GC’s are testing an ABUNDANCE of incredible new technology with a renewed focus on solving the real pains of site teams. The ENR FutureTech conference provided tremendous value through case studies and a dose of humble learnings. I know you’re going to say “you’re biased” but – we even heard a fresh call, encouraging GC’s to continue opening up to new partnerships with external vendors.
Notable solutions include AI software solutions automating field observation processes (like that from StructionSite), Boston Dynamics loveable ‘Spot’ the robotic dog, new investment models from Shadow Ventures and Infrashares (we’ll all soon be able to buy shares in Contech start-up’s) and CraneView’s tool to improve crane utilization and construction methodology.
What surprised me is that many studies were presented in isolation and I found myself asking, what is their plan to connect the new solutions to their fundamental construction processes and workflows?
Our next industry challenge is going to be to creating new partnerships and integrations to utilize all of these incredible new tools as part of our delivery models.
For the average contractor – a digital foundation and consistently digitized process are not a given. Though in progress, we’re nowhere near this across the board. We’re hearing industry professionals say they’re open to new solutions and change but ‘we’re suffering from app fatigue’ and we’re blinded or overwhelmed by all of the options – particularly when it comes to field operations.
Two other constraints were key talking points at FutureTech:
The strain on resources and funds needed to bring new solutions online.
Second, as raised by Rose Hall, Strategic Operations Manager for Risk Engineering at AXA XL, “senior leaders think innovation should come from the field, but most in the field think it should come from leadership…you end up with a stalemate”.
“senior leaders think innovation should come from the field, but most in the field think it should come from leadership…you end up with a stalemate”.
An absence of a digital foundation + handcuffs on funds + unclear responsibility for innovation creates quite a conundrum making it very difficult to apply these new tools!
We know for certain that for new technologies to provide the wide-scale performance and productivity improvement we’re seeking, they ultimately need to be linked to fundamental processes. This provides us with action-based data that we can use to see gaps and refine our processes. But how do you get buy-in for this change and ideas from the field to ensure you’re focusing on the right problems?
Leaders at Mortenson, Clayco and DPR shared their inner workings.
Data as an asset
The term ‘data’ was de-mystified magnificently by Tomislav Žigo, Chief Technology Officer and VP at Clayco. He said, “raise the awareness that data is an intangible asset – you need to understand what is it that you do on construction sites and as a part of design processes. The bulk of what we do is actually gathering data.”
Building your foundation
Your foundation or construction ‘tech stack’, is your preferred combination of platform solutions. Ideally, they are modular to grow with your needs and aren’t solutions which solve just a single problem (a point solution). These typically fall into the pillars of a Project Management Solution (like Procore), an Enterprise Resource Platform for finance (like Sage or CMiC), design and document management systems and field operations and EHS solutions (like ours for example). A foundation gives you the ability to digitize your processes and gather data.
When employees can drive innovation, they become more invested in data.
You have to be a marketing and sales champion for innovation and digital change. Formalizing communication channels to support a culture of innovation was covered in impressive depth by Ricardo Khan, Senior Director of Innovation at Mortenson and Henning Roedel, Western Region Innovation Lead at DPR. The goal here is to consecrate your innovation program by improving collaboration and communication with teams around your initiatives. DPR and Mortenson have used Bright Idea but there are many others methods to suit different business scales. When you have the ability to crowd-source issues and ideas from you field teams, you’re hearing from experts living these issues day in day out. Also, teams can engage with solution testing and selection, increasing buy-in and uptake.
By focusing your efforts in these areas, you’re able to rigorously align precious resources and investment with the most pressing organizational problems – all the while increasing participation and engagement.
Be a light in your organization, be curious, champion change, let the fancy tech solutions inspire you and remind you how cool construction is. But establish your foundational tech stack to cover your fundamentals first so that you don’t get blinded by the flashy lights.