Analytics in Construction: Beginner’s Guide to Data Visualization and BI 

Every industry has trends that come and go, so it’s understandable leaders get wary of the latest buzzwords. The true test of what’s a shiny toy object versus what has longevity is the value it provides. Take Business Intelligence, or BI for short. BI gives contractors the ability to visualize data and quickly decipher it so they can recognize trends on the job site and take action. The buzz around the power of analytics is for good reason. BI and data visualization signify a huge step forward in construction technology and productivity. 

In this episode, Frank Di Lorenzo Jr. and Ben Harrison from Preferred Strategies share how to take the data you have and leverage it with the help of BI. They also share how BI can be used with other key technologies, such as machine learning and artificial intelligence, to put powerful reporting in the hands of everyone on the job site. 

 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Data visualization makes KPI tracking actionable and timely. According to Frank, visualized KPIs give a contractor the same power that the dials and instruments in an airplane cockpit give a pilot. When everything is going right, it’s hard to say if altitude is more important than how much fuel is left in the tank. But when the fuel is getting closer to the red line, the pilot is immediately alerted where to focus. Frank says data visualization is much the same. It gives insight into the analytics of a project to reveal how it is doing and offers alerts on KPIs contractors should focus on.
  2. Contractors need a data feedback loop. Labor used to be tracked by filling out time cards, only for them to be put in a filing cabinet never to be seen again. Now everyone on the job site has a phone or a mobile tablet that’s always connected and providing real-time data, like safety forms and task progress, back to the main office. This connection creates a feedback loop where the information flows from the job site to the office and back again on a continual basis. This is important because it is this feedback loop that gives BI and visualizations their power. Giving users the ability to see the data analytics from others on the same job site ensures that everyone makes the best decisions with all of the information available. 
  3. Business Intelligence far surpasses spreadsheets. In its day, Excel was a useful tool for basic tracking and reporting on a job site or business –– that has all changed with BI. BI consists of dynamic data coming from different parts of the business and provides historical, current, and predictive views of business operations on the fly. Unlike Excel, this means data only needs to be entered into the system. From there, BI will process the data instantly to deliver insight into your KPIs. 

 

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Episode Transcript:

Mike Merrill:

Hello, and welcome to the Mobile Workforce Podcast. I am your host, Mike Merrill. And today we are sitting down with Frank Di Lorenzo Jr, the client relationship director and Ben Harrison, the product director at Preferred Strategies. Today, we’re going to discuss the predictive data and data visualization. I’m looking forward to this unique conversation with these gentlemen today and looking forward to getting a fresh perspective about project information. So hello, Frank and Ben. Welcome on the podcast today.

 

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Hey Mike, thanks for having us. I know Ben and I are both really excited to be here. 

 

Ben Harrison:

It’s great to be here. 

 

Mike Merrill:

Awesome. Well, thanks again. So before we jump into the conversation too far, can you gentlemen give the listeners just a quick introduction on your background, maybe your experience in the industry, and if we can start with Frank, that’d be great. And then Ben, you can follow.

 

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Sure. Happy to. So Frank Di Lorenzo Jr. Thank you Mike. As he mentioned, I’m the client relationship director of Preferred Strategies but Reader’s Digest version of my background, I’ve been in the industry construction ERP-wise for 36 years. I’ve implemented just over 700 construction accounting systems, grew up with a solution a lot of folks know out there known as Timberline. That’s where I got my start. And what’s interesting is I’ve seen solutions evolve. Back then, we started early on, it was getting computers to process financial data. And then we grew from there and we started putting systems into other departments, project management, estimating, CRM and then we matured further to excellent field mobile applications to collect data in the field. Very important. 

So now just for one year, I’ve switched my career to where I think the industry’s evolving to now, which is we’ve got these systems in place. We’re collecting mountains and reams of data. How do we make it actionable information? So I’m having a lot of fun now for one year working on the data side of things, Mike. So that’s my background.

 

Mike Merrill:

Awesome. Ben, how about you? 

