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Increase Construction Productivity in 2022 with IoT Technology

Increase Construction Productivity in 2022 with IoT Technology

2021 was a big year for construction. This begs the question: what might 2022 hold? WorkMax’s 2021 In Review series aims to answer just that. Featuring our most popular guests, each week we will be reviewing highlights from the year and discussing what could be around the corner in 2022.

Today’s episode features Ajoy Krishnamoorthy, the executive vice president of products and CSO at Acumatica, a leading cloud ERP provider. Ajoy joined us for episode 40 back in August, where we discussed how IoT technology is making the construction site smarter. In our latest chat, host Mike Merrill and Ajoy discuss the Internet of Things (more commonly known as IoT) and how it can be used to share data from equipment and other environmental inputs. They break down how it impacted the construction industry in 2021, its relationship to machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI), and how companies can best approach investing in IOT in 2022.

 

Key Takeaways

  1. IoT is everywhere. IoT is a cutting-edge technology that has proven its value across sectors. Fortunately, construction is in a prime position to take full advantage of the data IoT has to offer. Contractors need to be aware of what IoT sensors can do and be ready to embrace the information each device shares, especially as it pertains to productivity, maintenance and environmental input.
  2. Technology improves decision-making for construction leaders. Today’s work environment requires construction businesses to move fast. The good news is investing in the right technology actually helps leaders make more confident decisions, quickly. For example, live machine learning software can access critical data from multiple sources, including IoT sensors, which can provide helpful insights to the decision-makers who need it most. 
  3. Start to leverage IoT insights with what you have: equipment. You might be surprised by how much of the equipment, tools and supplies you have already offer IoT data. The best place to find it? Look to a live field data collection option that can collect and process your data immediately.

 

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Episode Transcript

Mike Merrill:

Hello, and welcome to the mobile workforce podcast sponsor by AboutTime Technologies and WorkMax. I’m your host, Mike Merrill. Today we’re sitting down again with Ajoy Krishnamoorthy. Ajoy is the executive vice president of products and chief strategy officer at Acumatica, a leading cloud ERP provider.

Mike Merrill:

In case you missed it last time, Ajoy and I spoke on episode number 40 about the internet of things, otherwise known as IOT. We’re going to talk a little bit more about that today and how it’s impacting the construction industry and also its relationship with not only AI, but how companies can best approach investing in these types of technologies going into 2022. Thank you Ajoy. Appreciate you having on again.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

Awesome. Good to be back again, Mike. Thanks for having me. I’m assuming I might have said one or two things that are reasonable last time.

Mike Merrill:

You did. That’s why we have you back. Good for you. This is all your fault.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

There you go.

Mike Merrill:

For the listeners that maybe don’t know what IOT is, could you give just a little bit of a background or explanation of that?

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

Absolutely. In a simple way, if you think about IOT, it’s all the sensors that we see everywhere. We are all starting to see sensors even come up in our home environment. Going back to the garage door, we had a sensor that detected if there’s any object in the way before you can close the garage door, for example. It’s as simple as that in some cases.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

But if you think about organization, if you think about the commercial industry, if you will, the analysts are predicting a huge takeover of use of sensors in different ways. We’re seeing this across multiple industries, construction, agriculture, manufacturing, distribution, so on and so forth. Whether it’s for simple things like sensing soil moisture level or the level of fertilizers in the ground to tracking particular machinery. We’ve seen this in some form of electrical occupants, in HVC units where it has sensors to keep watch on the temperature of the unit. If it goes above a certain threshold, you want some notification to go on so we can do preventive maintenance rather than having to wait for the machine to go down and then come back and do a firefight at the point in time.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

At the end of the day, the sensors is all about giving you data and insights that might help you prevent an accident or prevent machinery failure or in the case of agriculture, understanding the moisture level in the soil and decide whether you need to put more water turn on your irrigation system or turn it off.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

IN the case of construction, we’re seeing that as well, where companies are starting to use it, even simple things like putting tags on them on the big machinery and equipment to start tracking, like I said, health of the machinary, calibration needs, utilization in some cases and so on.

Mike Merrill:

That’s a great explanation. That really boils it down good. I think most people will get a better sense of that from your explanation there. Thank you for that.

Mike Merrill:

Tell me this, for construction heading into this coming year, I mean, we’ve had an interesting year. What’s your hot take on 2021 and kind of where things have landed here coming into Q4?

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

I mean it’s been an interesting year, but also a pretty coming out of the pandemic, I don’t know if you can say coming out of pandemic, but obviously the challenge we had in 2020, and then transitioning into 2021, a lot of the organizations have definitely realized the importance of investment in technology as a whole. What we have seen organizations in the past that takes a lot of time, it’s like the decision by committee, for example. They can’t get to any, and prioritize the investments if you will. That shift has happened where a lot of the organizations have moved forward.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

I may mention this in the last time we chatted about, or maybe not, but what we have seen a lot of the organizations go through this, and it’s one of those silver lining with the unfortunate events that we had with the pandemic, is that organizations are now very nimble in making some of those decisions. One of the things I had, I was doing an interview not too long ago and the person asked me the question, what are one of the key takeaways out of this? My suggestion to the industry is that don’t lose that mentality. It’s almost like running a two minute drill in football.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

In a lot of cases, we have seen coaches use the two minute drill when it’s least expected. That takes the defense completely is all confused because you’re not used to that. Sometimes getting that type of strength, building that, of course, we all have to do it out of necessity. We have seen restaurants go through this transformation after having the same experience like you and I, now we go to restaurants. Now it’s all QR code. You scan the QR code, menu shows up, and then you pay within your mobile phone.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

Imagine that even 18 months ago, something like a restaurant to go through would be a 3, 5, 10 year process. Same thing in education. My kids were all doing online schooling and they had all kinds of infrastructure and technology put in place and all within a span of six months. Something like that would’ve taken a decade. I mean, this is the school system work for fundraising. They were still doing a bake sale. They can’t even accept PayPal.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

Then going through this pandemic, they adopted a lot of this technology at a rapid fashion. That’s what we are seeing and that’s true for the construction industry as well. I mean, construction traditionally have been lager from a technology adoption, but we have seen companies adopt, obviously from Acumatica standpoint, it’s the cloud ERP and then obviously the systems like automated time entry system, back into payroll, core job costing and field operations and so on.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

We’ve seen a good traction and we expect that to continue even more going into 2022. Then the generation coming in is demanding newer technology in terms of experience, how they interact with the system at mobile, with the stuff like we are talking about with IOT and machine learning and so on.

Mike Merrill:

That’s a great parallel to draw between the kids learning in school and how quick that happened and restaurants. I love how you mentioned construction is taking advantage of some of those changes that have been made within the rest of our lives. I’m excited to see that happen just as much as you are coming up.

Mike Merrill:

Tell me this, in terms of Acumatica, obviously being a cloud ERP provider and your large focus in construction, what are you seeing companies enjoy the most now that Acumatica is really got a good footing in the industry?

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

I mean, I think the key value proposition is obviously running in the cloud and this is what we see a lot of companies come to us through the transformation. The fact that they could have organization in a team members run and have access to the data from anyplace, anywhere, especially as we went through remote work requirements and so on. That impacted the construction quite a bit as well because of construction is onsite. There’s no remote. You got to be onsite. You’re building stuff.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

But then the back office, which is where ERP comes in, how do you deliver that value from a remote setting? Majority of the organizations haven’t thought through that because they were always used to being in the office. The crew meeting happens first thing in the morning and the crew leaves to the job site, and then you’re sitting there finishing up all of the back office work.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

But then when this whole remote requirements put in, a lot of the team members have to work remotely. One of our customers talked about the challenge that they went through and how they have to go and get IT provider for VPN access and so on and so forth.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

We’re seeing obviously a lot of construction companies coming on and taking advantage of the being in the cloud and having ability to access the data from mobile, from a web browser and so on. But then more importantly, if you look at in a construction as an industry, it’s not just about the ERP, but it’s also other services and applications like the application that you’ve got, Mike, with the time entry.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

We have a scheduling system, we have a weekly equipment tracking system. We’ve got project management and field operations. One of the thing that they appreciate as a value is the ability to connect with all these systems seamlessly. Acumatica supports open open API, provides an easy way to connect and use all of the system.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

One of the things, I don’t want this to sound like a sales pitch for Acumatica. One of the things that we take pride in is being very focused on technology, not technology for the sake of it, but applying that to specific business problems that our customers have.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

One of the things that we have done as part of that is investment into in a machine learning and AI. I mean, data is king. We’ve all seen all of these white papers that talked about how data is the new oil and all that good stuff. But at the end of the day, we all are exposed to a lot of data, but then what do we do with that data? How do you separate the signal from the noise? You can take some insights and that becomes really a key value asset for you to go take some actions on.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

Traditionally a ERP used to be called system of records. I want that to be called a system of results. System of records is old way of thinking. No, seriously. You get all these data into ERP, now how can I help our organization be more successful with it?

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

We have started doing work on things like we brought in machine learning to do recognition of documents, for example, with AP. When somebody submits an AP document via an email as an attachment, typically what employee does is they have to manually key it in. Now you can just literally drag and drop into Acumatica and we have a recognition system, not only takes a simple invoice, but a complex invoice with Taber listening. It can automatically detect, identify the vendor and then attach it to the PO as well with the PO identification. That saves time for somebody.

Mike Merrill:

Sure.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

Same thing with expense. You can take the expense receipt, capture an image, automatically get into our claims process. It saves time for the person who’s creating it. It also saves time for the accounting team because they don’t have to review and audit a lot of them because they know what comes in is actually at a very high quality, from a recognition standpoint. There’s no fat fingering going on, if you will.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

We are constantly doing a lot of that and then continue to push. One of the things that we’re working on right now is the anomaly detection, ability to look at standard transactions coming in. Let’s say, if I’m a construction contractor, I’ve got a particular project and there’s a line item where the cost is completely out of whack. Maybe it’s a fat fingering, maybe it’s a wrong assignment of code. The system be able to alert and say, “Hey, Mike, this doesn’t look right. You may want to just go look at it,” rather than having to spend 40 hours reconciling all the records, put your focus on the main ones that have the most impact to the business.

Mike Merrill:

That sounds like system learning or machine learning really. Right?

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

Exactly. Now machine learning and it’s augmenting people. I mean, a lot of people are concerned about AI and how AI is replacing people and stuff. We view this as an augmenting thing. It’s not replacement. Computers are good at calculating much, much faster than we can. They can identify patterns much quicker. How do we put that to a good use where so that way I don’t have to worry about those mundane activity? Whereas as an user and as an employee, I can go work on some high value tasks rather than having to look through line by line and identify any errors.

Mike Merrill:

I saw recently I got a notice from Acumatica about an enhancement of functionality of interacting with the PDF. I think you can annotate or get some data from a PDF and work within Acumatica. That was kind of exciting to see. I know there’s a lot of companies that’ll enjoy that.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

That’s a classic example where we can do this today in two different systems. You can obviously open up PDF and annotate separately, and then you can dump it, bring it back into Acumatica. What we did was we basically provided that experience within. If you attach a drawing log, for example, into Acumatica construction, you can open up the drawing log or a sales order or a purchase order and start making note, annotations and comments and corrections. Not only that, it automatically saves a version with audit can control so I know who made the comment, who made the changes or updates or a strikeout or whatnot. Again, it’s all about saving time and making the employee the superhero. We want our users to be the superheroes.

Mike Merrill:

That’s great. This is a great real world example of again, more of machine learning and where the system is actually trying to determine whether something looks right or not without a human brain having to decide on their own right or find it.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

That’s right.

Mike Merrill:

That’s great. As we’re going into 2022, what do you think some of the more impactful things that are coming down the pike that companies can be leveraging that maybe they’re not right now?

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

I mean, I think the key one, especially given we’re talking to the construction industry and the customers in that space, I feel like we’re still not as data driven as we need it to be. There’s still a lot of tribal knowledge, if you will, whether it’s like I talked about the anomaly detection, tracking, project expenses, labor hours, even things like estimating a project, how do we course, identify errors if a particular estimation comes in at a higher value and you close the project, how do you go back and do a 360 loop on that to say when we completed the project, this is what it costed?

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

Of course, there’s lots of change outers going in, which is obviously a key thing for the construction as an industry. I think I expect to see a lot more of that starting to happen in 2022 with us being in a more data driven. I think applications like Acumatica is going to play a key role in bringing that value to market.

Mike Merrill:

I think what I’ve enjoyed most about our relationship with Acumatica so far again, is that you are so forward thinking and progressive. I think you’re helping lead that charge to get the industry out of the prior decades of technology and getting them into the future and into the cloud where life is better.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

I mean, there’s a lot of initiatives like that. It’s not just unique to us. I appreciate you saying that. That means a lot. You’ve spent a lot of, couple of decades. Maybe I’m showing your age here by saying that, but you’ve spent quite a bit of time in the industry. You’ve seen what has and has not happened in the industry. It’s great to see the adoption.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

Some of that is driven by the workforce coming into the construction space as well. We’re seeing a lot of young workers coming in, taking over for their uncles and aunts and moms and dads, and they’re demanding certain level of experience behavior coming out of these applications. That’s what we as a software provider and I’m talking collectively here we have to commit to that, to this industry.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

Again, the bottom line is there are many initiatives that are happening, and I’m aware of that are obviously coalitions that have formed, that are setting up industry standards, which we are also participating in. It’s the rising tide lifts all boat. We need that as well, where we need to bring up the industry from a technical adoption standpoint so it makes the organization function more efficiently.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

That’s what I think we are contributing a little bit to that, and we are pretty bullish about this as well, because there’s so much to do in front of us. I think in 2022, you will see us specifically taking a move towards investing and providing feature set that considers the big data and the machine learning capabilities into the solution set. I expect a lot of the other software publishers and our partners to do the same.

Mike Merrill:

I think one of the things that I do appreciate working closely with Acumatica on is that you really do have more than a decade of experience in other industries. You’re bringing that domain knowledge and that expertise into the construction space while you’re making the product itself construction ready as well. I think when those two meet in the middle, it’s going to continue to be something special and something that’s much needed within the construction space.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

We have people in the team that have decades of construction experience that I’ve been working on this for the last six plus years. We launched a construction edition in 2018, like you said. The core financials, project accounting, we’ve been working on it for about 13 years now, since the company got started. That’s what forms the foundation. We’ve got successful customers have taken on GC subcontractors, specialty trained contractors, live one Acumatica and continue to a accelerate and drive adoption. It’s fantastic to see.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

You’re right, this is not just about looking at this from a feature function. You talked about different additions and so on, we’re starting to see our customers, a lot of construction companies, they also have inventory. We have a very strong strength in auto management purchasing requisition. We’ve got that capability and we are starting to see good traction with the companies that are doing prefab. They’re manufacturing and then going into onsite and building and assembling.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

Now you can have manufacturing and construction all at the same database, same application behavior. It’s a lot easier for organization to say from a production order all the way down to a project delivery, can I promise the schedule and can I keep up the promise of the schedule when I’m actually doing a prefab work before? That’s the type of stuff that we’re seeing adding a lot of value to our customers.

Mike Merrill:

That’s fantastic. Well, we appreciate the good work you’re doing, and we look forward to continue to work with you into the coming decade.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

Awesome. Well, thanks for the opportunity again, really appreciate it and great talking to you all. I know it’s the episode in the Q4 end of quarter is always crazy and fun and so on, but wish all your listeners a great finish to the year and an amazing 2022.

Mike Merrill:

Thank you, Ajoy. I appreciate having you on again and we’ll do it again in the future.

Ajoy Krishnamoorthy:

Sounds good.

2021 in Review: OSHA Compliance

2021 in Review: OSHA Compliance

As 2021 comes to a close it is important to reflect on the past year and look forward to what will be coming in 2022. Our 2021 in review series aims to do just that with our most popular guests. Each week we will be reviewing our past predictions for 2021 and what actually happened this year. In addition, we will dive into how you can have a successful 2022!

Our first episode is with Trent Cotney, the CEO of Cotney, Attorneys & Consultants, and the author of OSHA Defense for the Construction Industry. Trent shares what has changed in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) regulations for the construction industry, and what practices every contractor needs to act on to protect themselves and their businesses. Also, he will share what to expect from OSHA in 2022.

 

Key Takeaways

  1. The rules are still being established. OSHA was hands-off at the beginning of the pandemic but with new vaccine mandates going through the court system, it’s in your best interest to pay attention and make sure that you are complying with the multitude of changes that have happened in the last year.
  2. OSHA is increasing enforcement. OSHA is gearing up to hire more employees next year, which gives the organization a better handle on enforcement and tracking. If you have anything out of compliance, now is the time to fix the process. 
  3. New silica rules and increased enforcement in 2022. The Silica Standard will be a big change in 2022. With almost everything in construction containing silica, it has the potential to change a number of your processes.

 

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Episode Transcript

Mike Merrill:

Hello, and welcome to the Mobile Workforce Podcast, I am your host, Mike Merrill. And today we are sitting down again with a nice follow-up discussion with our friend Trent Cotney. Trent is the CEO of Cotney Attorneys and Consultants, and also an author of a book called OSHA Defense for the construction industry. So as we wrap up the year, Trent and I are going to cover what changed in this past year and also what we can expect with OSHA regulations going into 2022. So hello Trent, thanks for joining us on the podcast today.

Trent Cotney:

Hey Mike, it’s great to be here. I’m glad we had the opportunity to talk again. I’m looking forward to our conversations today.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. And it was fun meeting you at the Best of Success out in Dallas area, lots of fun to shake your hand and introduce myself in person.

Trent Cotney:

And I tell you what, that was a great event and it was good seeing you. Had a really good time.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, it sure was. Love the roofing industry and you’re a great advocate for them so we’re excited to talk about that today.

Trent Cotney:

Great.

Mike Merrill:

So let’s kick off the discussion by talking about what you saw the impact was of the COVID-19 pandemic for OSHA in 2021.

Trent Cotney:

So COVID-19 has been a very interesting time for contractors and other industries as well. And it was interesting, I was just talking to someone else earlier today about how it’s really affected the workforce. And one of the things that you see from a safety perspective is I’m starting to see a lot of sloppiness, I’m starting to see apathy. And I think some of that is caused by COVID-19, with remote work, with other people, just that culture not being as connected as it once was, I’m starting to see more and more mistakes.

Trent Cotney:

So when COVID-19 first happened, there was a lot of push against OSHA saying, “Hey, you guys needed to do something.” And for the most part, they were pretty hands off. Then I was concerned and I think a lot of other people were concerned that they were going to do an emergency temporary standard as it relates to COVID. Well at that time they did one for healthcare, but construction managed to avoid it.

Trent Cotney:

Now, fast forward, we’ve got a whole different set of concerns and that is the Biden administration has put out a variety of different executive orders and agency action related to mandates. In particular there’s one where he is asking OSHA to enforce an emergency temporary standard with regard to vaccine mandates. And what’s interesting about this Mike, is that he has said that what he wants is any employer that has over a hundred employees, they got to either vaccine their employees, or they got to engage in regular testing which is by definition at least once a week.

