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How IoT Technology is Making the Construction Site Smarter

How IoT Technology is Making the Construction Site Smarter

Construction technology doesn’t just track your budget and gives you information on the progress of your projects. Technology is now integrated with your equipment giving feedback on utilization, early alerts, and warnings. Ajoy Krishnamoorthy joins host Mike Merrill to explain how the Internet of Things (IoT) is changing the job site forever. Ajoy is the Executive Vice President of Products and Chief Strategy Officer at Acumatica, the leading cloud ERP provider.

Ajoy has a deep background in technology including almost a decade at Microsoft. He launched his own award-winning app, and is now coming up on a decade in the construction industry. In this episode, Ajoy and Mike cover how IoT works, how it’s impacting the construction industry, its relationship to machine learning and AI, and how to best approach investing in this important technology.

 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Sensors on key equipment decrease maintenance costs and increase safety. Sensor technology isn’t just a heat sensor on your HVAC or boiler units anymore. Sensors can maintain and monitor the usage of any mechanical equipment that is on the jobsite. Sensors can also be used in conjunction with cameras to ensure that the proper safety equipment is being used. They can immediately ping the worker, and supervisor when rules aren’t being followed as both a reminder and to document the warning.  
  2. Machine learning can be utilized to your advantage. Machine learning used to be an overwhelming or scary idea but the reality is that it permeates every aspect of modern life. Every time a website predicts something you want to see or buy- that is machine learning. The same concept can be utilized on the job site with live field data. The programs can begin to predict your next move based on past experience allowing for a smooth transition between tasks.
  3. Integrated tech stacks are needed to reach peak efficiency. Technology like IoT and live field data are a much more obtainable investment in your business. It is important to guarantee that you getting the greatest ROI on all of your technology investments by ensuring that each piece of the puzzle integrates, talks and works with everything else you have. That’s your tech stack. When your entire stack communicates with one another, everyone on your team is empowered to accomplish their goals at the highest level with maximum efficiency.

 

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Episode Transcript

Mike Merrill:

Hello, and welcome to the Mobile Workforce Podcast sponsored by AboutTime Technologies and WorkMax. I’m your host, Mike Merrill. And today we are joined with our friend Ajoy Krishnamoorthy. Ajoy is the Executive Vice President of Products and Chief Strategy Officer at Acumatica, the leading cloud ERP provider. So Ajoy has a very deep background in technology, including almost a full decade at Microsoft, which at Microsoft, he launched his own award-winning app, and is now coming up on a decade for the construction industry. Today, we’ll be talking about the internet of things or IoT as it’s called, and how it’s impacting the construction industry, and also its relationship to machine learning and AI, and the best approach to investing into those important technologies. Hello, Ajoy. I thank you for joining us today and welcome.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

Absolutely, Mike, great to be here. Thanks for having me and wonderful talking to your listeners at the Mobile Workforce Podcast. Looking forward to this conversation.

Mike Merrill:

Awesome. Well, I am too. And we just both got back from your Acumatica Summit, which was a fantastic event. The best one we’ve ever been to. So thank you for putting on such a great opportunity for us to meet with our customers and prospects.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

Absolutely. And what a phenomenal show. And for all of us, we’ve been pretty much in remote set up for about 18 months, to be back in a in-person conference. This happened to be in Vegas, meeting with our customers and partners. It was just a phenomenal opportunity and we had a great time.

Mike Merrill:

Awesome. And I think we got what about six more months and we’re going to be back there again, right?

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

That’s right. That’s right. With the date being changed due to COVID, we’re going back to our original schedule of hosting the event in the beginning of the year, so we’ll be back in Vegas end of January.

Mike Merrill:

Awesome. Well, that’ll be great. Well, so to start the conversation today, just one of the things that I thought would be important to talk about. We both know that construction has a reputation as being a bit of a laggard in terms of technology adoption. What’s your take on that and what are you seeing in the field today?

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

No, great question to start off. And I think for some of us, and many of you listeners, and you Mike, you’ve spent a lot of time in the construction space. And traditionally yes, construction industry was viewed as a laggard in terms of technology adoption, but things have been changing. If you look at the recent past both in terms of the software and the hardware side of things. And we saw the hardware innovation happening quite early on where organizations … If you walk the conference say either it’s a World of Concrete, or CONEXPO, or the IBS show, a lot of these industry trade shows, I mean, you saw companies investing in new technology, whether it’s robotic automation or capabilities in the tools themselves to be able to track and better utilize them from a both effectiveness and efficiency.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

But then on the software side, yes, there was a little bit of a delay I guess in terms of companies adopting newer, modern technology. And that’s one of the reasons actually we at Acumatica got into construction industry in the first place. When we started looking at the landscape, a lot of the back office software was very siloed. Innovation as an app and in the last … And technology upgrade as an app in over a decade, and a lot of the systems were pretty closed and with little to no opportunity for multiple systems to interact.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

But then we also saw on the other end, customers were starting to demand and starting to use a lot of those utility software that are modern cloud-based with mobile and so on, and clearly saw an opportunity for providing a cloud-based back-office system that also works very closely with the front office solutions in the field solution if you will. And that’s driven by a couple of things, right. I mean, one of the obvious ones is the new workforce coming into the industry, and the new workforce are coming in. Obviously, the moms and the dads, the aunt, uncle that started the construction company are now transitioning and handing over the ownership to the niece, the nephew, the son, the daughter, and these are the folks that grew up in the very technology … There’s the grasp of what the technology means to them from a day-to-day standpoint.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

And this is the generation that grew up with the Snapchats, and the Facebook, and all the social media. TikTok and whatnot. And this is the generation that also has the ability to take a picture of a check and it shows up in the bank, and then they show up to work and their stack of invoices, and somebody has to manually key it in. And they’re like oh my gosh, this sucks. Excuse my language there but that’s the reaction for them. It’s like hey, how can I have that type of experience when I’m a consumer and then completely go into a Stone Age when I come back into doing my job? So that’s what I think that are, obviously, a lot of demands coming from this generation to say, “Hey, this got to change.”

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

And then the second piece is construction companies realizing technology is not a necessary evil, it’s actually a competitive differentiator. We saw that, obviously, with the pandemic, a lot of the customers saw the value. And I mean, we work with a lot of our giant customers here, Mike. They appreciated the fact that they could have all the system up and running in the cloud with mobile access. And then one of the customers said it in a webinar we did back in April of last year, they did the transition without missing a beat, right. They’re able to work in the office and then within a week when the restriction started putting in place, they could move and work remotely. So that aspect I think helps drive a lot of the construction companies across many industries, but particularly in construction as well going into this cloud-based model.

Mike Merrill:

I love that. Love your answer. And you went into some depth on a few things which I really appreciate because that’s the same thing we’re seeing and hearing out there on the job sites, in the projects, in these construction offices. Adoption is becoming a very key differentiator. And again, like you said, it’s a competitive edge that companies are gaining by adopting these newer technologies. So tell me, when we talk about the term IoT, what exactly is that and why is that important for the workers in the field today?

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

No, absolutely. I think there’s few technology trends that are making significant impact into how the business are operating. One of them is, obviously, the IoT, internet of things, and then the other one is around machine learning and AI, and we’ll talk about that in a second here. So internet of things, right, in a nutshell, it’s all about use of sensors, right. I mean, we’re seeing sensors everywhere. And a lot of us as consumers, we’ve gotten into this home automation whether it’s using the Ring camera to capture what’s happening in a moment, to having automated garage door openers, and so on so the delivery guy can come in and just track what’s going on and that type of stuff, and drop the product or the shipment if you will. So the automation from that standpoint, using the sensors is happening everywhere.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

In construction, I think you’re starting to see that in a few different places. Obviously, tracking equipment is, obviously, a big one, right, and especially if you have lots of tools and big equipment. Understanding where they are on any given point in time. Did somebody leave a jackhammer in the job site, right? How do I track it without having to send somebody back 20 miles to the job place to check? Having that ability to track the product.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

And then also, more depth around utilization, right? These products are now becoming smarter and smarter where you can put a chip on the product itself and it’s starting to track utilization, any early alert and warnings. If I’ve used a particular equipment for too long and it needs to go back into calibration sooner, those type of stuff is being automated. And in the longer term what it means is that it ensures safety of the equipment also of the operator, but also increases the life of the equipment. The last thing you want to do is have the equipment fail and then go back and fix it.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

Some of this stuff like this is also now coming into pre-build, right. I was talking to an analyst not too long ago from one of the large analyst firm, and she was talking about how the facility’s management aspect is evolving from a sensor standpoint. We’ve all heard the stories about the boilers and the HVAC unit having sensor in them and sending alerts whether it’s the Schneider Electric or Johnson Control, these guys have put in sensors that can tell you whether the certain thresholds are exceeded. If a temperature of the particular unit is more than a threshold and that has happened more than once or twice or thrice, automatically send a notification to the maintenance team so you can do some preventative maintenance before the system breaks down.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

Now, that whole aspect is now coming into play even during pre-build and design. Now the construction companies are starting to invest and take advantage of that as they’re planning out the building, making sure there’s enough data being captured, understanding of the different HVAC units, and that leads all the way down to how you do the handoff, right. When a construction team completes a project and handing it over to the owner, they want all the data to be available, everything digitized and being there.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

I remember attending a conference not too long ago, maybe three, four years, and it was a Construction Technology Conference, and one of the speaker, I forget who said this, but it’s just stuck on my head. He said, “I can find more information about my 1992 Honda Civic than the building that I just took over about a month ago because everything is in a file, everything is in people’s head, I don’t know what I’m getting. I don’t know what the warranty is for the HVAC unit,” et cetera, et cetera. So there’s definitely quite a bit of digitization that’s important, that’s needed in the construction, and I think sensors are going to play a big role.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

On top of that, this whole sensor IoT expanding it beyond that, there’s also a safety aspect of it. I know you work in the time capture, and a lot of innovations happen there with biometric and presence-based. You know when the crew was in a job site and so on. There’s also camera-based tracking that’s becoming popular. I saw one example recently where in a job site you have a camera that’s a static mounted camera that’s capturing the workers moving around. And if somebody forgot their hard hat or took off the hard hat, it gives an immediate notification so you can alert them and say, “Hey, careful at this job site. You need to have the hard hat on,” because that’s being careful about the crew’s health and safety. So there’s lots of creative ways that can be applied and that’s what I see as a trend.

Mike Merrill:

I love that. So you mentioned safety and tool or equipment management. You talked about sensors and devices. What about productivity? Do you see things that are adding to company’s productivity because they’re utilizing IoT?

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

Yeah. I mean, again, I think at the end of the day, right, all of this means that you can do your job in an efficient manner, right. The point I talked about the equipment’s giving you signals on where they are in terms of their strength and health, and also in the context of them needing a calibration or needing servicing. Imagine if you don’t have that information and you have a breakdown on a particular equipment. It’s the backhoe that you needed for an excavation project and then that failed on the morning of the job. now you’re scrambling, right. That’s impacting at the end of the day your crew’s time and resources, how you’re allocating timeline to that project, the project might get delayed.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

So at the end of the day, a lot of this technology, even though in an isolation it looks like it’s solving a specific problem, at the end of the day it’s all about hey, can I do my job better? Is it helping my team members be more productive? And is it helping me offer the best service I can to my customers? It has to accrue to that overall value. And I think technology like IoT, and machine learning, and AI used in the right way helps us be that much smarter about what’s going on in our job site, in many industries for that matter. I can talk about similar examples that’s happening in agriculture and manufacturing and so on. It’s accruing to that customer value at the end of the day.

Mike Merrill:

Well, and what I love, something that you said earlier, it also increases safety. So if we’re building more efficiently, if we’re being more productive, and we’re doing it safer, that’s a win, win, win, and certainly something that companies need to look at things more clearly.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

Totally. One of the things that I … Again, I can’t disclose the name, but this is one of the large tool companies that we are working with. They have actually built into the toolset the ability to track them. It’s what you can do with this, the tags. You probably have seen them around. You can put the tags on your car key or in your TV remote to find where you place. So similar technology, but that whole thing is embedded into the tools itself. So when you buy the tool from this vendor, it can automatically track on any given day what it is including utilization and so on, right. And so we’re working with them in terms of bringing some of the data into Acumatica, for instance. What are particular job if you want to track utilization of the tools and then associated cost? You could do some of that without having to manually go through a check-in and check-out an assignment and so on. So there’s definitely some work that’s going on that’s going to continue to push the envelope on this particular area.

Mike Merrill:

I love that. Tell me, what are companies doing now with machine learning and AI to really utilize those more?

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

I mean, again, this is one of those areas I think things are lot different now than even three years, five years if you will, right. Machine learning traditionally is not available to a lot of the smaller companies because you need a significant power and so on and also data to be able to analyze them and identify some patterns and start using them to do some prediction. Again, going back to the parallels in consumers. We all as consumers, we are using machine learning whether we know it or not. When you go to Amazon and order a particular item and it says, “Hey, those who ordered this item also ordered these three items,” that’s machine learning right there, right. Understanding what the purchasing behavior and making recommendations. When you’re watching a particular show on Netflix, it’s recommending similar shows. Or listening to music on Spotify, it’s listening … Suggesting a few other tracks for you. Those are all driven by machine learning capability at the end of the day that users don’t know it but they benefit from it.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

To me, that’s the power of it, on how we are thinking about utilizing those capability in construction for that matter. Whether it’s doing data analysis … I mean, you’ve talked … You’re working in this time tracking aspect of it. Imagine you can predict what that project time is going to be on a particular given week, month or so on. People are using it like a set for analyzing the job site for any type of safety violations and so on. There are a lot of core activities that happens in a construction workflow. But take an example of things like photo log, meeting minutes, right. And a lot of times what happens is you collect so much data but it’s hard to track and find the information that you’re looking for. You and I, we’ve got tons of images on our phone, and now phone systems have provided sophisticated search capability where I can look for hey, show me a picture of me and Mike when we met at Waldorf Concrete.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

Of course, you won’t get that … Into that level of specificity but you can start looking at images based on some characteristics. You can say, “Hey, show me pictures of my family at the beach.” So it can take me to pictures from a vacation. Of course, we haven’t done vacations in the last 18 months so it’s more of a memory from a pre-COVID I guess. But imagine you can bring that same level of discoverability into commercial scenario, right. So in a photo log, in the daily field report, the project team is capturing all the data, bringing it into a system, and it’s collecting information on a daily basis. How can I discover and find the information from within it?

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

Same thing on the financials. At Summit, I showed you a couple of examples, right. We’ve already done AP automation using our … One of the services from Microsoft to be able to take a picture of an invoice and then automatically read what’s in the invoice, including the breakdown of items in the invoice or expense receipt, right. A construction workers out there, they need to go buy something from a Home Depot or Lowe’s, and they go in, they got the receipt, and usually, it’s such a manual time-consuming process. Instead, they can just take a picture of the receipt, and then boom it looks at what’s in the receipt and automatically post them into the expense claim system, in this case, Acumatica. Not only that, based on prior classification, the system would know oh, by the way, that’s just a purchase for the job site so put them in a specific account code. If it happened to be a meeting with the owner and you’re buying coffee it can tag them as a meals, for example. So that’s the type of stuff that saves a lot of time.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

And one of the other things that I showed and I talked about is the anomaly detection, right. The ability to catch some human errors or fraudulent transactions. If you’re going in and putting a particular invoice against a project, on a similar project you never have an invoice. Maybe it’s amount of I don’t know lumber that you’re buying, right, especially given now the short supply it is and the cost, you need to be very careful. And there could be a mistake where you put in that the amount … X amount of two by fours and the cost is $10,000. You might’ve been used to seeing it at $3,000 and the system might detect it as an anomaly, but it could be a real data because the cost has gone through the roof of late, but that’s the type of stuff you can catch early on. It’s going to save a lot of time for the accounting team to validate and verify asset closing the books for the month of the quarter or the year. So that’s what I see machine learning and AI coming into play.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

A lot of interactions with mobile, right. I mean, you guys are big on that with WorkMax. How do we enable the same type of interaction using mobile? People able to talk to the phone and have that converted to text and put that in. Punch List is a good example. We showed an example demo, and I think it’s starting to pick up in construction this whole VR, AR particularly augmented reality. You’re walking through a job site with an AR goggle and you’re able to capture issues on a job site and then just give instructions to it so you’ve got hands free to work on the job site while you’re capturing. Same thing in a service tech scenario. You got a service technician inspecting a job site, you need your hands free to be able to work on stuff. So that’s the type of stuff that’s starting to pick up and I think there’ll be more coming in the … As we make advances in simplifying the experience if you will.