 

Ben Harrison:

Sure. Again, Ben Harrison. I spent about 18 years as a business analyst and then a business manager for a construction company, Heavy Highway Construction but did a lot of analysis, a lot of reports. We’ve watched the technology merge over time. But really the idea of how do you take that information and turn it into actionable data drove me in my path now to where I’m at a company that that’s all we do is business analytics. And it’s honestly an exciting job. It’s fun. We get to have fun every day.

 

Mike Merrill:

Well, that’s awesome. We are certainly in a period or an age I would say of information overload at times. So lots of data to look at and lots of things to analyze. So appreciate all that you gentlemen do for the industry. So a couple things I wanted to just ask about. So what’s the difference between front end and back end data? Those are terms that we hear. What are your thoughts?

 

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Well, I’m going to take a first stab and then Ben I’m going to ask him to take it a little bit deeper, but from a business application standpoint, we have our data sitting wherever it may be hosted. And I hope I’m answering your question, Mike, but I’ll go ahead this way, our data viewpoint or your ERP may be hosted in the cloud, private cloud, Azure, on-prem. How do we get to our data in a meaningful way to report on it? And what if I have data that is living in multiple places, some on-prem. So I’m in One Cloud, some in Azure. So how do I take all of that information, transform it into, I’ll call it a front end data cube that I could report on. 

So I think the difference is transactional data for processing, which is what all the ERPs are optimized to do and taking that data and transforming it into something that’s report friendly. So in a nutshell, that would be my first pass at that. And Ben, why don’t you add a little more color to it if you will. 

 

Ben Harrison:

That’s exactly would be my take that transformation of data from transactional to be aggregated suitable for analysis. There is a metadata layering that happens there that makes it more useful. But again, you think about data and information. I like to think of the front end data as information and the back end as all the detailed transactions. And so that’d be how I would define it.

 

Mike Merrill:

Okay. Great. So that’s a great foundation to start from. Now talking about that data, when you heard the term predictive data, how does that differ from flat data and maybe what are those differences once you have that data in store?

 

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Yeah. I have my thoughts on that, Ben, but I think you would have a deeper insight. So if you wouldn’t mind. 

 

Ben Harrison:

Sure. So often I think about what you hear these days in the articles I read about predictive analytics, right? Taking that data and understand how to predict it. And I think that has to be context, right? Context driven. When you think about what you want to analyze, you want to analyze backlog and everyone knows what backlog is. It’s your contract amount minus your earned revenue so far. But you can’t hope that the data model will discover the relationship between those. And so the predictive data is arranged in a way to where that backlog can be analyzed. The end result is that you get insights you might not have had before with predictive data. 

I know that at the company I worked for, we struggled for a long time at understanding housing stats, right? Housing was a big part of our construction business. And what you wanted to do is find what’s the smoking gun that indicates housing stats down the road. Is it on permitted land? Is it county permits? What drives that? But again, the predictive data is going to allow you to take something and use it to understand what’s going to happen. And there’s lots of ways that could be structured.

 

Mike Merrill:

Okay. So I’m thinking of the term maybe triggers, is that what you mean? Data triggers that would make you look at a certain thing?

 

Ben Harrison:

That would be it. Yeah. So predictive analytics is… So here’s another example. The company I used to work for used lots of diesel fuel, lots of it, or heavy highway, heavy iron usage heavy iron. Changes in fuel prices is a big deal, right? So the predictive data would say, “If fuel goes up so much, what’s that going to do to my cost of sales, right?” Because I know the type of work I do, the type of equipment I do, but that lets you prepare and plan for… The trigger would be the fuel price change, but the action is, should I buy futures? Does that make sense? So triggers is a good way to put it.

 

Mike Merrill:

Great. Well, all right, so we’ve got the data types, we’ve got triggers and things that are indicators. There’s another term out there, Frank, maybe you can answer this the term BI, what does that mean to a contractor for those that may not be familiar?

 

Frank Di Lorenzo:

We have our buzzwords that come and go in our industry. We’ve all lived that. It could be cloud it could be mobility. Now BI is a big buzz word, stands for business intelligence. And to me what that means and what I think it means to a contractor is being able to decipher my information and see the trends so I can act on them before it’s too late. So in other words, in construction, most of our teams still look at data in a very text printed 2D format. There’s a great book I’m reading. It’s what I could recommend. It’s called Data Strategy by Bernard Marr. And one quote in there is when you visualize data, you’ll see things that you never knew were they are right in front of you. 