Trent Cotney:

So with that, a lot of issues have come out, obviously they’re still in the rulemaking process. There will be legal challenges, but it’s been a mess. I’ll be honest with you, it’s been crazy trying to keep up with all the different variations of what we started to see as it relates to vaccines and COVID-19.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I can’t imagine that any of us could have predicted things to go the way they have, but what’s most surprising to you after looking back on this last year?

Trent Cotney:

I think what really surprises me is just the how everything has hit it once. It’s made it very difficult for an employer to be an employer. And you think about it from a construction standpoint, you’ve got material shortages, you’ve got these vaccine related issues, keeping people employed and skilled labor is still the biggest threat out there. So it has… I am surprised that we’ve had to tackle as many issues at the same time, usually there is one issue at a time, we’ve had a dozen, it’s been a lot, a lot for everyone to deal with.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. A lot more than the left right combo. It’s like jab, jab, jab, jab, jab. Right?

Trent Cotney:

Yeah, absolutely. This is the 24 hit combo kind of thing we’re looking at right now.

Mike Merrill:

Wow. Well, I know you just had an update to your book, which we talked about at the beginning of the podcast. What did you update and change in there?

Trent Cotney:

We came out with a couple of different books, one was the latest version of OSHA defense for the construction industry and in that book what we did is we update it throughout. I added another chapter on what the current regulations were or what I anticipated were going to come out. I try to do that. I try to give updates every two years so that the book stays fresh. And then we came out with another book, OSHA Defense: Know Your Rights, which is for general industry.

Trent Cotney:

So if you are non-construction but you’re still curious as to what your rights might be in a manufacturing plan or in a facility or agriculture, whatever it might be, we kind of go through all those different things. So it was great and I always enjoy updating those books because it gives me an opportunity to learn some more and I’m always, always learning.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I love that and I appreciate that. We actually, we’ve given quite a few of those books away and I know people have been very appreciative and said that they would find them certainly useful for some of the things that they’re facing today.

Trent Cotney:

Great. Glad to hear that.

Mike Merrill:

Tell us this, if you could share with the listeners, what do you expect 2022 to look like? I know obviously, you know I’m a crystal ball and nobody really knows, but based on the tea leaves that you’re seeing today, what should we be getting ready for or be expecting on some level?

Trent Cotney:

Sure. So lot of different things that are causing me concern, sticking with the OSHA theme. One of the things that I know is going to come out here shortly is heat illness and injury standard. There were a couple of recent press releases that came out from OSHA, one was on September 9th, the other was on September 20th that talked about the fact that they were going to create a national emphasis program on heat injury and illness. And this is what I think our listeners should really understand is that what they are going to do is target any job site or any facility where the heat index is greater than 80 degrees.

Trent Cotney:

Now I’m speaking to you here in Florida, 80 degrees is a nice winter day for us. So what that means is it basically gives OSHA the opportunity to step on any job site without those prior type of justifications that they need. They can simply go on there and say, “Hey, are you feeling hydrated? You got enough water.” And then while they’re out there, they can say, “Oh, I see four guys on a roof without fall protection.”

Trent Cotney:

So I have a lot of concerns about that, what’s going to happen is in depth rule making that will happen probably in the beginning of 2022. I also anticipate that whatever this final rule will be on this emergency temporary standard for COVID and the enforcement of vaccines will be out shortly, probably this year with a ton of different legal challenges that will probably prevent its enforcement until whatever is leftover until 2022.

Trent Cotney:

So those are the two biggest things that I see on the hor izon. The other thing is, is I know that a portion of the silica standard, they were going to add some additional information there as far as what ways to help limit it. Some other alternative ways to do it, to make it a little easier. I also anticipate that we’ll see that in 2022, I’m primarily concerned about more enforcement though, because I think you’re going to see more hiring for OSHA, more enforcement and more citations.

Mike Merrill:

Wow. So for those that don’t know, what is the Silica standard that you’re talking about or what could you explain about that?

Trent Cotney:

Sure. So the Silica standard, it applies to anybody that’s cutting… Anything that’s got Silica in it. It’s mortar concrete, clay tile, anything that potentially has silica in it. And to justify the alleged concern is that if you inhale silica, that it could cause what’s known as silicosis, and it’s an illness that is, could potentially be fatal. So OSHA probably five or six years ago came out with the silica standard, which is incredibly difficult to understand, very difficult to enforce as well. And one of the things that they’re trying to do is really stream line it, so they could probably enforce it a little bit better.

Trent Cotney:

It affects most of construction really, because if you think about what you’re doing, more than likely you’re mixing something that’s got concrete or mortar or clay or something that potentially has silica in it. So it caught a lot of people off guard five, six years ago. And this is, is sort of an opportunity to make it a little bit easier I think for OSHA to ultimately cite people, hopefully there will be some good stuff in there as well for contractors.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. There’s like you say one, two punch, it just seems like there’s always something coming. So it’s good that we have industry experts like yourself to help us keep this stuff on our radar and keep aware so we’re in compliance and especially don’t get hit with a roundhouse that we never saw coming.

Trent Cotney:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Absolutely.

Mike Merrill:

So tell me this, is there anything positive that you’re excited about for 2022?

Trent Cotney:

Yeah, I had the pleasure of being one of the speakers at the National Safety Conference and Expo. And I was one of the few lawyers that was present and had a real opportunity to talk to safety professionals all over the US and beyond. It’s a giant show, I think next to the world of concrete is probably the biggest show out there. So during those conversations I had a lot of interesting comments made about the emergence of technology and the use of technology to really help safety.

Trent Cotney:

So I’ll give you a real-world example, probably three weeks ago, maybe four weeks ago, I was invited out to one of my client’s job sites in Orlando, Central Florida. And they’re currently using one of the robot dogs to not only act as security but also to do safety i nspections. So this is a way where the safety director can sit at his or her laptop or back in the home office, use something else to actively monitor safety and make changes in the field if necessary through microphones and communication.

Trent Cotney:

But you can see where automation and a lot of this stuff is going to come into play to reduce potential hazards. And that excites me, I’m always looking at what the future holds, I think AR and VR is going to be really important for safety training moving forward. So I think, yes, while I think OSHA’s going to enforce more and site more, I do think there’s a lot of opportunity for all industries to really embrace the technology that’s out there and figure out better ways to keep our employees safe.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I like that. So at the safety conference, did they do sort of a presentation or a demonstration of that dog and how was that used?

Trent Cotney:

Yeah, not at that conference. I didn’t see it there. I saw it in person when I went out to this job site and they’re not cheap, by now the cost is around $75,000 stock. And then if you add stuff on it, there’s more on it. So you have to really get some use out of it. The thing that a lot of people need to understand is if you factor in what the cost of having somebody on site to do that over time and this person, the dog doesn’t get… You got to charge your batteries, but you don’t have to worry about the dog getting hurt. You don’t have to worry about the dog complain, it’s just going to do what it’s got to do.

Trent Cotney:

So that’s one of the things I think is really cool is being able to integrate a lot of different functions in one piece of automation. Some interesting things I did see out there was use of nanotechnology and clothing using gold filaments and other things to help reinforce a lot of the work clothing that people are using. A lot of use of sensors and other things within hard hats, helmets, and other things to monitor things like heat stress, other health conditions, all that kind of stuff, using safety best that also have that type of monitoring in it. Really incredible equipment that people are coming out with.

Trent Cotney:

And I think a lot of this is coming at a necessity. Right now one of the biggest issues that we have is lack of skilled labor in almost every industry, anytime that you’ve got a gap between supply and demand technology usually fills that. So that’s why I think machines, AI, AR, VR, all these types of things are ultimately going to decrease what our labor burden needs to be to produce and provide the services that we’re currently providing.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. Great point. And even to you point, the robotic dog can’t get COVID either, right?

Trent Cotney:

Yeah, exactly. So I was trying to convince everybody that we need a one around here, but I haven’t got anybody to sign off on that yet. Price is too steep.

Mike Merrill:

72 months of payment, zero interest.

Trent Cotney:

Yeah, exactly.

Mike Merrill:

You’d rather buy the new Tesla.

Trent Cotney:

Right.

Mike Merrill:

Well, lots of exciting things, technologically speaking and I’m glad you’re bringing up those types of things as it relates to safety, because I’m a big advocate of trying to leverage technology and construction. I think we are doing a better job of that more recently, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. And you being an attorney that feels nice to hear you talking about that kind of proactive and more playing defense in advance as opposed to trying to go back and repair and fix something that went wrong.

Trent Cotney:

Yeah, absolutely. I think one of the big things in construction is just like lawyers and accountants and insurance. It’s very slow to evolve and change, but I think we’re at sort of a tipping point where we have to embrace technology. Otherwise there’s going to be an outside disruptor that comes in and does it for us. And I’d much rather be the tip of the spear than have the spear pointed at me.

Mike Merrill:

Great analogy. Well, it’s been a lot of fun again, I’ve appreciated having you on, I appreciate you talking about those things that we need to be heads up on as it relates to legislation. I think the reminder on the safety is also great. If there was one thing that you want the listeners to take away from this refresher discussion we’re having now, what would that be?

Trent Cotney:

I think it would be that the key thing that OSHA or for that matter a lot of the different regulatory agencies are looking for is to make sure that policies and procedures are drilled down from the top to the bottom. So management and a lot of the people that may be listening, they’re not necessarily the issue. It’s people that are out in the field, right? It’s very important to maintain that culture of safety. And the best way to do that, even in COVID times is a combination of virtual and the occasional hands-on training. You’ve got to still have that face to face communication to a certain extent obviously following CDC guidelines, but I’m a big believer in getting in front of somebody, showing somebody how to be safe and drilling it into them.

Trent Cotney:

The other thing I would say is invest in your workers. It is so easy to get credentials like an OSHA 10 or an OSHA 30… You don’t have to sit for 10 or 30 hours to do it. You can go online and do it, there are a lot of other ways to do it. I’ve got to… If I can get an OSHA 10 or an OSHA 30, anybody can do it. So always a big believer in investing in your employees, even if they end up leaving you, they’re better trained and they’re going to elevate the industry as a whole so that’s kind of how I look at it.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. What a great attitude and I appreciate the spirit and the vigor that you continue to have with the industry. Again, I got to see you at Best of Success and what you interact with the customers and the companies. And you obviously have a great relationship with many of these companies and they have a lot of trust in what you’re doing. So thank you for what you’re doing for the industry, we appreciate it. Really look forward to catching up again down the road on another update.

Trent Cotney:

Yeah, I would love to. Anytime.

Mike Merrill:

Sounds great. Thanks again, Trent.

Trent Cotney:

Thank you.

Best Practices for Growing Your Construction Technology Team

Best Practices for Growing Your Construction Technology Team 

Technology is an integral part of growing your construction business. Construction professionals don’t always know what technology is needed for their business, or the best practices to install and adopt it. 

Fortunately, host Mike Merrill welcomes Mark Oden, the CEO of BIM Designs, a building information modeling (BIM) company, to join him on the Mobile Workforce Podcast. In this episode, Mark explains why construction companies need to embrace technology in order to scale their business and the importance of culture in today’s remote work environment. He also dives into best practices construction leaders need to know when trying to grow their teams. 

 

Key Takeaways

  1. Clients are looking for contractors that are both competent builders and technologists. In today’s age, clients are searching for contractors who can execute a job with both a physical construction background and a deep understanding of technology. Both of these are critical to meeting the client’s needs and expectations. Anyone that makes the effort to master both will be miles ahead of the competition.
  2. Culture is everything for a remote work environment. The most important area of focus in a company with a remote team is the culture of the company. Relationships drive business and culture drives the relationships inside and outside your business, no matter the employee’s physical location. Initiating a culture committee driven by employees to create opportunities to connect brings fun ways to keep your team connected. Example activities include: virtual events like cooking demonstrations and seasonal photo contests, or even having a virtual holiday party with everyone on the team.
  3. Find the bottlenecks to fix your productivity. Each bottleneck you have is a breakdown, and every breakdown you solve will be a breakthrough for your productivity. One of the best practices a team can have is to always be looking for and solving bottlenecks in their processes. First identify the stakeholders, and what the needs are for the team to move through the bottleneck. Then ask where each stakeholder can take ownership of the process and the breakdown. Once you answer those questions you will have a clear understanding of how to fix the breakdown.

 

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Click Play to Listen to the Podcast Now:

Episode Transcript

Mike Merrill:

Hello, and welcome to the Mobile Workforce podcast, sponsored by About Time Technologies and WorkMax. I am your host, Mike Merrill. And today we are sitting down with Mark Oden, who is the CEO of BIM Designs, a minority owned, union signatory, preconstruction, detailing, and design building information and modeling company. So a lot of words there, but basically a BIM company. And what Mark does is they are experts in BIM modeling and also laser scanning coordination and preconstruction management, as well as other VDC solutions for the AEC industry. So Mark’s company is nearly a fully remote workforce and has been in business since 2016, and has ranked at number 148 in the Inc. 5000 fastest-growing companies list. So he knows a thing or two about BIM and building and management of teams and their initiatives. Today we’re going to talk about why construction companies need to embrace technology in order to scale their business, as well as also the other challenges that they run into as construction leaders and working on best practices as they try and grow their technology team. So, hello, Mark. Thanks for joining us today. Looking forward to the conversation.

Mark Oden:

Hello, Mike, thank you so much for having me. Appreciate you for giving us a platform.

Mike Merrill:

Absolutely. So let’s start out and just talk about what exactly does embracing technology mean for a construction company?

Mark Oden:

Yeah, it’s a great question. In the context of a construction company, the financial need to optimize drives the need to embrace technology. Construction companies have such low margins that we really need to be as efficient as we can be and we need to be competitive and really defend the tight margins. In the context of the owner or the investor, they really can enforce the adoption of technology through the process that they want to respect and it can really, adopting technology through the entire life cycle can yield tremendous savings. For example, just in the BIM process alone, not all technology or construction technology, but just the BIM process alone has been proven to save upwards of 40% in the construction life cycle.

Mike Merrill:

That’s a substantial savings. And it’s interesting you draw that distinction between projects where a general contractor, or maybe somebody is the hired gun, so to speak, to come in and complete the project, and there’s a bank involved. And then when you have a capital project where it’s somebody else’s money, and they’re going to say, “No, this is how we’re going to do this because this is the way I need my money to be tracked.” Is that a fair assessment?

Mark Oden:

Yeah. Yeah. Owners definitely hire the subject matter experts, the general contractors, the architects, the construction management firms, owners representatives, to help them construct and they know how to do that. Absolutely. And the owner can with the background of understanding how technology can support the process, they can certainly influence those subject matter experts to adopt technology. Absolutely.

Mike Merrill:

So what kind of adoptions, or what kind of technologies are you talking about that that owners typically require?

Mark Oden:

One perfect example is BIM, is the building information modeling process, simply because it can save that 40%. So owners are becoming more and more common and educated on what BIM is and starting to request that of the architect and of the general contractor. Traditionally in the last 20 years or so BIM has been really from the subcontractor up supported, and now we’re seeing a lot of support from the owner as they educate themselves on the BIM process.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. That’s a great example. What about cloud technology? Why is that such a key piece to an owner having that visibility?

Mark Oden:

Yeah, so the disparate workforces really is what it is. The contracting, it’s called contracting, because you end up with a lot of different legal contracts. You end up with a lot of different companies. A lot of different companies are managing a lot of different contracts and they’re doing that out of their own home offices or headquarters or remote offices, and cloud technology helps bring all of those entities together under one roof, even though they might be separate companies, separate physical locations. The cloud based portion of it really creates one cohesive team.

Mike Merrill:

And so what are some of the examples of solutions that are cloud hosted that the owners have visibility into?

Mark Oden:

There’s several out there. So many, I would say. Procore would be one of the widely adopted ones, a project management solution, a cloud based one that has visibility for the subcontractor, the general contractor and the owner, and really helps navigate a lot of the processes related to change orders, requests for information, documentation. So that’s just one of many, many examples.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. We definitely value a relationship with Procore as a technology and integration partner for our business too. They’re like you mentioned widely adopted within the industry. So what about when we talk about those types of solutions, does the owner pay or supplement the cost of some of these things at times, or is this something that the contractor is kind of on the hook to pay for?

Mark Oden:

It’s a mixed bag. If it’s discussed during the initial negotiations with the owner, then the owner often does pay for that. Sometimes these processes are decided halfway through the project, or sometimes the subcontractor says, “Well, we’re going to do it for our firm, even if the entire project isn’t performing it.” So it really is dependent on the specific project who ultimately pays for that line item. To get the job done, you have to get your tools paid for one way or the other, whether the owner says, “Hey, I’m going to explicitly pay this,” or it’s an explicit change order, or it’s built in the OH & P numbers. Either way, there’s a need to, again, bring those tools into the company and educate the employees on how to use those tools and the team members.

Mike Merrill:

So 6, 8, 10 years ago, BIM was kind of a buzzword that we would hear a lot and I think now it’s a lot more of a commonly used term and a technology that’s widely adopted. I know that there was a smart market report that said about 50% of some of these larger projects are utilizing BIM and there’s some trending where that’s going to be substantially more in the future. What are your thoughts on that? And what can you tell us from your experience in that adoption?

Mark Oden:

Yeah, it’s a great observation. I think it’s the same smart market report is predicting. It’ll go up to 90% for some of the interested parties of BIM adoption and projects within the next three years. So definitely see that BIM is a technology that has been around for about 20 years, but the traction is the hockey puck element of the traction is happening right now. We’re living it today. And the transformation is around the change management and the process management within each individual construction company and the entire team that works together.

Mike Merrill:

How important is it for young people coming into construction, or even for the companies looking to hire, that there’s a mix of that knowledge of an understanding of both the software solutions and the technical, and then also the actual construction process? Is that something you’re seeing any changes in today in the education system and some of these younger folks entering the construction workforce?

Mark Oden:

Yeah, completely Mike. Traditionally, it’s either you knew construction and you were 20 years in the space for construction, or you knew technology and you 20 years in the space of technology and in today’s world, universities, community colleges, and even unions are realizing the importance of merging construction and technology together, creating dual degrees or encouraging coursework that bridges the gap or the difference between the two of those industries. So I really see there is a skillset gap that requires one to cross train, and that gap exists today and has existed for the last number of years. And I do see that there’s a lot of interested parties across the spectrum. Again, universities and unions included are wanting to help close that gap.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, so when we talk about BIM specifically, are there things with BIM that are important for some of these people entering the workforce have an understanding of as far as both sides of that, the technical and the actual practical side of it?