Mike Merrill:

So if you were to build a tech stack from scratch, what would you start with, and maybe what order would your priority be for a company?

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

You’re talking about the construction company, but I mean, obviously, and I’m a little biased here so I’d say look at the right ERP system because ERP becomes your system of record. And not coming across as I’m trying to sell Acumatica. Or the key to this, obviously, build a system that’s open from an architecture standpoint that enables you to connect with other systems because we don’t believe in be all end all, one system that’s all you need. It’s not going to be the case. There’s so much innovation happening there. There’s best-of-breed software out there. For the work your team and our team did, Mike, for instance, you’ve got a time capture system that’s very popular. A lot of people are using it. How do you bring the data into Acumatica? With other legacy ERP systems, it’s a file-based import, export, right. It’s like you’re just packaging that up, throwing it over the fence hoping everything worked. And something fails you have to fix. Oh, I missed a comma. You fix a comma and throw it over the fence again and wait for it. Oh, ’90s called and they want their technology back.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

This day and age you can’t just be operating like that, you got to be a lot more real time. And that’s where I think finding a system that’s got the open architecture with open API support that works well on a browser where most of the team, especially in the office, are working, but also works well in a tablet and mobile phone so folks can go and experience that. At Summit, I showed an example of what you can do with an Apple Watch. It’s an illustration to inspire people. Think about how we can bring some of those capabilities into the watch, for example. But that’s the type of stuff we got to collectively continue to invest in and that’s what the customers need to be thinking about.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

What’s the right … First of all, identify the problem area because a strong system like an ERP system that can connect with the multiple different applications, and then look at the areas where you need the solution right away. But then keep in mind, the investment that you’re making in technology it’s not just investment for the today, it’s for the future. So take a bet on something that you believe. Not just what the product does today, but do you believe in the vision and the value that the company offers? Is that something you are subscribing to as a customer? Then take a bet on that type of a relationship as a vendor, and that’s going to set you up for the last next eight, 10 years.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

One important thing I’ll share, Mike, is that one of the things we have seen in the last 18 months, and some of it is, obviously, driven by the pandemic, people didn’t have a choice they have to make a quick action. And I remember customers, some of them calling me and say, “Oh, we are ready to move to cloud ERP and we want to go live tomorrow.” We were like “Okay, wait, slow down here. There’s a method to this madness, right, we understand and appreciate the intent.” But you want to make sure you’re doing it the right way as well, right. Sometimes you got to slow a little … Go slow a little bit to be able to go fast as they say. But a lot of the teams have learned how to be very nimble, and agile, and be scrappy if you will, right.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

And I remember somebody saying that you’re seeing 12 years worth of transformation in 12 months, right? I mean, we’ve all seen that as a consumer. The hotel, restaurants, and schools, and everybody is online and so on and so forth. And the similar things that have happened in the construction industry and many industries out there. And my request is let’s not forget that. Let’s not forget that new skill that we have learned which is able to assess a fit for a particular technology or a solution like cloud ERP, or a time capture system, or a project management solution, able to make the decision and get that system in place in a rapid time, right. And that’s a skill that I think a lot of the companies have gained. And I strongly hope that teams continue to use that. It’s the running the two-minute drill, right. There’s certain things you do differently. And there’s, obviously, some … A pattern and a method for that type of execution. And I’m encouraged by what I’ve seen and I think that will continue to be the case going forward.

Mike Merrill:

I think the … I mean, to summarize what you just shared, I think one of the big things is that there’s an urgency today. I mean, COVID, obviously, changed that urgency level very rapidly. Nobody could see that coming the way that it came and the challenges that it brought, but I have seen so many companies adapt quickly, and pivot, and make adjustments because they had to, there really was no choice. And so now we’re used to utilizing Zoom meetings, and Microsoft Teams, and other tools, we’re used to seeing people remotely and working remotely. And so I think there’s an opportunity here to rather than move back into the slow lane, to keep our businesses in the fast lane, and continue to innovate and adopt these technologies that so many other industries are already embracing and have been profitable from for decades.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

I mean, some of the industry had an advantage, right. Financial services and retail have been the forefront of technology even before, but someone like construction, maybe agriculture, they’re just … There’s a little bit of catching up happening right now, right. And that’s the other piece too, right. This whole notion of digital transformation. There’s a lot of hype about it, but then if you just peel the onion and look at it at the … What it means. I mean, it’s like how do you take an organization that’s disconnected, that’s operating with silos, a lot of manual broken process, how do you transition into a state where systems are connected, operations are very efficient? And the players. Key is the people and the process, the people understand what they’re doing, right, and have tools that actually help them be successful and be more productive.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

And it’s never a said and done. Oh yeah, I just did it I’m done. I’ll come back in 15 years and review this again. No, this is a journey, right. You’re constantly having to look into it and invest, and that’s why it’s important to invest in a platform like I talked about earlier. What do you … The decision you’re making now is a decision that you want to be with for decades to come, right. And how can you future proof that, right? If that’s the term they use, right. It’s understanding your challenges today and what solution best solves the challenges today, but then is it going to be helpful and to get me prepared for what the challenges will be tomorrow? So some of that is the part of the dialogue you need to have with whatever software that you’re looking into getting on.

Mike Merrill:

I was reading a study recently and it said that 98% of companies are expecting to increase their productivity utilizing technology like IoT.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

Absolutely. No, I totally believe that, right, because especially in a … With the transformation that we’ve seen happen, I totally see that happening.

Mike Merrill:

So my last question is this. What are the right questions that contractors should be asking to make sure that they’re investing in the right technology to maximize that ROI?

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

I think it starts with the what they’re trying to address, right. Like I said, depending on where you are as an organization, understanding the key problems that you’re trying to solve and then making sure that the product that you’re getting addresses the problems that you’re trying to solve for if you will, and that’s where you start. And some of the points that I made already on this one is that not just stopping with that but looking at hey, where do you see your organization going in the next call it two to three years, three to five years, right? And an understanding of this new system that you’re going to be putting in place. Whether that system has got the vision or the vendor that’s behind that system, has got the vision and the investment from a ongoing technology growth standpoint to take it to the next level. If you don’t get that feeling, then I would definitely pass and do the due diligence even further because the things are changing so rapidly.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

I mean, I shared this excitement at the Acumatica Summit. What a phenomenal time to be alive with so much technology innovation happening. I mean, what you thought was cutting edge two years ago is now outdated, right. And that’s the rapid pace that’s going on. And I think for our customers, that’s why it’s important that they make the selection keeping in mind what the future is at stake, right. Understanding and questioning a lot of the assumptions whether it’s hey, my interaction with the system is going to be limited to X, Y, and Z. Well, is that going to be the case going forward? Imagine yourself in two years. And again, going back to the comment I made earlier. Technology, when we talk about in the case of software, I mean, it’s not a necessary evil. An ERP system or a time capture system should not come in the way of how you run your business. If any … Not anything. At a minimum, it should make you move faster.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

And then, of course, add a lot of value on top of it. That’s where a lot of these automation we talked about, things like machine learning and AI, sensor-based data, and bringing it into the system and analyzing it, separating the signal from the noise. All that’s the responsibility of the solution provider that these construction companies need to challenge and say, “Show us where the value is today, but show us where the value is going to be tomorrow and in the near future.

Mike Merrill:

That’s great. Great advice. So a couple of personal questions before we wrap up if that’s okay? So what is Ajoy’s superpower when you put your cape on in the morning before you go to work? What is your main go-to?

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

That’s a phenomenal question. I mean, again, I think that the sport … What we are doing with my day-to-day job at Acumatica, this is a team sport, right. This is not something that you just put the cape on and go “I’m going to solve every problem.” At the end of the day, it’s about collectively as a team, can we produce more than what we could have otherwise? Right. And some of it is … I talk about this go big or go home, right. This is the time where we need to start evaluating and challenging the status quo, challenging the assumptions, and pushing on what makes sense for our customers, and getting the team to buy into that shared vision and moving forward. That’s what I would say in some cases. If I may borrow Gregg Popovich famous quote is, “Getting out of the way sometimes, right, to make sure that the right things get done. That’s important as well.” And to me, I mean, again, personally … You know me. We spent a lot of time together. I get pretty excited about the space that we’re operating in and the technology as a whole.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

And having the balance is important. It’s not just technology for the sake of technology. Of course, I commit that sin all the time. The shiny blue object, that looks so cool let’s just go play with it. Of course, you want to do that, that keeps you excited and maybe young at heart I guess. But in terms of the application itself, it’s understanding hey, what does the technology mean to the business problem we’re trying to solve, right? And can we make … Either make the business process run that much better or eliminate some of the mundane tasks, right. If you don’t need to do certain things the way you’ve done it which consumes four hours, we can do it in four seconds, be my guest let’s put it in place. And we’ve done many of that as we were looking at the workflow in the context of Acumatica construction and other modules as well.

Mike Merrill:

That’s great. So as a final thought, what would you have the listeners have as a takeaway? If there was one thing you could put an accent on here at the end.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

I mean, the main thing is again, none of this decision is, one time you make it and you move on. This is an ongoing journey. I mean, you see, construction companies are going through this transformation just within the construction industry as a whole in terms of the tools that they use, in terms of the materials that they’re dealing with. Modular construction is now starting to pick up. There’s so much change happening there.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

That is so true when it comes to technology as well, right. Where it’s not a decision you make in one point in time and you just forget about it. So constant investment is important. That’s why you want to work with vendors that you trust. The software solution providers to be a trusted advisor and trusted partner for you as an organization. If you don’t have that comfort, then if there’s a small amount of doubt in your mind, trust me listen to your gut, right, there’s probably something that you need to investigate further. But that’s the important thing, right. Like I said, and we talked about this even before. Digital transformation, it’s a journey it’s not a destination. So there’s constant evolution that needs to happen. And for that, the listeners here that are looking into making some technology decisions, keep an eye on that, right. Make a decision that feels right for you today, but make it with the confidence that it’s going to be the right decision for you in the near future.

Mike Merrill:

That’s fantastic advice. Thank you for sharing that Ajoy. Thank you so much for being a guest today.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

No, it has been my pleasure. Great discussions, some good questions. Hopefully, this is valuable. And I look forward to listening to this and other future podcast.

Mike Merrill:

Confident it will be. And we’ll have to have you on in the future and talk about some other things.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

Absolutely. Thank you, Mike.

Mike Merrill:

All right, great. Thank you. And thank you to the guests for joining us on the Mobile Workforce Podcast today. If you enjoyed the conversation that Ajoy and I had, we invite you to please give us a five-star rating and review. And more importantly, share this episode with your friends and colleagues. After all our goal here is not only to help you improve your business but your life.

How Technology Is Helping Construction Firms Manage Hybrid Teams

How Technology Is Helping Construction Firms Manage Hybrid Teams

The adoption of construction technology gained momentum over the last year as companies grappled with the pandemic and how to keep their businesses on track. Today, with hybrid teams as “the new normal,” construction leaders face another challenge: how to make the most of their newfound technologies while getting the most from their teams, whether in person or remote.

Host Mike Merrill welcomes Todd Weyandt, the host of the Bridging the Gap Podcast, to break down post-pandemic trends in construction technology. They discuss new technologies that are being adopted as well as which are falling by the wayside. In addition, they break down how new technologies support hybrid teams, as well as actionable advice to find a balance between remote and in-person work.

 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Invest in technology that improves processes for remote workers. Leaders need to pull data and collaborate with their employees to figure out what processes were improved with technology during the pandemic. Leaders should ensure all employees get trained on this technology, and incorporate it into new employee onboarding in the future. 
  2. LinkedIn is still a go-to for networking. During the pandemic, LinkedIn became a watercooler for people to virtually meet up to discuss trends, issues and ideas. Now that conferences and organizations are able to meet again, LinkedIn will be more important than ever, especially for people who want to set up meetings before events or follow-up afterwards. No matter the case, LinkedIn profiles should remain up-to-date and users should continue engaging with networks regularly. 
  3. Measuring the impact of online and in-person events must be different. The ability to connect and engage with potential clients is drastically different during a virtual meeting and an in-person meeting. Both of these types of meetings should be measured and tracked differently. Be realistic about what your online event’s objective is and make sure your measurements reflect that goal. Only then will you see the value in both online and in-person opportunities.

 

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Episode Transcript

Mike Merrill:

Hello, and welcome to the Mobile Workforce podcast, sponsored by About Time Technologies and WorkMax. I’m your host, Mike Merrill. And today we’re joined by Todd Weyandt for the second time. And Todd is the host of the award-winning Bridging The Gap podcast. So thank you again for joining us. Todd, we’re excited for the discussion today.

Todd Weyandt:

Thanks for inviting me back. I’m looking forward to it.

Mike Merrill:

Absolutely. Well, it’s your fault. You did such a good job. We’re going to have that guy on again.

Todd Weyandt:

I don’t know about that, but thanks for inviting me all the same.

Mike Merrill:

Sure. No problem. So for those of you that haven’t heard the previous episode that Todd and I recorded, it was ways back. It was episode number 16, and we talked about the hurdles in the construction industry and the things that we’re working to overcome. So today we’re going to talk more about construction technology and mainly focus on that hybrid workforce and how things are functioning maybe differently with I guess, the post COVID or as we’re working through COVID I’ll say, and we just want to talk about what that balance looks like moving forward. So thanks again, Todd. Excited for the discussion.

Todd Weyandt:

What’s on the packet? There’s a lot to go over there for sure.

Mike Merrill:

Well, so I guess to start out, what changes are you seeing in the industry because of this COVID pandemic and our adaptation to it?

Todd Weyandt:

Well, originally there was so much tech that had to be adopted and implemented over the course of the last year and a half. So I think that construction that historically may have been some laggards in embracing technology, found out that the waters were okay and that they could swim in those waters and that gave them some confidence to figure out how to not only take on new technology, but then once you have it, how do you make it more streamlined? How do you make it more efficient? And I think coming out of COVID and as things that are opening back up, I think that that’s the big kind of open question for a lot of people is what do you go back to? And then what do you keep that has worked well? And how do you embrace kind of the best of both worlds and create this balance because there’s certain things that it’s just not feasible to go back to the way it was beforehand, before you adopted all this technology.

Mike Merrill:

Hard to rewind that tape. And obviously you don’t have a crystal ball to know exactly, but just from your perceptions, what’s going to be different Q3 and Q4 of 2021, even now?

Todd Weyandt:

Well, I think it’s a great question. There’s probably a lot of surprises still in the next two quarters as we are opening back up. I think that one of the things is learning this balance of virtual and in-person. And what does that really look like? For the office people, do you have to go back into the office? Full-time or is it part-time? Do you do a little blend of both? I think my personal opinion, it’s going to be really tough to get a lot of people back into the office that got used to working from home and were able to prove that they can do it. What’s the incentive structure to get them back into the office. Is it just to see people? It’s a huge reason for a lot of people and it has its benefits and its perks, but that’s not going to get everybody back in there.

Some people that are like, yes, I hope I never see another person again, working for him. So I think that’s a question that people are going to have to address in the next two quarters. I think the second question that people are going to be addressing is how do you double down on technology or what technology I should say, do you double down on with innovation because not everything that you had to adopt in the last year and a half is useful going forward. Something was just a stop gap, measure. Some, I don’t know how you do without them now. So I think that that’s a question that’s going to look a little different for everybody.

I don’t think every construction firm is ready to fully adopt AR solution or go to the extremes, but there’s little steps along the way that you might be able to take. For Zoom for instance, I know we’re all probably very tired of Zoom, but it is useful tool, it serves a purpose. So do double down on that and have some meetings where people can still interact and see each other through Zoom instead of having to always meet up in person and save that travel cost. I think that’s some soul searching that companies have to do.

And then the third kind of question that is going to be popping back up is probably around events as trade shows start coming back in person. What does that look like? When should you go, when should you not go, what do those events even look like? How’s that dynamic going to work in a post COVID world? That’s probably going to look really different.

Mike Merrill:

I think when we were talking before we hit record about the hybrid conferences and different things that we have coming up, and I know as a vendor, we don’t love those remote experiences. It’s just not the same at all. And so we’re really actually not interested in participating very heavily in any of those. If we can get in front of people, then we feel like we have a great experience, but if it’s just remote, it’s just not a captive enough audience. We feel like at least from a vendor perspective at some of these construction events.

