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How PCL is building a digital future with smart technology

As the construction industry begins to embrace smart technology, PCL construction is at the forefront of change, showcasing how connected devices coupled with a reliable network can transform the industry. 

To say construction sites are busy is an understatement. It’s not unusual for a new project’s budget to run into the millions and involve hundreds of workers, along with thousands of pounds of raw materials. But industry veteran Mark Bryant, CIO of PCL Construction, would also add another item to that list: paperwork.  

The sector is highly regulated, requiring regular audits, reporting and inspections—leading to mountains of administration. Historically, much of the work was conducted manually and resulted in paper-based records, most of which were simply filed away. Unfortunately, this means that many of the learnings, data and efficiencies gained during a project were likely shut away in a file cabinet and lost after a site’s completion.

That’s just one practice Bryant is striving to transform. Today nearly every PCL employee in the field uses a smartphone or tablet as part of their job. But that’s just the beginning. With a focus on technology innovation, he’s helping to propel the business into the future, as a forward-thinking leader in the field.

The usage gap: Why digital adoption in construction can lag

Compared to the auto and manufacturing industries, construction has been hesitant to embrace technology and implement IoT. According to Bryant, a big reason for this caution is due to the nature of the business itself. “People often see million-dollar price tags for a new build, but in reality the margins for construction are very low and the risks are very high. And that’s assuming the entire project goes exactly to plan.”

“People often see million-dollar price tags for a new build but in reality, the margins for construction are very low and the risks are very high.”

Mark Bryant, CIO, PCL Construction

But with the rising cost of materials and a shortage of skilled workers, innovations can become a big advantage. “We always aspire to be a better builder and so we use technology to help advance that,” says Bryant. “But we're not looking for things that are just shiny and new. We're looking for tools that can actually make a difference.”

Leading the charge: How PCL became an innovator

Change and transformation are nothing new to PCL, which has operated for well over 100 years across multiple countries. “We were one of the first companies in construction to move the entirety of our infrastructure to the cloud,” says Bryant. “We’ve implemented more technology in the last 5-to-10 years than in the entire history of construction combined.”

Despite the rapid change, Bryant remains deliberate in his plans for continuous advancement. “The role of technology is to support our business and help us focus the finite resources we have.”

On-site, on time: Using digital tools to accelerate project schedules 

Concrete is a core component of most projects, but the material is surprisingly sensitive and requires monitoring and testing to ensure a safe build. In the past, concrete pieces had to be taken off-site so an external company could test for strength and maturity before the project could proceed. “Today we put IoT sensors in the concrete and receive real-time data on the temperature, humidity and other concrete conditions without leaving the site. This technology is our electronic eye, giving us a view of what’s really happening.” The tool is already being used on several PCL projects including a 46-story office tower in Toronto’s financial district. Scheduled for completion in 2023, the sensors have already saved the team both time and money. 

“We’ve implemented more technology in the last 5-to-10 years than in the entire history of construction combined.”

The connectivity connection: The changing role of networks in construction

Some businesses consider the internet as an afterthought, but more and more, construction professionals are viewing the service as a critical part of a site, both during and after the build. “It’s become a core piece of the puzzle, the lifeblood to our organization,” says Bryant. “PCL and Rogers have a long history of collaboration on projects across the country.”

This shift comes from both a desire to advance the industry as well as demand from the end customer, who increasingly want a network capable of supporting smart technology. “I think telecom today is more valuable than it has ever been, and it will continue to be,” says Mark. “PCL is striving to be the best builder in this digital era. But we can’t do it on our own.”

For more information on the latest IoT disrupting the construction industry, visit our Smart Buildings & Construction hub. To learn more on the connectivity options powering everything from skyscrapers to smart phones, explore our network features.