Mark Oden:

Sure, yeah. Building information modeling is as good as the person who’s entering the data. It’s 3D modeling, taking the architect’s and the engineer’s vision and then rendering that down to an eighth of an inch accuracy, at least on the construction, the subcontractor preconstruction side of the house. And you really need to have that construction experience to develop and design in detail models to the level of constructability that’s required on the the job site. It’s probably a very underappreciated element because it is difficult to learn the technology. It’s difficult to learn CAD. It’s difficult to learn the intricate processes that are involved in operating that tool and in order to provide constructable deliverables, you need to also understand and appreciate how to construct and how to build. And so the best BIM processes are executed by those that understand construction and understand the technology together.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, that’s a fair point. And I think, and that kind of straddles another topic that I think is interesting. Obviously, just circumstantially within the industry and even society, we’ve had to be a lot better at being a remote workforce and using those types of technology tools that can allow us to do that. So what are you seeing as far as moving forward into the future, even after things settle down with the pandemic or whatever else is going on there, do you think a lot of these things are going to continue forward as they have, as far as the remote workforce? Or do see things coming back to the way they used to be more?

Mark Oden:

Personally, I believe in the remote workforce. I believe in the hybrid workforce. The company, since I’ve had ownership of it has been a remote team since the company was started in 2016. I took ownership in 2018. I know that there’s a need for physical in person meetings. There’s need to construct and build, and there’s a need to build a relationship with someone in person, but a tremendous amount of work and I believe a tremendous amount of economy is going to be operated remotely in the coming years. And we’re seeing companies like Microsoft and Facebook now Meta really adopting the concept of the metaverse, of the idea that there is a mixed reality, that there is a virtual space that we will live in outside of our physical space that we live in and interact and operate in. So this is the beginning of that future. Absolutely.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, and you said something about kind of the setup of your company, your organization. It sounds like by design, you were already doing remote collaboration and work before this was more of a necessity or a defensive approach. What have you learned about that and why do you think that’s a better approach? Sounds like that’s your plan moving forward also.

Mark Oden:

Yeah, so we’ve been talking a lot about the technology expert or the technology industry graduate, if you will, and then the construction industry graduate, if you will. I’m a graduate of the technology industry. So since mid-2000s, I’ve been working in the high tech space, and I’ve been working with remote teams and designing and building and working with amazing partners, amazing colleagues, managers, and a dedicated staff to build products like WebEx. I was a product manager on that product back in the mid-2000s, early to mid-2000s. So I was working worldwide with many disparate remote teams to develop a multi-billion dollar product and it was possible. And I learned the value and capability of doing that and the importance of communication and remote communication. And I brought that notion into this company, BIM Designs when I acquired it. I already saw Cisco and WebEx, they were operating, yes, they had physical offices and they worked remote with teams all around the world. So I knew what was possible and I didn’t fear it and I pushed hard for the team to grow as a remote organization.

Mike Merrill:

That’s awesome. Your background’s a little unique in that you kind of come into construction through the technical side instead of the trades or the field it sounds like. What has, I know we didn’t necessarily discuss this in our planning of this discussion today, but I’m curious what is surprising to you both pleasantly, and then also what’s a struggle for you, coming from that other background and coming into this construction space?

Mark Oden:

Yeah, I love your curiosity, Mike, thank you for asking. I think in the technology space, there’s a lot of room for growth in the sense of understanding the technical details. In terms of speaking of construction, there’s a lot of growth in personal management and people management. There’s a lot of growth in communicating to each other and a lot of growth in saying, “How do I deal with a very tight timeline with very small, thin constraints and accomplish the goal at hand while coming out of it positive and maintaining relationships?” So managing the direct conversations that happen with individuals is much more common in the construction space than it is in the technology space. The timelines, the impacts, the feedback it’s all very fast paced. And so I’ve been enjoying learning that element of the construction industry is how do we partner together? How do we manage together while working through high stress situations?

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, that’s a great point. So speaking of that, if we’re working remotely, we’re managing our business in a different way, not so much for your organization, you were kind of geared that way, but a lot of companies are having to really adjust. How is culture being impacted internally with construction teams and working with clients and working with each other, management? Do you see any challenges there, or anything that’s working really well that you want to point out or talk about?

Mark Oden:

Yeah, I really think that there’s things that work very well and there’s things that always need improvement. And that’s whether you’re entirely physical, whether you’re entirely remote or you’re mixed. I think business is an evolving organization. That’s what I love about running this company and growing this company. And in leadership, I really believe in culture and an organization we’ve had within our company for the last few years is the culture committee. So we’ve enlisted employees within the company to ask for a certain amount of budget, ask to run certain events, have local events in person, have virtual events. So really bringing a lot of care to the company culture, whether it be remote or in person is critical and maybe even higher priority for a remote company. We have a praise channel where we acknowledge and express gratitudes to each other, even virtually. Just this coming Monday, we’re going to have a remote cooking event where we’ll have a cooking contest. We’ll show how we can cook a beautiful plate of food.

Mark Oden:

Our head of sales used to be a master chef. And so he loves bringing that element of his background into the company. And so he’ll demonstrate how to cook that and then we’ll ask employees to see if they can rinse and repeat and have a little photo contest there or cooking contest. Even though we can’t taste contests, but we can all see the presentation.

Mike Merrill:

What it looks like.

Mark Oden:

Yeah, yeah. Two years ago, we actually flew everybody in and we did a in person holiday event. Last year, we did an entirely virtual event and it was still very heartwarming and it was very touching and we even had live music. And for many of us, it was the first time we had heard live music in a long time. I mean, more than a year. So it was really a very, very touching and wonderful event. And I’m look looking forward to doing that again this year.

Mike Merrill:

I love hearing this. I think it’s not super common. I mean, we’ve had guests on here, we have customers that we work with at my company that are in construction and they do things like this, but it is definitely unique. Is there a book or was there a course, or did you hear a motivational speaker or life coaches? I mean, who’s helping foster these ideas and actually put them into action within your organization? Or are you guys just doing it on your own because you’re cool?

Mark Oden:

Thanks for that. I do think it’s a combination of many things. I paid very close attention when I was at Cisco of how they run their organization and how they grow and how they invest and train in their culture. The culture committee idea, I did learn from Cisco and I really embraced it and adopted it. In terms of leadership skills, leadership traits, and bringing care to the organization, we do have an executive coach. His name is Helda Helberg and he’s really been tremendous to helping us build a leadership team and build leadership within the organization and lead a care based organization. So it’s been a career in the making really.

Mike Merrill:

No, I love that. You’re tapping on the shoulder of mentors. You’re bringing in experts, you’re bringing experience from other industries or companies. It sounds like a fantastic, thriving, exciting place to work.

Mark Oden:

Thank you so much, Mike. I appreciate you for seeing that.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, that’s awesome. So what about companies that don’t have that going right now? Are there some recommendations that you could share on how they could get started or what a good first step might be to move in that direction?

Mark Oden:

Into the direction of adopting construction technology?

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. As well as maintaining this type of a culture, or a collaborative, personal culture while they’re doing it.

Mark Oden:

Oh, okay, great, great. Yeah. For us, we, how do I say we cut the cord? So we just went with it and we learned as we went. So I think I truly believe in continuous improvement. So at the leadership level, at the executive level, there must be buy-in to the decision obviously, and then continuous improvement along the way. There’s change management processes that can be executed to say, “Okay, what would this look like?” But you can never perfectly plan it, whether it be changing systems from Slack to Teams or Teams to Slack, or vicey versa. There should be planning and forethought put into it, but you just have to believe in continuous improvement and agree and understand that at some point you’ll have to cut the cord to plug in a new one. That’s what I would say, is believe in the process.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, that’s great advice as well. What are some of the challenges that you’ve had in trying to make some of these changes and adjustments? Have you found resistance or has it gone swimmingly?

Mark Oden:

I think for the most part, employees really love the remote work environment and we believe in helping employees live the life that they want to live. So we believe in helping them navigate work times and home times and self care. We have self care photo contests. We have self care recommendations. We talk about self care every week. So it’s important to balance your home work life, and we really encourage that from the company’s perspective, we encourage that balance. Our executives, sometimes they work until midnight or 2:00 AM to make sure that we’re going to submit a bid and get the job in and we are all dedicated to our staff and we’re all dedicated to making sure that we’re successful. And we’re dedicated to making sure that we’re giving ourselves the subsequent equal time for self care, making sure we get enough sleep at night, making sure we exercise during the weekends and eat right, is something that we actually take very, very seriously at our company and at our leadership team so that we can make sure that we are always bringing our best selves to our employees and to our clients.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I love that. I was going to ask you what your definition of self care was, but you just laid it out really nicely there. So thanks for that.

Mark Oden:

Yeah, absolutely. Thank you.

Mike Merrill:

Another topic that we’ve discuss on this podcast with a few guests, what about the mental health side of things? Are there challenges that you run into there and are you finding a way to address those, especially as we’re dealing with more of a remote workforce? Maybe it’s harder to see the signs and hints that there’s issues that somebody might be experiencing.

Mark Oden:

Yeah. We definitely encourage a open door policy and in creating a language around speaking to if someone is feeling overwhelmed or someone is feeling stressed out. We, in speaking to needs, we really encourage that language and we don’t shut it down. So we really sit down, if that’s brought up, we sit down with the employee, we understand, pardon, we understand where they may be feeling overwhelmed and how we can support them. When there’s challenges at home, we give them the space to manage those challenges at home. While we all have to be responsible to our duties at work, we need to be responsible and be good leaders at home as well. And so we really work very closely with each of our employees to balance that.

Mark Oden:

I’ll also add a note that we started about nine months ago, both internally and an external publication of a wellness journal. So it’s a simple one page article that we look for relevant material for the subject matter that we choose and we distill that into something that’s very digestible and we hand that out both internally and externally. It’s something that we’ve really enjoyed creating and I’ve enjoyed being a part of. I’m so proud of the team for self creating that idea and publishing it. It’s something we do for the community. It’s not something we get paid for or anything, but we found it very relevant in today’s time.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I love that. So you’re doing a lot. So kudos to you. It’s impressive and inspiring to hear all of the different things that you’re doing to balance and to take advantage of those resources and tools that you’ve been able to collectively bring together to create this company in place to not only build stuff, but it sounds like a great place for your employees and your team to work within.

Mark Oden:

Thank you, Mike. Yeah, on the topic of self care and helping everybody live the life they want to live, it’s a lesson I had to learn the hard way. I had to learn how to take care of myself, especially as we scaled from three employees to almost 70 in the last three years, and placing it on the Inc. 5000 list at number 148 was not necessarily a goal, but it was a major understanding of the amount of work that was needed to get there. And I’m very, very proud of the team for what they’ve accomplished.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, so speaking of that, how are you recruiting new talent and sharing this message like, hey, this is a great place to work? We’re doing some really powerful things. We have a lot of good life balance things going on here. What are you doing as an approach to recruit new talent and grow?

Mark Oden:

Yeah, thank you so much. We have the traditional channels, like Indeed and LinkedIn, that we market on. I really think what goes the farthest, what goes the absolute furthest is my team has organically, the recruiting team, both on the non-technical side and the technical side, have organically told me that they discuss the company’s core values and the company’s culture during the recruiting process. And when they’re asked, potential employees are pretty open in asking, “How do you like working at this company?” And it’s the heartfelt, honest, true answer that our employees give back that effectively seals the deal. And that’s nothing that’s been rehearsed or discussed about and I’m always pleased and floored, honestly, when I hear these stories and why people chose to join the company, it’s usually because of those conversations during the recruiting process.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, that’s awesome. And I’ve got to imagine that in an environment like that, where people are excited and fulfilled to be a part of this team, it would be really easy to recommend a friend or a colleague or people that they knew from other parts of their life to come and join in.

Mark Oden:

Yeah, my head of project controls, Ashley, was just telling me that as she has one-on-ones with employees around the company, she’s just pleasantly surprised and optimistic of the fact that they all want to see the collective success of the company. They’re asking what can they do better to reach higher grounds for the company, not for themselves, but for the entire organization. So I think it’s part of the culture that we’ve built is how do we continue to succeed as an entire collaboration, as an entire organization so that we can individually succeed.

Mike Merrill:

That’s great. So you mentioned something there, I’m curious, you said one on ones. Is that something that’s scheduled? Regular? Is it random? How do you approach that?

Mark Oden:

Yeah, we just started, I think three months ago. We looked at the entire organization, the entire company and the leadership team, and we said, “Okay, let’s have everybody have at least one on one with every single employee once a quarter.”

Mike Merrill:

Wow.

Mark Oden:

So that was something that we instituted last last quarter and has been actively very positive. I did a summer road show where I drove around the country because our employees are all around the country. So I visited employees, clients, and unions all around the country and had dinner, lunches, I invited spouses as well. So I really got to know each individual employee and their family to the level of extent that we all opened up to be.

Mike Merrill:

Wow. That is fascinating. And I won’t say that nobody else is doing that, but I certainly don’t hear of that a whole lot within a construction team. So that’s very, very cool.

Mark Oden:

Thanks. Thank you, Mike.

Mike Merrill:

So when there’s challenges, when you have a bottleneck or something to overcome, how does your team solve that and collaborate remotely to get to resolution?

Mark Oden:

 Yeah, the biggest one for us is identify needs. So we have to first identify the stakeholders, who’s a part of this bottleneck, who’s a part of this decision, and then what are the needs of each individual to move past that bottleneck? We typically call them breakdowns and in our firm, we believe that breakdowns are turned into breakthroughs and they’re turned into breakthroughs through the breakdown discussion. Let’s identify what the breakdown was. Where was the breakdown? Was it a technical breakdown? Is it a core value breakdown? What is our commitment to resolve this breakdown? And how do we embed this back into standard operating procedures so that we turn it into a complete breakthrough? And most importantly, where do we take ownership? Where can each of us in this as stakeholders of this breakdown take ownership of this process and this breakdown? 

Mike Merrill:

Now you mentioned unions there. Do you commonly utilize unions to try and help you out of a pinch or a patch or are you a completely union shop? I mean, tell me about that.

Mark Oden:

Yeah. We are a union signatory shop. We’re actually signatory 26 unions around the country.

Mike Merrill:

Wow.

Mark Oden:

We are signatory with the UA and SMACNA, the sheet metal workers union as well. So we do hire or dispatch or recruit directly from these unions all around the country. And the union definitely helps us out of a pinch in terms of providing the trained detailers. And as I mentioned earlier, many of them around the country have hooked into, and the national organizations, have understood the importance of training on both construction, which traditionally and historically they do, and technology.

Mike Merrill:

Interesting.

Mark Oden:

Yeah, and we’re also, which I’m happy to chat about later, working with the unions and with the mechanical contractor associations around the country on how do we improve their training, or how do we introduce BIM and CAD training to their organizations where they might not already have them. So I’m very, very excited about that effort and how we’re working to completely support the industry and the growth of all contractors around the country.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, that’s a fascinating topic. That sounds like a whole other podcast episode to me. We’ll have to get together and do that.

Mark Oden:

Sounds good, Mike, yeah. That’s good.

Mike Merrill:

Awesome. So yeah, and in my brain, I’m thinking, okay, you’ve got union contractors who again, have been probably trained in the actual trades and in their skillset and other certifications on the physical side of the labor, but I find that fascinating that you’re finding that many of them have training on the technical side and understand those tools as well. Is that continually getting better? Do you feel like that’s in a lot better place than it was maybe five or 10 years ago?

Mark Oden:

Oh, I think so. And there’s some unions that are at the forefront. UA 469, 393, 525, just to name a few. 208, local 208, for example. They’re really at the forefront of understanding those training programs and merging the construction and technology industries together. And part of my road show was to visit with business managers all over the country and help educate them on what BIM is, what CAD is, and how we can create a new classification of journeyman for them and how we can keep their guys to work as the entire industry shifts and takes a new focus. So it’s been a lot of fun being a part of that change.

Mike Merrill:

That’s cool. A new classification. Haven’t heard of that either. So I’m learning all kinds of things today.

Mark Oden:

Very cool. Yeah, really I mean, we all have to innovate, we all have to modernize and the union I really see is grasping that full force and it’s an honor really to be a part of it.

Mike Merrill:

So, Mark, this has been an awesome conversation so far today. I did want to just ask quickly, as far as a takeaway for the listeners, is there one thing that you hope that they leave this conversation with and remember?

Mark Oden:

Yeah, Mike, I would say that the digital transformation for the construction industry is absolutely here to stay and it’s evolving very quickly. Firms like ours can help yours or partners excel in this transformation. I’m very excited about it, I’m dedicated to it, and I appreciate you for bringing us on today, Mike.

Mike Merrill:

Absolutely. It’s been a lot of fun. So I do want to ask a couple personal questions real quick before we wrap up. Is that okay?

Mark Oden:

No worries. Absolutely. Take your time.

Mike Merrill:

Awesome. Okay. So what’s something that you’re really grateful for in your professional life?

Mark Oden:

Yeah, I really feel it’s the opportunity to continuously learn really. I mean, I’ve had the opportunity to work with incredibly talented colleagues, managers, clients, both from the technology industry and the construction industry, and to really have focused and honed in on my leadership skills. I think those are things that I’m grateful for everyday in my professional life.

Mike Merrill:

Love that. Great, great answer. All right. Last one. What is Mark Oden’s superpower?

Mark Oden:

This is something I feel I’ve had and I’ve really nurtured and trained on, but it’s the ability to hear, to see, and to recognize others, to care deeply and to help others reach their life goals. I enjoy that. I feel fulfilled through it and it’s a lot of fulfillment for me to help others. So that’s what I would say there, Mike.

Mike Merrill:

So Mark, this has been a fascinating conversation today. Loved having you on. I just wanted to give you an opportunity for those listeners that are interested in some of the things that you’re talking about and some of the approaches and technologies and the training, or maybe collaborating, mentoring, whatever, that are interested in connecting with you, how’s the best way they can get ahold of you?

Mark Oden:

Oh, thanks for asking Mike. Yeah, the best way to get ahold of me would be my email address, moden@bimdesigns.net, or our website directly at bimdesigns.net. Lots of great information there and access to our blogs and our podcast as well.

Mike Merrill:

Awesome. Well, thanks for sharing that. I’m sure people will find out useful, and hopefully we get some more opportunities for you to collaborate with others.

Mark Oden:

Thank you so much, Mike.

Deconstructing Buzzwords Around BIM and VPL Technologies

Deconstructing Buzzwords Around BIM and VPL Technologies

 Building information modeling (BIM) and visual programming language (VPL), more commonly known as visual programming, are transforming the construction world by giving construction professionals the ability to visualize their projects and provide more insight into the pre-construction process than ever before. Each new development in these technologies helps to eliminate errors in pre-construction and the building process, therefore increasing productivity and profitability. The only problem? BIM and VPL can be initially intimidating to use and require that companies invest in training. 

In this episode, host Mike Merrill welcomes Marcello Sgambelluri to the podcast. He’s the Director of Advanced Technology at John A Martin & Associates, an internationally recognized structural engineering firm. Marcello explains the basics of BIM and VPL, clears up confusion over jargon and gives insight into the top buzzwords for contractors. He also shares how to stay on top of technology going forward so new developments become opportunities.