Todd Weyandt:

Which I totally get. It’s an interesting balancing act that I think conferences going to have to take into account as we move forward. Because from the conference side of things, they’re kind of silly to get away from virtual because they can reach such a wider, bigger audience than they could in person. But you so sacrifice those touchpoints and that relational aspect, which is huge and why most people go to conferences. And so what does that blend look like and how do you get a good experience for both? I think is going to be really an interesting question. The next couple of quarters are going to be the battleground for what that really is going to look like.

Mike Merrill:

Well, I look back and I remember when e-commerce was really coming online and there was a lot of fear that, oh my goodness, all these malls are going to shut down. Nobody’s going to go buy anything in person anymore. And we’ve seen booms in different parts of those industries, but I think just like you’re saying, some people are in it for the experience as much as anything else. So we definitely don’t want to take the human element out of those opportunities that we have to be together and spend time together and have that comradery. However, from an efficiency standpoint, some things can be done virtually and are probably best on virtually. So I think that’s what you’re saying is it’s having that tug of war internally and soul searching, like you said, as a organization that each of these companies is going to have to make that decision what’s best for them.

Todd Weyandt:

Yeah, for sure. I think there’s a lot of soul searching that’s going to be done. Going back to the e-commerce thing, I think that there’s, it’s a good example because there’s always going to be kind of unknown variables that enter into this situation. When you talk about e-commerce, who knew that the global pandemic would be that, what we would do in malls once and for all. The malls by me, at least here in Atlanta, nobody is in them right now, but that’s really because of the last year and a half. But yeah, I think that there’s always these unforeseen circumstances that you can’t really map into the equation. So you just have to kind of build in contingencies around it and what you’re going to do there. But yeah, I think that the next couple quarters is the interesting balance between virtual online and in person for sure.

Mike Merrill:

It’s an evolving discussion. So it’ll be interesting to continue to see, but I know one of the tools that is still utilized, that probably is more heavily utilized now than before is LinkedIn. What are you seeing with that as a tool for construction companies?

Todd Weyandt:

 I think LinkedIn is a huge tool. I’m admittedly biased because I’m a LinkedIn addict, but I think just having a social media presence can’t be understated. I know a lot of construction firms kind of drag their feet. They don’t the benefit of it or the purpose of social. But I think that especially over the last year and a half, it really has become the like watering hole, hallway conversations, if you will, for people in the industry and you get to interact and meet up with people that even if we were all in person going to every single conference imaginable, you’re meeting people on LinkedIn and in social that you would never get to meet at those conferences, even if they were there, the chances of you bumping into them and having an in-depth conversation probably wouldn’t really happen. So I think for those who take LinkedIn as an opportunity to expand their network in and bring what would be an in-person conversation into LinkedIn, I think there are seeing a big boom and a big bang for their buck.

Mike Merrill:

And it’s interesting because if I go all the way back, it’s literally about two decades now I was a builders and a general contractor and I had a LinkedIn account. And I remember, well, what it was like to invite people and people would call me up, hey, you email me this thing. What’s this LinkedIn thing. And nobody knew what it was or understood. I felt like when I first joined it, I didn’t have a very good company website. And so I felt like that was one way that I could bridge that gap. No pun intended Mr. Bridging The Gap podcast. But since then, obviously at this point it’s flipped completely around where it’s very rare that somebody that’s in a professional status, even in construction, doesn’t have at least a profile set up and some general info there.

Todd Weyandt:

I think it’s a great place to interact. And I know I have met and talked with so many really interesting people that I never knew existed or like I would never have the opportunity to know that they exist outside of LinkedIn. And the richness of information that people are sharing out on LinkedIn kind of goes back to our last conversation in the previous podcast episode, where we were talking about sharing the success stories that are out there. I think construction, we can be better at it. There are people out there that are sharing insights and information and what they’re learning on a project and how they’re adapting to new technology. So I think as we are going through this question of how do you adapt as things open up? I think LinkedIn is an incredible source for people to go to and crowdsource ideas and see what’s working with other companies and what’s not working and be able to learn from peers and people in the industry. People are pretty remarkably open to sharing stuff out on LinkedIn.

Mike Merrill:

Actually, it’s interesting. I mean, I see a lot of your stuff. I see a lot of really good articles and people sharing industry statistics also have a lot of customers that are heavily engaged. I could think of one customer, BakerTriangle out of the Dallas–Fort Worth area, there in Mesquite, Texas. And it seems like every day or every other day, they’re giving a 15 or 20 or 25 year medallion or an award, a safety award or something to their employees and their staff. And it’s truly amazing that they’re retaining and keeping employees for this longer period of time.

And I think if I was in a dry wall or interior construction and I was looking for a company to work with and work for, and I looked very hard, I would come across what they’re doing. And it’s almost like a form of marketing of how they engage with their employees and how they recognize them and celebrate them and how they value that family environment. And I can feel that even if I didn’t know BakerTriangle, I could see from their LinkedIn activity that they’re probably a really good company to work for. So, that’s another way we can leverage those tools.

Todd Weyandt:

I think you bring up a great point on LinkedIn can actually be a really powerful recruitment tool for the company as well too, to share and also so it can, but to share your culture and really put the spotlight on your employees and what you’re doing. I was talking with somebody recently on my podcast and they were sharing that they were looking at their social stats and who was following their page. And they were really surprised to find out that most of their followers were actually people that worked at other construction firms and that’s interesting where you thought it was going to be clients or prospects or something. And they thought that that was one of their number one recruitment tools was people finding out about them through social media. So I think that that’s definitely an underrated feature and benefit of social.

Mike Merrill:

Agreed. So tell me this, do you have any advice or thoughts on how people can be more engaging with their requests or their meeting invitation so that they get accepted more and those tools end up being useful?

Todd Weyandt:

Man, just started doing it. I think that that’s the biggest stumbling block, is people overthink it. It’s a normal conversation act the same way on social and LinkedIn as you would in person. I think if it doesn’t come naturally to you to say it to somebody face to face, probably don’t say it while on social media. And I think it’s just a normal conversation. I think people far overthink, what do I post? What do I say? How do I just interact as a human. You know how you would normally say something so just do that.

Mike Merrill:

I think that’s great advice. Anyway, generally the quote unquote, keyboard warriors that are super vicious and bold and blunt online, hiding behind their keyboard, but in person they’re probably sweetest peach pie, right?

Todd Weyandt:

Right. Well, if you can tell when it comes across, you see these posts and you’re like, there’s no way that you would, like there’s so just over the top or super arrogant or whatever, just be a normal person and share what you would normally share.

Mike Merrill:

So from a budgetary standpoint, and we talked about trade shows, maybe the value as a vendor or as an attendee and exhibitor, et cetera. How is an ROI determined on a virtual event versus an in-person event? Those are obviously pretty different mediums, like a e-magazine or an e-newsletter versus something in print. But do you have any thoughts on that?

Todd Weyandt:

I mean, I think that they carry different expectations for sure. If I’m putting on my marketing hat, my expectation going into a virtual event or conference or something from like a vendor side of things would be more, how can I interact with the people probably outside of the conference and what do I do with the list of attendees that I get? How can I reach out to them in a creative way that stands out from the noise and get them interacting that way, because the chances of you having a credible conversation in the chat on a breakout session is, not saying it couldn’t happen, but it’s probably not going to happen every single time. But it’s interacting outside of it. So you would measure it the same way that you would measure any other kind of outbound marketing tactics, whether that’s on your email channel and you’re trying to get your opener clicks or on your social channel and you’re measuring engagement and all that stuff.

In person, I think it shifts differently because hopefully you are going to have those more hot leads coming in directly from the show itself during that specific time period of whatever, however long the show lasts, hopefully you get X number of hot leads coming back from you. So I think it shifts. The virtual is more of a long game and the in-person is hopefully a little bit shorter game.

Mike Merrill:

I think that you answered that really well. They’re different. You’re right. Ultimately they hopefully roll to the same benefit, but they are a different situation and maybe tools like LinkedIn or digital tools to follow up and build that relationship that you couldn’t do in person could be in play and give you an option to get more value out of those remote events.

Todd Weyandt:

I think an interesting thing with a virtual event too is that you can use that to leverage people that aren’t even in the conference by pushing it out on social and engaging people that way of that the virtual world opens you up to interact with so many more people than you would normally have access to. It kind of goes back to what I was saying at the beginning, from the conference provider side, they’re most likely a virtual event concept is staying around and it will go into a hybrid format from here on out because they’re kind of silly to get rid of that virtual component because they can reach such a bigger audience. So as a person, either attending or sponsoring a virtual event, use that to leverage it outside of your people that you’re interacting with in the conference and put it down on social and engage people that aren’t involved.

Mike Merrill:

And maybe a great analogy. And I think a lot of people could relate to this, or at least they’ve heard of it, even if they’re not religiously inclined or don’t attend a church or synagogue of some sort, lots of churches had online church, online meetings, online speeches, pastors and all kinds of people getting up, sharing a message virtually, and I’ve attended some of those and I’ve attended them in person. And I prefer in person, but in the absence of all of it, I would certainly go in online through Zoom.

Todd Weyandt:

For sure. I mean, I think it’s a great example of it.

Mike Merrill:

Yes. So now that we’re, at least it looks as though we have our nose up and we’re trending out of this, what people are calling the new normal post COVID, or at least on the other side of vaccinations and other things, what has changed from a construction company’s perspective on this balance between in person and remote work?

Todd Weyandt:

I think a lot. And I think that we are fortunate because we’re going to be able to take the best of both worlds moving forward there. For example, I was talking with a company the other day that is in the AR space and they have the technology that somebody on site can put on like a hollow lens and walk around the site. Everybody else can be like on a Zoom call basically. And you can mark up this live space in the AR setting just by one person being on site. Other attendees can mark it up and like measure things and pinpoint stuff of like, oh, I see that area. Let’s mark this as a cause for concern, or we’ve got to circle back to this. And so with this technology, you don’t have to send somebody to the job site for every single site visit.

Maybe you streamline it and you hold them back for the last main one at the end of the project that they can come in and everything’s pretty much cleaned up and they have just a quick punch list or if there’s another bigger meeting that everyone needs to come in beforehand, you can do that. And it allows us flexibility that you can leverage the tools while still keeping people, being able to come home to watch their kid’s baseball game at night and not have to be stuck in a hotel room. I think that work-life balance is a lot better with the technology when we’re able to leverage that.

So I think there’s cool opportunities like that, that people can look forward to take the best of both and figure out how do we create a work-life balance that is, is better than what it was before the pandemic hit. Construction is full of incredibly hard workers that will work very long hours, but do we have to go in that long all the time? Or do we have to go to that site visit or can we be home and leverage technology with it and save a couple of hours that we can be home for dinner? I think that there’s there’s opportunities for that.

Mike Merrill:

I talked to some of our customers or companies that we meet with that are in California and some are sitting in traffic on 9-5 for three hours in the morning and two or three hours in the evening. And it’s more than half of the workday sitting on the road, so it doesn’t even have to be out of town work, so to speak. How much efficiency could be picked up for their time and their fuel and all the other expenses, not even to mention the quality of work-life balance, like you’re saying. So it’s a great takeaway. There’s some benefits that we can enjoy and get to in this virtual world that can maybe take over some of our less effective habits prior.

Todd Weyandt:

And construction, it’s still a people driven industry. So I don’t want to be like, let’s go hardcore into technology and everything is remote. That was terrible the last year, nobody has gone for that again. But I think that there’s, we have to look for those ways that we can leverage the best of both. And when we maximize the time when we have to be in person and we are building those relationships, but not every single instance has to be that time. And I think it makes it even more impactful than when you are in person if we have that balance of both.

Mike Merrill:

And I mentioned BakerTriangle before, and I’ve shared on the podcast also, they’ve got a prefab shop where they’re constructing huge wall panels inside of their building. And then they’ve got an in-stock crew to go out separately and install those. So there’s some other things like that type of technology that could be adapted to do less onsite in-person with the whole crew and other efficiencies that can be gained. So implementation of technology in all forms can help improve construction, even though nobody’s ever going to swing a virtual hammer or a virtual DeWalt drill isn’t going to sink a screw 20 miles away, but…

Todd Weyandt:

I don’t know. Maybe spot will one day, who knows?

Mike Merrill:

Well, these drones, right? You talked about VR. I mean, what about drone technology? That’s something there too, right?

Todd Weyandt:

Yeah, absolutely. I think there’s a ton of whether it’s on the drone side or you mentioned prefab, obviously prefab was get big beforehand, but I think this last year and a half has proved that if you can go into prefab and you can bite it off and for the upfront cost of it, it makes so much sense because you’re going to be able to control that environment. You’re going to be able to really get those efficiency gains in the long run on the project. So yeah, I think being smart and being tactical on which technology you use and when you go into it, test it out and then ramp it up from there. I think that’s going to be the key to the next six months here.

Mike Merrill:

And back to the prefab again, not to harp on that too much, but it’s so much safer. It’s a controlled environment. You’re not three stories up on a scaffolding, right? It’s laying horizontally on stands in a shop room floor, you know?

Todd Weyandt:

Well, and you don’t have to have all the trades working at the exact same time and a very little space that nobody can fit into all at once. You can space that out and you have it ready when it’s needed. So the efficiencies there are crazy in lots of ways.

Mike Merrill:

What about, and maybe the last point to hit on that would be, what about mobile technology or mobile solutions to help provide more efficiencies and communication also?

Todd Weyandt:

Well, I think that that’s a cool play kind of going back on the AR side of things. I’m pretty fascinated with where AR is going and there’s so many cool applications that you can bring into the mobile space around AR to help increase that and really kind of figure out where things are. And just pinpoint with more accuracy. I think that over the last, little bit here too, you saw that adoption of mobile technology, whether it was as simple as the health screens that people had to go through coming onto the job site, or just being able to on a more basic build fundamental level, pull up the documents and interact with them in real time and see what the designers are doing in the model and be able to have that in real time interaction. I think that that’s huge.

Mike Merrill:

It sounds like there’s plenty of benefits, plenty of opportunities and plenty of efficiencies gained by this more digital, more mobile, more remote world where it can be. It doesn’t replace the in-person stuff, but it certainly can enhance and make it safer, more efficient. And ultimately that all leads to an ROI. It leads to more profitability and less waste, right?

Todd Weyandt:

Yeah, absolutely. And not to bring up the skilled trade shortage here that is talked about all the time, but embracing these technologies and pulling in the mobile tech and AR or whatever your tech of choice. What we’re going to have to do that as an industry in order to make up for the people that we don’t have coming into the industry, I think is one aspect to tackling that. Our last conversation talked about another aspect of that of how to pull people into the industry and make construction cool again. I think you have to tackle both of that as well as just why we need more people. I think we have an opportunity coming out of COVID with the hospitality industry, people leaving that and not having the jobs there. I think being able to say, hey, look at construction. It’s a great industry to come into as well too. So there’s an opportunity there.

Mike Merrill:

Love it. Well, another great conversation. I’ve enjoyed exploring some of these things with you and talking about maybe where we’re at today versus several months back when we spoke before it’s changed. And I imagine in another four, six months it’ll change again.

Todd Weyandt:

Only guarantee in life. Changes happening.

Mike Merrill:

That’s the guarantee. So just as a takeaway, what’s the parting thought that you would leave the listeners with you hope that they gain from our conversation today?

Todd Weyandt:

I think just be open to continuing to leverage technology and see where you can bring on more tech or double down on tech that you’ve already used. We don’t have to go back to the processes that maybe didn’t work as well beforehand. And like I said before, we have the advantage now that we can pick the best of both worlds and find that balance. And I think that, I said at the beginning to well, soul searching, I think that people need to take the time and really map it out and have a plan of what is the best of both worlds look like for us?

Mike Merrill:

Love that. Well-stated well, thank you, Todd. Appreciate it again. We’ve really enjoyed this conversation on our end and I hope you have as well.

Todd Weyandt:

Yeah, absolutely. Thanks so much.

Mike Merrill:

All right, we’ll do it again down the road. All right. And thank you to the listeners for joining Todd and I on the Mobile Workforce podcast today. If you enjoyed the conversation that we had, please share this episode with your colleagues and friends and subscribe to the podcast. We also love those five star rating and reviews. Those help us to continue to bring great guests like Todd on so that we can continue to help you not only improve in business, but in life.