So part of business intelligence I think is being able to see the data in a more meaningful, impactful way so you can act upon it. Now you take that and you’ve coupled that with some of the machine learning capabilities that AI, artificial intelligence that Microsoft provides, and there’s a lot of power that you can put in the hands of reporting. 

 

Mike Merrill:

Great. Great answer. So really in my mind, I’m visualizing maybe the difference between a paper report that’s just printed out and I’ve got to pick through the data to find out the details or dashboards and graphs and things that are more visually appealing and at a moment’s notice green or red or yellow means something to me that I can then act on is that visual.

 

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Yeah. And that’s part of it and even more. I mean, now that we’ve become truly a mobile world, just imagine having the power of all that data on your mobile device coupled with your location. Maybe whenever I’m near a certain client and they owe us more than X, I want that report to pop up on my phone and maybe I’ll go visit them. But it’s that actionable activities we can now put into play. 

 

Ben Harrison:

And I’d like to just add to that. BI is a term and it’s a ubiquitous term. But to contractors today, historically people thought about ERP systems and Frank mentioned to begin with were the financial business side of things, right? Just AR, AP, GL. But business intelligence, more and more includes operational intelligence, which is productivity rates over, under production. Right? So there’s a lot more to business intelligence. It’s a much broader thing now than it’s ever been in the past.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. That’s a great insight. I think another buzz word that comes to mind is KPI or key performance indicators that you then have with that type of data. What types of KPIs or key performance indicators should contractors focus on specifically?

 

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Yeah, I’m going to answer from what I see from gaps currently clients are experiencing in their reporting and then I’ll ask Ben to take it with his actual experience a little bit further. So key performance indicators, another buzz word as you said, Mike. And it’s really a wide open loaded statement because it could be financial KPIs on our cash performance, could be operational KPIs on a project specifically. It could be productivity KPIs on how our labor is performing, how equipment is doing in the field. So there’s a number of KPIs but as an executive, maybe I want to be able to visualize a dashboard where I have several KPIs before me. I want a snapshot of how we’re doing from a cash standpoint and I want to know if we have any issues in the field, maybe from an equipment standpoint, so different KPIs but I want them in front of me and at my fingertips. Does that make sense?

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. So to me, I’m picturing a front end and a backend to that side of the story. I mean, what do each take to be effectively managed?

 

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Well, one thing to consider is you got to get the information from the field, right? I mean, you ever hear the old adage garbage in, garbage out with all the cool stuff we have, that still applies. So provided that we put the tools in the, I’ll say the right procedures in place to collect information, make sure it’s accurate, timely. Now we can deploy all these reporting tools to establish our KPIs and our dashboards. And that’s something I know Ben, I think you’ve actually done in practice. So I don’t want to steal any thunder you may add. 

 

Ben Harrison:

No, I think that’s what I do see. You think about KPIs, think about an airplane cockpit. There’s a lot of indicators that are really important there. So it’s hard to say that altitude is not more important than how much fuel is left in the tank. But from a construction point of view, field productivity is where margins are tight. You estimate it based upon some assumptions to know whether it’s going bad or not. You can’t wait till the end of the month reports. You really need that daily productivity understanding. And then construction industry, that’s where I see the biggest benefits is that field business intelligence has given me insight into how did I do today so I can take action to fix it by tomorrow.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, that’s great. I know in my world the term we like to use, and I think companies should be more focused on than they are today is live field data. And so I don’t know that that’s a buzzword yet, but if we can make it one, we’d sure love to because I think that visibility is really what everybody’s after, wants to have their finger on the pulse of the money if they can. 

 

Ben Harrison:

Yeah. 

 

Mike Merrill:

Go ahead, Frank.

