ConTech focus on interface of sectors

Eighth-grade student Drayce Wallace learns the basics for creating an Oculus VR game in the Donaghey College of Engineering and Information Technology building on the University of Arkansas at Little Rock campus in this Aug. 2, 2023 file photo. Drayce was attending UALR’s Virtual Reality Summer Camp. The ConTech Innovate conference, which is scheduled for Friday, Oct. 6, 2023 on the Little Rock campus, will explore how emerging technologies such as augmented and virtual reality can advance the commercial construction industry. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staci Vandagriff)
Eighth-grade student Drayce Wallace learns the basics for creating an Oculus VR game in the Donaghey College of Engineering and Information Technology building on the University of Arkansas at Little Rock campus in this Aug. 2, 2023 file photo. Drayce was attending UALR’s Virtual Reality Summer Camp. The ConTech Innovate conference, which is scheduled for Friday, Oct. 6, 2023 on the Little Rock campus, will explore how emerging technologies such as augmented and virtual reality can advance the commercial construction industry. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Staci Vandagriff)


Strengthening business connections between construction firms and technology providers is the focus of a conference Friday at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and the school's business college is highlighting the need to emphasize the convergence of the two sectors.

The Donaghey College of STEM, which emphasizes the use of science, technology, engineering and math in business education, is holding the inaugural daylong ConTech Innovate conference to explore how emerging technologies can advance the commercial construction industry.

Those technologies include augmented and virtual reality, pay apps, cloud-based services and artificial intelligence.

"We are trying to make our students well-prepared for the market and industry is telling us they need both construction or civil-engineer minded and tech-minded people," said Lawrence Whitman, dean of the college. "It's the intersection of those two areas that industry needs to improve on and we definitely need our students to improve on those areas."

VCC Chief Information and Technology Officer Jerry Horani is a member of the STEM college's advisory board and pushed for the conference to harness technology advancements to benefit the construction sector.

"The construction technology landscape today is very fragmented," Horani says. "We have gone from an era not too long ago where there were no technology solutions for construction to an era when there are so many. We can do a better job of educating companies on what's out there and how to pick the best technology solutions for them."

Wise deployment of technology can provide companies an edge on competitors in the market, Whitman said. "Construction companies are really starting to promote themselves and how they use technology in construction," he said. "It gives them a competitive advantage."

VCC of Little Rock is one of the top 100 construction firms in the United States and touts itself as a technology-driven company that benefits from tech applications in virtually every area of its business, Horani said. "Technology is used throughout the whole life cycle of a project," he said.

For communications provider Windstream Holdings Inc., the conference is an opportunity to feature cloud-based information technology services.

"Construction today is about real-time communications and data analytics," said Mike Stafford, a vice president at Windstream who serves as chairman of the STEM advisory board. "All of that requires connectivity. We think this will help motivate and educate those construction companies that want to get to the next level."

Sessions will focus on procurement, supply chains, fintech and data management applications that can be deployed in commercial construction.

UALR students will gain insight into the importance of cross-training in engineering and technology to enhance their career development, according to Whitman. "Engineers, whether mechanical or civil, need to know how what they do impacts technology and IT people need a better understanding of the construction industry," he added.


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