The Power of a Well-Developed Tech Stack

The Power of a Well-Developed Tech Stack

As construction technology continues to develop, the options and customizations available can give a contractor the exact stack of solutions they need to be as effective as possible on the job site. But if implemented incorrectly, all of the options can create a confusing jumble that no one on the team can use effectively and ultimately doesn’t get used. Fortunately, Eric Tucker joins us on this episode to help our listeners understand how to build and use a tech stack successfully.

Eric is the Senior Business Development Manager at Procore Technologies and has spent nearly a decade finding solutions for specialty contractors to solve collaboration, safety, and profitability challenges contractors are facing today and in the future. In this episode, Eric shares the ups and downs of all-in-one systems, what is happening in the industry and tech-stack strategies.

 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Building and maintaining your tech stack ensures your ROI. Understanding your tech stack, all of the software and hardware used by the company, and how each piece interfaces with the others, will ensure that your data flows through the entire stack. This  gives your leadership the transparency into each aspect of your business to make the best decisions throughout the life of your projects – a benefit that compounds over time.
  2. Mobility is critical in a tech stack. Digitization has taken data off the clipboard and put it on the computer, but that isn’t efficient enough in today’s market. There isn’t enough time to go to a computer and input data and be effective enough to keep up with the pace needed to keep your GC, Subs, or clients happy. Fortunately, mobile solutions make data entry as easy as sending a text message or checking your bank account. By putting the technology in the hands of users, adoption among your workers will skyrocket.
  3. Build your perfect tech stack instead of relying on an all-in-one setup. The pandemic changed the way business was handled and managed forever. It became paramount that communication was happening between the field and office continuously and not just when there was a site visit. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for a typical contractor. Your business is unique and needs custom solutions to run as efficiently as possible. Before committing to any technology, first identify your business’ specific needs.

 

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Episode Transcript

Mike Merrill:

Hello, and welcome to The Mobile Workforce Podcast, sponsored by AboutTime Technologies and WorkMax. I’m your host, Mike Merrill, and today we are sitting down with Eric Tucker. Eric is the senior business development manager at Procore Technologies. We’re super excited to have Eric on today, as he leads the Tech Alliance Strategy for Procore and focuses on trade and specialty contractor markets. One of the things that Eric does, is he sources and launches partnerships to further the mission that Procore is undertaking right now in the marketplace. So, today we’re going to be talking about a few different things: the first is all-in-one systems, the other thing is what’s happening in the industry in general, and also tech stack strategies. Hello Eric, and welcome. And thank you for joining us today.

Eric Tucker:

Hey Mike, thanks for having me. Excited to be here.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, this is going to be great. We’ve gotten to know each other more recently, as we’re working together as technology partners and companies, and I’m excited to have you join us.

Eric Tucker:

Yeah. Excited to be here, and contrary to popular opinion or what some people may think about to two companies that both have a time tracking tool, that it’s amazing we can sit on a podcast and talk about the future of technology, and future collaboration.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, agreed. It’s been exciting to see the advancements in the industry, not just from a technology standpoint, but also the companies and organizations, and integrations and other things that we’re excited about working on with Procore, and can’t wait to deliver it to our mutual, and future customers.

Eric Tucker:

Yeah, love it.

Mike Merrill:

Awesome. So, I guess to just start the conversation out and get things rolling, I just wonder from your seat and your perspective at Procore, a large company that’s out there making huge changes and innovations in the industry, what are you seeing that is taking place as we’re working to come out of this COVID-19 pandemic?

Eric Tucker:

Yeah, so I think, if we back up to during the pandemic, if you look at a lot of the content that’s been produced about, okay, the look backs around COVID-19 and what happened, technology adoption increased in a big way. Folks that had technology initiatives most likely accelerated those in during the COVID-19 lockdowns, because that was the only way they could stay in business. We were dealing with remote work, we needed to deal with management, servicing multiple job sites. We had workforces leave the job site and take unemployment, and it really required people to accelerate their technology investments to solve for some of these challenges around productivity.

Eric Tucker:

So, I think as we come out of it, we’re seeing some of these technology solutions stay in place. It’s not like they’re going to go back to old habits. I think in a lot of ways, the industry advanced. And the thinking around technology also advanced, and just how we work. We know this on the technology side, that we’re not going to go 100% back to office anytime soon, because a lot of our companies we’re able to survive remotely. And I think certain functions of the construction industry will remain that way as well, because technology exists. And I think a lot of contractors are finding that too, to mean that they’re actually more productive and they’re able to do more with less, because of some of these technology solutions.

Mike Merrill:

So if I’m hearing you right, you’re saying that you feel like the industry as a whole is really more warm, and warming up to the idea then than previous because of this experience. Is that right?

Eric Tucker:

Yeah, definitely. And we’ve always had the contractors that are on the cutting edge. I think that contractors get a bad rap that they’re anti-technology, and I don’t think that’s necessarily true. I think there’s a large scale, and I think that a lot of the folks that were maybe later adopters of technology, or hadn’t committed the technology budgets before are now, yeah, they’re warming up. They’re waking up to, oh my gosh, this is actually a big part about how we do business. And technology is going to change everything about how these companies do business.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I love that, and I think we would be in complete agreement on that. So, one of the things that I’m hearing a lot, and you probably are hearing the same thing, lots of these companies are looking to source or find what I would term all-in-one solutions, more like one place that they can go to for data, one place they can go to for information that they need, and that’s critical to their business. What does that look like from your perspective?

Eric Tucker:

Yeah, that sort of perspective, I think came out of some of the construction ERPs positioning themselves as all-in-one. And they did things like field service management, they did things like time tracking, they did things like change order management. But they weren’t mobile, they weren’t in the cloud, they didn’t really allow for collaboration and transparency on job sites. And so what happened was, is these were solutions that were meant to be accounting systems, and kind of became project management systems. Not because necessarily the contractors wanted it, but because there wasn’t a lot of solutions 10 years ago.

Eric Tucker:

That’s largely changed. And what’s happening is we’ve seen… One of the reasons Procore exists, is that an accounting system just simply cannot do everything a project management system can do for construction, and from an operations perspective. And so what we’ve seen has venture capital has poured into the construction technology market over the last, especially in the last five years, but certainly the last five to 10 years, is now contractors have a lot of really good options. And there’s this opportunity for different departments to use best in class solutions for their function, versus an all-in-one that really can’t be good at any one thing.

Eric Tucker:

So, that’s sort of where things are at right now, is we have a view that the ERP and accounting systems should really be for the back office functions and the back office accounting solutions. But all of your different departments and field teams should have best in class applications for what they need. And the importance is really not around buying one system that’s average at a lot of things, but buying like I said, best in class. The challenge for management and for teams is the data component. I have a saying that that different teams should use different applications, but they still rely on the same data. And that’s true without technology. Teams need to share information, and I think technology can accelerate that if the integrations are in place to support it.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, much like Procore in existence for that same reason, that’s what WorkMax does too. We try and collect that field data from a labor and production perspective better than anybody, and then empower the ERP, empower the payroll process, empower of the job cost system, empower project management tools with that better data.

Eric Tucker:

Yeah, exactly. And those are teams that previously were dealing with email, and spreadsheets, and attachments, and Dropbox folders at best. And every time that information doesn’t get transferred well enough, if there’s a gap in communication there, that’s a deterioration of trust which can really hinder progress of these companies.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I like what you said, no one solution is going to be able to be all things to all people. And so like you mentioned, integration is the key then at that point. APIs, web connectivity, web apps that have continual touch points with sharing that data within the various systems within their ecosystem. Is that the way you see it as well?

Eric Tucker:

Absolutely. And what that means also for contractors, is the more API and integration availability there is from the existing systems, workforce management systems, from construction management solutions, from ERPs, it means that the industry can actually attract more innovation. Because in the same way that one system can’t be all things to all contractors, and all departments, and all their different functions, we want to bring… More startups is good for this industry. It’s going to give contractors more choice, it’s going to bring new technologies to the industry that the bigger companies may not be able to build. And those APIs are going to allow them to play nicely within an existing tech stack.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. So you mentioned the word tech stack, so what is that for the listeners to understand better?

Eric Tucker:

Yep. So a tech stack, think about a stack of your technology systems. And this is something I think we’re starting to see construction CIOs, and IT leaders, and operations leaders take a lot of pride in. This is the stack of solutions that is the winning stack for your particular company. And the really good companies are, are managing this as a sort of, I don’t know if fluid’s the right word, but there’s your core stack of solutions. You have a backend platform that’s connecting field, back office, and a lot of your construction functions, like Procore. You have your accounting system that’s synced really well. You have your workforce management system and labor tracking solution, which could be you guys, it could be us, it could be several others. There’s some field technologies that might be really critical to that particular contractor’s needs, whether it’s a mid-market union electrical contractor or a large GC, those things are going to differ.

Eric Tucker:

And then wrapping that all up into an analytics solution, like Procore has a backend analytics system that brings all this data together. And so, you have those core elements, but at the same time opening yourselves up to pilot different solutions to layer on top of that stack, at a low level of risk. And managing that, that idea of managing a tech stack gives contractors the ability to try new solutions. It makes them more innovative, and it helps build an innovative culture within their companies, because they have built a way to safely try new things.

Mike Merrill:

So, you’re saying nail down the core systems, and then try other pieces and components to enter into that ecosystem, is probably your recommended strategy?

Eric Tucker:

Yep, that’s what we’ve seen. I think for the most innovative contractors, a lot of them have dedicated IT managers that are thinking about this, that are managing programs to allow for pilots of new solutions, and also educating core companies around integration. So for us, for a typical contractor, trade contractor, workforce management is absolutely critical. The construction management side, which is managing the productivity component of that, managing the costs, managing change management, RFIs, drawings, communications up to the customer, those are all things that are really core. I think ERPs are also that way. We see companies stick with an ERP for 10 or 20 years, those are really hard to displace. But the good thing is that there’s so much infrastructure being built to allow for connectivity to all those systems.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. So, basically whatever trade you’re in, whatever focus your business has as a core, there are solutions to specialize in those particular things. And then you’re saying, find these other complimentary solutions to customize, and tweak the needs that you have as a business. But the takeaway is that those systems, those solutions, despite what industry you’re in, exist. Right?

Eric Tucker:

Absolutely. And contractors are able to survive without some of these solutions today because they have been for 20 years. But the reality is that the amount of work that there is being thrown at them with a shrinking labor workforce, is really changing the calculus of their process. And the technology has shown up to solve this. If you look at field service, there’s several different really world-class cloud and mobile solutions that integrate with the ERP. Several of them integrate with Procore now. The same thing with workforce management. There’s there’s solutions like WorkMax that bring all these together.

Eric Tucker:

There’s also, you have things like labor scheduling, for example, and deeper tools that maybe the solution in Procore, or WorkMax, or the ERP is good for some, but there’s a level of sophistication that another more point solution brings to market. I think point solutions can actually be really valuable to certain contractors if it solves their need. And the good thing about these newer companies, the newer construction technology companies entering this space, is that a lot of them have a freemium or pilot model. So, they’ll allow you to go try before you really commit to enterprise agreements. And Procore has close to 300 API integrations in our marketplace, so we’re trying to make sure that as the solutions come to market, they integrate with the backend solution of the contractor. So you can try them, the data syncs up, and it’s available.

Mike Merrill:

So, you mentioned workforce management, scheduling, service-type dispatch solutions. Are there some other things that are on the horizon, that are coming down the pike as well?

Eric Tucker:

Yes. So, the other area that I think is really interesting is the materials space right now. If you were to go buy, it’s summertime, I just bought a new umbrella for my outdoor patio on Amazon this week. And I can go on there, I can compare similar solutions or similar products, I can compare pricing, and I can choose a shipping route. I can actually have a choice of logistics. I have Prime, so obviously that one’s easy, but there’s also if I didn’t, you can choose between a carrier and there’s a price associated with it. And then once I buy it, I can simply go into an app and see exactly where in the world it is, whether it’s out for delivery or not. And then once it’s delivered, it tracks it.

Eric Tucker:

That’s an amazing amount of infrastructure that’s available to us as consumers, that does not exist in a unified way for contractors. And we’re seeing a lot of companies step up to go solve that, and it’s really exciting. So, both on the materials procurement side, and suppliers are also very interested in this. And so, I think contractors should stay tuned to some of the materials management solutions that are coming to market. We’re integrating with several right now.

Eric Tucker:

The other area would be, that I sort of think of as the supply chain, but it’s not exactly materials delivered to the job site, it’s the fab shop and fabrication solutions. The coming together of BIM models, of advanced computerized machinery, and then actually just shop operations. There’s manufacturing solutions for every other industry, and we’ve seen several pop up for construction in the last few years, and I think those are going to continue to grow. But what’s so interesting about the shop function, and I know so many trade contractors especially in MEP space, are looking to build out prefab functions. You still have a workforce management function there. They rely on things in the construction project, like change management and daily logs. So, those are areas that are going to require deeper integration, and are going to require contractors to give a lot of feedback to get it right.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, you brought up a really good analogy. I really love that, buying the umbrella through Amazon. It’s true, you can’t do that with a bunk of plywood easily today. And if you can, it’s not widely known. I don’t hear companies talking about those solutions as of yet, so exciting that you’re seeing some early signs that those things are starting to hit the street, and there are technology companies investing in those types of solutions.

Eric Tucker:

Yep, very exciting.

Mike Merrill:

So tell me, as we talk about some of these different things, I know the common component to a lot of it as it relates to construction, is just this whole idea of the innovation of mobility. How important is that today in any software solution that someone is leveraging?

Eric Tucker:

Yeah, mobility is absolutely critical. Going to a desktop solution to actually enter in information, is just too slow for construction today. The opportunity with mobile, if we go back a decade ago, the folks using technology on a job site were maybe the project managers and accountants. It was maybe a project management system, and the accounting team, and maybe some folks in the back office. But the opportunity with mobile is that we’ve brought technology to the field. So, now if we think about time tracking applications, if we think about forms, all of these things that used to be on clipboards and paper, we’ve now digitized, which is really exciting. And so, pretty much every core function of the field should really be digitized, so that we can actually roll up data and run analytics on it to drive productivity and profitability. It’s just such an exciting time for that, and mobile makes that possible. That’s the tip of the spear for data, is creating good mobile experiences.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, that’s a great point. It reminds me, we had James Benham recently with JBKnowledge, on the podcast. And he coined a phrase that I really liked and I’m probably going to have to steal and use. But he was talking about the old scanning solutions that would basically take a piece of paper and make it a digital PDF, and he was saying back in the 90s or early 2000s, that was a great solution because it got rid of the physical paper. But all we were doing is making that physical paper digital, we weren’t getting the data from it where we could actually have it digitized. And so, he called it a 90s solution to a 2021 problem.

Eric Tucker:

Yep. I listened to that, and I think he couldn’t have been more spot on. What’s what’s exciting is, I talked a bit about the amount of venture capital coming into construction tech, is it’s attracted user interface designers from outside the industry. So, we have this sort of renaissance of good technology design entering construction, that’s really empathetic to the needs of a superintendent, or the needs of a foreman, or the needs of a worker, and how we may need to capture data from them, or to support them with data to do their jobs better. And we’re hearing, there’s just some really creative interfaces being built. And I think that’s one of the reasons I come back to all-in-one is never going to nail it. Right?

Eric Tucker:

We have in our marketplace today for Procore, we have a couple of solutions that are just interfaces for Procore. They don’t do anything but provide a different layer to interact with Procore data. These are apps that we didn’t build, but some of our customers wanted this functionality. Things like interacting with an inspection via a text message, for example. That’s a solution that folks should really open themselves up to, that is built off understanding the needs of the field, but with the sophistication of a system like Procore. So, I think mobile is absolutely key, and it’s great to have just a confluence of minds thinking about mobile. Even when you think about a backend system, like an accounting or HR system, there’s so many use cases where bringing additional users into that experience can add value. And we’re having those conversations with you guys, we’re having those conversations with HR companies like Arcoro, we’re having those conversations with accounting solutions as well.

Mike Merrill:

Well yeah, and another guest we had on was Jeff Gerardi with Proest. And he was talking about how they just changed their user model so that everybody could be in Proest. Because now it’s not a game of migrating licenses, and inactivating, and reactivating, and sharing and all these things that companies try and do to try and keep the costs down. When in reality, you want all of the stakeholders within the organization to have access to that data, should they need it. And so, I love the talk track that you’re on there with that. That’s great, great to see.

