Architect’s Corner: Digging In: The Digital Toolbox

The Impact of an Increasingly Digitized Construction Industry

By Keri Tolar, Senior Digital Manager for Sto Corp.

(Editor’s Note: Keri Tolar is Senior Digital Manager for Sto® Corp.  Over her 23 years at Sto, she has been responsible for a variety of initiatives in sales and marketing including: digital tool development, website, SEO, social media, lead generation and inside sales, CRM, and various projects focused on enhancing user experience and automation.  Tolar is a life-long Georgia resident and graduate of the Georgia Institute of Technology.)

The combination of the pandemic and an aging workforce transitioning out has pushed the construction industry into what can only be considered its most digital era.  With this leap comes the adoption of digital tools that allow professionals to be more efficient, precise, and productive.

         Building material manufacturers have their own role to play in this, and it is important for them to understand their customers’ most pressing challenges and create digital tools that provide a solution.

         What challenge does a tool help a customer overcome?  How does it expedite the construction process? Is it simplifying day-to-day workflow?  The key is to design and offer effective and efficient solutions for all parties involved in the construction process, including contractors, specifiers, and architects. 

The Turning Point

         The construction industry has been historically slow to change.  Buildings have been built the same way for a long time, and the adoption of new building practices has been a slow process.  This is partially because it is not an industry with a large influx of young professionals demanding modern digital processes and tools like video conferencing.

         This sluggish pace of adoption was the norm prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.  During the onset of the pandemic, lockdowns and the limited access to everything resulted in an industry scrambling for solutions to overcome the many challenges presented to them.  Overnight, the industry had to change the way we worked with our customers.  So many interactions had been in person, and we had to adapt and learn ways to assist our customers, such as offering continuing education online and accelerating digital tools to make some of the construction process decisions more self-service.  The result was an expedited adoption of digital processes.  Therefore, smart manufacturers created their digital offerings to assist customers who were limited by pandemic-induced barriers.  Those who already had digital tools in place, such as project submittal processes, realized the importance of capitalizing on this opportunity to enhance their visibility amongst customers.

Simplifying Complex Processes

         Effective digital tools help customers through the journey of product discovery through purchasing.  For manufacturers, it is critical to offer digital tools that allow the user to conduct self-service, easily find information, and walk through processes on their own time.  This is especially vital for manufacturers who offer many different building materials or systems.  Digital tools that help sift through the abundance of information in a simplified manner are the most beneficial.

         When creating a new digital tool, it is important that it directly addresses solving a challenge and provides a straightforward, time-saving solution.  For manufacturers, it is also important to have accessible sales teams for direct assistance to respond to additional inquiries.

Easy User Experience

         Manufacturers must prioritize ease of use when it comes to digital tools.  The interface should be easy to understand and not take a lot of time for users to become proficient in.  For architects, contractors, and installers, time is money, so the most effective digital tools address a particular pain point and solve that problem in short order.

         For example, if an architect needs to select an exterior wall system but is not sure where to start, a wall selector tool designed to understand basic project needs first and foremost can significantly streamline the process.  By asking questions about requirements, project type, construction type, and more, a manufacturer’s digital tool can help narrow down choices to just a handful of select wall system options.  This type of easy-to-use digital tool can provide the user with all the information they need to make an informed selection that will deliver a visually appealing, long-lasting, high-performance wall.

         Ease of use is particularly important for customers who are not digital natives.  For newer talent entering the construction space, digital tools are second nature.  However, for professionals who are adopting these types of technologies later in their careers, user friendliness is critical.  Digital tools, that are difficult to understand, have poor user interface and too many clicks, for example, present more of a problem than a solution, highlighting the importance of a smooth user experience that provides the customer with a tangible benefit.

The Future of Digitization

         Digital tools are poised to shape the future of the industry through innovation, ease of use, and their ability to simplify the design and specification process for busy construction professionals.

         From an aesthetic perspective, digital tools are helping designers step out of the box to deliver one-of-a-kind structures.  Today’s leading manufacturers recognize the value of each building having an individualized design, and digital tools are providing a solution to this challenge.  They are allowing architects to leave a distinct impression on every project.

         In all, the pandemic accelerated the digitization of construction, but this is a trend that will continue to evolve.  As older generations retire, professionals accustomed to finding information online and working digitally are also becoming decision makers.  They are having significant influence across their organizations, and that sway will ensure that construction stakeholders will increasingly rely on digital tools to streamline processes and operations.

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