Contruent Blog

Top Technology Trends in 2024 for Project Cost Controls

February 2024
by Rich Humphrey, Chief Product Officer

As a new calendar year gets under way, forecasts of emerging and ongoing trends in construction technology are providing a glimpse into the innovations and capabilities anticipated to shape how projects are managed and delivered.

Owners as well as engineering and construction firms are challenged to deliver capital programs/projects amid the persistent challenges posed by the surging demand for large-scale capital projects, resource and labor shortages, and increasing requirements for project performance transparency. New solutions enabled by the latest technology are needed to meet these challenges in order to deliver projects on time and on budget.

So, how can the construction sector optimize time and cost management? As the old saying goes, time is money. In an industry where every moment counts, acknowledging the relationship between technology and project cost control is necessary to understand and explore the practicality of these trends.

From artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud computing to robotics, reality capture and digital twins, leveraging such technologies is an opportunity to improve how we manage projects to keep them on budget, on time and within scope.

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

It’s probably not surprising that AI and machine learning (ML) top the list. While often used interchangeably, AI and ML are distinct, yet interconnected technologies.

AI mimics thinking or intelligence-based tasks traditionally performed by humans, such as forecasting project estimates, optimizing schedules and monitoring jobsite safety to minimize delays and claims.

As a subcategory of AI, ML relies on algorithms and continuous statistical data to improve task performance over time autonomously. The more data it has, the better it can “learn” how to perform specific tasks, allowing it to evolve and enhance its capabilities without manual human intervention. For instance, through sensor data, an ML system can anticipate when equipment requires maintenance.

Like ML, other key AI technologies that are helping to transform the way construction projects are planned and delivered include generative AI, computer vision, autonomous robotics and natural language processing.

In the context of project cost control workflows, where enormous amounts of cost and performance data are managed, integrating AI introduces substantial value in several ways.

You can drill down within dashboards, reports and power BI to analyze data within select areas of interest or where there are problems. It still takes some time and effort to find and manage that data. AI can do that work for you. Within a chatbot interface, it provides an easy way to query the system for the answers you’re looking for and make sense of the data.

AI can also be used to go in and look at all the data in the system and ensure the information is high quality, with no errors, omissions or breaks in business logic. This is a significant benefit for project controls professionals who rely on quality data to ensure they make the right decisions.

Additionally, by drawing on project type, historical data from similar projects, geographical factors, and current trends, AI can be leveraged to predict, with confidence-level indicators, whether project costs align with expectations. This approach has an advantage over today’s cost-forecasting methodologies primarily based on formula-based calculations, as it better leverages the current project data and previous similar projects to deliver improved forecasts.

Another example of the application of AI for project controls is the use of computer vision to improve the quality and timeliness of actual cost data from the field. This includes mobile applications, fixed and mobile cameras, as well as drones, enabling reality capture that AI can use to recognize construction objects and track project progress and quality. This high-quality, real-time data capture of project actuals can then be fed into project controls systems that calculate earned value and derives clear project controls analysis to help teams make better, faster decisions.

AI integration enhances decision-making and is a forward-looking tool for optimizing cost control effectiveness. It’s quickly becoming a must-have to meet project demands and stay competitive.

For AI to function, though, you need cloud technology.

Cloud Platforms

Cloud technology has been around for a while. However, its capabilities have evolved, making it indispensable for optimizing project management and cost control of complicated, prolonged builds.

How does a cloud platform support project cost controls? It’s all about connecting data and people — projects stay in control when extended teams can easily collaborate and coordinate activities on the same data the cloud inherently enables. Real-time cost data and documentation are corralled into a cloud-based virtual warehouse. With this critical information centralized within a single source of truth, access is simplified, allowing immediate visibility into cost performance and progress. Various stakeholders who manage project costs are connected with web and mobile applications that enable fast and easy access to capture and analysis of data.

Additionally, cloud platforms connect construction leaders and project team members to collaborate on the consolidated data, whether at opposite ends of a mega capital project jobsite or across the country. With everyone able to work with the same information simultaneously, this establishes a foundation for more efficient decision-making to keep costs in check.

Robotic Technology

The labor-intensiveness of construction, coupled with the perpetual shortage of people resources, creates automation opportunities.