 

Frank Di Lorenzo:

I was going to say, I mean, absolutely. Think about this for a minute. I could provide you the prettiest dashboard on the planet with the nicest, most vibrant colors but if it has a column that says hours yesterday, and it’s a zero, because I can’t get that information for three days, the report is pretty useless, frankly. So having that data stream in place is very important from collection all the way through to backend.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. That’s a great analogy. And another thing, you talked about garbage in garbage out. One thing that we see and hear commonly is there are people putting numbers in that cell, in the spreadsheet or in the report that are guesstimated or estimated and maybe aren’t even accurate. So that could be worse than a zero.

 

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Could be worse. Because misinformation now is dangerous.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. All right, well, so speaking of labor in the field, we all know today the crunch in the construction industry to find mid-level skilled labor, just everybody said, I just came from a large, the 99th annual AGC event here in Salt Lake City, just a great event. It was a live event, something fun to get to with everything that’s been going on and get back in front of people again. But that was the theme of every conversation I was in. Everybody was saying, “Our biggest gap right now is just finding enough good help. We were so backlogged. We just can’t find the labor and have a major shortage in skilled employees to come and help us work on these projects that we actually have locked in.” So how can having better data or more proper and appropriately managed data get ahead of that to a degree?

 

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Ben, do you want to take that one? 

 

Ben Harrison:

Yeah. Yeah. I think I that’d be good. So that’s a great question. And I think it’s something that every contractor struggles with as long as I’ve been in the industry and has been for a few decades now, where am I going to get the crews to do the work that’s been important. Part of that is understanding your crews and the company I came from, we had A-level crews, essentially your A-level crews, you kept busy all the time, right? If there’s no work for them, you put them down the yard cleaning stuff up because you just want to make sure they never go find a job elsewhere. Then you had your B-level crews who are pretty good and then your C-level crews. So part of that is if you don’t have good analytics, you can’t understand your true capacity. And I think contractors need to have that understanding of what’s possible and even turn work away because it can be expensive to get the wrong crew on a job that you’ve been with really tight margins. Right? So does that help? I thought that answers for me the question.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I think that’s great. And you both spoke about just getting that predictive data or that trending, the productivity ratio. So I think some of what you spoke about also would be helpful in knowing in two months we’re going to have a major shortage. We better start getting ahead of that if you’re doing that.

 

Frank Di Lorenzo:

I’ll just add really quickly. One other thing, I think it’s one thing to find quality talent but to retain it is another thing. And I think part of that retention is the employee’s experience at that company and providing them proper tools to do their job is one. I can’t imagine, some young talent in the industry going to work at a company and saying, “Okay, your reports are paper-based.” Or, “Start writing your time on this notepad and we’ll collect it later.” That causes stress that reduces that employees, I think, job experience in total. So I think data helps you enjoy a better experience on the job because you know where you are, there’s less surprises, less angst and the proper technology tools help with that retention as well.

 

Mike Merrill:

No, that’s great. You mentioned reporting and it just makes me think, I was a contractor a couple of decades ago, used to be a general contractor. We self-performed a lot of work of our own also. And the capabilities in reporting today versus back then, or I mean, it’s just two completely different worlds. So how has BI changed reports that contractors can actually enjoy today, for the last decade or so?

 

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Ben, I think you could share with us that one.

 

Ben Harrison:

Sure. I’ll jump on that. I obviously, I think the most important thing is mobility, right? The idea that technology… I can remember our first laptops we gave to Formaway long, again, decades ago. And that adoption level changed a little bit but it was still you’re filling out a time card and an Excel sheet and sending it in. But the idea that I now have a tablet, the phone or a mobile tablet that’s always connected, not only allows me to provide that real-time data back to the main office, safety data, punchless data, just anything that’s there but also allows me to see data back consolidated from other people in the same job site, so that the biggest thing to me that has changed in the last 10 years is the expansion of what we can expect to have in the hands of a foreman or a project engineer who’s out on the job site.

 

Mike Merrill:

Okay. So I’m hearing like a loop basically. Is that what you’re saying? A data loop where that’s actually getting back to the field instead of being trapped in a file cabinet in the office?

 

Ben Harrison:

Yes.

 

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Data feedback loop. I like that, Mike, I think that’s spot on.

