Unlocking the Voice-Enabled Construction Site

Voice technology offers construction an exciting chance to craft solutions that can chip away at the productivity gap that has plagued the industry for years.

Kristen Wong
Strategy Analyst

Construction is one of the largest sectors of the world’s economy, but its trailing productivity has resulted in a $1.6 trillion annual gap. Much of this can be traced back to two main sources: miscommunication and issues with data access and management. Miscommunication cascades out to inefficiencies across the jobsite, resulting in lost money and project delays. In fact, over 80% of construction projects go over cost, and 20% take longer than scheduled to finish. As construction companies have invested in communication and data solutions to curb these effects, technology has presented its challenges. With 36% of construction professionals citing a poor fit between technology and their processes and procedures, it’s clear that an optimal solution needs to work harder to conform to the realities of the jobsite.

Enter voice technology. Over the past few years, top voice tech companies have been positioning themselves to capture the voice-enabled workforce. Perhaps the most obvious move has been Microsoft’s Cortana pivoting from personal to workplace assistant and integrating with the Office 365 suite to do things like read emails, manage calendars and query documents. Most enterprise solutions, like Cortana, currently center around the office, but there are smaller players going after an owned approach to developing a construction-specific voice assistant. In late 2019, University of West England announced the development of a voice-activated hard hat that will also be fitted with an AR visor. While this may seem like a drastic jump compared to the technology used on jobsites today, trying to accelerate innovation within the construction industry is not without good reason.

Voice breaks free of the many constraints that have traditionally kept technology away from the construction site. One of the greatest affordances of voice tech is a hands-free way to input and retrieve data. This use case alone can span far and wide from simple note dictation to managing project schedules. Voice is not limited to a certain hardware convention or look; the flexibility of the technology allows it to be housed within existing devices or hardware that can be built for the jobsite. Because it can operate without a screen, voice technology can minimize distractions while delivering only pertinent project information. Similarly, in use cases where a screen may be necessary, voice can be enhanced with a partner screen-based experience to provide quick access to supporting visuals like drawings, regulations and plans that can aid efficiency and mitigate productivity time sucks. This adaptable and pervasive nature allows voice technology to appropriately scale to a jobsite with ten workers or one hundred.

Voice breaks free of the many constraints that have traditionally kept technology away from the construction site.

The benefits of voice technology can be felt throughout all parts of the construction ecosystem. For site management, voice tech can centralize information that sits in fragments today between face-to-face conversations, digital communication and various project management tools. Workers can query this information through voice and if needed, escalate issues to site management using voice as a messaging tool. For construction services and tool providers that incorporate voice technology into their offerings, rich behavioral data can be captured to inspire future product ideation. Voice tech can also sit at the enterprise level for these providers and aid in employee information sharing and customer field testing. A recent study published in EPPM-Journal has found that on average, construction workers had about a 64% success rate when testing a construction-specific voice assistant. While this indicates that voice technology can play an effective role on the jobsite, it also poses a fundamental change in these workers’ day-to-day routines. Successful adoption and acceptance of the technology will hinge upon the trust it can build through proper training and onboarding. Here are some of the ways that the construction industry can start to lay the foundation for voice tech and increase the chances of successful adoption:

Start Small & Designate First Steps

When building a voice experience, it’s recommended to define a small set of use cases and execute them well before creating more robust feature sets. This modularized small-batch approach is also useful for training purposes in an industry that will likely undergo an initial learning curve with using voice technology on the job. By designating a simple, repeatable task to be done through voice tech, such as clocking in for the day, workers can build routine with the interaction over time.

As more features are rolled out, workers can apply their learnings to new, possibly more complex tasks in the future.

Establish Sonic Cues

A major component of creating an intuitive voice experience is sound design. Sonic cues, such as system navigational sounds and confirmations, can make experiences feel less daunting and build confidence that data is being captured during hands-free input. Looking forward, sound can also tighten collaboration on the jobsite, such as signaling when a worker needs assistance or completion of a project component. As tool companies and other construction services consider how to incorporate voice technology into current offerings, sonic branding should be developed to create recognition and provide extensible audio assets that can be used consistently across other properties.

The benefits of voice technology can be felt throughout all parts of the construction ecosystem.

Integrate with Established Systems

Voice technology works best in a system where each modality can play to its strengths. Some construction technology companies, such as ProCore, have open APIs that allow you to build on top of their existing functionality. Instead of creating an experience that sits alongside these solutions, it may be easier to integrate voice tech into the existing software. This would provide the advantage of a built-in user base that is tech forward and already familiar with the product functionality. Most of these software solutions also provide mobile and desktop components, which would make the experience more robust and flexible for use beyond the jobsite.

Voice technology offers construction an exciting chance to craft solutions that can chip away at the productivity gap that has plagued the industry for years. As construction sites scale the use of connected systems, voice tech can also support more sophisticated overview areas such as worker safety, project management and predictive analytics. Although the success of voice technology in construction is ultimately dependent on worker buy-in and cooperation, there is unique promise that a hands-free technology can deliver to such a hands-on industry.

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