5 Domains of Construction — And How the Future of Technology Will Impact Them

Nate Fuller
7 min readJan 24, 2022


Source: Shutterstock

The construction industry can be hard to pin down. It’s not like other industries with standardized processes. Its customized nature is why many in the construction world struggle to make heads-or-tails of its digital future.

Because of the constant re-shuffling of project delivery to meet new customer requirements, it can appear harder to change in construction. If each project is different, where do we even start?

Having worked with Top ENR contractors on technology & innovation programs, I find that one of the best steps to prepare for the digital future is to take stock of your existing business stack. Unlike a tech stack, the business stack helps you understand the value chain and guide the prioritization of efforts to avoid common mistakes in construction.

Whether it’s design-build or CMAR or some other delivery type, regardless of the project form or market sector, all building is fairly consistent and the technology trends that are impacting us in the consumer world are slowly making their way onto construction sites.

The five domains identified here can be used to help organize your product portfolio, identify end users within project teams, and give structure to complex project delivery. Solving specific pains within each of these five areas not only improves project outcomes, but can help guide internal process innovation for large construction companies.

Everything points to a world where detailed project level data is harnessed to inform the digital strategy of entire construction firms. Doing this well will differentiate construction companies in the next decade.

In fact, the project level is where leaders in construction innovation should be spending the bulk of their time. Field activity makes up more than 85 percent of a typical construction company’s operational costs and it’s where construction lives and dies.

Five broad domains of construction. Source: Placer Construction Solutions

These five domains are major cost centers within projects. Although each individual one comprises a different share on each project, they all exist in one form or another, on every project.

#1. Preconstruction

At its core, preconstruction involves alignment of project stakeholders with the owner’s requirements. It includes things like bidding, engineering design, work sequencing, and project planning.

  • Type of end user: Estimator, owner, engineer of record, project controls, project manager

All construction starts in preconstruction, but not all preconstruction ends once crews are mobilized and construction starts. That’s because certain preconstruction activities continue throughout the project lifecycle, as new activities kick off or changes are encountered.

  • Enabling technologies: Generative design, BIM, virtual reality, construction simulation, artificial intelligence

Technologies that enable better, more efficient preconstruction work are ones that take the guesswork out of project design and project planning and make project delivery more efficient overall.

  • Example companies:

#2. Equipment

Labor saving equipment was the cause of huge productivity gains in the early 20th century. Going forward, equipment automation has the potential to drive productivity gains even further in construction.

  • Type of end user: Operator, equipment manager, mechanic, foreman, rental account managers

Depending on the type of project, heavy machinery can make up a large percentage of total project cost. Certain construction companies, like heavy civil and earthmoving contractors, often find it more cost effective to own their own equipment and treat them as a profit center.

  • Enabling technologies: Machine control, robotics, Internet of Things, augmented reality, equipment telematics

Technology that impacts construction equipment provides improved diagnostics on the health of equipment, fleet optimization through utilization and productivity data, and increased automation with machine control and remote operation.

  • Example companies:

#3. Field Services

Field services are the wide web of support that facilitates on-site construction. These involve things like equipment fueling, surveying, document control, quality assurance, site communication, change management, etc., etc.

  • Type of user: Surveyor, contract manager, project engineer, document control specialist, quality inspector

This is a broad umbrella of activities that aren’t directly involved with the act of construction but are nonetheless necessary for project completion and close out. Without field services, construction activity would grind to a halt and the owner would not be pleased.

  • Enabling technologies: Communication devices, drones, digital inspections, digital drawings, collaboration tools

Many of the technologies that impact field services are closely related to the consumer products that we use in our daily lives. It’s therefore unsurprising that this area has seen some of the most construction tech activity to date.

  • Example companies:

#4. Materials

At the end of the day, construction’s all about installing specified material in the right place at the right time. Everything else, all of the construction planning and equipment selection and labor to install it, revolves around that material being sourced and available on-site when needed.

  • Type of end user: Procurement manager, material suppliers, project engineer, prefabrication / plant manager

Construction materials include everything from specially fabricated steel to bulk concrete delivery to the dirt that’s moved from point A to point B — project completion can’t happen without it.

  • Enabling technologies: Digital supply chain, blockchain, remote expert, 3D printing, distributed inventory

Technologies that impact material management are similar to those that impact other supply chains, such as improved visibility and just-in-time inventory. The difference in construction is that fabrication can be customized and some parts are tailor-made to fit project design.

  • Example companies:

#5. Craft Labor

You can’t build a project without the expertise of the craft workers who install it. This means a large part of construction involves coordination and having the right skills on the job at the right time.

  • Type of end user: Foreman, operator, laborer, specialty subcontractors, unions

The throughput of skilled labor is one of the biggest item when it comes to construction productivity. Worker safety, workface planning, and achieving the right crew balance all ensure efficiency and minimized waste during the course of construction.

  • Enabling technologies: Timekeeping tools, exoskeletons, remote field support, robotics,

Technology that allows workers to do their work smarter, safer, and more productively are at the core of this. Data around subcontractor activity and daily work logs can later be leveraged to help manage labor activities even better.

  • Example companies:

Nate Fuller is Managing Director of Placer Construction Solutions, advising leadership teams to transform their organizations in ways that improve performance and agility at the field level.

He provides construction companies with a field assessment that delivers transformative information about their field operations and is proven to accelerate innovation & technology adoption for Top ENR contractors.

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Nate Fuller

Managing Director at Placer Solutions. Previously helped create Technology & Innovation programs for Top ENR companies.