Colorado, spoke about managing construction contracts during a time of volatile pricing and material availability.
    
While positive about prospects, Vap says the steel framing industry needs to become more sophisticated to continue winning contracts away from wood and concrete providers.
    
“We are using unsophisticated tools to negotiate in a sophisticated market,” Vap said. “We’re going to have to change and navigate to a far more sophisticated model.”
    
Vap suggested tying material prices to an index when bidding jobs.
    
“We feel that by using the tools from the CME Group, and by partnering as a supply chain—working together to give cost certainty, or at least cost transparency—we can allow clients to make decisions to move more steel projects forward,” Vap said. Here, I assume he was thinking mainly about South Valley Prefab, which buys steel coil to roll-form studs for many projects. But, the price indexing idea has larger ramifications.
    
Vap believes mechanical contractors break out their materials on a separate bid tab and tie prices to an index. They’re being transparent by “lining out every single piece of material, every foot they’re doing, and are negotiating their contract on margin,” Vap said.
    
Clearly, the industry would need communications technologies and average price and futures indexing products related to steel. Sounds like a good idea. According to McKinsey, “scaling up data analytics is a critical enabler of new revenue and increases to existing revenue streams.”

People-Focused Tech
Second, McKinsey found that people-focused technology integrations “link most closely with value creation.” This means successful firms are using technology to attract, retain and up-skill talent. Doing so boosts revenue streams, reduces costs and augments the employee experience.
    
A key area for wall and ceiling firms is to invest in tech that enhances talent development and vendor management. Such efforts, McKinsey says, “are among the highest-value moves to make.”
    
Most companies, however, are forgoing these investments right now. “Even though the people-focused initiatives link most closely with value creation, they are the least likely ones that companies plan to pursue in the future,” McKinsey says.
    
Of course, the need to address talent is urgent. Companies believe they will have to replace or retrain two of every five employees “to make up for their organizations’ skills gaps,” McKinsey says. Ironically, only 15% of respondents said their firms plan to pursue a talent-strategy transformation in the next two years, McKinsey says.
    
The December 2020 Research Series paper from the Foundation of the Wall and Ceiling Industry, “Technology Impact on the Means and Methods of Wall and Ceiling Construction,” recommends that wall and ceiling firms “expand [their] talent development mandate. Make it your goal to hire more IT people and more virtual design and construction specialists.”
    
Best to do that.

Advanced Tech Is Coming
Finally, McKinsey found that “advanced technologies can generate outsize value in tech transformations.”
    
Advanced tech? An example would be Internet of Things (IoT) technologies. McKinsey says 42% of respondents “saw significant cost reductions” from IoT investments.
    
The Foundation's “Technology Impact” paper says that “IoT-connected power tools are becoming ‘intelligent’ as tool manufacturers start making tool production and movement data available to subcontractors.” Tools that use RFID and Bluetooth tags, readers and asset management software and metrics will soon be “relevant to the interior finishing trade,” says the paper. IoT will help firms make better production management decisions.
    
It’s all a matter of time. Will technology prove its worth? Yes. Will more wall and ceiling firms need to make tech investments? Yes. Will advanced tech eventually play a role in driving good business? That’s affirmative.
 

Mark L. Johnson writes for the wall and ceiling industry. He can be reached via linkedin.com/in/markjohnsoncommunications.