 

Key Takeaways:

  1. BIM is the backbone of Architecture, Engineering and Construction (AEC) technology. BIM isn’t just a digital blueprint with lines, arcs, circles, points, solids in software representing the project. BIM is full of smart components that have rich, important data behind it that drives our job sites. This technology continues to grow and adapt. With BIM being the backbone of the technology branch of AEC, all other technologies on the job site complement and integrate BIM information. 
  2. BIM and VPL technologies are fully integrated into construction culture. BIM began seeping into AEC company cultures over the last decade and is now synonymous with the AEC industry. With BIM being a requirement to succeed today, using new developments like digital twins, computational design and real-time rendering are what separates those that are surviving and those that are thriving. 
  3. Reevaluate the technology you have for new uses. Being able to stay on top of the new technology that is coming out requires that you dig into the tech that you do have and look for new ways to use it. This aligns your mind with those looking to create new technologies to simplify and automate processes. This alignment makes keeping up with technology as it develops natural and exciting.

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Episode Transcript

Mike Merrill:

Hello, and welcome to the Mobile Workforce Podcast. I’m your host, Mike Merrill. And today, we are sitting down with Marcello Sgambelluri. Marcello is an expert on BIM and technology related to BIM. And he’s actually been awarded the best speaker at Autodesk Universities AU Awards for the last eight years, so pretty cool. Obviously has a wealth of information and knowledge about BIM and how contractors should take advantage of the software that’s available today and where the technology is heading tomorrow. So hello, Marcello, and welcome to the podcast.

Marcello Sgambelluri:

Hello, Mike. How are you?

Mike Merrill:

Doing great, thank you. Appreciate you coming on today.

Marcello Sgambelluri:

Thanks for having me.

Mike Merrill:

You bet. We’ve had a few guests come on and talk about BIM, I don’t know that we’ve gotten in the depths of the conversation capability or really some of the finer details on what BIM is today. But could you give us a little background on your opinion on how BIM was developed and maybe the history of that a little bit.

Marcello Sgambelluri:

BIM stands for building information modeling, and the idea is that you’re not just building lines, arcs, circles, points, solids in a software to represent the building, you’re actually building smart components that have rich data behind it. And when you do that, then you’re able to use that information in a lot of different ways. So BIM has been around actually quite a while now. I started working with it in technically 23 years ago is when I actually technically started working with it. But I think the term started to float into the AEC industry probably around the early 2000s, particularly when Revit started becoming more popular among AEC design firms. And so that’s been the buzzword. But quite honestly, this technology continues to grow and adopt. And so, even though BIM tends to be the backbone of the technology branch of AEC, there are plenty of other new technologies that complement it. And I suppose we can get into that a little bit later, because we’re going to get into different terms that are around and things like that, and hopefully I’m here to try to clarify that.

Mike Merrill:

Yes, I think that’d be awesome. I guess one of the questions that I had, how is BIM treated overseas versus the United States? Is there a difference?

Marcello Sgambelluri:

There is a difference. The thing with the way BIM is managed in the United States … And when you mean “overseas”, I suppose you technically mean probably in Europe and other places outside of North and South America probably is what you technically mean there.

Mike Merrill:

Sure. Yes.

Marcello Sgambelluri:

Well, just in general, BIM in the United States doesn’t have a overarching regulatory body or standardization that is required, let’s put it that way. There are “BIM standards” but each project in the United States is not required to follow it. So in that way, BIM doesn’t tend to be standardized from project to project. Now in other places like Europe or even parts of Canada, they do have requirements, and so there tends to be more standardization in terms of the process for BIM from project to project. So that’s how it varies, but the technology in and of itself is still really the same, it’s more of how it’s organized and used.

Mike Merrill:

Okay.

Marcello Sgambelluri:

Yes.

Mike Merrill:

So the term like computational design, what was that?

Marcello Sgambelluri:

What was that? Let’s wrap our head around that. It’s early in the podcast to start talking about that, but I guess we better do it now to get it out of the way.

Mike Merrill:

Sure. Okay.

Marcello Sgambelluri:

Okay. So this is what’s been happening in the industry over the last 10 years. So by 2010, I’m sure most architecture engineering construction firms have heard of the term BIM. So what’s been happening for the last, say, 10-12 years is that as BIM started to take hold in a company’s culture, and what I mean by that is that let’s talk about culture in a company because that’s important, and the technology that’s integrated within the culture of a company. When I mean company, I’m just talking about every single company that would be involved in the AEC industry. Yes, so it’d be construction, architecture, engineering, facilities management, okay.

Marcello Sgambelluri:

So you could have technology in a company and it depends on who you ask, for example, virtual reality, you could ask someone in a firm, and I’m going to use the word firm loosely from now on, means AEC, do you use virtual reality? You ask someone, they’re going to say, “yes”. But what does that really mean? Does that mean you’ve got a headset off in the corner that virtual reality could be used at any time and only a few select individuals know how to use it? Or does it mean that it’s fully integrated with the culture of your company? And what I mean by that is that, is everyone on board with it, from marketing, to management, to sales? Are they fully aware? Could they at any point in time give someone a talk about exactly what it is? Could a report be written on it? Could it be part of your statement of qualifications and you’re marketing material? It’s culturally integrated. So that’s what I mean by culturally integrated.

Marcello Sgambelluri:

So if what I’ve noticed over from 2010 on is that “a lot”, I’m going to put a lot in quotes, “a lot” of firms have integrated BIM culturally in their offices. So when you do that, you start to use BIM to its fullest potential, meaning you’re now producing drawings, whether they’re shop drawings or whether they’re construction documents for design, and the backbone of them is done off of BIM and the BIM technology, meaning you’ve modeled it in 3D, you’ve had smart elements, you’re coordinating with other team members on the project, you’re producing drawings from it, and then also your marketing groups, your principles, everyone is involved with this process.

Mike Merrill:

Okay. So are you seeing a lot of companies that have that integrated into their culture to that degree?

Marcello Sgambelluri:

Yes, I’m going to say larger ones for sure, larger ones for sure. Smaller ones, smaller companies, and I can’t quite define “small”, but smaller companies tend to not have it as integrated in their culture. So now we just talk about the integrated with the culture. Now the larger firms that have this integrated with the culture are using it to its fullest potential. At that point, companies are starting to look, okay, now what? What else can we do? So what’s been happening over time is that now that it’s fully integrated is companies want to customize BIM, they want to change it and tweak it to their workflow. I mean, we can go in a bunch of examples like, out of the box BIM maybe does one thing, but they want to tweak it to do more for their company, right.

Marcello Sgambelluri:

So this “tweaking” tends to happen with customization. And customization, since we’re in the 3D digital environment, comes along with programming. And so what we’ve seen over the last 10 to 12 years is that individuals and companies have become their own software developers and they’ve started to customize BIM and make changes to it. It was a little more cumbersome early on, I’m going to say early on 2010 or so, because to customize you had to do a lot of text coding. But what’s happened since 2014 and on, is visual programming has become a big part of our industry. So Dynamo, Grasshopper are those two big buzzwords, that means that you can now take text coding and make it visual. And when it’s visual, then it’s a lot easier to learn and implement. So what’s happened is, as visual programming tools came on board, more and more AEC professionals have become programmers and they’ve been able to make their own programs at a exponential rate compared to what has been done early on 2010.

Marcello Sgambelluri:

So now with this integration of many individuals becoming programmers in a company, with these easy visualization programming tools like Dynamo and Grasshopper, what’s happened is that BIM becomes expanded and becomes more, I guess, enlightened, and so you can customize, you can do all these things. And then the next level from that, which is not just customizing BIM, is using something called computational design. And what that really is, is basically a way to automate, is a way to customize, is a way to do quick calculations, basically, on your BIM system through programming. And so computational design is just the next evolution of BIM. The reason it is now a big buzzword is because you have so many individuals programming, you have so many people using visual programming it becomes a lot easier to do. “Computational design” has been around a while, it was always possible from the early 2000s, it’s just that it just didn’t become mainstream buzzword until these easy programming tools came online.

Mike Merrill:

Make sense. So how does that vary from generative design?

Marcello Sgambelluri:

Okay, generative design is just a byproduct of computational design. So generative design, so basically you’ve got computational design, and under computational design is generative design. Generative design is just a way of creating quick iterations of designs to generate designs using programming basically is what it is. So it tends to give you, you can plug in different options and then through programming, through this computational design, we’re calling it, basically, I think of computational design as design using computation is what it is.

Mike Merrill:

Self descriptive, yes.

Marcello Sgambelluri:

It is, it really is, because they’re like, what’s computational design? Basically, you need programming to make computational design possible, just like you needed smart elements to make BIM possible. So it’s a similar thing. So it’s design using computation. So if it’s design using computation, generative design is just one of the aspects of it.

Marcello Sgambelluri:

So generative design basically says, well, I have all these parameters, maybe I want to make a building a certain volume and it needs to fit on this space. And then so generative design can go through and give you all hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of different options of the way the shape of the building could be based on parameters you put in it, and then it helps … What it does is it speeds up the manual process, because normally what you would do is you would say, well, it needs to be this volume or this area, so I’m going to change this length and change that length. And then I’m going to run it through my design and I’m going to see the result. Okay, now I want to change this length and that length. But you can do that through programming and computational design. And then basically that’s generative design in a nutshell. It’s a lot more than that, but that’s in summary what it is. I know I’m going to get in a lot of trouble for simplifying it.

Marcello Sgambelluri:

I get in a lot of trouble, Mike, for simplifying things. People tell me all the time I’m over simplifying things. But in reality, I think things are sometimes a little too over overcomplicated, so I try to break it down and make it simple. So that’s my simple explanation on what it is.

Marcello Sgambelluri:

Now, the question is, should you be doing generative design? I don’t think it’s for everybody, but what I think is happening in our industry is if you’re not getting into BIM then you’re going to need to get into BIM. And then eventually, you’re going to need to get into computational design, because you’re going to find, when you’re in BIM, you’re going to need to modify, you’re going to need to change, your workflow is going to need to be a little different. And then at that point you need to customize, and when you customize, then you’re going to need to basically use programming do that. And then that basically in a nutshell is computational design.

Mike Merrill:

So where does visual programming play into to those two other aspects?

Marcello Sgambelluri:

Yes, so if you’re using BIM, for example, let’s just use some concrete examples now and less hand waving. Let’s say for example you’re using TECLA to model all of your structural framing and then you’re ultimately creating shop drawings out of it, right. Well, let’s say you need to get the top of steel of all the roof beams and report it to whoever, maybe the structural designers so they could verify it or whatever, right? So you are using BIM at that point, TECLA definitely is BIM, it does have smart information, it’s 3D modeling, it does have the ability to coordinate, so it does meet those general BIM requirements. So I would argue that, yes, you’re using BIM if you’re using TECLA. Okay.

Marcello Sgambelluri:

Now, you have two options, one, you could manually go through every top of steel and start writing down manually every top of steel, and then put it in a spreadsheet and email it to whoever needs it, right. You could try to generate it through some report through TECLA, and I’m sure there’s some savvy ways of doing that, or you could say, you know what, instead of doing that, I’m going to customize this and I’m really specifically looking at this particular parameter or property or something, so I’m going to actually program something to automate that, right. So now you have a chance to program.

Marcello Sgambelluri:

Okay, do you know text programming? Do you know C# coding? Do you know visual? Do you know Visual Basic? Or do you know .NET Programming? Well, if the answer is no, then you can be like, okay, well, then I have an option to use visual programming, maybe Dynamo or Grasshopper, where basically, and I get in trouble for saying this, but it’s basically a boxes and wires. Can I place down boxes and wires in a certain organization to extract that information for me? And chances are you’re going to be much more successful if you have no programming experience to put down boxes and wires to be able to get those tops of steel out, be able to write it to an Excel file, and be able to distribute it as you want. So that’s just a specific example of how you do that, and that’s just one of tens of thousands of things you could do to just make your life easier. And maybe you just save one hour a week, but maybe that’s one hour a week for one individual over a whole year it can really add up.

Mike Merrill:

Yes, I actually appreciate this simplification of you breaking these things down because I think the general public, even in construction, even construction professionals, they hear the word BIM, they might know what the acronym means, like you explained at the beginning, they have a sense of what it is, but I don’t think that a lot of companies necessarily dig much deeper than that.

Marcello Sgambelluri:

I think, Mike, the reality is, I think a lot of construction firms in this day and age probably use BIM but they don’t know it.

Mike Merrill:

They don’t know it.

Marcello Sgambelluri:

Well, I mean, and that’s a good thing, right? It’s almost like it’s just integrated in the culture. Do you use Revit? Yes, we model grid lines in Revit. Yes, we lay out our structural framing in Revit. Okay, well, then you’re using BIM, you are a BIM user, get it on your statement of qualifications, you are a BIM user. You use TECLA? Yes, well, we sort of use it, we use it to extract 2D plans and then we lay everything out in AutoCAD. Okay, but are you using TECLA in some way? Yes. Okay, so now you’re using BIM, right. So I don’t think it has to be something extremely complicated to get “into BIM”. And then a lot of times what happens is if you’re like, well, we’re already using TECLA or we’re using Revit to do little things, well then maybe you take it a little step further.

Marcello Sgambelluri:

Here’s what BIM is really, that’s the acronym, building information modeling, but what the paradigm shift was back 20 years ago, was going … Let’s back up even further, from the Renaissance I suppose, we can go that far. Hundreds of years ago, in order to express your ideas on paper is things were simplified, designs were simplified to be represented diagrammatically on drawings, plans and elevations, basically, for hundreds of years. Then maybe you could argue early 80s, mid 80s, the ability to replicate that digitally through AutoCAD or other CAD means, which stands for computer aided design, which really meant you’re basically taking what you did on drawings and just replicating it digitally. Now that was important because you can make changes quick, you could use an Undo button, you could snap to centers and endpoints and stuff like that. So it made the drawing easier and you could do some repetitive task copying lines and things like that.

Marcello Sgambelluri:

What BIM did is it flipped all of those concepts on their head and says, instead of trying to represent things with lines, let’s actually model in three dimensions the actual element, so it has the true length, the true size, the true property, maybe even the right material property, has the right connectivity. And then through doing that, it writes it to a global database that’s hidden in the background. So whenever you see a view of it, of that particular, let’s say it’s a girder, a beam connected to two columns, let’s say you want to look at that girder in a 3D view, well all it’s doing is referencing that database and displaying it in 3D. Well, if I want to see it in 2D on plan, it’s not a different beam like it would have been with AutoCAD, it’s the same beam referencing that global database.

Marcello Sgambelluri:

So what BIM has done is it has allowed the industry to not have to worry too much about doing things twice. So if you model it in 3D, well now you have a plan, now you have an elevation, you don’t have to do it twice, right. But not only that, but since it’s represented in 3D, now you can do coordination, you can overlay that with the structural model. Is there coordination issues? And so that’s really the beautiful benefit of BIM. And I think, like I said earlier, I think a lot of companies are using it and they just don’t know it.

Mike Merrill:

Right. Yes, so a simpler term would be digital clay. Basically, that’s what it is, right?

Marcello Sgambelluri:

Yes. Yes. I suppose it’s digital clay, although I think some architects would argue that’s not what-

Mike Merrill:

They don’t like clay.

Marcello Sgambelluri:

But I think, I think, I think that’s fair.

Mike Merrill:

So you mentioned earlier VR, so where does VR play into everything that we’ve talked about so far and how is that utilized?

Marcello Sgambelluri:

Well, VR or virtual reality is just a fancy way of viewing and sometimes interacting with your 3D digital models. So it comes in really handy in certain situations like if you want to … What’s nice about virtual reality is that you no longer have to just visualize your, let’s call them projects, on the flat screen, on the computer, you actually have the ability to visualize it as if you were physically in that space.

Mike Merrill:

Walk through it, right. Yes.

Marcello Sgambelluri:

Yes. And quite honestly, there’s a lot of really nice things that happens with that. First of all, it’s a lot of fun to use. In fact, I’ve got a VR system here, that’s one of my VR sensors there.

Mike Merrill:

Nice.

Marcello Sgambelluri:

Those are light sabers if the viewers are wondering, by the way.

Mike Merrill:

Yes, right.

Marcello Sgambelluri:

A bit nerdy to have those, but hey, that’s okay.

Mike Merrill:

I thought they were ninja swords or Katana swords.

Marcello Sgambelluri:

Well, I suppose you could argue that they are.

Mike Merrill:

Digital Katana swords.

Marcello Sgambelluri:

So what virtual reality does is allows you to physically step in the space, and it’s a lot of fun. And a lot of times it’s easier to visualize and realize a space when your brain thinks you’re actually standing there. So a lot of times what we’ll do at my structural firm is, when we’re done modeling large portions of the structural portions of a project, is we’ll go into virtual reality and do just one more quality control sweep. And it’s like a lot of times it’s just even just for quality control, if you’re looking on a flat screen at a bunch of elements and you’re not physically in the space, sometimes things don’t look off. But when you’re physically standing there with the virtual and it hits, and you’re standing on a roof and you’re looking at all the beams, and then you see this little shadow being cast and you’re like, what’s that? And you walk over there and you realize that the beam is up just a bit because it’s casting a shadow a little differently.

Marcello Sgambelluri:

So your brain thinks you’re there and then you find these little things that pop. And I like to equate it to, if you saw a circle and it had a little notch taken out of it, you’d be like, that’s not right, that’s not a circle, right? I mean, but we know circles are supposed to be completely round and continuous, right? But when your brain is in a project and you think you’re there, then you see things that just you normally wouldn’t see in the flats, at least I don’t. And it’s fun to be there.

Marcello Sgambelluri:

And so virtual reality allows you to do that. It uses game engine technology, which then also allows you not to just look but in certain situations you could touch. So if you need to, you can collaborate with others, you can see someone else in that environment and you could talk or you could paint over things. And then even in extreme cases, which I’ve seen, some elaborate, let’s say, programs allow you to physically move things. So if don’t like that particular furniture there, pick it up and move it in virtual reality. And so you have the ability to not just look but touch, which is really cool.

Mike Merrill:

Well, and I think I’m gathering, as you’re discussing this and as you’re talking about the technical side of companies, and programmers, and people embracing this more, it’s becoming more mainstream to where maybe one day in the not too distant future you can go to the furniture store and have a similar experience and vision this couch in your space or this bed headboard and whatever.

Marcello Sgambelluri:

Yes, sure. And it’s already happening. I mean, if you buy something on Amazon, there are some products there they’ll say, view this at home, or I can’t remember the option, and you can click it and then it will actually show the object in … that’s augmented reality, but it uses the same concept. You know what, and quite honestly, I am not the, I guess, the digital reality expert, but you may hear these terms of virtual reality or VR, augmented reality or AR, the only difference is that augmented reality means that it’s digital overlaid with the real environment. So if you just want to have one object but you’re overlaying it with the real world, then that’s augmented reality. They also have a term called mixed reality, which is in between. And I think there’s others which I don’t quite understand. But anyway, as long as you hear the word reality on it, it’s usually meaning that there’s some digital thing involved with tricking the brain to think that it’s actually there.

