I am no tech geek—far from it—but I am a fan. I think technology has a role to play in our lives and in our industry. The past year certainly has accelerated what were fringe applications to the mainstream, especially on the sales and marketing side as builders scrambled to connect with prospective buyers who were unable or unwilling to stop by the sales center. But I’d like to see tech applied to other aspects of home building operations on a much broader scale, such as production, construction quality, and warranty services, to weed out waste, if nothing else.
Do I think it’s the silver bullet for those and other industry ills? No. And that’s because a given technology is just a tool for a given process and the strategy behind it; it is not the process or strategy itself.
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In other words, if a process is inefficient, ill- or under-informed, incomplete, or unused and otherwise a hot mess, no technology in the world will make it better. In fact, applying tech will probably just make it worse. It’s a simple “garbage in, garbage out” problem, and our industry is rife with it. We invest in the latest shiny object only to find it doesn’t work, then blame it for not understanding our language, and move on, rarely thinking to look in the mirror to confront a possible truth: It was our process that failed, not the technology. A manual accounting system may be archaic and time-consuming, but if it’s comprehensive and accurate, it will deliver reliable data far better than any software brought in to “fix” a systemic problem.
Ever wonder why housing can’t seem to incorporate off-site construction into its production practices, even with critical and chronic skilled-labor shortages and a widening sales-to-start gap that threatens profitability? One significant but often overlooked barrier is that single-family construction documents lack the requisite amount of detail and accuracy to support the low tolerances of panelized or modular methods. Until that changes, off-site construction will remain a bit player because you can’t bang wall panel into place or cut it to fit like you can a stud ... however inefficient and costly that is to do.
We frequently report on this issue, both by highlighting builders that have cracked the code and by publishing insights from industry experts, such as Scott Sedam, Kevin Oakley, and Tony Callahan, who see builders making the same mistakes with technology time and again. At some point, maybe it will sink in.
In the meantime, if you’re tired of wasting money on gadgets or are leery of the next new thing, maybe take a step back, examine the process (and strategy) being targeted for a tech “solution,” and fix that first. Then, when the process is running smoothly, apply a tech-based tool to boost it a bit and perhaps make it easier to fill the bucket with clean, comprehensive—and garbage-free—data.