Eric Tucker:

Yeah. Procore’s been an unlimited user model, I think forever. And that’s been an interesting journey, because we’ve seen users of construction management technology that we would have never seen before. And I think that’s where you get some of these innovations coming from, and we’ve seen apps launch in our marketplace that have just been directly suited to adding more value for those users.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. And it helps you get the good word out, when people move and there’s ebbs and flows in workforce, and employees move to different organizations, if they’re fluent with your solution or any solution, and they enjoyed the experience and got value out of it and felt like it was a true solution for their role, then they’re going to recommend it to their new organization. And that’s how we all get better as an industry, not just one company or another.

Eric Tucker:

Yeah. And so, I guess to distill down your original question around mobile and why it’s important, I think mobile is the starting point for collaboration. And that’s what actually connects the field of the back office, you have back office and trailer functions that are working in browsers, and the field needs mobile. And not just mobile apps, but we’re seeing audio devices, maybe it’s the Apple Watch solution, maybe it’s a robot. But that’s that mobile functionality is ultimately what really connects those two, and also connects different contractors that are working together on a project.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. True collaboration, right?

Eric Tucker:

Yep.

Mike Merrill:

So, this has been a great conversation, I really enjoyed the technical side of it. Before we wind down, I did want to ask you a couple of other more personal questions. That sound good?

Eric Tucker:

Sounds great.

Mike Merrill:

Awesome, okay. So first of all, when Eric goes to put on his cape for being a superhero, what is your superpower? What is it that you feel like you embody personally?

Eric Tucker:

Yeah, for sure. So when I take the Clark Kent glasses off.

Mike Merrill:

That’s it.

Eric Tucker:

Yep. I would say, this is a tough one because I could give you a much easier list of all the things I’m bad at. But I would say building trust is a major, I think is something that I’ve been able to bring to Procore, both internally and externally to different technology partners. This has been a journey over the last three years, where a lot of construction technology players did not work together. Data was in silos, and especially Procore’s a large company and one of the larger players, and sometimes there’s an apprehension to work with a big company like that. Building trust with our technology partners, and contractors, and employees that a partnership model and integration model is something that’s valuable. And that happens in a bunch of different ways, but that would be my answer, is I would say building trust.

Mike Merrill:

That’s great. That’s definitely a great one, and I’ve felt that from you in our opportunity to work together recently.

Eric Tucker:

Thanks, Mike.

Mike Merrill:

You bet. So, let’s talk about maybe a challenge that you’ve seen either in the industry personally, that you had to overcome and work through, and maybe what helped you do that?

Eric Tucker:

Yeah. Learning construction. I spent the first half of my career at a similar company to Procore, but we were the Procore of the boutique wellness industry, so yoga studios, salons, spas, CrossFit, and helped build out their API ecosystem and a lot of the partnership connectivity there. And so, in the last three and a half years, I’ve had the joy of learning construction, and overcame that just by, gosh, asking a million questions. Procore does also a phenomenal job of learning and development of, like I said before, bringing technology people into this industry and getting fresh eyes on how to solve challenges. And so, we do a lot of work to train up our people on construction and construction management. And I have some amazing colleagues that have come from industry, that I just continue to learn things from every day.

Mike Merrill:

That’s awesome. Yeah, we need more tech and construction. I appreciate any company that’s helping bring that talent into this industry that we love so much, and that we serve every day. So last thing, if there was one takeaway that you wanted our listeners to have more conversation today, what would that be?

Eric Tucker:

So, it’s really funny that you said we need more tech in construction. Because I think it’s a perfect segue, because I think the inverse is true for what I’d like to leave this audience with, is that we actually need more construction in tech. There’s so much tech that’s shown up, and I think the reality is that on the Rogers’ adoption curve of technology, most contractors are still in the late adopter or lagger phase. And we need more early adopters and more innovators to come help technology companies think about how to innovate, how to integrate. We need feedback on integrations.

Eric Tucker:

There’s a lot of solutions, thousands of solutions. I think there’s like 4,000 construction technology companies today. And we really need feedback to go solve for new workflows that meet the needs of the field. And so, this is a big challenge when construction IT budgets have not increased despite the influx of new technology solutions. So, I think we need more contractor input. And even if technology companies aren’t asking for it, they need the input, they want your input.

Mike Merrill:

Love that. Boy, more construction in tech. What a great way to switch the words around and give a deeper meaning. Thank you for that, Eric.

Eric Tucker:

Yeah.

Mike Merrill:

All right. Well, thank you. It’s been a pleasure, I’ve enjoyed this conversation. We’re excited about our partnership with Procore, and the integration that we’re providing, and anxious for the future. So, if you enjoyed the conversation that Eric and I had today, please give us a five star rating and review, and share this episode with your colleagues and friends in the industry. Of course, our goal always is to not only help you improve in business, but in life.

Advice to Overcome Common Obstacles Construction Business Owners Face

Advice to Overcome Common Obstacles Construction Business Owners Face

Construction leaders are masters of their trade, but at their core, they’re also entrepreneurs. Fortunately, as different as industries may be, there are several immutable laws of running a business – and that’s something Cody Rich knows all about.

A serial entrepreneur, Cody is the founder of the Backcountry Fuel Box and host of the Rich Outdoors Podcast. With two successful companies under his belt, Cody knows a thing or two about implementing and improving business processes and structure. Chatting with host Mike Merril, one of the biggest challenges they will talk about today is the unintentional roadblocks that owners can sometimes create for themselves. Cody shared what he feels are three common struggles owners are facing. If you own a construction business – or you want to – this is the episode for you.

 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Build a line of credit with your employees. Giving your employees power over something is important if you ever want your business to run without you. Start by giving your employees a dollar amount they can spend to solve problems or create opportunities without having to get your approval. As they prove themselves, make sure to increase their “credit,” it can get to a point where your sharpest employees have unlimited credit. 
  2. Systems are what separate business owners from firefighters. Having established systems in place with the right people and technology releases the owner from having to spend their days running from situation to situation putting out fires. A leader should not be doing a job they hate, the right system means that the right person can do the hated job better than the leader ever could. If you are doing jobs you hate, your system is broken. 
  3. Don’t be the bottleneck to your business’s success. Your systems can always be improved. Cody points out the best way to find issues in a well oiled machine is to step out of the business. Start with a day, then a week then a month. It will reveal the holes in your system that you can improve. When you can leave for a month without issues, you have the healthiest of businesses.

 

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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 joined by the wonderful Cody Rich.  Cody is a serial entrepreneur and the founder of Backcountry Fuel Box, and also the host of The Rich Outdoors Podcast. One of my favorite podcasts to listen to in my spare time.

With two successful companies under his belt, Cody knows a thing or two about implementing and improving business processes and structure. One of the biggest challenges that we’ll talk about today are the unintentional roadblocks that sometimes owners can place or create for themselves. So Cody’s going to share what he feels are three common struggles that owners are facing. And if you own a construction business or want to someday, I think you’ll really enjoy this episode. So hello, Cody. Thanks for joining us today. 

Cody Rich:

Hey, how’s it going, Mike? Glad to be on. 

Mike Merrill:

Doing Great. Thank you. Really appreciate you joining us. So I mentioned in the intro that you’re a serial entrepreneur. So can you share a little bit about your background and why you love to tinker with new ideas so much and really focus in on solving problems? 

Cody Rich:

For sure. So I guess my most current background and most people know me as a hunting podcast host, but like you said, I eat, sleep and live businesses and startups and those things. I got into that world and went deep. And so I run Bozeman entrepreneurs. I deal, I consult with multiple entrepreneurs. And that’s been my world, but for you guys as listeners, I’m just a dumb farm kid who grew up with Seventh Generation Grassroot farmer. And so I come from a really, really, really small town. And all of my friends are farmers or contractors. My brother-in-law owns a big excavation company. And so I know that world at least enough to be dangerous. 

And it’s interesting to me because I guess my last 10 years are very much in startup land and these businesses and how to structure businesses. And one of my goals personally is how do I help entrepreneurs get through the struggles that I had early on? I had this idea that I was going to create a business and go hunting all the time. And it turns out that’s way, way harder than it sounds. And so I like to help entrepreneurs get to there. 

And yeah, this is pretty applicable podcast because I was on a hunt with my brother-in-law and this is the conversations we were having is, how do you scale a business in the construction space to get to the point where you can hunt at least more often, maybe not as much as you want, but at least more often? And so I think a lot of these problems that I try to solve for all kinds of entrepreneurs are perfectly applicable to a lot of the construction industries. And I have a lot of those conversations even on my podcast from general contractors, to builders, to custom home builders to excavation guys, all these things. So I’m stoked to be on. Stoked to talk about some of the philosophies and mindsets, or I guess frameworks that I put into a lot of businesses to help entrepreneurs get the most out of their business. And also that whole work-life balance thing, which is a joke, but we’re going to do that as well. 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I love that. Yeah, you’re definitely a great fit for our listeners. I think again, your entrepreneurial background is certainly long-lasting and a little bit more broad than what a lot of us do. A lot of us get stuck in one direction that we’re focused on and not necessarily stuck, maybe it’s a path we choose, but you probably have a diverse background. So that’s really cool. 

Cody Rich:

Yeah, and I hate the term successful because I don’t even look at myself as successful the same way with my podcast or with businesses. I’m on a step. There’s been a lot of lessons learned and it’s almost scary to think that I’ve been doing this for 10 or 12 years, but there’s people I learned from and I try to be a sponge. So I don’t want to come on the podcast and say I’m an expert, which I don’t think anyone assumed, but just for clarification. It’s tough because there’s still multiple things within our businesses that I’m struggling with or working on. And so it’s an ever-moving target.  But that’s the fun thing about business. It is an ever-moving target. And I think that one of the things I’d like to get to and we’re going to talk about is, what got me here, won’t get me there. And it’s this ever-evolving mindset that have to keep shifting as you grow your business because as your business grows, you scale into more problems, different problems and those things. 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, man, I love that term. What got you here, won’t get you there. Tell me a little more about that? 

Cody Rich:

Yeah, there’s a great book called What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, and it really shifted my mindset on a lot of things. But once you have that framework of all these things, when you start out a business, you’re just trying to keep the doors open. You’re trying to get paid. And let’s let’s say you’re just trying to keep employees fed, employees happy employees from leaving, all these things and you’re dealing with that and you’re just trying to make enough jobs to get it to work. And then pretty soon you’re trying to buy back time. You’re like, “Man, I’m working 80 hours a week. I got to figure something out.” And so then you’re trying to do that and it’s just a different scaling problem. It’s about changing things. It’s about changing cultures, getting employees be happily do what they want to do. And how do you work yourself out of your own company and those things? I don’t know if we’re on takeoff on the first one of being the bottlenecks and those things, or how do you want to go about it, Mike? 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, let’s talk about bottlenecks. What are some examples of bottlenecks that companies experience that maybe they put in the way of themselves? 

Cody Rich:

So I think we’re all guilty of this and especially me. I’ve been guilty of this and it’s one of those things that I have to come back and remind myself of constantly, but we are our own bottlenecks. So when you start a company and you’re in the mud, you’re in the trenches, so to speak, you’re just working, working, working. And I think we all go through this where it’s tough to hire someone because I can do it faster and I don’t have time to explain it to someone, but I think as you mature and you realize that I just can’t possibly do everything, that’s a bottleneck. And that’s usually the first one that you come to is hiring people. It takes up time, I don’t have time, but you realize that you can’t possibly keep going at that rate. So that’s a bottleneck.

So that’s how you the owner becomes a bottleneck. And I think this goes throughout a business life cycle. And this problem just grows as you grow. So I really want to push on entrepreneurs or business owners. And even, we were talking about this, even superintendents, how are you becoming the bottleneck? We put so much reliance on ourself that we are the thing, we are the reason this business is successful and that’s great. But at the end of the day, how are you being the bottleneck? 

And that’s one of the most important questions I think anybody can ask themselves is, how am I becoming the bottleneck? And it’s one of those things where we try to have value. We try to be important. We want to think that yeah, we’re the reason. And I don’t care if this is the business, the owner down to the superintendents. You’re basically trying to make yourself valuable to some extent. And at the end of the day, how are you becoming the bottleneck? And it’s a balance of not being the bottleneck, working yourself out of the system. 

So for me, a lot of what I teach is how to basically be able to go and do the things you want to do. I don’t really care if that’s going hunting, if that spending time with your kids, or that’s being able to go get more jobs. You still need to work yourself out. And I think for me, the goal is always how do I take myself out of it and not make myself a bottleneck? And so from the top to the bottom, I don’t care what you want to do. It’s a matter of how do I create systems and empower people to do the things that I can do or teach them how to do the things I can do? And that’s a really tough step for a lot of business owners.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, what are a couple of examples of, let’s say somebody in a construction business they specialize in something and they feel like they’re the only one that can do that thing. And I’ve been in that boat as an owner many times where, oh, I got to be there. It has to be me. I’ve got to be involved. And I think that’s exactly what you’re talking about, but what are some ways that people can work through that? 

Cody Rich:

Well, some of the… Let’s just take excavation as an example. Usually you start out, you’re an owner operator. And then you can run a whole faster than anyone. And you hire a guy and he can’t do it quite as fast or quite as good. So you might as well just do it your damn self. And this becomes so common, but you can’t scale, you can’t go get new business. You can’t work on relationships if you are the one running the machine all the time. And so this is super common. And then finally, you hire an operator and yeah, he does 80% of the job you do, but then you’re always working and managing them. So now you’ve got, let’s say a crew of three and you seem to just be bounce around being a firefighter. 

I always joke that I went to school to be a firefighter, and then I became an entrepreneur, which is ironic because that’s exactly what you are, is just a firefighter. And as an entrepreneur, the next bottleneck usually becomes the firefighter. And that’s where you get to this point where you’re like, “Okay, I got five guys. Now I need a super who can manage these people,” because you always have to look at yourself is, what is the next thing? What does moving forward look like for our business or our company? Is that new, or is that expanding lines? Sometimes, let’s just say you specialize in doing a particular thing like solar. And so your job is it to go get more solar to build a bigger crew and specialize in that niche thing, or is it how do we expand? How do I grow to the next things? But that always needs to be looked at as what is your job? What do you want your job to be? And how do you get there? 

Mike Merrill:

So one of the things that I know you’ve talked about in the past is team building and that being a component of working through these bottlenecks, how would that relate or improve the situation? 

Cody Rich:

It goes back to hey, this is our biggest problem is, I can do everything. And I always say you have to give your managers and/or your team, it doesn’t matter. I always say a line of credit. So a line of credit is, you have to trust them. For me, I just hired a new gal and I’m like, “Hey, any decision under $100 need to be your decision.” And that usually grows. For this one that was by $500 by Monday. We don’t have tome for those. So I have to empower those people to be able to make decisions. And the metric can change. You could change like, “Hey, whatever, it’s $10,000 or $100,000 decision. I don’t really care.” But by empowering those employees, you give them more to work for than just a paycheck. 

And I think that’s another big piece of it. A lot of people want to say like, “Oh, how do you keep good employees?” Man, that’s the end all be all question. And I think it boils down, for me, to be more than just dollars. I think it’s important to pay your people well.  And it’s important that you know the benefits and all of these things, but at the end of the day, is that really what’s keeping employees. And in my experience, I don’t think it is. And I think it boils down to purpose and meaning and being trusted. Take it your kids, for example. If you give them an allowance, it doesn’t mean they’re going to work harder, but if they feel special, then they’re going to work harder, or they know they’re appreciated, or they get to think for themselves, that tends to work better. 

Employees are no different, not to demean employees. But people, humans want to be valued and appreciated. And so how do we instead give them the power to make decisions? And this is by and large, you’re going to fix your own bottleneck problem. So if you’re an owner, you need to let your superintendents run their own line of credit. And this grows. And so you don’t just give them free will to make decisions, but you come up with a metric, whether it’s a dollar number, that seems to be a good baseline and you say, “Okay. Hey, anything under a $5,000 decision, I trust you to make that decision.” And what that’s going to do, that’s going to create more trust, more value. 

And there’s always holes in the strategy and there’s going to be people that don’t pan out. But if you create that expectation, it should trickle down the line. So if you’re a superintendent, the same thing. I think there’s a lot of supers that want to feel like they want everything or they’re doing the right thing. Like it’s won or lost on their shoulders and their team is just these peons that do their work for them and that set a bad mindset. And I think you need to create that culture that trickles down and like, hey, you trust the super to make the right decisions. Anything under $5,000, that’s his the decision. He needs to make it, which is only going to free up your plate. But at the same time, I think even the most grunt ditch digger needs to be able to make his own decisions clear. 