Mike Merrill:

So what is a digital twin and where does it play into this conversation we’ve been having?

Marcello Sgambelluri:

Digital twin, okay. It’s still early in the podcast to ask that question. But okay, digital twin, we need to ramp up for that one. But let me just finish my virtual reality soapbox rant, if I want to. A lot of times with virtual reality, if companies are looking to get into it, it can be a hard sell because the equipment is expensive, but really you just got to let people try it. And then when they try it they tend to be hooked because it’s cool and fun. And if you’re using virtual reality and you’re not having fun, you’re probably doing it wrong. So we’re just going to have to leave it at that.

Marcello Sgambelluri:

Also, it’s not an unknown concept to us as humans, virtual reality. Virtual Reality just means that we’re tricking the eyes to trick the brain to think that something is there that’s not there. But we’ve been doing that with all our other senses for tens of thousands of years, right. I mean, when you hear bird sounds at a museum and it’s playing through a loudspeaker, I mean, that’s a virtual reality just through your senses through hearing, but somehow we accept that as just being part of normal life. So the fact that we’re tricking our eyes now to trick our brain to think something’s there is only just another sense that we’re using. I mean, you could even argue drawings and, I mean, it’s all some augmented reality of some type to trick our senses to think something’s there. So this is just the newest wave of that. I think, I think in 20 years we’re going to laugh at all these big headsets that we were wearing to trick our eyes, when in fact we’ll come up with better systems for that.

Mike Merrill:

Contact lens.

Marcello Sgambelluri:

Yes, whatever it may be. But yes, so I think it’s here to stay. I don’t think everyone would have a virtual reality headset on at all times 100% of the time, I don’t think that’s important. I think just at this point in time it’s good to get in there and see your designs and realize them in a different way. Okay, enough on that.

Marcello Sgambelluri:

Digital twin. Digital twin concept has been around a while. Now, what does digital twin mean if you just look at the definition? Does it just mean that it’s a digital twin of the actual building? In the definition itself, yes. So if you had a project that was existing, say, or you designed a project in BIM, you model it in three dimensions, and if you were to look at the project that got finished and constructed, and you were to look at the constructed project, and you were to look at the 3D model that was built, and if they look identical or they look like twins, is that a digital twin? By the definition of the word, the answer is yes, but you would say, well, haven’t we been doing that with BIM all along? Isn’t BIM a digital twin? What is the difference?

Marcello Sgambelluri:

Okay, there’s a big difference, and the big difference is the process. So I like to think of it this way, digital twin is not a thing, it’s a process. So if you’re like, do you have digital twin on the project? Then you go, yes, we’ve got BIM, we’ve got the project, we’ve got a digital twin. No, it doesn’t work like that. So I think that’s the misconception. But digital twin is the process on how you use it. Now you can say, well, we’ve been using BIM, we use a 3D BIM to organize, and coordinate, and extract information from, so are we using the digital twin in the right way? What the term digital twin is supposed to mean, and I’m not the digital twin expert, this is what I gather from the industry and what I’ve done personally, is digital twin really is the way you use the three dimensional model after the project has been built.

Marcello Sgambelluri:

So you build a 3D digital model for your design, your coordination and maybe even to help the construction, that’s not really part of the digital twin process. Building is now built, okay, the building is built, right, you’re like, how many sensors do we have in that building? We need to change them out and when do we need to change them? Okay, go in there and count all 5,000 of them. Or could you go to a digital 3D model, which would be the digital twin, and go in there and count up all the sensors, put in data in there on when it needs to be replaced, and then so now as the project is moving along, it gets older and older, you don’t go physically into the building all the time, you go to that digital twin and you use the digital twin to support what you’re doing to the facilities management of the building.

Marcello Sgambelluri:

Now, the digital twin experts and academics are probably going to say there’s a lot more to it than that, and there is, but I’m just trying to simplify it in a simple way. So I guess if what we’re saying is, if a project requires you to do digital twin and you were just using BIM in the traditional sense, then you’re not going to be able to satisfy that requirement. So what I think I’d recommend to the listeners, if they’re hearing this, is if you have a digital twin requirement, then you need to ask exactly what that means. What do you really mean by that? You ask the owner, if they’re requiring it.

Marcello Sgambelluri:

Okay, it means that when the project is built, we have an exact replica as built and it is functional in such a way and in a format in such a way that the building facilities management, maybe us as the owner in the future, we can all access that project, we have the ability to do it, we have the skills to do it, we know exactly what to look for it, maybe even you put an extra things in there so that it even reads real sensor data. Sometimes building have sensor data, that digital twin is actually monitoring that sensor data. Maybe it’s a movement in an earthquake, maybe it’s the electricity that’s running through it, maybe it’s the age of the sensors or you know what, it could be so much stuff. But it’s basically using it as the twin of the actual building.

Mike Merrill:

Great explanation. I love your descriptions and how you’re bringing this back down to earth, right, where just the regular Joe contractor can get a sense of what some of these specific terms are. So how does somebody that really isn’t leveraging these things fully start to utilize BIM and digital twin technology and these other things in their business?

Marcello Sgambelluri:

Computational design?

Mike Merrill:

Yes. Yes.

Marcello Sgambelluri:

I think the first thing to do is to assess where you’re at, because I think I’ve been in the industry for 23 years now, and one thing I realize is that our industry is full of extremely intelligent AEC professionals, and a lot of them sell themselves short. So I think when they hear the term digital twin, computational design, BIM, their immediate reaction is, well, I’m not using that. But are you? And we talked about this a little earlier, right. So what I would recommend to everyone who wants to get “into it”, whatever that new technology is, do an evaluation first of where you are, a real evaluation. Are you really using BIM? You probably are. Are you using computational design in some way? You might be but you don’t know it.

Marcello Sgambelluri:

As an example, you may be getting Revit models from an architect, the architect laid out all the grids, everything out using computational design, maybe a Dynamo script. Well, maybe you find that out. Okay, well then what you do is you say, hey, could you share those scripts? Could you share the computation that went into creating this “digital thing”, let’s call it a digital thing, right? Maybe you have subcontractors who wrote little LISP routines or scripts or something to help do it, right, maybe you want that as supporting it. So that way when you do a full evaluation of where you are, you need to realize what you’ve already done and what you’re involved with. And that will give you a good idea of where you need to go, because you don’t want to have to relearn things that you already know that you don’t know, if that makes sense.

Marcello Sgambelluri:

So then do a full evaluation, I would say, and then if you realize that you were doing something that you didn’t know you were doing, meaning through these terms, then you probably should be updating your website, your statement of qualifications, you should be bragging quite honestly about what you’re doing, because what I find is that in this day and age, technology just wrapped everything in our industry. Even if you’re out there tying rebar, right, you are involved in a digital process that got you to that point of where you need to place that rebar, et cetera, right. So technology is a huge part of our industry, it just is.

Marcello Sgambelluri:

And with that, you need to be a technology evangelist. So you need to be telling everyone in the project what you’re doing from a technology standpoint. Maybe you wrote a little script to extract, like I said, all those tops of steel, maybe you think no one cares, probably people will, right. You need to be telling the owner, you need to be telling the architect, and you need to be telling the subcontractors all the technology that you know and what you’re doing. So you need to do a self evaluation, you need to do a realistic evaluation, you need to then be the evangelist for what you’re doing.

Marcello Sgambelluri:

And then at that point, you could then branch out and say, okay, this is really what we need to learn, we really need to get into visual programming around Grasshopper, because for example, every time we start a new project, we always get a Rhinoceros file, which is another 3D modeling program, from the architect, and we don’t have to remodel this all again. Okay, let’s now decide to start to figure out how to utilize that technology to make ourselves a little better. And so I think self evaluation and then doing baby steps into the technology that you think will help either the project you’re on or one you see in the future, then it becomes more real. You don’t want to look too far out like, well, in 20 years let’s do some fictitious, esoteric project that may be in the clouds one day, no, I don’t think that’s going to help.

Marcello Sgambelluri:

And then you can dig your roots in, save some time and then you branch out again, okay. When I say a self evaluation, I mean, self and project evaluation, because you may say, well, we only use this and that. So yes, we’re using TECLA, and yes, we’re using AutoCAD imports, but maybe you didn’t realize that the designers, the structural engineer, the architect, are actually using all these other technologies that you happen to not really know about but you’re physically touching because you’re getting byproduct of that. Well then you need to ask, right. And in our industry, we’re not that good at that yet. We’re not that good at project teams sharing everything they’re “doing”. They’re good at sharing what they’re required to share, but they’re not that great at sharing what they’re doing and I think we will eventually get there but we’re not there yet, so how do you know? You got to ask.

Marcello Sgambelluri:

And believe it or not, a lot of our industry is filled with tech geeks. I mean, I’m one of them so I know. So you could just spark up a conversation, well, how did you lay out all those grids? Wow, you’ve got 500 of them and you gave them to me the next day. We used a script and we … Really? Well, you share that with us. Of course. And then through that you start to realize what your project is doing. And then you can learn without even trying, you could learn what’s going on in your project. You could adapt those technologies in at least you can start to think about, I saw how this was utilized and then you can start to be the evangelists of that. Even though we weren’t directly involved in it, this project utilized this technology and that one, and then I think that’s the easiest way to start to absorb it because it’s real.

Marcello Sgambelluri:

And then you may decide, you know what, we want to do that thing that the architect did or we want to do that thing that our subcontractor did. Yes. And then from that point then you move on. So I’m going to call itself evaluation, project evaluation, evangelist and then reach out. I think that’s probably a good place to start.

Mike Merrill:

Great answer and a lot of great detail. I really love, I mean, I’ll put a different term on it, but this is marketing. There’s a marketing opportunity for businesses to not just brag about and share, but evangelize how these buildings are being put together. And whether they realize it or not, they are using BIM because they’re being blessed by BIM even if they’re not the owner of the system, they’re enjoying the benefits of the process.

Marcello Sgambelluri:

Right. And you should “shout that from the rooftops”, because you were an integral part of that technology to make that project successful. Even if you, maybe as a contractor or subcontractor, we’re only laying out slab edges, right. But really, where did that come from? Where’d it go? And then where’s it going? Maybe it’s going to be part of a digital twin, maybe it’s going to run sensors in the building that will last for 20-30 years, right. So it’s good to ask.

Marcello Sgambelluri:

You know what I’m thinking, you know how projects ask for as builds, right, we could do a whole podcast on as builds, right, there should be as builds but part of the as builds should also be a summary of as designed. Like, how was this as designed? What processes went through this to get here? I think that would be a nice solid document too. I don’t see anyone in our industry really doing that from a big picture view. I mean, I think I’ve seen that through BIM execution plans, but BIM execution plans are more of, this is what we need to do, but a lot of people, believe it or not, even with a follow up BIM execution plans, if they follow it, first if they read it then if they follow it, will do a lot of things other than that. And it’s those things other than that, that I think really should be known to everyone in the project. I guess that’s what I’m saying.

Mike Merrill:

Yes, I’m visualizing a navigation route on GPS, I mean, you got the destination, you got where you are, but turn left here, turn right there, go around this corner, merge here. Basically, you’re talking about the steps it took to get from point A to point B and documenting it.

Marcello Sgambelluri:

Yes, I suppose. Yes. And I did a talk at Autodesk University on a similar topic, it was basically, what I think is really good and it’s been real good over the last 20 years is, like I said, companies and firms that are in a project are really good at sharing what they need to share, and that usually is around digital models and drawings. But they don’t think about sharing their intellect or their wits, but that’s a huge part of a project, right. And so I had that discussion group and what I’m trying to promote in the industry is to do more of this. And it could help the design or it can help the project on the future.

Marcello Sgambelluri:

So for example, the contractor says, we need all the digital models from all the designers, so we could then start to create our shop drawings and do our construction. Okay, say that’s a requirement, right. Well, the designers are going to hand over their models because they’re required to, and sometimes even if they’re not required to they do it. But a lot of times they’re not thinking, okay, you know what, let’s also share all the other stuff that we did that led up to the creation of the model. And then even on the design side, I’d like to see more of that exchange of wits.

Marcello Sgambelluri:

A lot of times there’s overlap, structural engineers and architects. The structural engineer maybe designing all the exterior retaining walls, but the architect is modeling all the soil and the topography, right. And then one’s required to do one thing, one’s required to another, but a lot of times one firm will have a unique skill set that the other one could use. For example, you may have someone in the structural office who knows how to model typography better than anyone else in the state, but the architect may not know that because they’re not telling them that. But if they told them that, hey, we’ve got, whatever, so and so over there knows how to do this, would you like them to share that knowledge with you so when it’s your turn to model it, it’s going to be easier? And I think this whole sharing of wits things could really benefit an entire project anywhere on the level.

Marcello Sgambelluri:

So I think that’s what we’re driving down into is, being able to share that. And it’s traditionally not what we do because you’re like, well, why? And then from the other side of it, it’s like, well, why are we getting help? When we’re required to do it, why are we asking another consultant to help us do that? It’s like, that’s our job. But a lot of times when it’s your job, it doesn’t mean that you can’t ask for help, right, or you can’t give help or offer help. So I think that’s where we’re going to.

Marcello Sgambelluri:

So maybe as you do a self evaluation, you’re looking into this technology and you start to branch out, also do a self evaluation of what you think team members could benefit from what you know. Maybe you’re the expert at documenting all the precast concrete panels, right, but it’s not your job, but you could probably share that with someone else on a project outside your firm and then they’d be able to be a little bit easier at it.

Marcello Sgambelluri:

You know what, I like to think about it too, sorry, we’re flying off topic here, Mike, but what this does, is this sharing, this evaluation that’s helping the sharing of wits, is it creates this culture around your project and around your company, and hopefully, around the industry which is not this finger pointing, well, it’s your fault when a problem goes wrong. It’s your fault. It’s like, no, it’s really all of our faults but it shouldn’t even be that, whose fault it is, you shouldn’t be asking that question. And I think a lot of times when you bring things up it’s like, well, why are you asking? Or we don’t need your help.

Mike Merrill:

Yes, defensive.

Marcello Sgambelluri:

Yes, and you know what I like to say is, if that happens in a project, like, well, why are you asking me? And it’s this defensive way of doing it which tends to be more of paranoia, like, well the reason you’re asking me is because you’re trying to … there’s something negative you’re going to do, right. But I like to flip it on its head and I’d like to see more of the opposite of paranoia is pronoia, which is, you have this delusion that everyone’s trying to help you. And so that’s what I like to see.

Marcello Sgambelluri:

And I’ve seen that in some projects, that’s what I would like to see in every project. When someone says, hey, do you want to learn how to model typography? I know how, I can show you. Yes, great. Not, why are you asking me? But I know you’re asking me because you want to help me. Yes, come on, spend a day over here, I’ll buy you lunch. Whatever, it’s this whole pronoia type of attitude and culture that I’d like to see more and more. And I think we’ll eventually get there, but I think it all starts with sharing your wits and your knowledge and everyone working together on a project. And I have seen it here and there. Okay, I’m done, Mike.

Mike Merrill:

Love that. Well, so to wrap up, one last thing. So if I were to ask you, what’s the main takeaway, one short, succinct takeaway for the listeners, what would be the parting thought you would share with them from our conversation?

Marcello Sgambelluri:

What do I want everyone to take away? I guess what we just talked about. Mike, wait, how about this, Mike, what are you taking away from what I’m saying? How’s that sound? What are you taking away from it?

Mike Merrill:

Well, what I’m hearing you say is that we are leveraging technologies that we may not be aware that we’re leveraging and we need to better understand what those things are, so that not only can we take more advantage of them, but then we can also share that message with others so that we can raise the bar for everybody.

Marcello Sgambelluri:

Right. And these technologies will continue to grow, there’ll be more and more terms. Maybe if you invite me in a year, I’ll have more terms for you, right. So I think that’s it. I think, don’t sell yourself short, right. You’re probably doing a lot more than you think, you’re probably doing a lot more intelligent work than you think. And share what you have and keep up the good work, I think that’s what the message is here, because we’re doing something right. I mean, projects are being built all the time, right, we’re one of the biggest industries on the planet. And maybe if you need help communicating, reach out to Mike with his WorkMax platform and he can tell you how to do that.

Mike Merrill:

Well, thank you, Marcello, for joining us today. Really enjoyed the conversation and look forward to sharing this messaging and also this episode with our listeners.

Marcello Sgambelluri:

Okay, thank you, Mike. It was really nice talking with you.

Celebrating One Year of the Mobile Workforce Podcast

Celebrating One Year of the Mobile Workforce Podcast

The Mobile Workforce Podcast is a year old! To celebrate this momentous occasion, the podcast did something special! Instead of Mike Merrill hosting, he sat in the hot seat and was interviewed on highlights from the podcast over the past year. 

In this special episode, Frank Di Lorenzo Jr., the client relationship manager at Preferred Strategies,  was our guest host. Frank asked Mike about the top takeaways from guests in his first year of hosting the Mobile Workforce Podcast and important themes that were covered, including company culture, the labor gap and the next generation of technologies.

 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Company culture needs to have diverse goals. It is important for contractors to purposefully develop their culture in today’s market to attract and retain top talent. That company culture needs to be multifaceted, promoting safety, diversity, and technology. This means that leadership must believe in all three and promote them from the top continually.
  2. The labor gap can be defeated. The labor gap is still a problem in the construction industry, so stakeholders need to be active participants in finding a solution. . The good news is that there are organizations like the Lime Foundation, founded by Letitia Hanke, that are attracting young people to the industry. Contractors can help their recruiting efforts by promoting the technology they use and engaging with job fairs at high schools and colleges. 
  3. Technology growth in construction is just getting started. Mike’s experience is that nearly 60% of construction companies are still on paper or spreadsheets to collect time and labor and production, and some of their project management initiatives. Even still we have reached the tipping point with construction technology where it is too productive for any contractor to ignore. Anyone that doesn’t adapt will find themselves struggling for work and eventually will have to close their doors.

Subscribe to the Mobile Workforce podcast to receive alerts as the new episodes post on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

Click Play to Listen to the Podcast Now:

Episode Transcript

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Hello everybody, and welcome. My name’s Frank Di Lorenzo, I am the guest host on today’s Mobile Workforce Podcast, and I’m excited to be here. In today’s episode, we’re celebrating the one year anniversary of the Mobile Workforce Podcast. And I’m going to be turning the tables in interviewing our esteemed host, Mr. Mike Merrill. During our chat I’m going to be asking Mike what he’s learned from construction leaders over the past years in his predictions for what’s ahead. This is going to be really interesting. Thank you for asking me to be the host today, Mike. I appreciate it.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, thanks for doing it, Frank. Looking forward to this. It should be a fun discussion.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

All right, let’s get into it. For starters, can you recap what you wanted listeners to from the Mobile Workforce Podcast? Great question to start.