Advanced automated technologies that augment human effort or replace the more grueling, arduous, repetitive work — such as machine-driven grading, bricklaying and jobsite surveying/inspection — deliver the sought-after productivity boost construction companies are looking for.

Beyond the evident efficiency gains, those robots and camera-equipped drones are logging task completion details: what, where, when, how fast and at what production rate. This wealth of data seamlessly flows back through the cloud, integrating with cost management software to produce real-time cost and schedule data that provide timely insights into project progress.

By diminishing the reliance on time-intensive, manual processes and associated high labor costs, robotic technology can significantly reduce project costs. Task completion times are streamlined, and rework is minimized — translating into tangible financial benefits.

Reality Capture, Mixed Reality, Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality

These advanced technologies represent ways we can interact with actual and virtual worlds.

  • Reality capture (RC) uses photogrammetry technology, such as 3D laser scanning or 360-degree cameras, to document an existing structure that can be translated into a virtual 3D geometric model. AI processes the captured information and efficiently assembles it into accurate model representations.
  • Mixed reality (MR) is a mashup of an RC-created geometric model with a building information modeling (BIM) model. AI recognizes construction items in photos to compare to a BIM model to track progress.
  • Augmented reality (AR) superimposes a scaled computer-generated image onto a real-world location as seen through a smartphone or tablet camera or AR glasses, such as a digitized structure viewed over its proposed environment.
  • Virtual reality (VR) engages users in a digitally simulated world through a headset that blocks out the real world.

As jobsite-specific technologies, RC and MR capture actual progress and quality in real time and, therefore, can inform project cost controls and reflect progress with high precision. The latter two, AR and VR, are more experiential. But they also contribute to saving and controlling project costs by exploring design options before construction, identifying and removing errors and omissions during design, and pre-construction planning.

Digital Twins

A digital twin is a living, evergreen, 3D virtual model of a project/built asset. It relies on the constant input of data from advanced technologies like IoT sensors, AI/ML, reality capture, mobile apps and drones to help monitor and manage its progress and performance during and after construction.

Monitoring and controlling this built asset replica in real time considers not just its geometric information but its nonstructural data (meta data), including cost and schedule.

Especially when employing IoT and AI/ML technologies, construction leaders and project owners can gain insights into real-time and predictive performance by using a digital twin. These insights improve current operations and inform how different scenarios may affect future cost performance, so there’s time and opportunity to plan for and minimize the impact on costs.

It’s also much easier to identify issues related to the design, existing conditions and path of construction in a 3D/4D/5D virtual environment vs. reviewing traditional 2D plans and Microsoft Excel spreadsheets. It’s not hard to overlook a numerical error or a missing field among thousands of columns and rows. But connecting project data to a digital twin to be visualized as a 3D model makes it easier to see those kinds of mistakes visually as it’s being built before your eyes.

Digital twins also provide model-based progress tracking in the field, so you know how much money was spent — labor, equipment and materials — to build a particular section. This data gets fed into the controls system for accurate tracking. That makes digital twins a far more accurate and cost-effective way to plan and build the project in the virtual environment vs. finding issues in the field where they’ll dramatically diminish the ability to keep project costs in control.

Systems Integration

Capital projects see a constant influx of data. Construction companies need to be able to leverage all that data so team members can perform their roles effectively and make timely decisions regarding cost control. When that data is sequestered in disconnected systems, or those systems don’t talk to each other, its value diminishes, calling its accuracy into question. Valuable time is wasted looking for and reconciling needed data. This is the reality for many companies.

For effective cost controls, all systems — including estimating, bidding, scheduling, cost engineering, contract management, cost accounting and field management — must connect and align. It requires open systems, APIs and connectors to ensure data flows seamlessly. Yet research has shown that without these, a mere 4% of all available data is used to make decisions. That might be hard to fathom until you consider that 30% of enterprises lack integrated systems. And of the 70% with systems that do talk to each other, error-prone integrations result in data loss. These lived consequences are making migration to systems integration an attractive option for construction companies.

Keeping Costs in Control with Technology

These technologies have demonstrated solid potential in changing how we deliver capital projects. They’re also poised to improve our ability to control cost and schedule, particularly as technological advancements evolve their respective capabilities.

Together with cost control software, greater efficiencies can be realized. Learn about Contruent and how its cost management software can integrate with these trending technologies to deliver the most effective cost controls. Request a demo today!