 

Mike Merrill:

And from there, what’s the value of having the field plugged into that information to make those decisions?

 

Ben Harrison:

Well, there’s all sorts of implications. I think one of the things I saw most of the company I worked for was improving on safety, right? So we did lots of near miss recordings and you look at compliance of not safety but even environmental compliance and not being shut down for a day for whatever reason drives all sorts of things. So I guess for me, it’d be hard to say, how could you not live that way now? Right? If you’re going to be in business and you don’t have that visibility on the job site, I don’t see how you stay in business.

 

Mike Merrill:

Certainly you have to be competitive. So one of the other words that’s been floating around in the conversation, we’ve talked about data visualization, what are some options within that term that relate to construction today?

 

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Yeah. I’ll take a first pass Ben and then certainly I know you can add some more color to it. But when you’re visualizing your data and there’s some favorite charts we have, one’s called a waterfall chart. So if you’re looking for, am I above or below the line, if you will performance over budget, under budget is an example, that’s where a waterfall visualization can really help illustrate that. Visualizations are really meant to make the data pop, stand out, show trends, show outliers and think about this, when you combine some of the AI and machine learning capabilities of Microsoft with those visualizations, I can now say, “Okay, here’s all my data, Power BI, what do you think?” And it will actually draw up some visualization. Some may be meaningless but others might become part of my dashboard package. So visualizations is just a new, and I think more complete way to see inside our data, if you will.

 

Ben Harrison:

Can I add to that then as well? We are getting more sophisticated, not we me and Frank, but we as a society are getting more sophisticated on visualizations. I can remember as a young engineer, pie charts were how people thought of visualizing data. And so then there’s bar charts, there’s stacked bar charts and all of these new capabilities. And now there’s these key indicator charts that break down components that you can drill through. That brings to question some sophistication that’s not natural, not natural does not explain what I mean, it brings the idea that I need to bring to the table some willingness to understand, right? Pie charts, people got led away. Some of these more advanced charts give you really, really good insight but you have to stop and struggle with them. And so that’s what I’m seeing is that the more sophisticated visualizations provide very powerful insights but you can’t just look at them right away always and see exactly what you need to see. You have to engage in them.

 

Frank Di Lorenzo:

It’s a good point, Ben. Part of our data journey and working with clients in this whole data experience is training around that, how do you take your data and visualize it? What does that mean? Where should you start? So there’s a bit of training I think that helps with that adoption. 

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. And I think back to something that you mentioned earlier, Ben, now that the field has this data and they have the ability to see what’s going on in a more real-time manner, like you spoke Frank, I think the decision-making capability is enhanced and the field is now more empowered than ever to make good decisions without waiting for approval and extra unnecessary steps and bottlenecks. Wouldn’t you say?

 

Ben Harrison:

I would. And I would emphasize that one of my bosses early on wanted to measure performance and posted on the room in the lunch room, right? So that every form is rated. And I said, “Isn’t that going to de-motivate people?” And he said, “No, no.” He says, “Nobody wants to be the last person. Some of them want to be the top person, but the fact that you’re measuring people, inspires them.” People want to excel. That’s what I believe is true. And so one of the beautiful things about better analytics is that lets people be proud of the work they do, it lets them be engaged in becoming better. And that visibility drives process improvements that you wouldn’t have dreamt of if you didn’t allow people to see that data.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. They say when things are measured or when performance is measured, performance improves is a phrase I like.

 

Frank Di Lorenzo:

It’s a good phrase. I like it as well.

 

Mike Merrill:

So one of the terms that I’ve used over the years too is businesses really need to try and find a way to look through a windshield to manage this information instead of the rear view mirror, see what’s coming at them, not try and figure out what the pillar of smoke is behind them, that they just pass by as the job blew up, so to speak. So in talking with that, so I know I’ve heard Frank say before that most of the data that’s used, I mean, its around 90% of the data, whatever some large number goes unused. How does data visualization help leverage and tap into more of that information that does exist within the company? It’s just siloed.