So you can’t have like supers that are just micromanaging everything. And it’s just a trickle down building that culture. And this comes from top down. And we hear this all the time. Corporate comes top down. Well, you as the owner need to be creating this culture within that goes top down. And you need to push it a little bit because not every super want to empower every book sticker or every operator. And so those have to trickle down, and that’s why culture really to me, is so important. And it can be tough though. And don’t get me wrong. I know people are like, “Hey, well, it’s easy in your industry, but in mine, it’s totally different.” But I don’t know, I disagree with that. 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I think you’re right. I think you’re onto something there. It’s just people. We’re all just people and have similar thoughts, feelings, emotions, wants, needs. 

Cody Rich:

Yeah, in the fire industry, it’s like you have this trickle-down ladder and I think that’s really applicable, but you have to be able to trust the lowest level of firefighter to be able to do everything he’s going to do. And that firefighter has got to feel like he know he can make decisions. He’s got to feel like he knows what he’s doing. Sometimes the captain is going to slap you upside the head and say, “No, we’re going to do it this way.” And there’s going to be a butting of heads. But man, culture is so important. And I think if you want to get… As an owner, we see one of the bigger problems is, how do I work myself out of this? I can’t work myself out of this. My guys expect me to be there. 

I don’t know those two are necessarily perfectly in sync. As an owner, I’ve seen this a lot of times where owners have a struggle to leave because their guys are like, “Well, the owner is just effing off all the time. Why don’t I get just effing off all the time.” To me, that’s like a sign of toxic culture. You have to embed that from the beginning. And sometimes that can be really hard as that transition. As you go from owner operator and you have a couple of guys and you guys are all working tight knit together, all of a sudden the owner wants to go do whatever he wants to do. Say he wants to go on a 10-day hunt, those things are sometimes it can be really hard. But again, going back to what got you here, won’t get you there. If your goal is to do $10 million a year, then you working inside the company is not going to get you there. You’re going to be stuck at that middle ground for a long time. 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, you talked about culture and confidence, and I think that’s a good term building a culture of confidence that your employees know that they can be trusted and that they are trusted. And the firefighter example, I just keep thinking that literally is a life and death situation in many scenarios. If you’re out there fighting a fire, you can’t say, “Hey captain, what should I do?” You have to be a power to make those decisions or you may be risking your life. 

Cody Rich:

Right. And in most construction and most businesses, that’s probably not the case, but at the same time, that’s why it’s easy to let those things slide is, if you’re an officer and you got a bunch of firefighters, they know they have to be able to make decisions, whereas in a business it’s easy for me say, I’m the owner and I’m just telling everyone what to do. And every time someone comes to ask me, I give them the answer. But instead, maybe try to say, “Hey, what would you do?” It’s so simple. Like, “I don’t know, tell me what you do.” And it’s like corrections. I can do this all the time. Like, “Well, what’s your thought?” And people taking it back. “Well, I don’t know.” “Well, what would you do?” And boiled down to that fourth question. And then, even if it’s wrong, sometimes I’ll let them go. I’ll say, “Okay, let’s try it.” And then we’ll come back to it. Because at the end of the day, sometimes I don’t have all the answers. I know that just because this is the way I would do it may not be the perfect way. 

And I think in construction is more black and white. Here’s how it’s done. It’s almost easier to say, “Well, what would you do?” And then tweak that. “Okay. Here’s how we could do it better.” But make that decision. And sometimes this is very true, the employees getting habits. It’s easier to go ask for a decision than it is for me to make a decision. And so you almost have to force those like, “Hey, stop asking me. You know what to do. That’s why you get paid what you do.” Let’s do this. And maybe it’s a tough love thing. And that seems to work sometimes and then blow up and others. But at the end of the day, it’s like you have to force those people to start thinking for themselves. 

You’ve seen employees where they’ve been at companies where every decision is made for them. They’re just basically doing this thing. And so that can be a big shift in just the type of culture that they’ve been into to the culture you’re trying to create. And that’s why culture is so important within a business. I don’t care what kind of business, whether it’s construction, whether it’s e-commerce, whether it’s a media company, all these things, they become important because at the end of the day, that’s what’s driving you to get to the next level and just having clear, concise goals on what that looks like. 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, you mentioned culture. And before we hit record, you said something that struck me. You said even as your company was growing, even with 14 employees, or even under 20, sometimes people don’t necessarily really know each other even. So what can you do to help them have more camaraderie as a unit instead of just 14 individuals? 

Cody Rich:

Yeah, and you see this happen a lot. In my space, I’ll talk about it because I know it better than some others. But what happens is, and everyone’s seen this where it’s three to five employees is a team and it’s pretty tight knit. And then all of a sudden, when you have multiple job sites or you have 20 employees, and you just switch is usually between like 10 and 15 employees, it becomes us versus them. And that’s an interesting thing to watch is when it becomes, the employees become a team. And then all of a sudden it’s management is this other team. You have to be cognizant of that and work towards it. And whether that’s cracking beers or bringing pizza to the job sites and things like that and just creating that comradery of this is… Or being transparent with what you do. 

So, a lot of resentment comes when you have an owner that is just mysteriously gone. And it is like, “Oh, he’s must be off drinking [inaudible 00:19:59] at the beach or whatever.” But when you have a clear, concise company structure like, “Hey, here’s what I’m doing.” And as much as it doesn’t seem like the entire company needs to know what you’re working on. And sometimes that helps create or get away from that division of us versus when it comes to management and every other employee. So when you build that culture, it should so different, it goes back to what got us here, won’t get us there is, you have to understand that culture is very different at five employees than at 15 employees. 

And there’s just different struggles. As long as you have that concept, I think every company is slightly different. Every company has got its own problem. Some is going to be us versus them. Some is just going to be bickering within employees, or people who don’t get along. So you got the best operator in world, but he doesn’t get along with anyone, that can really crush a company. And I think it’s important to build companies that mesh together well. I would take an operator that is 80% as good as another operator, but fits well with the team because the team is going to operate as a whole better. 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, that’s a great point. So is there a mentality that the owner needs to have? Is there some advice you would give as a approach to making these kinds of adjustments within their business? 

Cody Rich:

 

And so the simplest thing is taking an interest. And there’s definitely a mentality of not getting too close to employees, which there’s a fine balance, but it goes back to what got you here, won’t get you there. And when you have three employees that has to be different than at 50 employees. But I think it’s important for company culture to have a relationship with those employees. And I don’t care if you got 50 employees, at least knowing them, maybe not knowing everything about them, but knowing them so they know you. And I think that face-to-face it can go a really long ways.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, so you’re saying have a relationship with- 

Cody Rich:

Have a relationship. Have a basic of that, right?

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, and it’s interesting as you’re talking. The last few days I’ve been doing some interviews. We’re hiring a marketing position. And so one of the questions that I’ve been asking is, what are your goals with this position? Well, what do you hope happens? And all of them said, “Well, we want to grow the company.”

Cody Rich:

Yeah.

Mike Merrill:

And so then I dig in further and say, “What does that mean?” And with five different people, the answer was different with all of them. It all had a money component, but one of them actually said, “No, grow as individuals. I hope we all grow together.” And that’s what pushes the growth of the company. And ultimately the revenue is going to come because of that internal personal growth as a team, which was really interesting.

Cody Rich:

Oh, absolutely. And I think it’s getting really clear about your goals and your struggles. So when it comes to hiring, we tend to hire what we think the company needs, or what’s the biggest thing that we don’t want to do. That’s a really common one like, “Man, I hate bidding jobs. So I’m going to hire someone to bid the jobs.” But looking at it is like, okay, if we look at where do we want to be, and what’s our five-year ten-year goals, and who’s the best person for that? This goes back to being the bottleneck. So if you’re the bottleneck and say yeah, you hate bidding jobs, but you’re probably the best person for it, then maybe that’s where you need to be. And maybe you set out a goal to say, “Okay, in three years, I’m not going to be that person.” 

This is 100% where I’m at. There’s jobs I hate doing. But every time I hire for them, it slows the company growth because no one’s going to do it well. And it’s my lack of desire for that particular job is the bottleneck. So it may not be… It’s my personal bottleneck, but that’s not the company’s… It’s the company’s bottleneck. So there’s just a different. So, you know what I mean? It’s like if I don’t want to do it and it sucks, but it’s going to help the company get where it is until I can find someone that can do as well as I can. And for me, a lot of what that means is that I need to create a better system. 

So I look at all my comraderies is building systems. So I build systems to test things to get myself out. That’s how I solve bottlenecks. So in this particular case. So there’s a job I really hate doing, but I can’t seem to hire people to do it as well as I can, which just means that I don’t have a good enough system. And so I evaluate a lot of things on systems before the podcast and we’ve talked about this before. One of my goals, frameworks, I should say is that every September I leave [inaudible 00:25:32] County and that’s a hard fast rule for me. And what that does is, it’s a litmus test for how well my companies are doing. So I should be able to leave in September and take three weeks off. And if there’s a problem, that means that I didn’t build good enough systems.

For me, that’s the ultimate litmus test is can I leave? And what would it look like? So, the very first time this happened, it was like, I read this book called The 4-Hour Workweek and it was like, okay, what if you were diagnosed with cancer and you couldn’t work  for four months or whatever? What would that look like? And you really start to think about these things. And to me, it’s a great litmus test for, okay, are my systems operating correctly? And I think it’s easy to get wrapped up in the day-to-day and getting jobs and doing jobs. But at the end of the day, we have to look at our company as systems. And I want to take myself out of that. That’s my goal. 

So every year on September 1, it’s like, okay, can I leave? And granted. Man, the first year that it fell apart completely. And every year [inaudible 00:26:37] and it’s been going on for 10 years. And I get much better. And there’s good years and bad years where I leave. but this goes back to building that line of credit with my employees so they know they can handle these things and I should be able to leave. That’s the culture I wanted. So that’s the culture I created. And from the first hire and every hire after I’m like, “That’s my goal.” My goal is to leave in September and be able to do so with everything running smoothly. And then how do I get there? And so my job for 11 months out of the year is to build systems.

Mike Merrill:

I love it. Even for my position here, and I think back to my construction days, and I remember that first trip to Disneyland where my kids were four and two and a homeowner freaking out that I was leaving. And so I hadn’t even trained my customers to realize that hey, I have a life too. So your point is very well taken by me directly. So I hope the listeners are realizing you’ve got to make yourself replaceable in terms of your role and the things that you do day-to-day so that you could live life. I love that advice, Cody.

Cody Rich:

You have to be very intentional about your goals or they won’t happen. And one of my good friends, Brian Barney. He’s a builder. And he leaves. That dude hunts more than I do I think. And him and I have talked about it on my podcast, how do you design your…? He’s like, “You just have to be intentional. And you go into these things.” Yeah, he was saying, and I think this is very true, a lot of contractors will try to hide the fact that they’re going to be gone like, “Oh, I got this other thing.” You don’t want to tell your clients. But it turns out that if you’re just really open and honest with your clients and you have a good team, they’re not really going to care. Their only worry is that things go well. At the end of the day, they want the job done. They want to at the right price and they want it done well. 

So if you’re gone or not gone, I think it’s better to be transparent about those things and say, “Okay. Hey listen, I’m going to be gone, but here’s my guy that’s going to be your point of contact from this point on.” You make the introductions and this is how it works. And you’d be surprised when you go out a problem like, “Well, this is how we do it and this is how it’s done,” most people aren’t going to have a problem with that. There’s always going to be this like, “Oh, I hired you and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” Well, make note of that. And that’s not the kind of customer who we want from now on. At the end of the day, it’s about being very intentional of what your goal is. For me, that goal is to leave every September and working very diligently to build the team and the culture around that that happening and making it happen. I have to move towards that. And for me, leaving is a litmus test of how well I built my systems. 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I think that’s brilliant. And as I think back to, it’s the same thing. It could be just golfing. That’s a really common one. I remember my subs like, “Well, actually I’m golfing.” And it’s like, “Oh, you failed the inspection. We got to get this fixed today.” And now I’m ruining his golf game and he’s… So again, if my plumber would have had a system where I’m not calling him the owner directly, I’m calling his guy who’s not golfing, then I wouldn’t have messed up his golf game and he wouldn’t have to worry about it.

Cody Rich:

That’s the bottleneck. Right?

Mike Merrill:

Right.

Cody Rich:

And these things happen and that’s a litmus test like, “His crew failed inspection and we got to be back there.” Up didn’t get a good golfing today. But instead of being like, “God, dang it. Why don’t you fix this? Shoot darn.” It’s like, okay, how do we make sure this doesn’t happen again? What processes can I build so I don’t have this problem? And that’s it. Just keep building processes until you solve all the problems, your biggest headaches. We sit here and be like, “Man, I go back to this firefighter analogy.” I’m constantly the firefighter in my own company. And half the problem is that those problems are always changing and they’re always growing. 

And so I’ll solve one problem and up pops two more. But that’s life. It’s like as soon as you cut off the head of one snake, I’ll pop another. But that’s the game to me is, how do we build these systems and solve these problems? And then when you get really good at this, it’s like, okay, how do I empower my people to solve the problems so I don’t have to? How do I get the people to be cutting off the snakes heads so I’m not doing it for them?

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, and I think most people, they just like, in those interviews that I was conducting, they have a goal for their business. They have a goal for their family, for their life. They’ve got hobbies and pursuits like I said, whether it’s hunting or golfing or camping or traveling or whatever it is, there’s somewhere else they would like to be on occasion and probably should be for a healthy balance. And everything you’re talking about about building a culture where there’s trust, where people, they’re not afraid to make decisions because they’ve done it before. Right?

Cody Rich:

Another thing I constantly harp on for a lot of entrepreneurs is, when we first start out, we all just trying to make money. That’s the goal number one of how do I work for myself, make money? And then you get money and you realize, “I really actually just want time.” So we have to restructure our companies so that we can actually have money and time. And then we get to money and time and then we’re like, “Okay, what am I really doing here?” And so purpose is the third wheel of that. And so then we have to restructure our entire company or pivot in a way that we can actually have money, time and purpose. 

And I think it’s really important to stop and sit down and think, how do I work towards at least time? Purpose isn’t for everyone, but at least time because that’s inevitably. If you look at every business owner before you, and a lot of my mentors, they all made money and then they were trying to figure out how to have money and with time. And that’s the ultimate thing. And so think about as you build your systems and you build your culture and all these things, even if you don’t want it now, time is what you’ll be after once you get there. 

Look at all the business owners before you. They all built money and then they built these empires and they’re like, “I wish I had time.” So they want to build time. And I think in order to get to time, you have to have a great team. You have to focus on team. So, as you’re sitting there today and you’re like, “Man, I’m just trying to get more contracts, more money, more money, more money,” also, I think it’s important to think about how do you build a culture and a build a team because a team is what’s going to get you to having money and time? 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, you use a term earlier that I really liked. You said “buy back time.” 

Cody Rich:

Yes.

Mike Merrill:

You’re still fighting for the time, even though you’ve been fighting for money the whole time. And now all the money you earned, you got to spend it to go buy that freedom back because now like you said, whether it’s now or later, you’re going to want to have some time. Right?

Cody Rich:

Right. And it’s the classic conversation is the one I was having. I was on spring bear hunt with my brother-in-law and he’s like… He went through that 2008 recession. And I think it started looming, man. They were just scraping by. And so after that happened, it was just be super conservative, pay off everything and just work, work, work, work, work, take every contract you have. And I think you’re seeing a lot right now. Construction’s booming and everyone’s taking in money while they can because they don’t know how long it’s going to last. 

But don’t get in the rat race of just money and jobs and trying to hoard that and pay off equipment. Because at the end of the day when things go bad, you got to have good systems or you’re just saving money. And I think the system, system, system is what I try to teach entrepreneurs. And I get it because I get stuck in the rat race of just trying to keep the lights on, trying to pay the bills. And that is a rat race in its own. But that’s its own bottleneck, You have to be able to build systems to build a great company on top of that. 