Mike Merrill:

Sure. I mean, our goal really with the podcast is to really get those conversations going that that people either are having in different corners or within their groups and kind of put those out on a broader stage with a latter voice. We want to really help contractors increase their productivity, their profitability, enjoy technology that’s available that’s really out there and that could be at their fingertips. And so, I think there’s technology, there’s people, there’s processes, there’s all these components that are important in running a success, and we wanted to bring some of those together and help, again, bring those best practices to light so others can enjoy and learn from their peers in the industry.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Excellent. Excellent. Mike, I’ve known you, we go way back. I don’t want to say the years, because it’s a lot, but you’ve certainly been a force in the industry, still are, and so what you have to share today is going to be real exciting. So, you ready for the next question?

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, sure. Bring it.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Have there been any themes that stuck out to you regarding company culture and construction?

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I think one of the recurring themes that we hear a lot about and that we’ve really enjoyed having discussions on is construction safety and the import of having a culture of safety. Safety can be viewed in many different ways. A lot of it, of course, initially when we hear safety we’re thinking of the physical side of things, but also emotionally and mental wellness and health safety, being aware of the general overall health and wellbeing of our coworkers and our staff and our employees. I think these are important topics today, and they’re conversations that we’re happy to have and start and bring more to the light that companies really can have a better understanding of maybe what they’re missing out on and some things that they can do to improve and of course be more successful in business.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Yeah, I really think you hit the nail on the head on that one, Mike. Great response. Thank you. What about how many company cultures can benefit a business’s or how can a company’s culture, forgive me, benefit a business’s bottom line?

Mike Merrill:

Well, I would say, again, a safe company is a happy company. Safe employees are happy employees. I think just like being safe it’s also important to be progressive and to be innovative. People want to grow, they want to learn, they want to expand. And I think businesses are very much like us as individuals. They’re like a living organism. To thrive and to grow and to progress they need to have constant attention and care to those things that will allow them to become what they can. And I think employees that part of organizations that are growing that are progressive and proactive on not only safety and culture and inclusiveness, these other things that are hot topics in society, but I think being innovative and trying to give them opportunities to not only expand their own personal career, but also their knowledge and understanding of the world around them. And again, the buildings and the infrastructures that they’re actually taking part in helping to produce.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Yep. Absolutely. And Mike, we’re both supporters and members of the Construction Financial Management Association. And as we both know, a big initiative there is suicide prevention. And it’s a tough topic, we don’t like bring it up, but it needs to be addressed. And when you say safety and culture and inclusiveness that comes to mind as well.

Mike Merrill:

I think it’s great.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Okay. But it is a big initiative and it is important, and we’re both supportive of it. Next question, the labor was another issue that came up on the podcast time and time again, do you see light at the end of the tunnel?

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I think in construction we are adaptable and we are survivors. We get through great depressions and great recessions, and all types of different economic environments, material shortages, supply chain disruptions. I think we’re going to figure it out. It is a moving target right now, it feels like, and we’re definitely experiencing labor shortages everywhere. You mentioned earlier, the CFMA conferences and events and that organization, we try and stay plugged into what’s going on there. And when I go to a regional event in different parts of the country I’m hearing the same things. We just need more good help. It’s hard to find good help. We’re short-staffed, we have more backlog than we’ve ever had, we’re busy, we’re working overtime, and we just can’t quite catch up. So, some of the things that we’ve talked about a lot on the podcast have been the addition of more women in construction.

Mike Merrill:

And so that’s an exciting area that I think we can help fill some of those labor gaps and those talent gaps that construction companies have. I don’t mean just in the office and payroll, but there’s people that are drone pilots there’s women I talked to, a girl just a couple days ago at the National NECA Convention that was in Nashville, Tennessee. And I asked what she did for the organization, and she said, “I’m an electrician,” and I said, “That’s awesome.” I said, “What do you do specifically? What’s your role?” And she said, “I pull wire, and I drill holes, and I bend conduit,” and I said, “That’s awesome.” I thought she might be a project manager or something else, but yeah, she’s out there in the field getting after it, and I love seeing and hearing about those types of stories.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Yeah, me too, Mike. That’s a great one. And I swear I remember something about an inspiring story or a line foundation, does that ring any bells?

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, we had a guest on a couple of episodes, Letitia Hanke. She’s a business owner and roofing construction out on the California Coast. And Letitia also started a foundation called the LIME Foundation. And she actually has a training facility and a program that she’s not only done in her area, but she’s actually setting up other locations in different parts of the State of California and expanding that out in the country. So, I think that’s a really important thing. I’m glad you brought that up. Not only do we need to hire more women in construction and look for opportunities to recruit some of these young and new age, more technical talents that are available, but I think making construction more attractive to them and really raising awareness that these are really great organizations to be a part of. It’s a great way to provide for your family. You can actually make some really good money doing construction these days. It is blue collar, but I’m seeing some of those blue collars making more than some of the white collars these days, and I love to see that too.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Oh, certainly, me too. And they have fun doing it. If it’s something they love and they have a passion for you just see it and it exudes kind of that energy. It’s great. I agree. And you mentioned LIME Foundation, we talked about CFMA. Another group I just throw out in the mix that’s doing some great things is the women in construction as well.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. NAWIC, the National Association of Women in Construction. And we’ve had the former past president on the podcast. We’ve had some of the regional presidents, just lots of great discussions around the opportunities that exist in construct for women. Had another young girl that’s recently graduated from college. She’s actually a drone operator for a large construction company. That’s her full-time job. And there’s a lot of young ladies out there that are very talented with the drones and very technical. And I think that’s a great asset and the technology that we’re seeing rise up that that is completely new to the industry altogether. So, really, really cool stuff going on.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

It is leading edge. And you say that and I think I hear a drone overhead, they might be trying to spy on our podcast.

Mike Merrill:

It’s me. It’s me, Frank. I’m checking your lighting.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

You are perfect. Thank you. All right. So, what I’m excited about too, what has made you hopeful for the future of construction?

Mike Merrill:

I think the thing that excites me about it is that not only are we being more safe and are we being more efficient, more green, we’re finding ways to reuse and use recycled materials, and to be cleaner in the way that we’re producing buildings, and we’re responsible as far as the planet goes, I think we’re also learning how to be safer. That’s an exciting thing to see. We’re building these incredible structures that almost impossible to the human eye. You don’t even have to go to Las Vegas anymore or Dubai to see buildings that are inspiring and structures that are truly amazing.

Mike Merrill:

I was just down in Dallas, Texas, and looking at the Cowboys stadium and seeing what they did with that building, and we got some customers, actually KPost Roofing contractor down in the Dallas-Fort Worth area that is a premier sponsor with the Dallas Cowboys. They actually did the roof on that building. So, just seeing what these companies are doing and the buildings that they’re involved in building and creating and doing it safely is just really cool to see from an industry that is really known as being a little bit behind when it comes to the adoption of technology and innovation from the rest of the world’s technological standards.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Yeah. Mike, it just came to me when you mentioned Nashville, I was also at NECA, honored to be there. And I remember walking down one early morning to get to the convention center and there’s quite a bit of construction going on there. And it was a nice building, I think, next to the JW Marriott being built. But what really struck me was some of the workforce, some of the folks, few guys and girls down there taking pictures of the building, their work, and you could see the pride in what they were doing. It was exciting. And the other thing that I love because of the adoption of technology is how much smaller a footprint in staging in things there is to get these buildings in place. You know what I mean? We are now adopting technology to a point that you can see.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, they’re building them in tighter quarters. Again, I mean, there is a lot of regulation, there are a lot of things with OSHA, and with the EPA, other organizations that are in place to help make sure that we’re doing things not only safely, but responsibly as far as the environment goes. So, I like to see those things too. I think it’s important that we’re aware of the environment around us, and that we take that into account, but I know, just like you, looking at that Music City Center, the Nashville Convention Center, I mean, there was this on the ceiling like it’s a fretboard of a guitar, and I’m looking at these chains that are hung from a ceiling.

Mike Merrill:

They had to be a hundred feet tall that look like guitar strings, but they’re twisted in an artistic fashion. And I’m seeing the architecture, not just the construction, but the way that they design. And the inside of the buildings even decorated. And it is just an amazing place to be, and to behold, and to know that a lot of those folks that were there at NECA they’re doing projects like these all over the place. And I just love to see blue collar guys win and do well and do things that are notable and inspiring, because I think they work really hard, and I think they deserve more credit than maybe we often give them as a society. And those are my people. I’m cut from that same cloth.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Absolutely. And Mike, we started you said something that resonated with me when we talked about… You made a comment about, construction is a perceived industry lagging in technology. I think we’d all agree that’s generally, I’ve spent 36 years now in the construction technology space and the joke always was they’ll buy a backhoe before they invest in software, right? But on observation, I’d love your opinion on this from your senior expertise level, I’m seeing that kind of a paradigm shift there.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

And I think part of it might be the millennials and the younger folks now entering our industry because 10, 20 years ago I would meet with a wall of resistance when talking about our technology might help a new potential company, but now I’m almost was pushed on the technology side by the next generation, “Hey, if I can’t do it all on this device I don’t want it,” or, “If I can’t find it on YouTube it’s probably not worth looking at.” What’s your thoughts on how that entry into our industry of the next generation millennials and so forth, maybe Gen Z, I don’t know, has affected our adoption of technology. Any thoughts on that?

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I mean, I think we have a lot of work yet to do. I still feel like… I mean, you mentioned at NECA, we had a booth there. We talked to about 350 different individuals in the electrical space, and we asked certain questions and we try and learn and understand what’s going on in their business and what things are important. And we figure it was somewhere nearly 60% of the companies and the people that we talked with are still on paper or spreadsheets to collect time and labor and production, and some of their project management initiatives. And so, I still think we’ve got more than half of the industry that is behind, but at the same time, we have other companies that are really digging deep into technology.

Mike Merrill:

They have drones, they have robots, they’re using BIM, right? They’re doing all of these things that we talk about and that we see and that we kind of preach about every day, and they’re doing them really well. I mean, they’re employing IT staff. Some of them have software engineers on staff to help plug in and integrate their multiple systems that they’re running and managing. So, I think there’s a disparity. I think companies that aren’t on that technology train are late to the party. I think it’s going to get tougher for them to compete in the industry. And right now the getting’s good everywhere. I mean, we heard that a lot too. But I think those days are numbered of companies saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. I’m just going to stick with my paper.”

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Right. Right. Very good thoughts on that. And it kind of leads me to this next thought, what are your thoughts on how the pandemic… I know the pandemic has given us kind of a quick shove, I’ll call it, into remote workforces. And we also have a labor shortage in general, which you touched on, how is technology helping companies do more with less? Less people in a sense. I think I see some companies, maybe they’re reluctantly doing it, but they almost find that their best avenue to success is tech technology, because they can’t just hire more bodies like they used to maybe in the past.

Mike Merrill:

Right. Well, I would say, I mean, this is your wheelhouse really, but BI, and dashboarding, and data that is at people’s fingertips, even in the field that they didn’t have before without physically talking to somebody or visiting the site in person. I think that collaboration opportunity is better than ever. And I think the pandemic has forced companies to get used to working remotely, not only on a construction project, but actually collaborating, getting on teams meetings, and Zoom meetings, and conference calls, video calls, video chats. I know, for us, I mean, we’ve been doing that for 15 plus years to do presentations remotely. And even five years ago even large companies would struggle to get on those meetings. They weren’t fluid or fluent or able to successfully navigate those with ease.

Mike Merrill:

And now, I mean, people are going to church through Zoom, taking Zumba classes, or whatever it is. I mean, it’s all remote. So I think the pandemic has forced the construction industry to not only embrace, but depend on these technologies. So I’d say that’s a positive silver lining that’s come and kind of raised from the ashes of some of this really tragic and terrible stuff that’s going on. So I think if we can learn to fail forward and use these tools that seem to feel new to a lot of companies to our advantage, and rather than resist, lean into this technology opportunity that exists, because it’s everywhere you look, and construction’s just kind of a little bit lasted the dinner party on a lot of fronts with that.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Yep. And quick comment on that and then I’ve got another question for you. Surprise, surprise. But if we can deliver to the field, when you mentioned data and business intelligence, what comes to my mind is arming the field with, what I like to call the three Ds, access to data, dialogue, and documents. If they can see their data, the corresponding dialogue around that data, or collaboration if you will, and then the documents to back up that data, invoices, POs, things like that. If they have that at their fingertips, it’s just… Well, and they can be much more impactful and immediate decision making to correct something before it’s too late. But two, they don’t have to run back to the office as you alluded to. And the technology’s there today to do it, finally, which leads to my next question. You can certainly comment on that and then answer this question. So here we go. What has surprised you the most about the adoption of mobile technology and construction up to now?

Mike Merrill:

I would say really there’s two parts to that. Number one, I’m surprised at how well some companies are doing with it. I’m not necessarily surprised at the ROI and the money they’re saving and making, the profitability they’re realizing, but I’m pleasantly surprised to see that they’re acknowledging the benefit. And that the companies that that get it and that really understand it, and work through the challenge, that depth where it gets really difficult and hard, and it would be easy to just shrink back to old habits and go back to the status quo, but they lean into it, and they say, “No, we’re going to get through this. We’re figure it out. We’re going to get this in place, because we believe it’s important.”

Mike Merrill:

Once they get to the sunny side of that hill they’re always so grateful and so excited about this whole new world of opportunity that they now have, because they’ve recognized that they are so much more fish than they ever could have been with those old methods. So that’s pleasantly surprising. On the opposite side, I am still shocked when you talk to a thousand or 2000 employee company that truly has paper reports and Excel spreadsheets, and is still emailing and communicating through old methods to build these projects. I mean, they’re doing a great job. Some of these companies are doing hundreds of millions or even over a billion dollars a year in revenue, and yet some their processes are still on paper or in spreadsheets. So that still surprises me that they haven’t just made that switch.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Yeah. Me as well. I mean, Mike, I’ve spoken to one or two of actually your clients using your technologies. And what I love is as resistant as they may have been to adopt it initially. When I asked the loaded question, “Hey, let’s say we had to remove that, you’re going to go back to your paper process, you’re not taking away my mobile device now, you’re not taking away my technology.” And once they adopt it, they become, let’s say dependent, but it improves their process and improves their job. They don’t want to take it away. It’s just getting over that initial discomfort to adopt it, I think.

Mike Merrill:

Well, and to our point earlier, and something I touched on as well, this new generation that’s coming out of college, they’re not going to know what to do with these old school systems. I mean, at least a Google Sheets, collaborative and live, I mean, it’s still not where I need the data, and I need it to speak to other systems, and we need integration, that’s a key thing in everything that we’re doing, but I just think that the rising generation and then the baby boomers that are outgoing, I think that that tide is turning. And the sooner companies can recognize that and enjoy the goodness that there is to be had, the better off they’re not only going to be financially just from a P&L standpoint, but actually the culture and the thriving, growing, excited, just innovative spirit of that company will be more attractive to these young kids that grew up with an iPhone in their hand.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

No question. They’re totally dependent. I keep pointing it out, but my kids would never let me forget it. We have six of them. So believe me, I know. But in spreadsheets you mentioned, and I remember or recall one instance where the project manager had a spreadsheet, showed it to me, and was so proud of it. “Look at the pie chart of my spreadsheet. Look at how made it was.” It was impressive. But I asked a question, and maybe I shouldn’t have, but I said, “How do you know that cost number is accurate? What does it come from?” “I don’t really know.” “Well, that’s something we should talk about, right? That’s something we should fix.” As we know, Excel’s a great tool for interacting with some data, but it’s not a great silo database in of itself. I mean, I’m sure you would agree. Any thoughts on that?

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I mean, I think the biggest thing is, we live in a real-time world. I mean, Amazon Prime and on demand. I mean, my family, we watch half of our movies at home now that are new releases, sometimes pre-releases. You can get the Disney stuff at home before it hits the theater. So, we’re used to that type of world everywhere else we go in our day-to-day life, why in the world would we take our business that’s the heart and soul of our income and how we provide for our families and our employees, families? And why in the world would we go backwards in how we’re managing our affairs there when we would never do that in life?

Mike Merrill:

The paper’s dead. It’s not alive, it’s not growing, it’s not shareable without physically handing it to somebody. And in this virtual real-time world we’ve got to move forward, and I think the building trades are catching onto that like never before. It’s really exciting to see. I think it’s only going to help us get more efficient. Again, not only safer, not only faster, not only more profitably, but it’s just a better way to do things.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Agreed. Thank you, Mike. That’s great answer. And we’ve both been longtime, I think servants, to some respects, industry professionals in construction. We both have a passion for helping contractors just get better and improve. And there’s so much technology today to help do that. And the other comment, Mike, I’ll make, and I’d love your thoughts on is the price points. It’s no longer just the purview of big boy any longer, the price points continue to come down, cloud access, mobile access. So small contractors, and how you define small is an opinion, but almost any contractor who operate that way can leverage these technologies now. And what are your thoughts? Would you agree? What are your thoughts on that?

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I had this conversation dozens of times at that NECA event just this week actually. Two days ago, I was there on the trade show floor and I continued to have really good discussions with companies that had 10 or 15 or 20 employees. And they were pleasantly surprised to hear this same system that we’re talking about, the same mobile technology that you can have for cheap, because you don’t need a lot of access or licenses or data, you can have the same data that this 6,000 employee company is using, the same tools. And so, you’re never going to bump your head on that ceiling. You could just expand and grow, right? To your heart’s content and you’re never going to outgrow that system. So, that wasn’t the case 10, 15, 20 years ago.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Right. Right.

Mike Merrill:

Implementations might cost a company 30, 40, 50 grand to even get a system in place of any size. And so, today, when you can be set up, really on your own possibly, in 30 minutes and ready to go, I mean, that’s just nuts, but it’s there, it’s available, it’s possible, and you can take advantage of it even if you got 10 employees.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

So Mike, would you agree? We could almost summarize and say that unlike 10 years ago, today, both cost and technical complexity, I’ll call it, should no longer be a barrier to entry into using tools that are available today.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, most systems have a more modern UI or user interface that there’s a lot of self-serving options. There’s default settings, maybe different systems offer different tiers possibly of capability, and if not… I mean, in our particular case it’s the same system. So we’ve just automate a lot of those things. And then, YouTube videos, and training, and the Zoom stuff, all these things that have happened you don’t have to send three guys on an airplane for a week, and feed them, and pay for them to overtime, and they’re away from their families, and charge a couple hundred bucks an hour or more for every guy.