 

Frank Di Lorenzo:

It’s a great question, Mike. And I think part of it is having a better data strategy. So visualization is a part of that strategy. But if somebody out there is looking for just prettier dashboards, that means they’re thinking I need a report. If culturally they’re ready to say, “We need to be a data driven company.” The reason why so much of that data goes unused, I think is because they don’t have the bandwidth or the ability to get their arms around it in a meaningful way. So having a data strategy in place, allows us to greatly improve that, having access to much greater data, hopefully accurate data makes those visualizations much more impactful and value adds. 

 

Ben Harrison:

I’d jump on that as well. Frank, I agree with you 100% that that idea that you’ve got all this data and if it’s just unstructured and there’s no thought put to it, then it’s really hard to get insight out of it. But if you have this data and you actually put a little bit of work into creating a data model, and honestly, that’s one of the things we do as a company, that model now provides a framework so you can do the same type of things that Netflix does or Amazon does, right? So you’ve got a structured data set that now you can actually use tools that are available in something like Power BI to do some artificial intelligence, digging through it, where it’s as Frank said, and analytics is about trends, correlations and outliers. 

Machines do that really well. But they do that really well on a structured data set. So really we’re saying put 100 million records into a data set, structure it well, and then let a computer sort through that. And that other 85% of the data that you’re saying never gets used, it could be used but people probably won’t be doing that. Machines are going to be doing that. They won’t tell us the answer but they’re going to help ask new questions we didn’t think of before.

 

Mike Merrill:

So ask better questions because we got better data there. Interesting. So what I’m hearing then you gentlemen do not subscribe to the idea that Excel is BI.

 

Frank Di Lorenzo:

You know what? I would say Excel can be… Well, yes. Short answer, yes. But Excel can be a part of the BI. I mean, Excel is a great reporting tool. Where I say no, no, no is when I see Excel used as a data silo. So if I’m starting to depend on Excel spreadsheets where I’ve typed in standalone data, or it’s static downloaded from two days ago, not a great use. If I’m using Excel as a part of my data-driven strategy to work with data and visualize it and do what if scenarios, then it has its place I would say. Ben, what would you think? 

 

Ben Harrison:

Yeah, absolutely. Excel is a great slicing and dicing tool. It’s not a good database. And so use Excel one for what it does well, and it will serve you well. Otherwise you’ve got a maintenance nightmare.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. Yeah. That’s a great point. So speaking of automated processes or tools, how have you gentlemen seen AI have an impact on job sites today?

 

Ben Harrison:

I think it’s just coming online. For myself, I haven’t seen it have a major impact yet. I think we’re on the leading bleeding edge of it will soon but not so much adopted yet. Ben, how about you? What have you… The successes that I’ve seen again, I think it is early still. I think construction industry particularly has not figured out how to use these tools well, but from a safety perspective, I think that I’ve seen some AI looking at what are the trends where you’re looking at a lot of data and trying to understand what are the things that work? I’ve seen a few successes in that area. But we’re just beginning with AI and construction. 

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. And I think maybe some steps towards that, or at least some technology steps that I’ve seen a lot more active would be BIM or maybe virtual reality, VR. Those are some things that I’m starting to actually see out on projects. And we’re hearing about from our customers. Are those things more common and a part of what you service your customers with?

 

Ben Harrison:

I’ll take that. We do see the, particularly the GCs and the AEC companies doing that. Our customer base is more of the operational install and we’ve not been seeing that as much, but I do think those technologies do slowly filter out. But that’s again, I haven’t seen that.

 

Mike Merrill:

All right. Great. So one of the things, and even it’s the same for me too, with anything new, you hear about the fear of technology especially on the lower end of the labor perspective where people are afraid, this AI or these new tools are going to take my job. We even hear that with our mobile data collection systems, people think, well, my whole job is to key in reports all day and key in payroll manually all day. If you take that from me, I’m not going to have a job. Do you think it’s justified to have those kinds of fears? Or what would you tell people that might be worried about that?