Mike Merrill:

Well, and the thing that I was rolling around in my brain as I’m thinking of this analogy with our children and how we build trust with them and how we allow them to grow. And eventually they are going to be making their own decisions, whether we like it or not and they’re not always going to be what we want. But hopefully is- 

Cody Rich:

Yeah, in retirement homes, they tell you not to do things for people that they can do themselves. And I think this is true with kids. If you dress your kid and do everything for him every day, is he going to learn to do it on his own? And no. And so the same with elderly or anybody managing a lot of injury, they’d say the same thing is don’t do things for them that they can do themselves. And I think this isn’t true with employees. Sometimes it’s easier just do it for them, but they’re never going to learn and they’re just going to be more reliant on you. So the more you can let them struggle and fail, the better. And also it’s like your kids. If you just give them the answer, they’re not going to learn as well as if they have to struggle to figure it out. Right?

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, if you end up being there Google.

Cody Rich:

Right. You become the easy button and you become the staples button and that can be as toxic to a culture. I don’t want to harp on that whole thing, but it’s like, “Man, you have to let them struggle to figure it out.” And I think this is as much… I think most owners get pretty good at this. I think it’s a mid-level problem. I think there’s a lot of superintendents because they don’t have the necessarily freedom to walk away. Superintendent’s usually trying to hold onto his job and he try to add value to the company. And he sees that value in his ability to make decisions and do things. But and it’s different because the owner is trying to work himself out of a company where the super’s just trying to justify his payment. 

I think there’s multiple ways to go about that. If you’re a superintendent, you can also be very, very valuable by building a great tea. That is powerful. I will gladly pay you $120,000, $150,000 a year for a team that runs perfectly smoothly. And I have zero problems with it. I have zero fires to put out. That’s efficiency.  And so building those things. And so when you look at that mid-level, you have to… The reason you have owners and you have, let’s say employees that are high-level employees, one has job security and one has risk. So the owner takes the risk of time or the risk of losing everything for the benefit of time. 

And I think it’s easy as owners to look and assume that that supers or any high-level employee is going to be the same, but their big benefit is they get to go home and leave the problems at the door. You don’t. But the trade off is, they have security. And so, maybe they get a pickup and a $120,000 a year job. That’s really handy. They leave all the problems at the door when they clock out. And so that’s what they want out of life. And maybe they don’t want to go spend a month off doing everything, but at the same time have risks 24/7. 

So I think every position has trade offs and it’s easy for owners to put their own desires on all of their employees, which I don’t think is always true. So this goes back to understanding your employees. You got a high level manager and he’s like, “Oh man, hey, what’s your goal?” “Man, I just want to make good money, hanging out with my kids, be able to offer them a life I didn’t.” That’s probably a really common answer. So how do you provide that, they’re great. My goal is X, Y, Z. And I think you can help facilitate a lot of those goals. 

But we as owners tend to put our hopes, desires, wishes on our employees as if they’re the same. But not everyone has a risk tolerance. Not everyone’s an entrepreneur, not everyone’s a risk taker. So us as owners tend to be like, “Oh man, they probably want to start their own company,” or these things. I don’t think that’s necessarily true. And I think if you can offer them the ability to have money, time, security, which is probably what they’re wanting, then they’ll probably be great employee for forever.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I’ve heard it said many times by lots of entrepreneurs, coaches, and inspirational leaders and people out there. I’m sure you’ve heard the same phrase. And it’s basically, if you want to get what you want, you’ve got to help other people get what they want. 

Cody Rich:

100%. 100% agree with that. 

Mike Merrill:

So we got to start by asking. We got to ask them, what do you want? 

Cody Rich:

What do you want? 

Mike Merrill:

What’s your goal? What does that mean to you? And then drill down till you get to the finite answer.

Cody Rich:

What do you think too because when ask people that, they think you’re like scheming. I just hired one of my new hires and I’m like, “Hey, where do you want to… And I think she was trying to give the textbook answer. I’m like, “No, really?” And you sometimes have to work through that. You can’t just go to an interview like, “Hey, what do you want?” They’re going to give you the textbook answer. They’re going to be like, “Oh, what’s he want to hear? And I’m just trying to get the job. Today, that’s what I want. Today, I want a job.” 

But I think if you look at like, I don’t know, what the human wants. So they want to feel appreciated. They want to have… They want to be tested. I think that’s a big piece of it. When I was working for another company, I think more than my pay, what kept me there was that people trusted me to do my job and they trusted me and make big decisions. And how simple is that? That’s actually what the owner wants. He’s like, “With your pay, doesn’t matter. It’s more about the decisions you make or being able to solve problems.” It’s pretty underrated. It’s pretty cheap thing to give to people. 

Mike Merrill:

Well, the difference is, you’re talking about more personal interior fulfillment than cash. You feel like now you’re so important. Right?

Cody Rich:

Yeah, and I think we all have that, even if you want to work at a job. You’re already got a job. You want to get paid 120K a year with a truck. That’s your money problem is fairly solved. And now you have security, job security is in the thing. But then once you have those things, you want to be tested. We’re humans. We all want to be pushed. We all want to grow. And I think those are pretty natural things across most people. 

Mike Merrill:

So Cody, we’ve talked a lot about putting and processes in place.  Let’s say somebody already has those things in place. They’ve improved. They’re in a better place. I know that you seem to really have a mentality of how else can I improve and streamline and embrace innovation? What can you tell us about that? 

Cody Rich:

Yeah. So innovating is the name of the game. If you’re not growing, you’re dying. And that can be at odds with what we were talking about about being a bottleneck. So I think it’s important to always be innovating and pushing like questioning. I always say question why you’ll be out of business in five years and then work to not make that happen. Or the same could be said for, in what capacity, what would put me out of business? And so, always be thinking about what would happen to put this whole system at a play and then how do I work towards that or work towards making that not happen? That’s a really important thing because it’s easy going back to, hey, we’re getting in the day-to-day the rat race, the hamster wheel, so to speak, and we’re just focusing on the little things, but all of a sudden there’s an iceberg ahead and it can sink the ship. 

And so, as you innovate, I think it’s important not to be rescued, but not risk everything. And so you see people they’re like, “Man, the next greatest thing.” All this money’s going towards this thing and they’ll push. And then that thing falls on its face. And so I think it’s important to have really, really good systems that are in place to keep the wheels turning and that keep the flywheel turning, but then be always looking in dabbling. But keep that at a percentage. You say, “Hey, 20% of new business is going to be XYZ because we think this industry is where it’s going, but never enough to sink the ship,” because going back to thinking about what could possibly sink the ship like, “Hey, if we pivot because there’s all this money and x, y, z, then if that falls on his face is it going to crush the ship and crush the culture?” So I always look at innovation is, how do we innovate to stay alive, but not completely pivot to sink the ship? 

Mike Merrill:

Oh, I love that. Yeah, so I guess to summarize the conversation, which it’s been fantastic. What’s the one takeaway that you would hope the listeners would have from our conversation today? 

Cody Rich:

I think the one takeaway that I always preach is, you have to be intentional about where you’re going or you won’t get there. And build systems with goals in mind. Simple as that. 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, powerful. Love it. Well, thank you so much, Cody, for joining us today. I had such a great time catching up and also learning from you. I’ve appreciated your innovative spirit and of course, our friendship. And look forward to maybe doing this again down the road. 

Cody Rich:

Absolutely, Mike. Thank you for having me. 

Mike Merrill:

You bet. And thank you to the guests for listening today to The Mobile Workforce podcast, sponsored by AboutTime Technologies and WorkMax. If you enjoyed the conversation that Cody and I had today, please leave us a five-star rating and review. And of course, share this episode with your friends and colleagues. After all, our goal here is not only to help you improve your business, but also your life.

Digitization, Privacy and Efficiency are Top Trends in Construction Technology

Digitization, Privacy and Efficiency are Top Trends in Construction Technology

As an industry with a reputation for being behind the eight ball on technology adoption, there are a number of trends taking place that many contractors may not be aware of. This is a problem, especially when these technology trends have implications on the future of the construction business. Fortunately, Nathan Wood joins host Mike Merrill to touch on the latest conversations about technology in construction. 

As the founder and CEO of SpectrumAEC, Nathan is an expert on construction technology and has worked with over 100 project teams spanning the US, Europe, and the Middle East. These experiences have taught him that when it comes to adopting technology in construction, it’s not one size fits all. As the Executive Director of Construction Progress Coalition, Nathan’s goal is to break down the human-based barriers to new process and technology adoption and see contractors succeed like never before. That starts with understanding where the industry stands with digitization, privacy and efficiency.

 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Efficiency vs Privacy: the battle between top down and bottom up needs. The need for data consistency and dashboards are top priorities from the executive, IT and management levels of a business. On the other hand, those that are actually creating the data and digitizing that work – the folks on the jobsite! – simply want the tools that are most efficient for them. There needs to be a balance between finding a midpoint between the top-down data consistency needs and the bottom-up efficiency needs. 
  2. Data is different from technology. Converting analog timecards and reports scanned and put into digital form, or collecting data born digitally, doesn’t do any good unless it is distilled into usable, actionable information that the entire team can understand and use. That is where technology comes in. The right technology will take your data and give you information in return that you can actually use to be more effective and efficient.
  3. Create fair expectations for all stakeholders on a technology implementation. Rolling out technology without getting insight from key stakeholders is a receipe for failure. Instead of introducing a new technology and telling everyone how things are changing, leaders need to engage potential users from across the board and secure buy-in from the start.

 

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Episode Transcript

Mike Merrill:

Hello, and welcome to The Mobile Workforce Podcast, sponsored by AboutTime Technologies and WorkMax. I’m your host Mike Merrill, and today, we are sitting down with Nathan Wood. Nathan is the founder and CEO of SpectrumAEC and the executive director of the Construction Progress Coalition, otherwise known as CPC. Nathan is an expert in construction technology and has worked on over 100 project teams spanning the US, Europe, and the Middle East. These experiences have taught him when it comes to adopting technology and construction, it’s not one-size-fits-all. His goal is to break down the human barriers in new processes and technology adoption and see contractors succeed like they’ve never been able to do before. Today, we’re going to be talking about digitization privacy and efficiency. So, hello, Nathan. Welcome on the podcast today.

Nathan Wood:

Thanks for having me, Mike.

Mike Merrill:

You bet. When we talk about technology in construction, we have to talk about digitization. What can you tell the listeners about digitization and what it is and isn’t?

Nathan Wood:

Yeah. 

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I love that. I love the term. You said, “born digital”. Tell us a little bit more about that and what the differences are of something that’s born versus not, digitally.

Nathan Wood:

Yeah. I think it goes all the way back to is your contract at the very beginning a smart contract that’s digitally sealed and signed? How much of a digital paper trail you have across your entire project I think is one of the major drivers for the digitization of this industry and really the need for it. I think that the McKinsey reports and all the stuff that you read about this lack of data is the only thing we can shed light on. I think the unfortunate thing is once we do see that data, we’re probably not going to like what we’re seeing either. So, it’s sort of this two-edge sword of we’re not getting the data we need, and then once we find it, how do we actually reckon with what that data is telling us?

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. Got it. With that being said, what are some samples or examples that construction companies today have of both sets of that kind of data. Both originated and converted.

Nathan Wood:

I think anything that’s coming out of your ERP, your accounting system, that is you’ve set up that PO, you’ve set up that job number, that’s kind of that born digital that you want to stay digital all the way through to completion. Too often, those get printed out into paper tags and different things that lose that native digital. I think really where we’re facing the biggest challenge, not necessarily keeping things digital inside of our companies, inside our company firewall, but that external exchange from the general contractor to the owner or the subcontractor to the general contractor. That’s where we lose a lot of the data and why we end up with this duplication.

Mike Merrill:

Got it. So, I’m also imagining when you talk about data types that are born digitally versus otherwise, it sounds like transferring something that was on a paper document or maybe a spreadsheet or somewhere where they’re having to recreate, or retype, or regenerate is the disparity between the two. Is that right?

Nathan Wood:

That’s where I look at digitization as actually a bad thing. It’s the unnecessary effort that it takes to recreate something that is analog back into digital, whereas digitalization, add that extra A-L in there, is that streamlining, that connectivity, that integration across the supply chain that starts to smooth things out is kind of that next level. So, we kind of look from digitization to that next level of digitalization is a lot of the early efforts and early successes that we’re seeing in the industry today.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. When you’re saying this, it’s making me think of, we just had James Benham, the CEO of JBKnowledge on the podcast recently and of course he’s a big proponent of the same approaches to technology and true solutions, and James talked about the older scanning solutions where we were digitizing paper, but all it was creating an image. So, he said that’s a ’90s solution to a 2021 problem.

Nathan Wood:

To be really nerding out, what he’s actually talking about, it’s electronizing because there’s electronic is that scan that I can see on my computer but it doesn’t actually have anything inherent to it. Making it digital has some level of inherent data, but, again, that effort versus digitization versus digitalization. Say that 10 times fast. It’s that barrier there that is really the rub, the frustration, that we’re seeing with technology adoption, because I think we all see the potential, but there’s this barrier of frustration. We actually have to figure out the process change that enables this digitalization for us to have our cake and eat it too. Otherwise, we get frustrated with the technology not working when really it’s not necessarily the technology’s fault.

Mike Merrill:

So with companies today, what would you say is the key to successfully going down this path that you’re talking about of efficiency versus what they might be doing today?

Nathan Wood:

Not looking to technology to solve the problems upfront. Technology is a huge component in the solution, but it’s really the last step in that kind of three step process of addressing the people, and then addressing the process, and then addressing the technology that best fits it. Depending on who you ask, whether it’s an IT director or someone in the BIM and VDC operations tech world or a superintendent on the field, you’re going to get three very different answers as far as what they’re looking for from technology. I think that the solution, the digitalization, is when you can get all three of those folks to align on the same thing and figure out what that kind of magic sauce is to use technology to translate their needs so that we can actually have our cake and eat it too.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I like that. What kind of an ROI can a company expect if they are able to leverage some of these advanced functionalities that are available today?

Nathan Wood:

As a former project engineer and BIM engineer, I can say that the unfortunate truth is that what you’re saving is additional hours that one of those poor, young engineers would be doing that is pretty much captured in their salary anyway. But, from a quality of life? What other things could they be working on? There’s so many intrinsic reasons, but usually when it comes to that ROI calculation, what my response is don’t look at the return on investment, look at the revenue loss potential, RLP which is basically a hybrid calculation of how many hours are you spending unnecessarily doing things that could be automated with a little bit of investment in this integration, 1, and then 2), what risk are you posing yourself by having this person manually be doing this thing that could be automated through technology so that you’re actually better managing your quality of data and your quality assurance.

Nathan Wood:

So, there’s really two different reasons why, but it’s almost like, “Tell me what your ROI is on your insurance policy.” I can’t tell you the ROI, but I know that I pay it. I feel like the better you are with technology, the less you’ll end up actually paying for it because you’ll pay less for services. You’ll have more of that internal. You’ll be able to leverage it more, and you’ll figure out how to create it as a profit center, like a lot of those that in the industry are able to do. I think it starts by recognizing that there’s a big investment. There is a dip in that curve that you have to make and sort of a trust fall to get to that point where you’re actually showing that it is a profit center and there is an ROI. But for a while, you have to almost treat the ROI calculation like an insurance policy.

Mike Merrill:

Hmm. Yeah. I like that analogy. I think it’s very easy to visualize. So, if you’re comparing a large organization to a small organization, between the two of them is the savings on that ROI proportional to their company size or do you see any differences between the two?

Nathan Wood:

I think the larger the company is and the longer that they’ve had existing system… I think it actually matters more not necessarily how large they are, but how long they’ve been in existence and how long their legacy systems have kind of grown roots within the organization. I think the biggest challenge that we’re seeing now are organizations that were very forward-thinking 20 years ago and built systems when it was better to build it than it was to buy it, but now everything is software as a service and everything’s in the cloud and they’re not quite ready to make that jump from on-prem to the cloud because they’re so embedded in the way that they’ve always done it. I feel like there’s a big dilemma with big companies on that front, which gives a great opportunity for the smaller guys that maybe never had something, it was just Excel spreadsheets, or other things, or were kind of kicking around different tools, gives up an opportunity to really search the market, pick the right tool, get themselves set up right, and scale right at the right time.

Mike Merrill:

Another big topic in construction tech today is the discussion around privacy versus efficiency. Can you break down maybe what those issues are around privacy that you’re hearing?

Nathan Wood:

Yeah. The best way I actually describe that is almost like a top-down versus a bottom-up need. We were talking earlier about this need for data consistency and dashboards and wanting to see all the data in one place. Generally, those that want to see that are at the executive level or at the IT level or at the management level, whereas those that are actually creating the data, those that are digitizing and doing that digitization work, they’re frustrated and they just want the tools that are most efficient for them.