Mike Merrill:

And that doesn’t necessarily have to happen. You can pay those people to train you from their office remotely. And even if the hourly rate is the same, they don’t have to jump on an airplane and incur all those other expenses in order to get you the same benefit, maybe even better. They’re more efficient when all those tools are at their fingertips and when they can do things remotely. So, I can’t see any side of this that isn’t so much better than it was even five years ago at this point.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Mike, one thing I’ve always appreciated with you, and you just did it again by the way. We talk about business efficiencies, cost savings, but you always bring it back to people, and the people of the most important thing away from their families, you said a few times. So, how technology can also help the lifestyle and the culture, as we started with, of our people, it’s always been top of mind for you and I’ve always appreciated it. So thank you for mentioning that again.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, thanks for pointing that out. And I know you feel the same way. And a lot of the folks that we call collaborate with and work within the industry, especially from the technology side, a lot of us understand that. And I think software just makes your life better. Good software, good systems just improve your experience. And this is really no different. And I think an improved experience makes better happier people.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Yeah. And with the technology adoption, I said this to nick it to somebody I was speaking with. I don’t know how to use these systems, so I asked him, “Do you have a cell phone?” Yes, he has an iPhone. I think it was an iPhone or may have been an Android, but he pulls out his iPhone, I said, “Do you text on it?” “Yeah, I text the kids.” “Okay. All right, they text you. Do you use LinkedIn?” “Yes.” “Do you ever Google or anything?” “Yes.” “You have more technical proficiency than you realize to adopt these tools. You are already happily there. Bravo, let’s move forward.” Would you agree with that? I’m just kind of curious.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I think, again, if you look at anybody’s phone, I mean, I’ve read and heard and seen all kinds of different studies. The average company is using between five and nine applications to run their business on their phones. I know personally people usually have four to five times that. I mean, a lot of people have over 50 apps on their phone. You might have 12 or 16 or nine, whatever the number is on your home screen. And every one of those are an app. You’re logging into your bank account or checking your Gmail. They’re all applications. So, it’s the same stuff just for a little bit different purpose and it’s more related to business.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Exactly. Yep, exactly right. Well, onto another question. Let’s pretend for a moment you have a crystal ball and we’re going to do a lightning round. So, are you ready? What are your predictions for, the first one, supply chain improvements? Go.

Mike Merrill:

I think we’re going to see a lot more automation. I think systems are going to… They’re already doing it. They’re auto ordering when inventory levels are low. I think mobile technologies are getting better for controls to be put in place to continue to recognize when you’re running short or when you need more of something. And I think the ability to get those from a supplier and the ability this supplier to get those from their supplier will continue to improve and increase just like Amazon over the U.S. mail service. I think everything is going that way. And so, I’m excited about those improvements, because as we’ve all seen, there’s been major disruptions for all types of other reasons in society with everything going on and it’s making us figure this stuff out. So I think having it really, really broken like it’s been, ultimately, will be a blessing in disguise one day because it’s just forcing us to figure it out sooner.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

You know what? I agree with you. Out of every adversity or challenge there can be something that good that will come from it. And one, I mentioned to a client, probably a month or so ago, walked into their big conference room, and prior to the pandemic, for example, their conference meetings were the speaker phone they had in the middle of the table and that was it. Now there’s screens and cameras, because they’re doing Zoom meetings everywhere. Technology adoption right before eyes. Okay, next one here, wearable technologies. What do you think?

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I mean, we’ve had guests on the podcast that talk about… Amy Pierce was just on, she’s an incredible technology expert. Her episode, I think comes out next week. Keynote speaker, a really, really sharp girl. And she talked a lot about that, wearables, hard hats, helmets that are reading heart rate and pulse, and can actually detect fall detection. And if somebody’s struggling or staggering, I mean, really it’s BI for the boy. It’s just like my-

Frank Di Lorenzo:

It’s measuring heart rates, and blood pressures.

Mike Merrill:

Your pulse, if you’re overly stressed. I wear a Garmin fenix 5 watch for my trail runs, it’s doing my heart rate, it’s doing my BMI, it’s measuring everything about my physical health.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Yeah. I don’t know if I like it though when the phone tells me time to stand up and walk around, but it is a good thing, it is a good thing. And wearable technologies are certainly making a splash into our industry big time which is exciting. Another topic, highly interesting one, diversity on the job site.

Mike Merrill:

I think this is more important than ever. I think we really need to redefine to a degree what the role that we’re looking to fill looks like right now. Again, a lot of us may have this stereotypical thing in mind when you’re thinking of an electrician or a plumber, and that could be anybody. Man, woman, young man, young woman, it doesn’t matter their ethnicity or anything else. These role can be filled by anybody who has a desire. I actually, interesting point, we found a really cool ladder system that was exhibiting right next to us. And these ladders are actually they’re made of Kevlar.

Mike Merrill:

So they’re actually shock resistant, and they’ve got a ladder that goes like 16 plus feet tall that weighs like 29 pounds and can hold 400 pounds on it. And the vendor was telling me that one of the largest solar installers in the United States is now employing over 50% of their field installers as women, and it’s because they can carry this ladder now. And so, that’s an innovation. It’s not software, but it is technology. It is innovation, and it is allowing for women to enter a workforce that was a struggle before, because of the size of their frame or their strength they had a harder time carrying those big ladders that they would need to get up on those roofs. And that’s not a problem anymore because somebody solved it. So I love that.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Yeah, and as a side benefit, you say Kevlar, I can’t help but mention it may be bulletproof too. I guess is always a good thing.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, that’s right.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

GPS technology. That’s permeating everywhere now, even in data analytics, which I’ll mention, but what are your thoughts on how that’s impacting our industry?

Mike Merrill:

I think it’s revolutionized so many aspects, and not just finding the job anymore, but how we do it. I mean, the system knows already where the job is. The office knows where the staff and the personnel are in relation to the job. If there’s a question or a safety issue or a challenge, or a problem, they’ve got data analytics and dashboards to view who to reach out to, who’s physically closest to that site, or who’s actually in proximity of that issue. So I think just that visibility, not just for navigation, but visibility of where our resources are at, whether that be equipment, tools, employees, where a form was completed, where a picture was taken, just validating, I think having that data in a litigation or lawsuit or some type of a liability situation with OSHA or with workers comp it’s just allowing the truth to be known more readily by more people. And so we can get to the facts quicker and get back to building things and improving safety.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Or say the facts are friendly. So I think you’re right about that. This one’s exciting to me too, they all are, but I saw this at Future-tech, robotics and drones. And when I say robotics, Mike, the vests that make you stronger, almost helps you lift the weights or hold the drill. I don’t know if you’ve seen it, I’m sure you have, but what are your thoughts on how that’s impacting our industry?

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, it’s amazing. And we talk about making the ladder lighter. Well, how about making the vest assist in the lifting and making you stronger? I mean, it’s a real thing. That’s commercially available today. I saw a dog-looking robot at the Trimble booth at NECA this week. I was talking to one of the folks at Trimble, Rocco Bognet, and we were talking about how much more safely certain tasks in construction could be done because now a robot can do what a human previously would’ve had to do. If there’re fumes, or if there’s a temperature issue, now we can send a robot in.

Mike Merrill:

Drones, I mean, that’s a whole other level. If you’re in the roofing industry, even as an estimator, you don’t have to pull that heavy ladder out anymore. You can sit there from the comfort of your car, on the street, parked safely at the curb, and get every measurement, every view that you need, and there are a few hundred bucks. And now there’s a new opportunity for a drone pilot, and it doesn’t matter their age, or their gender, or their skin color. They can fly a drone, why? Because they’re using mobile apps, right? They’re using Snapchat so they can fly a drone.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Like one of our kids is a weasel with Xbox, I tell him, “Hey, maybe you could have a career in flying a drone or something. Let’s work on that.” So, I think you’re right on.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. And I don’t mean to undermine that that is a skill.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Oh, absolutely.

Mike Merrill:

Flying a drone is a lot harder than being on Snapchat, but the point is, is that that same tool that you’re using to get on Snapchat now, that mobile phone, that device, could enable you to fly that drone. And you could get a certification. You could get an opportunity to be an intern somewhere and actually have a career in something that maybe you’re not ever going to really a true helicopter pilot, but you could certainly fly a drone and provide a value. And again, it’s a safety measure, it’s an efficiency tool, it’s a fuel savings. How much greener is charging the drone battery versus the fuel that it takes for an organization to dispatch and deploy a force of people to go do those multiple jobs and things that somebody could do safely from the street in a drone? And maybe they were in a Tesla, or a hybrid car, or some other way that, again, we’re just leaving a greener footprint. So, I just see everything’s better with good technology.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Absolutely. And drones, I mean, surveying, safety inspections. It’s back circles back to what you said in the beginning, improve safety, more inclusiveness, because anybody can have the skillset, it’s not a strength thing anymore. So, I think you’re right on there. What about construction software and the innovation path? What you think about that?

Mike Merrill:

I mean, this is a different level of discussion, but we’re seeing big money investors getting into the space, putting a lot more money in. We’re seeing that software companies there’s always consolidation, and these things go into cycles, but lots of large companies are investing in smaller businesses to expand their footprint and take advantage of their technology to then get it to more people. And so that’s allowing for additional innovation, that’s putting more money into higher developers and software engineers and innovators. And I think as more companies adopt these technologies, of course, they’re going to give better feedback and more feedback, and then that feedback’s going to produce the opportunity for those engineers to develop better systems and to streamline further.

Mike Merrill:

And we see that every day in our business. I know you do in yours. The products are getting better, they’re getting faster, they’re getting easier to use easier. That’s really the key. When you talk about innovation, it’s one thing to build a better mouse trap, but a mouse trap that everybody can use safely without getting their fingers snapped on that’s a better mouse trap, right? One that nobody gets hurt by, but it still solves the same problem. And I think technology’s able to provide a path that we can do things quicker, easier, safer, greener, more efficient. And all of that equals more profitability, less wasted money and revenue and resource. So, there’s just no reason to not find those tools. Yeah.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Yeah. Sounds like win, win, win. So, last one, Mike, really quick. So, over the last 30 years in the industry we’ve seen systems get better and better. So now contractors have collected really reams and reams of information of data. I used to say if I could pick up the old server and dump it on the desk there’s probably more data than I could ever get my arms around. So, how do you see tools like Power BI, or data analytics, or leveraging that data impacting our industry, if at all? What are your thoughts?

Mike Merrill:

Well, I mean, yeah, the paper things, the easy answer is there’s no need for the paper and that’s a great first step. But more than that, without wasting time I now have visibility right at my fingertips. And digging through a report that’s 42 pages versus having a dashboard that’s shows me something in red when there’s an issue, because it knows the parameters, I can now make a decision in seconds that might have taken me hours, right? And when we do that, now we’re not in the way of the next guy either. So, everybody wins when the guy before them gets done quicker and more on time, and more properly like BIM and other things that these collision detections beforehand. I mean, all of that feeds into Power BI and it just helps us build better buildings quicker.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Absolutely. Well said, Mike. Thank you. So, lastly, and you had to know this one was coming, because I know you asked all your guests these last questions. So you ready? What is the main takeaway you would like the listeners to leave with today?

Mike Merrill:

I would just say, and this is what most of our guests echo this in one form or fashion or another, but plug into technology. I mean, leverage the goodness that’s there to be had. It’s everywhere. There are opportunities for you to improve processes in just about every facet of your business. And I think prioritizing those is important, but do something, fix something, find something. It doesn’t even have to be broken. What’s something that’s a hassle? Identify that, and then look at options to improve that. And guess what? If you do 1% better every day, in a quarter you’re going to be a hundred percent improved and it’ll change your business forever, and it’ll change your culture, and it’ll change your mindset where your perspective will be different. So, lean into the goodness, adopt technology, don’t resist it, and I promise you you’ll be grateful that you did.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Well said, Mike. Thank you. Next one, what’s something you’re grateful for in your professional life?

Mike Merrill:

I honestly just feel so blessed to work with so many incredible people. I love the technology for construction industry. I love the construction industry. It’s the heart and soul of what makes America the most amazing country in the world, in my opinion, but also the world. The world is tied to the heartbeat of our buildings and construction and growth. We all live, or work, or eat food at night in restaurants that somebody built, somebody wired, somebody plumbed, somebody poured the concrete on. It just touches every aspect of our life. So I’m just thankful to work many great people that make all that happen.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Excellent. Thank you, Mike. Last one, what skill have you developed that you would say, quote, has become your superpower, end quote?

Mike Merrill:

Well, I think if I had to boil it down to one word, I would say positivity. I think it’s a gift that I was born with to try and look on that bright side and find it, and if I can’t find it, work to create it. And I think it goes back to people really. I think my love for people and learning about them, listening to them, trying to see I can be helpful to them, maybe being mentored by them. I mean, something that I’ve really learned in my later years to enjoy is what could I learn from this kid? Or what can I learn from this elderly person? I don’t think that when I was younger I recognized how much I could learn from others. And so, I think just leaning positive on all of the good things that are going on around me, despite all of the craziness and the things that are depressing and difficult.

Mike Merrill:

I don’t like turning the news on anymore. I used to watch the news every night like my parents did, and their parents did. I get what I need from the sources that I choose, but generally, there’s a lot going on, I try and stay plugged into it, but I’m focused on controlling this world that’s around me and those that I love and those that I work with every day. And so I think just remaining positive and trying to help create an environment where not only myself can be optimistic and happy, but I can bring that optimism. And that happiness to others is really what it just feels like that’s what I’m here to do, and it makes me excited that I get to live in such a wonderful time, despite the craziness that we have all these great things that are exciting to enjoy in life. Good time to be alive.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Mike, I’ve always said it, you are just a quality human being, simply put. A professional, I appreciate it. It’s been my honor, honestly, to have this dialogue with you on the podcast today. In today’s world, my handshakes are more virtual, so I’m going to give you a virtual handshake. Great job. Anything else you’d like to say for the listeners before we depart?

Mike Merrill:

No, just thank you for listening, and thank you for plugging into the conversations we’re having. Love to hear your feedback. Who else do you want us to bring on? What do you want us to talk about? What’s not being discussed that should be? And what are you loving that we are talking about that we need you to do a little bit more of? And that would be really awesome if we could just get your feedback and continue to have your support, sharing the episode, giving us those ratings and reviews, and just lock arms with us and we’ll continue to try and bring this value to you free of charge.

Frank Di Lorenzo:

Folks, you heard it straight from the man himself. You have ideas you think would be good for the podcast, you’d like to be involved, send it on in. I think Mike would love to hear it. So, Mike, thank you. And thank you listeners for today, and everybody have a great day. Take care.

The Rise of Extended Reality (XR) Technology in Construction

The Rise of Extended Reality (XR) Technology in Construction

It’s critical for construction professionals to be able to visualize a completed project in advance. Fortunately, we have tools that can provide detailed and thorough plans and schematics  –– these allow owners, architects and general contractors to see a project as it will be before ground is even broken. But there has always been a limit. Until recently, you could only represent a three-dimensional building on a flat surface. But the rise of extended reality (XR) changes everything and gives construction professionals a true 3D model to work from. 

Today’s episode features Amy Peck, the Founder and CEO of EndeavorVR, a strategy and consulting firm focused on augmented reality, virtual reality, and symbiotic frontier technologies. Amy sits down with our host Mike Merrill to discuss how extended reality is changing the pre-construction process forever.  Amy explains what XR is, how it is being used on job sites, and how contractors can implement and see the benefits from XR right away.

 

Key Takeaways:

  1. XR technology comes in many forms. XR covers a number of technologies that give the user more information than their natural senses can give by themselves. Augmented Reality (AR) is on one end of the spectrum, and it gives a heads-up display on a phone or tablet interacting with an image the tablet is capturing. Virtual reality (VR) is on the opposite end of the spectrum. Here, the entire experience is projected from a helmet requiring no physical interaction with the environment. The most useful technology for contractors is Mixed Reality (MR) which is a blending of the two technologies.
  2. MR technology gives immediate feedback on the job site. MR can be used to give information to workers on the ground instantly and with confidence. One example is mixed reality can reveal the internal composition of a wall, revealing a BIM construct overlaying the actual field of view of the user where they can mark out digital readings on the physical environment. This effectively eliminates mistakes during construction and allows easy and efficient maintenance after the building is complete. 
  3. Start with AR when getting into XR. XR doesn’t require prohibitive amounts of investment to get started. AR can work on any modern smartphone or tablet – all it needs is the right software to process the environment and start giving a heads-up display of information that keeps up with what the tablet is looking at. From there it is all about ROI. What part of the tech are you getting the most out of? What could you do with an MR environment? Let those questions dictate where your investment goes from there.

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Episode Transcript

Mike Merrill:

Hello, and welcome to the Mobile Workforce Podcast. I am your host Mike Merrill, and I am here today sitting down with Amy Peck. Amy is the founder and CEO of EndeavorVR. What they do is they have a strategy consulting firm that’s focused on augmented reality tools and that symbiotic frontier type technology. Super cool stuff. Really excited about this conversation today. Hello, Amy, and thank you for joining us.

Amy Peck:

Hi Mike. Thanks for having me.

Mike Merrill:

Absolutely. There’s all these Rs. This podcast might be our R-rated, I guess, because all the reality going, or you’re a reality star. I don’t know what to really call this, but anyway, really cool, exciting stuff, and I think the listeners will really enjoy tuning in to some of the things that you can shed some light on. But to start off, what is XR technology just for those that may not know.

Amy Peck:

You said the R’s and I think it’s interesting that in this industry our R stands for real reality, but we now have really four acronyms for the different realities. Just to level-set augmented reality, so if you’ve ever played Pokémon GO, it’s basically just like a heads-up display. It’s just putting like plunking a digital object in your field of view, and then you typically would hold up your phone. Eventually, we’ll get to the wearables that look like this, but I used to turn off the AR functionality on Pokémon GO because it was just pasted on. It didn’t have any context to the real world, and so it was more annoying than anything else.

Amy Peck:

And then on the completely opposite end of the spectrum is virtual reality. So you’re actually in a headset, and you can’t see your surroundings, and it’s a completely controlled environment. Then in the middle is mixed realities. That would be MR. That’s where I think it gets really interesting because what  that is, is really a blending of the physical and digital. We’re not quite there yet, but for example, relative to construction. If you were able to hold up your phone and then be able to see BIM data, for example, through the wall, giving you x-ray vision. Then it has context to the actual location, and we’re moving towards that. There are some mobile devices that are capable of showing that interaction. And then we talk about XR, which or extended reality, that’s the umbrella of all of the realities. And then, of course, we can’t forget IRL in good old in real life.

Mike Merrill:

Is that even a thing anymore?

Amy Peck:

Apparently, it’s not because all we do is this all day long.

Mike Merrill:

It’s so outdated. Well, cool. Well, lots of really cool tech topics. If we were to focus in on one, let’s start with maybe XR technology. How is construction taking advantage of XR technology today?

There’s mobile AR, and then there’s the HoloLens 2, which is a Microsoft product, which is a true mixed reality wearable, and then Magic Leap, which is similar. They’re a smaller company, actually, not that small, because they’ve taken in a lot of investment, but technically a start-up based in Florida. Those are your mixed reality and augmented reality devices, and then there’s things like RealWear. Of course, Google Glass is still out there, believe it or not, and Musics and a few others. It’s very difficult to bring this technology into a construction site, mainly because there are some inherent hazards in a construction site. Often there’s not connectivity, which is one of the big challenges. You’ve got workflows that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. It’s working, and though I think this technology will be really impactful in the future on construction sites and there are lots of examples of how it is being used today.