 

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Mike, it’s a good question. I think it’s understandable. I wouldn’t say justifiable but certainly understandable. Since the first time someone hit post on a keyboard and things started happening automatically, people started to be concerned about their job security. And I’ve heard that multiple iterations of new technology when GPS came out, I’m being tracked in my truck. My gosh. You’d hear stories of techs trying to disable it or take it out. They were afraid of that tracking. Now that it’s become mature in the industry, people have adopted it, they know the value of it. And I think AI is just going to be another case in point of that. So with AI, I think there’s some unknowns, fear of the unknown but as it becomes more mature in the field, it will be something they don’t want to live without.

 

Mike Merrill:

Great. So what I’m hearing if I read between the lines, change is good as long as that change is improvement.

 

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Change is good. Change can be feared. It’s okay to have a certain amount healthy but work through it for a better end. 

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I like that. So speaking of these tools automated and more digital really, if we think about our cell phones or a machine and they do certain things like a robot might do. When we talk about labor law compliance, especially, I know you gentlemen, both happened to be from the state of California which is famous for some pretty stringent labor laws and compliance laws, Department of Labor, work comp, all these other things for safety, not bad things but certainly very specific. So why do you think it’s imperative that companies find technological or automated tools or solutions for their employees to record and document this data like time and labor or activities or safety out in the field to help mitigate those risks on the job site?

 

Frank Di Lorenzo:

I would say one just the pure cost of an error can be so egregious that you just don’t want it to happen. So that would be the first one that comes to mind. And then Ben, I’m going to call on you just because of your experience in collecting that data. What would you add? 

 

Ben Harrison:

Yeah. I think that the benefits and I think you’re pointing out the cost of an error is so expensive. And I can think of the types of things that I’ve seen companies try to do of, “Did you take your rest break?” In California you got those laws to do that. Those laws are meant to protect employees. In California it can be 106 degrees outside on a hot day, and you need to know, did you go and drink some water? Are you hydrated? So I’ve seen systems that are starting to put a heat sensor in a hard hat to see, is your body temperature over temperature, a heat stroke again, terrible thing to have happen but also shuts down the job site. You can’t afford to risk noncompliance. So having your tools that help you manage the compliance is important. You just have to do it. It’s the right thing to do. 

 

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Yeah. And from my experience companies, that don’t do it, it only takes getting stung once then suddenly it’s a big priority and they do it. 

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. Both great points. And I love what you said there Ben that it’s the right thing to do. It’s a safe thing to do. And then even from just an accountability standpoint, I know I’ve said it for years and I hear others say it in construction, we’re really risk managers, we’re data managers and we happen to build things and we need that data to help drive the revenue and to make our business run. But essentially, every day you wake up and take a step out the door, you’re at risk from a liability perspective. 

 

Ben Harrison:

Yeah. 

 

Mike Merrill:

So to just wind things down a little bit, just going to maybe do some rapid fire questions and maybe we can just alternate here. So Frank if I were to ask you, what’s one skill that you’ve really mastered or that you feel like you’ve got a great handle on and made a positive impact on your business career?

 

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Mike, I love the question. It’s a good question. And I would say it’s a skill that I continue to hone and will improve for the rest of my career. And that is relationships with my clients or with my peers, building and maintaining and earning the trust and friendship I like to call it of our clients. So to me, that’s an important skill I think that they trust you and that you can be an advisor. You have some value to convey. And that’s a skill that I’d like to think I’ve brought in a positive way to this team and continue to work on because it’s important to me personally. 

 

Mike Merrill:

That’s a great one. I’ve seen you do it for years and you embody that. 

 

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Thank you, Mike.

 

Mike Merrill:

All right. So Ben, for you, what’s one activity or something that you feel is your wheelhouse or your super power that you’ve developed?

 

Ben Harrison:

Well, it’s interesting and picking one is hard. I feel like I’ve learned a lot. I feel like I still continue to learn and maybe that’s it is that I’ve realized I don’t know all I need to know. And so if there’s something that doesn’t make sense to me, I’ve learned to stop and ask why? Try to essentially have a humility that I don’t know everything that I need to know and someone else might have some insight for me. So I guess that’s super power sounds, antithesis to humility. But if humility is a super power and I’m not saying I’m that good but being willing to question yourself and your judgements, I think is a really important thing.

