Construction software integration (i.e. different types of software ‘communicating’ or working together) has always been elusive. That’s no longer the case, and as new platforms continue solving the construction software integration problem, the industry is readier than ever to adopt new tech.

A software platform once included all the things you needed to build software programs. Nowadays, though, it’s tough to find two platform definitions that agree. However, for the greatest relevance to construction, here is a very straightforward definition: a platform is something you can build upon, or a “structure that allows multiple products to be built within the same technical framework.”

Like mixed-use development

When you build a mixed-use development, you’re creating a structure or series of structures that enable various types of activities. For example, you might have restaurants and retail on the ground floor, while overhead you’d have residential units. The overall structure forms the platform, whereas the offices and retail units perform specific functions (and 20 years from now, additional modules might be built for use as residential units, or the offices might become crafts shops). So, the platform enables you to add, change, and integrate functions as needed.

Construction software: early days

Twenty-five years ago, as tech companies created software for construction, they each focused on a particular function. Some companies made estimating software, others accounting software, and still others—scheduling software. Even those making enterprise packages were still not covering all the bases. It wasn’t a great model for construction—in the real world, the functions involved in construction are all linked. Your estimate informs the schedule, which informs the budget.

Companies had to exert a lot of effort and shell out a huge amount of cash to have distinct pieces of software linked.

Since these software makers only focused on one niche and used proprietary code, construction software integration required a monumental effort. Companies wanting to jump on the tech bandwagon had to exert a lot of effort and shell out a huge amount of cash to have distinct pieces of software linked. No wonder construction was slow on the tech uptake.

Goodbye, on-premises software

Much has changed since then. The cloud offers construction companies a platform that ideally helps them marry the functions of their different software types to obtain seamless, integrated computing environments. Platforms use application programming interfaces to link apps together, so they share information—that’s integration today.

Tomorrow, integration in construction will go a step further, offering the industry the potential to move into a tech renaissance period.

Welcome to the future

Advanced analytics, intelligent processes, and advanced user experiences will combine to form one of Gartner’s 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2018. In just a few years, all your apps will use some aspect of artificial intelligence. In their simplest form, they’ll suddenly start reducing the time you spend on the mundane. On a more sophisticated level, they’ll help you make better decisions by smartly showing you what’s most important.

Other advances will include intelligent items like plumbing pipes that sense leaks and fully autonomous earth-working equipment. These will begin to collaborate within their spheres. For instance, the smart plumbing pipe will tell the valve to turn off the water, and the autonomous grader will tell the autonomous dump truck not only where to dump but also how much to dump.

Digital twins and real-world items

By 2020, Gartner predicts that 21 billion sensors and endpoints will connect with each other. Many of them will have digital twins, or digital representations of the real world item (RWI). The digital twins will report on the states of the RWIs. They will also be able to act as test beds for exploring changes to the real world items. Digital twins will adjust the RWI, so it responds effectively to changes in the environment, and so that it works most effectively within its system.

These integrations can play out in construction across almost all aspects of active projects. They will continue to add value to facilities, civil projects, and transportation infrastructure. For instance, the sensors in building components will have digital twins on your laptop or tablet. As soon as installers activate the sensors, you’ll have confirmation of their conditions. If there’s a problem, you’ll know that, too. And if there’s a problem 10 years from now, facilities managers will also know.

All of these new technologies need to integrate with one another as well as with your core systems. That job falls to the platform. Today it’s the cloud, tomorrow it could be the cloud coupled with edge computing, and just around the corner—machine learning running over a cloud platform. The new world of integration through platforms is shaping up to be far more than just apps and hardware, and it’s going to affect construction more than any other tech to date.