Bridging the Technology Quotient (TQ) Gap in Construction

You're likely familiar with IQ and EQ, but what about technology quotient or TQ? Defined as the ability to use technology to make a difference, TQ isn't just about knowing the technology; it's about tech fluency and how we converse with each other about it.

Having a high TQ is critical in construction, especially if we want to continue innovating and ensure a high ROI from those innovations. However, in my 25-plus years in the technology space, I've never seen a lower TQ across all IT and business professionals.

Yes, our teams have tools they can use proficiently today because we've been investing in these digital tools for a decade. But here's the thing: why aren't we seeing the productivity gains and the return on investments that we have built in our business cases?

Part of it may be because teams struggle to extract information from the technology they're using, which means it’s difficult to convey insights to others. Industry data shows that the average construction manager spends over a day and a half each week just looking for data necessary to do their job. What's more, 80% of construction businesses have only a beginner or emerging level of data capabilities or data maturity.

Without the right data, we won't be able to speak the same language, which means we'll struggle with actionable conversations. Higher TQ will help us translate information using a common language to have a shared understanding across the organization. This is especially important as emerging technologies like AI continue to transform our industry.

So, how can we raise our collective TQ? I recently took the stage at AU 2023 to discuss construction's technology quotient and what teams can do to improve. 

Watch my recent talk at Autodesk University 2023:

How to raise your organization's TQ: It starts with a driver

Raising an organization's TQ requires a particular driving factor—i.e., an event, policy, or incentive—that encourages people to change their tech practices. 

Drivers come in many forms, but two of the most powerful ones include life-changing events and money. Let's explore these in more detail below. 

Major events that push people to learn and adapt

I'm sure we all remember what happened in March 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic drove everyone home, and firms had to shift to remote work.

Over at Burns & McDonnell, this meant transitioning to video conferencing with Microsoft Teams. Prior to the pandemic, we were transitioning to Teams. As an IT leader, I spearheaded the effort to move from Skype to Teams, but I faced a lot of resistance. Once we were all sent home, it was astonishing to watch over 12,000 people adopt technology so quickly to ensure that business continued. COVID was the major event that became the driver for this dramatic technological adaptation and enhancement of TQ. 

Remember, people have the capacity and willingness to improve and increase their TQ, but they often need a trigger or the desire to do so.

The universal language of money

Another type of driver is the universal language of money.

Raising TQ requires everyone to make better technology decisions based on the business outcomes they're trying to achieve. The problem is that when it comes to thinking about technology adoption and the cost to make it happen, most people have poor digital judgment. 

I like to compare it to adopting a puppy without getting your family on board first. It's easy to sign the adoption papers and bring that cuddly fur baby home. But once the puppy is in your house, reality sets in, and you realize that adopting a puppy isn't a one-time cost. There are ongoing expenses, such as food, vet bills, and toys, plus the other people in your family will be required to care for that puppy.

The same goes for software. Without a high TQ, people lack the digital judgment around the technology lifecycle, not to mention the necessary human interaction, support, and financial investment required to get the ROI that your business case had planned.

Raising TQ involves driving awareness for the total cost of ownership (TCO). TCO is essential for clarity, and it's way better to do your total cost analysis before the transaction. You may invest six or seven figures in technology. That's simply the ticket to entry. Getting value from that investment requires people with technology skills and, even more importantly, an organization that is willing to adopt the new technology.

We put TCO awareness in action at Burns & McDonnell by providing transparency in technology spending. Every quarter, one of my teams delivers what we call the Bill of IT. This bill offers a detailed breakdown of technology expenses rather than having tech as a simple line item. We provide them with the cost data so our company leaders can determine the benefits and value they're getting from our systems and tech.

I also lead a cloud financial operations team, which focuses on monitoring our products' consumption. They implement a model wherein they charge our business units based on their actual tech consumption. 

All of this helps mature our organization's understanding of technology, and they're using the universal language of money to do so. These processes provide decision support for business leaders to understand whether their technology investments are delivering value. Overall, this drives higher TQ, and digital judgment improves.

Using learning and development to increase our collective TQ

Much like with developing any skill or trait, improving TQ should be a continuous process. We need a training muscle that encourages everyone to embrace learning about tech and innovation. One of the things that I like to say now is, “learning is our job.”

Leaders must find ways to embed learning and development into people's daily jobs, making it easy for teams to consume and absorb content.  

I really like Accenture's example of this. They created a YouTube channel filled with snackable learning options. The videos are less than two minutes long and contain 101-level content. These are things that people can do asynchronously in their own time. They're simple, short, and highly digestible.

I'm planning to build and deliver this to my company so that when we have conversations across the board, we have them in a more common language. Looking toward the future, I want to ensure that people get the training they need when they need it. Take, for example, folks in the field. One of the challenges these teams have is finding the time to sit through classes and learn a whole new platform. Implementing snackable learning helps alleviate this by empowering them to learn in the moment. After all, most people just need a question answered or a feature explained; they don't necessarily need entire weeks and months of training. 

So, by integrating continuous and accessible learning tools into teams' daily workflows, we ultimately raise our collective TQ.

Final words

As CIO, my job is to equip and empower others outside of the IT organization to safely build and maintain digital capabilities. 

Achieving that hinges on having a high TQ and sound digital judgment so we can all make good decisions. That way, those outside of IT can partner with us and help build better and more secure solutions. And tech isn't just the responsibility of the IT department. Everyone has a role in shaping our digital practices. 

My goal is to enhance everybody's ability to learn so that we can raise our collective TQ together.

Shelly Brown

Shelly Brown is the CIO for Burns & McDonnell, a family of companies bringing together an unmatched team of 10,000 engineers, construction and craft professionals, architects, planners, technologists, and scientists to design and build our critical infrastructure. In her nine years with Burns & McDonnell, Brown has led or supported many advances of the firm’s business critical platforms to better serve clients, including launching a new intranet, modernizing conference room meeting experiences, advancing the adoption of Microsoft Teams and Phones, and other large enterprise IT change management initiatives. Brown has worked as a software engineer, IT manager, sales engineering practice leader and program manager at companies including JMA IT, HNTB, Computer Associates, and Sprint.