 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. That’s a great one. If we’re not growing, we’re dying, right? If we’re not learning, we’re dying. Love it. All right. Frank, how about this? What’s the most powerful thing that data has done for your business?

 

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Good question. I would say transparency because in our business, we can’t hide. We have experts with data, so everything’s in a Power BI dashboard. And what that I found has led to is no surprises, nobody thinks anything’s not being displayed or hidden. Anybody in our team has access to every piece of data that they should to stay in their lane and do their job properly. And it goes back to your superpower question. I’ll just mention this because I think the superpower I found here is the beyond the power of one, it’s the power of our team. We’re a super team, not a super individual. And having the data just makes it all the more powerful and collaborative.

 

Mike Merrill:

Fantastic. Love it. All right, Ben, one more then I can ask you each one final question. What is one mistake in business that you have made that you wish you would have been able to avoid and would like to help others avoid?

 

Ben Harrison:

I feel like Frank and I are on a similar theme here. So for me, it would be on that collaboration side, right? Of my mistakes have usually been when I thought I had a great solution, I’ve planned it carefully. I plotted it all out and I come and present it to the team and it doesn’t work. They have no buy-in to it. They didn’t understand the context. And so my biggest failures have been when I did not get adequate buy-in from the people around me so that it wasn’t a Ben solution. It was our team solution. And my biggest successes were honestly when we collaborate well, and the solution we come up with is better because more people contributed to it.

 

Mike Merrill:

Collaborated, team, solution, better, people. I heard all those words in your last sentence and that’s awesome. Well, it sounds like an incredible organization to work for and with. You guys obviously have a great team. So one final question, let’s start with you Frank and then Ben if you can finish it out. What’s one thing, Frank, that you hope that our listeners can walk away from hearing this conversation today?

 

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Sure. Yeah. I think that 2021 is the year of data for me. If you look at the investments being made by the construction industry in tools and training and procedures to manage the data that they have, it’s really exciting. So take a step back. Don’t just look at your next report but look at your data strategy from a big picture standpoint. And then the other piece of that is, it doesn’t have to be us but find a partner that’s going to treat you the way you should be that you expect, that’s going to partner with you, bring the expertise and the collaborative spirit that you need to make this work. So a multiple mic thing. Hope that helps. 

 

Mike Merrill:

Fantastic. How about you, Ben? 

 

Ben Harrison:

What I would like you guys to take away is that this is a journey. It’s not something that you’re going to buy an analytics tool and install it in a number of weeks and then be masters of it. This is something that’s going to take effort, purpose, training, budget, time, transformation. But expect that and honestly the results can be astounding but you can add to your bottom line, you can add to your job satisfaction but it’s going to take some intent.

 

Mike Merrill:

That’s great. 

 

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Put it this way, Mike. Rarely, if ever do I hear, I hear people say, geez, we’ve got to get our arms around our data and it’s going to be hard. I’ve heard that in the beginning of the journey. The clients that I’ve had the good honor to work with that have made it through that journey, I’ve never heard anybody ever yet say, “Yeah, we got to remove this stuff. This is not important. It’s not helpful to have BI and visualize our data.” Once they’re there, they don’t want to give it up for a good reason.

 

Mike Merrill:

Love it. Great stuff. Well, what a wonderful conversation. I sure appreciate you, Ben and Frank for joining us today. It’s been fantastic. And hopefully we can do it again down the road.

 

Frank Di Lorenzo:

I hope so. Thank you, Mike. We appreciate it. 

 

Ben Harrison:

Thanks for having us. It was great to be here.

 

Mike Merrill:

You bet. So thank you all for the listener for joining us today on the Mobile Workforce Podcast, sponsored by AboutTime Technologies and WorkMax. If you enjoyed the conversation today that Ben and Frank and I had, please follow us on Instagram at WorkMax_, follow us on LinkedIn or join our LinkedIn group of WorkMax, and also subscribe to the podcast on your preferred platform. If you really enjoyed the conversation today, please give us a five-star rating in review and leave a comment on what you enjoyed or learned from the podcast. And this will help us to continue to bring these types of episodes and conversations to the industry, which will hopefully improve your business and in turn your life.