Rethinking Paper in Construction: The Push Towards Digital Efficiency

This article was submitted as part of BuiltWorlds’ Verified Contributor Program.

It's no news that the construction industry has been undergoing a digital transformation journey. Digitizing the industry comes with the novel mission of creating safer workplaces, increased margins, and better quality. Many talented individuals and strategic companies are at the forefront of that evolution. However, one main construction aspect remains a barrier to change and evolution: paper.

If you go to any jobsite today, you are bound to stumble upon paper, one way or another. From the large sets of drawings to the dozens of binders containing more information. Most of these papers serve as a reference to the folks in the field. They refer back to it when they have a question or when they want to verify one thing or another, and that's one of the main obstacles standing in the way of digital transformation:

  • Stuck in Time: Paper, with its unchangeable nature, feels like a relic in the fast-paced construction scene. It's like getting a telegram in an age of instant messaging; charming, but not quite up to speed. This disconnect leads to outdated instructions guiding today's projects, paving the way for errors we could have dodged.
  • Heavyweight Champion: Paper's physical bulk is a throwback no one asked for. It's impractical, cumbersome, and feels out of place amidst the hustle and bustle of modern construction sites where agility and quick access to information are key.
  • Old-School Maze: Relying on paper traps us in a maze of manual updates and endless paperwork, making the whole process feel like a game of telephone where the message gets lost along the way.
  • Green Guilt: The environmental toll of our paper use is hard to ignore. From the trees cut down to the energy used in production, it's a reminder that maybe it's time to embrace a greener path.
  • Price Tag: The costs associated with paper don't just end with the purchase. They spiral into the realms of printing, storage, and the hidden expenses of fixing mistakes that stem from outdated or incorrect information.
  • Digital Detour: Our paper habit is putting a speed bump on the road to digital transformation. It's like clinging to a trusty old map when you've got GPS at your fingertips. This reluctance to let go of paper is holding back the potential unleashed by digital tools that promise to revolutionize how we build.

In this story of construction's evolution, the message is clear: it's time to break free from the paper chains. The future is digital, and it's calling for a shift towards practices that are not just about ditching paper but embracing a new way of working that's smarter, more connected, and sustainable.

Connected digital workflows and processes will enable the industry to create many efficiencies, with benefits trickling up and down the entire value chain. The main piece in the middle of all this transformation is information in the form of data, which would enable clearer and faster communication.

The shift to paperless is a north star at this point in time. The focus should be on specific processes that would highlight information flow bottlenecks and replace them with digital tools to unblock them. So, as we navigate this shift, let's rethink our attachment to paper. It's not just about moving from print to pixel; it's about transforming how we build, collaborate, and innovate in an industry that's ready to step into the future.


Hamzah Shanbari, Ph.D., is Director of Innovation at Haskell, and author of the forthcoming book "Paperless Builders: The Why, What, and How of Construction Technology.”