Nathan Wood:

It’s really this how do we bridge that gap between the most efficient tool for those in the field to capture and create data and also get that data to the same common source that IT or that executive, whoever wants it, from the top-down. Really finding that midpoint, that translation between the top-down data consistency needs and the bottom-up efficiency needs. Things like privacy, security, all those other aspects that are really top-down challenges are always contrasted by, “Well, but that’s only going to create less efficiency, and my job isn’t to do this paper pushing. It’s to be out building or to be out managing.” I think that’s where that dilemma continues with technology. It’s actually making something worse rather than fixing it.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. In some cases, I know when we hear companies have concerns about adopting newer technologies, mobile technology, they’ll say, “Well, you’re making so-and-so’s job easier, but now you’re going to pile this on me” or, “Now, I’ve got one other process I’ve got to manage.” I think messaging that out to your staff and having not only a consistent message, also overall buy-in from everyone. That “Look, we’re going to give a little here. We’re going to take a little there. In the end, generally, this is going to be better for the entire organization, so this is why we need to do it.” It’s about the team winning together, not any one person shouldering more or less than another, right?

Nathan Wood:

What makes that team is shared purpose and having that alignment on a common why? Why are we doing this in the first place? I think that’s where a lot of times I see, especially in the consulting side, leaders get tripped up in they want to see the dashboard, but yet they can’t effectively communicate the measurements that they really want to see. Again, until they can define very clearly what are those top five or six key performance indicators or critical success factors that you’re measuring across projects, that is going to define this is how your project’s performance is measured.

Nathan Wood:

We believe this to be a fair measurement across all projects, and that everyone’s had that conversation and agreement of what that is. Too often, technology gets rolled out and people are told that things are changing, and they’re not really told why they’re not given that full context. It’s either because it’s not communicated to them, or it was never actually determined in the first place. That’s really the order of operations. Figure out what those measurements are, communicate them to the organization, and then deploy the changes, and I think the adoptions are much more likely to be successful

Mike Merrill:

I love the way you phrase that, and I think one of the things that we’ve got to be more aware of as an industry is that we’re, by definition laggards in adoption of technology compared to other industries. A couple years ago, we did a data report where we surveyed companies from all over the US, different industries, and basically, the results came back and said that, generally speaking, most companies are using five to seven different apps to collect different data. That’s still a high number. It would be better to be using less apps. Most of them are still using some form of paper or spreadsheets. They haven’t gone fully digital. There’s all these different findings, but generally speaking, we’re finding that more companies are moving on board; the trend and the tide is turning, and so, that really leads into something that I really wanted to talk about today. That is this Construction Progress Coalition that you are heading up. What can you tell us about that and the mission there and why you’re doing your work that you’re doing there?

Nathan Wood:

Yeah. The high level story going back to 2012/2013 was actually prior to a Bluebeam Extreme Conference. Sasha Reed, who was with Bluebeam at the time, and Kyle Hughes, who was with Skanska at the time, got together with about a dozen contractors to talk about the shared pain of, “Well, why is it that some PDF, which again was an open ISO standard at the time export, why can’t we use these files to more efficiently automate different processes like tagging and searching and hyperlinking that were new capabilities that were coming out from the technology.” We sort of had this big epiphany of, “Well really, again, this wasn’t how folks were using the Revit or AutoCAD or other designed tools or how they’re using Bluebeam.” It wasn’t the tools themselves. It was actually how they were using them, and the process that they were using in the settings that they were using that was missing.

Nathan Wood:

So, what we were missing was this, this sort of guidelines around, if you just do these basic things, make sure these certain settings are turned on, make sure you have a true type font so that we can search through and actually search the font rather than having to use optical character recognition, OCR, that makes it much less reliable for searchability and other things. Because you’ve seen some of these projects; they have 2,000, 3,000 drawings, and we have to be able to parse through that and in an effective way. It was really the early stages of this need for data standards, data interoperability, and changing our process, so the Construction Progress Coalition was born out of this PDF shared pain. We left, dropped the name Construction PDF Coalition, picked up Construction Progress Coalition, and joined forces with the Construction Open Standards Alliance, that I believe you guys may have done some work way back in the day with the AgcXML efforts and some of those early… Is there a story to that?

Mike Merrill:

We sure have. I have attended, in fact for years, meetings every month and regularly. We had two or three other team members, so we made sure that we were present and accounted for when that was going on. We work with all the other major ERP vendors in the space, and they also were a part of that. They were happy to see us involved and felt like it was important. We have a broad voice in the industry and our experiences from large to small organizations, so many integrations with all these different vendors. It made sense for us to throw our hat in the ring and be a part of that.

Nathan Wood:

I think that’s what’s so interesting about this dual kind of combined story of these shared pains at the industry side, between architects, engineers, contractors realizing if we just do these things certain ways within existing tools we can make this work, while at the same time technology players, like at ISA, HUB, and Sage and SmartBid, and you guys were all kind of working on these AgcXML integrations. But, I think the industry wasn’t quite ready for you. They weren’t quite understanding; it was a little too far ahead, but it set a really great framework. We still have on the website today, those original AgcXML downloads and the RFI/CDX certification that we’re starting to move forward with is still based on that fundamental framework.

Nathan Wood:

Anyone that did work based on that original stuff is actually ahead of the game, but it’s just taken that long for industry and technology to really catch up. Now it’s not XML standards, it’s APIs, so we have to understand what really is JSON, what are the capabilities of these different tools, and how do we bridge that language gap between what industry needs to communicate from requirements and what APIs can do from their end so that again, we can have that cake and eat it too. I can use my preferred time tracking or daily report or whatever app and that whatever system the GC requires and whatever system as a sub I require on my end, I can push one button and have that data go to the correct places all at once. We’re getting close to that. We have sort of micro-examples on the RFI and submittal level thanks to these iPaaS integration platform as a solution type products, like Rivet and Avocados and others, that are doing this types of stuff. It takes both new markets who pays for this middle integration platform that we’ve never had to pay for before.

Mike Merrill:

Right.

Nathan Wood:

Do we trust the data? This whole privacy security issue. At the end of the day, it is addressing the efficiency challenge, and so CPC, as an organization, we’re not a standards organization. We’re a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that promotes and advocates for open interoperability standards. Groups like the XBRL, Extensible Business Reporting Language, that does a lot of work with CFMA and all of the Surety organizations, NSBP, SFAA, trying to get them all together because they’re obviously seeing the need for data and connectivity across all of their projects. Ultimately, their data, a lot of it comes from contractors, so where can we identify opportunities for some shared gains where you get the same data you’re sending to the owner, you can also send to Surety and not have to do that reporting twice.

Nathan Wood:

I think until we can start to find more of those win-win opportunities, it’s going to be hard to find that ROI on some of these integrations. The more we start searching, the more we realize like, “Oh, wow. There’s some really big opportunities.” As we all know, there’s a ton of waste in soft costs in our supply chain that we can certainly cut out.

Mike Merrill:

Well, it’s like climbing a mountain. You’re going from one bench to the next to the next before you can get to the peak. Every time you get to the next part of that elevated area, your perspective changes, and you’re on higher ground. You’re in a better position. It just sounds like everything that you’re advocating for is let’s move this to higher ground. Let’s get to a better place. As you do that, your opportunity to improve and pick up other efficiencies is going to continue to grow.

Nathan Wood:

Yeah. The Everest analogy. Yeah. I feel like we’ve just gotten to base camp. Just got out of the valley, and we’re like, “Okay. Now, we can actually see where we need to go. We have some vision here.” For a while. It was just kind of searching around for like, “What is it that we really need to solve?” I think we now have a better understanding of what is missing in this disconnect between industry requirements and technology capabilities.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. Well, I can think back to your point. I can think back to, I don’t know how many years ago, seven or eight it seems like, I’m speaking with James Benham, again who’s been a guest on this podcast, and Dennis with Sage who’s also been a guest, and I know Benny Baltrosky, at the time with eSUB. They were all a part of that COSA. We had the plaques on all our trade show tables, and we’re proud members of COSA. My partners were asking me now, “What’s his thing?” I said, “It’s probably early right now, but I still think it’s important to have our voice be a part of this. It may evolve and become something else, but I can tell you right now, if this is what James Benham is doing, it’s probably a good thing that we should be looking at and also doing.”

Nathan Wood:

He is a visionary. You got to give him that. Right?

Mike Merrill:

The point is that we have to be forward-thinking in this technology space. We’re trying to help construction get better, and the only way that’s going to happen as if trailblazers, like our organizations, get out there early. We started on PalmPilots, so we’ve been through the whole iterative history of PDAs all the way to smart phones and smart devices and tablets that we standardize on today. Interesting and fun to kind of have a flashback to the ’80s it feels like.

Nathan Wood:

Right? Yeah. But, you guys were the early kind of elevated state of thinking that it is going to be open. It does need to have these interoperability points because regardless of if you ask me even if one system were to own an entire organization and, let’s just say Sage for instance, fits every single tool for a company, they’re still going to have to communicate that data to the owner that might be using e-Builder or Project READY or something else and a trade contractor. They might be using ISA or Procore or anything else, so that there’s still going to be that need for external interoperability regardless. Both industry and technology are opening their eyes to that. I think it’s an important inflection point for the industry.

Mike Merrill:

I agree. You mentioned Procore, and we’re working on some things with them as well right now. They’re super proactive. In fact, we’ve got them coming on the podcast here this next week. We’ve got a couple of different guests from their team scheduled, and we’re anxious to have those discussions as well. But, earlier you mentioned CFMA, and I know that you have a survey that you’ve been working on with them as well. We’re longstanding, almost from our inception, members of CFMA. We love CFMA. We’ve had Stuart Binstock on the podcast a couple of times already and will again in the future. What’s this survey that you’re working on with them? What can you share with us?

Nathan Wood:

I have to say, and plug, listen to Stuart’s interview because I did listen, and the CIASP is also a collaboration partner with Construction Progress and love everything that Cal and Stewart are doing on the mental health end of things. On the CFMA and around this shared pain of specifically with data reporting, and it’s, again, in partnership with XBRL US. Michelle Savage over there has been amazing, and they have about a dozen different Surety partners that are very active about looking for ways to, again, combine better interoperabilities, solve those shared pains.

Nathan Wood:

We’re working to finalize and distribute a survey that will go out to all CFMA members around identifying and really getting to think about “Where do I currently share a lot of this similar financial and with data to different parties? What if I could just hit a button and send it to all of them?” Probably a lot of folks that just hadn’t even thought through that before, so hopefully, the questionnaire 1) gets us some really interesting data and interesting insights on where the opportunities are, but 2) just gets their brains thinking about how much duplicate data entry they’re already creating, so they’re creating their own kind of mental ROI as we build the solutions that best meet those needs.

Mike Merrill:

I love that. The market decides what solutions get created because they’re going to be asking for those solutions, and they’re going to pay money for them. When they are asking and they’re paying money, then organizations like ours are going to enlist them, and we’re going to develop those things that they need. We do need to hear from the customers what their challenges are and how we can best solve them, and I think that’s been happening for decades now. We’re in a really good place, but we want to keep going. If you’re listening to this, please plug in, do the research, learn about these organizations, and plug into not only within your own organization, but your networks. If you’re a member of the AGC, we’re big proponents of the AGC also. CFMA we talked about. The Construction Progress Coalition, CPC. So many great organizations to come and get involved with to up your game in a digital age that we’re all living in now. When you say for better or for worse, I say it’s certainly from the better. Wouldn’t you agree?

Nathan Wood:

Oh, absolutely. It’s so great. Since the early AgcXML group got together and was really kind of shocking the industry of, “Wait. Software would actually share data with each other? Aren’t they competitors?” I think since then, Procore has been certainly a pioneer, and they’ve been early member and supporter of ours. Adios, frankly. As much as they’d been amazing in the industry, they really have pushed the industry towards subscription, towards cloud, better than a lot of the other platforms have been able to. I think the real dark horse in all of this is actually a Newforma, with coming from the architect engineering side, and the fact that they do control so much of that project. That really important project management, the RFI and the submittal data, is a really big pain point for the contractors and for the owners. They hold a lot of it from the designer side.

Nathan Wood:

So, the fact that all these different players are coming to the table, recognizing that we have to share this data, and we have to be open with it to some level, but that the customer still has to decide from a privacy, from a security, “What am I willing to share? What am I not willing to share?” It makes the technology end of it much more complicated, but I think together, we can find that middle ground that is not too burdensome on technology and is meeting that 80% need for the industry.

Mike Merrill:

That’s great. Is there a place that the listeners can participate in the CFMA survey still? Is that still available or open that?

Nathan Wood:

It is actually to be sent out, so hopefully by this time, as this is being released, there’ll be emails going out. It will be only for CFMA members, so if you are CFMA member, keep an eye out for it. It’s basically the XBRL contractor to Surety CDX survey is the name of that to look out for. It’s related to submitting WIP report data and those shared pains that are facing it, so keep an eye out if you’re a CFMA member for that email to click on that survey.

Mike Merrill:

That’s fantastic, and I think many members of the CFMA are listeners and many of our listeners are members so works both ways. Appreciate your plugging that as well; that’s exciting stuff. I’m glad to hear that’s going on. We’ll make sure to link that in the show notes so that they can click right from our show and plug into that survey.

Nathan Wood:

Great. Thank you.

Mike Merrill:

Awesome. So a couple things just to wrap up more on a personal level. I’ve had a great conversation, learned a lot today, even personally excited for everything that you continue to do. I appreciate that good work, but on a personal level, if there was one skill that you’ve developed in your professional life, what would you say that is and you would attribute it to it as your superpower?

Nathan Wood:

Hopefully, Sasha Reed’s listening to this. I would have to say patience. I am not a patient person at all. I am a self-admitted millennial that is very impatient with the change of this industry. But, through my headbutting and getting knocked down a few times and getting back up, I think this combination of patience and persistence has really paid off. Say that 10 times fast.

Mike Merrill:

That’s a good one, Nathan. I appreciate that. What about a business challenge that was difficult to overcome? What was it? How did you get through it?

Nathan Wood:

Oh, man. I think trying to stay to the defense of the IPD contract. I think there’s a lot of animosity, and sort of disdain for this new fancy, risky collaborative contract of integrated project delivery. That’s where I come from. That experience both the good, the bad, and the ugly. I would swear by IPD, but I think you have to be very careful with it and really understanding the importance of culture and leadership and how you use the system and not just rely upon the system to work for you. The biggest business decision and what I’ve found, the more I work with folks at the CMAA and other organizations that are more on the construction management side, is I feel like IPD has gotten a very bad rap over the years. So, I would always try and come to the defense of the target value delivery methodology and the whole alternative thinking on systems level approaches to business models.

Mike Merrill:

Love that. Well, for those nerds out there, they’re going to love that answer.

Nathan Wood:

Target value! Yeah. I know how many TLAs, three letter acronyms, can you fit in one answer.

Mike Merrill:

Love it. All right. So, the last thing. If there was one takeaway that you wanted to ask or hope that our listeners have at the end of listening to our discussion today, what would that be?

Nathan Wood:

I think that deciding on technology platforms and making these decisions, whether it’s one platform or many, is a decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Executives and leaders that may not be in a technology position do need to at least have a base knowledge and educate themselves enough on different perspectives. I think too often we found that executives leave the decision in the hands of one IT person or one BIM or VDC or innovation person, and too often, you don’t get that full spectrum of input and perspectives from those different stakeholders. The more you can make a broader decision when going into those technology decisions and use methodologies, like the choosing by advantages, CBA, another acronym for you. I think that decision making process and getting everyone involved in that is the biggest sort of advice that I’ve been giving out recently.

Mike Merrill:

Love it. That’s great, Nathan. Thank you so much. It’s been a fun discussion, and I’ve appreciated having you on today. I hope you enjoyed it as well.

Nathan Wood:

Thank you, Mike.

Mike Merrill:

You bet. Thank you to the listeners today for joining us on The Mobile Workforce Podcast. If you enjoyed the conversation that Nathan and I had today or were able to gain some helpful insights or intelligence that you can apply to your professional life, we ask you to please share that with your colleagues and coworkers and also give us a five-star rating and review on the podcast platform that you are listening to this episode. That feedback that you share with us is very valuable and helps us to continue to bring on great guests, like Nathan and others. Again, thank you for your listenership. Our goal, as always, is not only to help you improve your business, but your life.