Amy Peck:

I would say that for most companies, you may want to start if you’re just looking at this technology in the design and BIM management phase and then the as-built phase, whether it’s around again, viewing BIM data, interior design, maintenance, all of that. I can talk about some of the use cases throughout that process, but imagine remote teams being able to collaborate. That’s one of the great benefits of virtual environments. This can be done in both a mixed reality or AR environment or virtual reality. But if you have remote teams who need to look at either the same 3D asset or the same Revit models. You could do that remotely. We could actually be in virtual reality right now looking at plans for a particular site or being able to take again, the HoloLens I actually have a Magic Leap here somewhere. But you can HoloLens, and you could actually walk just in an empty construction site or say, you’re doing a big retrofit. You could actually walk through the building, put on the glasses, or use your iPad, and you could actually see what the transformation’s going to be.

Mike Merrill:

Like you’re walking through the building, basically. Right?

Amy Peck:

Yeah, and that even extends. You can see how it can easily extend to even interior design, and looking at how you’re going to actually build out the building for a prospective tenant to go in and say, look, these are the five different options that you could have tomorrow. They get to see everything so that we don’t get a million change orders.

Mike Merrill:

Sure. Well, that’s a great tool right there for sure if it could eliminate some of those. One of the areas that I commonly hear it being utilized by more companies today. An easier entry point is maybe wearables for safety. I mean, what can tell us about what’s going on there?

Amy Peck:

There again, HoloLens, you can actually wear safety glasses underneath. Magic Leap are ANSI certified, so really depends on what environment you’re in. They do need to be ruggedized, and there are some great applications in the construction site. Again, you do need wifi connectivity or some server to be able to deliver an experience unless it’s just a singular experience. There are a number of companies who are using it for LiDAR scan visualization so point cloud visualization.

Amy Peck:

There are some companies and very smart companies that are actually using it to trigger payments, and that will certainly ensure that your contractors are actually going to use it because what it does is if you’ve got, let’s say, a smart contract and there are certain tranches you have to hit in terms of completion to be able to trigger that next payment, you can actually go do a LiDAR scan, and you can have your team go and actually do a pass-through video where you are visualizing the LiDAR scan over the current state of the construction, and that can all be recorded and sent back and then verified by the company who owes you money. So that is one of those areas where it’s when anything triggers a payment people pay attention.

Mike Merrill:

It’s funny because I was going to ask you all right. So practically, how does a company actually tie this to revenue, or how can they see this as a cost-benefit as opposed to an expense of cool tech?

Amy Peck:

Yeah.

Mike Merrill:

Love that. This keeps running through my mind, but I just have to ask, how did you get on this path? I mean, are you just a nerd that just loves this stuff and can’t keep away from it or what? I mean, it’s really actually pretty amazing.

Amy Peck:

It’s funny. I’ve always been a little bit of a geek in terms of how do things work? I remember I had a summer job sweeping the tennis courts when I was growing up at the local little tennis club, and the Coke machine broke, and part of my job was also refilling the Coke machines. Of course, I had the keys, and of course, I opened it up. I took it all apart. I remember the tennis pro came and just rounded the corner, and there I was sitting on the floor with a screwdriver and a bunch of parts around me, and he just looked at me, and he just shook his head, and he turned around, and he walked away and but I put it back together, and I fixed it.

Amy Peck:

I was always the one who was if you need the stereo wired… Growing up in school, I was the one who would rewire the stereo, and I’ve always been fascinated by how things work. I think I’ve always been fascinated by just technology in general. I’ve always really enjoyed it. It took a circuitous journey to it, and it wasn’t really until I moved to San Francisco, I don’t know, about eight years ago from New York. I was working with JP Morgan Chase, but we were working on a data product. It was my first time really working with data scientists. It was right when data was becoming a thing, and everyone was talking about big data. It was a really interesting place to be, and that just started my curiosity and that there’s a lot more out there and how do you blend data and technology?

Amy Peck:

Again, I think my focus has always been on how do we do things better. I wasn’t ever really interested in how do we play with it or how do we use it in games. It’s like, how do we just do things better, and how do we improve our processes? In doing so, giving ourselves time back, and I think that does actually improve our lives.

Mike Merrill:

No question. Well, and in this day and age, obviously with the pandemic and all these other things, mobility and the ability to work from anywhere and collaboration remotely has become just critical, I mean, mission-critical. I know companies haven’t totally gotten on the bus yet for all of these cool things. What are some technologies that are surprising to you that are maybe mobile solutions that companies have been able to leverage so far?

Amy Peck:

I have found it interesting. There’s a company called Spatial, and there’s several of these types of companies out there. The reason I like Spatial is that they’re cross-platform, and it’s a web-based collaboration solution. You can join in a Zoom 2D interface like we’re doing right now, or you can join in the headset. You can join on your mobile device. You either show up as a 3D avatar, or you show up as a 2D screen, but you can all look at the same thing. You can import 2D and 3D assets. Right now, if I wanted to show you a digital 3D asset, I’d have to share my screen. You wouldn’t really be able to interact with it. It’s interesting because pre the thing that shall remain nameless that we’ve all been working through for the past year and a half.

Amy Peck:

I travel 200,000 miles a year, so I was already in this. How do we work remotely? I was always traipsing around hotel rooms and looking for wifi in conferences, and it became second nature, so when everything changed, it was fairly simple. But what I found was very interesting is that most companies never really had this remote collaboration construct. Everyone was scrambling, and what it did for our industry was just opened up a lot more interest and proof of concepts. Again, the industry is still technically a fairly young industry. We also saw on the solution side companies really starting to grow and scale because now we have users. We have people out there using the technology saying, wait, this works, this doesn’t work. Oh, wouldn’t it be great if we had X, Y, Z?

Amy Peck:

We need to hit that critical mass on both sides. The technology’s there. If you go out and you buy yourself a Quest 2 headset, regardless of what you feel about Facebook, you’re going to get whatever it is you can get one for $299. You’re going to get a pretty incredible experience, and you’ll really get to see what VR is. But what we need is really a very broad swath of consumers, not just gamers, not just tech-forward people, but consumers looking at the technology and then saying, oh, wait, I could totally do this at my job.

Mike Merrill:

Use it for this too.

Amy Peck:

It’s the same thing that happened with mobile. You remember we used to carry around two phones you get one for work and one, and then finally the phones became so indispensable to us that we got to this, bring your own device construct. Now it’s like, we have customized these devices so that they help us do everything. It’s going to be that same cycle with augmented and virtual reality until we really get some utility and a broad swath of people in it. It’s still going to be those bleeding-edge types of companies that are adopting it.

Mike Merrill:

There are, and it is interesting. You bring up pre-pandemic, and that shall remain nameless. I can even think of probably three years ago. We were on doing a web presentation, product presentation software overview with a company that was well over a billion dollars a year annually. They were having a really hard time logging into the web meeting. I mean, it was 20 minutes of I couldn’t believe what was happening. I’m thinking you guys are how big, but they were just doing it old school and kept growing. I think now everybody knows how to get on a Zoom meeting. It’s not a big deal. It’s not a barrier of entry to anything. That’s just the way we do things now.

Mike Merrill:

It’s interesting too, I think. What I have found is that even some of the most stayed companies now are really they’re in this digital transformation phase. It was a forcing function of what’s gone on in the last couple of years. But I think now, and ironically, I think that some of those companies will have been saved by the fact that we were forced to look how technology could keep us moving and working together, and collaborating remotely. That hopefully has now sparked a continuation because we’re in a really interesting time where it’s not just AR and VR. I mean you look at blockchain, blockchain is ridiculous, with NFTs, and that’s all blowing up.

Amy Peck:

And then artificial intelligence and robotics and automation and all of these technologies, 5G, edge compute, all of this is moving at such an incredibly fast pace that companies who are just sitting back and going, well, we like our ERP systems that we’ve had for the last 25 years and it’s all working fine. A lot of those companies really run the risk of being displaced and not necessarily going out of business, but being pushed off the Fortune 500 and being displaced by companies that are more nimble that are embracing technology. The other really big consideration that companies need to consider is that you’ve got a next-generation workforce coming in. They’re going to go with the companies that have the cool tech. They’re not going to want to go to company that has these arcane systems. I always urge companies. I know that sometimes there’s a stasis in this industry and I understand it because it’s a very, very big industry. The margins can be great, but one mistake can take out profitability on a project.

Amy Peck:

It’s really, really hard to change those workflows, but the beauty of doing it now and again, trying it on the book-ended sides. So in the design phase, in the process phase, even in training, there are a lot of things you can do offsite that can improve processes. In doing that, what it does is it, you get to dip your big toe in and start to make incremental change, and then as these devices start to populate on the consumer side, which they already just saw, I don’t know if you saw it. Facebook recently announced these Wayfarers. It’s funny because I’ve been referring to them as magic Wayfarers forever, and now they actually really are. It’s not the device that we’re going to be using at work.

Amy Peck:

But again, what they’ve done is they’re saying, look, we just need to get these devices on the market. This doesn’t have the functionality that mixed reality does. It’s spatial audio, so it’s really, really good audio. And then they have outward-facing cameras, which creeped everybody out when Google Glass came up the first time, but now we’re all living out loud. We’re so inured to being filmed everywhere. I think that those are some of the ways that companies should look at just trying something, whether it’s AR or VR.

Mike Merrill:

I like that. Speaking of that, what is a minimum cost or investment? I mean, how complicated is it to get something started for even a small to medium size organization?

Amy Peck:

It’s hard to say. I mean, honestly, I would just, if you don’t want to invest in the devices, I would find there are a lot of local universities that have devices, and I would call local university. I would talk to economic development in your city and say do anything about these devices? Does anyone have any? Could we get a demo? Call the companies. Call Microsoft. Microsoft might be tough for maybe one of the development houses that works with them. Call Magic Leap and say, we want to try, we want to try these devices and get a demo. Those are much pricier devices, but you can get like I said, you can get an Oculus for $299. Get one for the office. Even looking at the games, believe it or not, can just give you a hint as to how you would use it.

Amy Peck:

There’s a company called The Wild, and they can take any 3D model, they can take it, and you can ingest your Revit models. Then you can have remote teams all in the same environment, looking at the same models, annotating it, and then recording it and then shooting it back out so that you can share with your colleagues on 2D screens. There are some really lightweight solutions that already exist that if you can’t get a free license or a demo license, they’ll at least walk you through what it does. You can spend a couple of hundred dollars for three or four months to get a temporary license to give it a shot and try it in your processes.

Mike Merrill:

That’s a good idea. I think a good comparable, at least that comes to my mind. I hear of lots of contractors that, in fact, I heard one the other day say, I think we bought five drones. We’re not using them yet. We don’t know how to use them, but we bought them because we think we probably should have them, and so I don’t think a few hundred bucks is a big deal for anybody that’s in business.

Amy Peck:

No, and I think I would even say before even doing that I think just start with one and train somebody up. I think it’s really important before you buy technology, it’s always important to identify what problem are you trying to solve? Because technology is meaningless in a vacuum. If you think about some processes, and that’s why I say get a demo first, then go back and say, all right, now that I understand, because it’s impossible to explain what it’s like to be in a virtual environment. You think you know, and there’s levels too. I think some people maybe have tried mobile VR. So it’s where you take your phone, you put it in a headset, you look really, really cool. No, you do not.

Mike Merrill:

Not stylish.

Amy Peck:

The graphics weren’t great. It wasn’t a great experience. But these new devices, Pico, which was actually just acquired by the company who owns TikTok and the Facebook Quest. HTC has a professional standalone version called the Focus 3. That one’s a little pricey. That’s probably around I think, $500. Again, get demos, go to conferences. There’s one called Augmented World Expo coming up in Santa Clara, California. It’s one of the largest XR conferences. There will be a lot of companies there showcasing different types of visualization tools, design tools, even actually using on the construction site again for that point cloud visualization. There are a lot of touchpoints, and it’s just educating yourself and don’t be afraid of the technology. I think that’s my main message.

Mike Merrill:

Oh, I love that. Don’t be afraid. Dip a toe, do one toe first, right?

Amy Peck:

Exactly.

Mike Merrill:

Maybe not even the big toe.

Amy Peck:

Exactly, exactly.

Mike Merrill:

Obviously, like anything else, you just have to start with something. So your advice is, borrow one, get one, look at someone else’s whatever you have to do to try and get the ball rolling and then ease into it.

Amy Peck:

Reach out to me. Find me on LinkedIn. I know we have lots of people who are experts in every single aspect of building lifecycle management. They can just give you some advice of what to try and some of the software that you could use. We just want to promote the industry. It’s not about trying to get a gig. It’s about pushing the industry forward and just helping people find a path to start bringing this technology in.

Mike Merrill:

I love that. I think that’s great advice. So tell me this, just switching gears a little more personally. What’s something that you are super grateful for in your professional life?

Amy Peck:

Oh wow. I’m actually grateful for my entire professional life. I mean, I joke that I stumbled upwards from day one, but that I’ve been really fortunate to be able to follow a really fascinating and rewarding career path that from the outside makes absolutely no sense to most people. They’re like what you were in the music business and then commercial production, and now you’re doing this. It all made sense to me because it was all a learning experience, and also it was fun for me, and what was exciting, and this industry is really, really exciting for me. I was lucky to be one of the earlier people in the world that I inhabit, which is XR for business and for enterprise and I get to work with really amazing companies and people and technology every day. Pretty lucky.

Mike Merrill:

Very cool. Love to hear that. You’re grateful for your entire professional life. That’s cool. Having said that, what is Amy Peck’s superpower? When you put that Cape on, what are you getting ready to do?

Amy Peck:

Well, aside from always getting really, really good parking spots, it’s amazing, like the people laugh. Someone really drive away right as I pull up, but that’s my general superpower. I think my business superpower, and I think I have the decoder ring between the technical people and people who are less technical. Again, I think I can help people focus on the how and the why and not get so wrapped up in, oh, we should get some drones or we should get a headset. We should look into blockchain, or what are NFTs? It’s more like, how do you want to improve the way you do things, and what are the things that really bug you at work? And then now, let’s look at the technologies that could actually help you do all of that better. So I think I can sit in the middle there and bridge that gap between the super tech talk and a practical use case.

Mike Merrill:

Well, it’s super exciting. I don’t know how you at night with all this cool tech going on, all that stuff. Your brain’s got to be going a hundred miles an hour all the time. I’m sure.

Amy Peck:

It’s pretty fun. It is pretty fun.

Mike Merrill:

Cool. Well, thank you so much for joining us today. I had so much fun and learned some things. And now I got some other homework. I got to go check out and read up on this stuff you’re talking about.

Amy Peck:

There you go. Whenever we’re in the same place at the same time, I’ll put you in a VR headset and-

Mike Merrill:

I love to do that. That sounds amazing.

Amy Peck:

I’ll challenge you with Beat Saber.

Mike Merrill:

Okay. All right. Let’s roll. I’m ready.

Amy Peck:

All right. Let’s do it.

Mike Merrill:

Cool. All right. Well, thanks again. We’ll have to connect up down the road. I’m sure there’s a lot of other great stuff you could talk about, but I’ve surely enjoyed today’s conversation.

Amy Peck:

Thanks so much.

Mike Merrill:

All right. Thank you to the listeners also for joining in on the Mobile Workforce Podcast today. If you enjoyed the conversation that Amy and I had today, or you were able to learn some helpful tips or tricks or some hints that you can help improve your business, please share this episode with your colleagues and friends. Of course, we love it when you hit the subscribe button and, of course, give us those five-star rating and reviews so that we can continue to bring these valuable episodes to others. Of course, our goal here is always not only to help you improve your business but your life.

Increasing Collaboration in the Construction Process with Technology

Increasing Collaboration in the Construction Process with Technology

The statement “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail” couldn’t be more true for the construction industry. Technology has made contractors more productive and effective on the job site than ever before. But that doesn’t matter if the plan isn’t good enough to keep up and causes confusion and delays. So how can contractors make sure that the schedules and plans they have are actually practical?

On this episode, host Mike Merrill sits down with Eddie Campbell. Eddie is the chief operating officer at ABSI, a steel building and modeling company for industrial and commercial industries, and he also co-hosts the Construction Brothers Podcast. Eddie shares his insight into pre-planning processes, how to manage trickle-down problems, where construction technology enables better collaboration, as well as how collaboration improves company culture and your bottom line.

 

Key Takeaways:

  1. The pre-planning process sets the project for success. The success of the project is based on the time and effort placed in the pre-planning phase. Before you break ground, the ability of the project to meet and exceed its goals has already been determined by the owner’s approach to the project and the engineer and architect’s willingness to share and communicate with the general contractor. When planning is put off and a collaborative approach is not used, projects will see poor planning, poor structure, not enough communication and too much reliance on technology. This often leads to schedule delays and lost profits as the plan is corrected and reconfigured. 
  2. Don’t put off problems for later. Most problems on the job site are much larger than they ever needed to be because they were ignored or the solution was postponed. Contractors need to view their job as staying ahead of issues and possible delays instead of being problem solvers. Technology allows contractors to be a problem avoider, if they are willing to do the work. It will always save the project time, and protect your profits.
  3. You need to believe in the why. Technology is there to help accomplish every part of the job today. If you are struggling to get the benefits out of the software you are using, it’s probably that your team hasn’t bought into the culture of leveraging tech.  Turn this around by shining a light on how these solutions benefit them. Is it increasing communication? Collaboration? Is it avoiding errors? Also, look at why else your team might be resisting using tech.  Remember: technology only exposes problems you already have, it rarely creates them.

 

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Episode Transcript

Mike Merrill:

Hello. Welcome to the Mobile Workforce Podcast, sponsored by AboutTime Technologies and WorkMax. I’m your host, Mike Merrill. Today, we are sitting down with Eddie Campbell. Eddie is the chief operating officer at ABSI, which is a steel building and modeling company for industrial and commercial industries. He’s also a host of The Construction Brothers Podcast with his brother, Tyler, so that’s super cool. Today, we’re going to talk about the pre-planning process for construction, how to manage those challenges and problems that come down through the trickle-down effect, and also how construction technology enables better collaboration on the job sites as well as off the job sites. Then of, course, how that all impacts and improves company culture overall. Hello, Eddie, and thanks for joining the podcast today.

Eddie Campbell:

Yeah. Thanks for having me. We’re really excited about being here, man.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, it’s going to be an awesome conversation. I’m actually in Beaver Creek, Colorado, just outside of Vail at an event today, so a little different background. Apologies for the hustle and bustle of trying to get this thing rolling from the road, but I think we’re in good shape.

Eddie Campbell:

No, we’re good. Good for you. Sounds like a fun trip.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. Yeah, it’s actually a CFMA event. We’ve had the CEO of CFMA, Stuart Binstock, on the podcast a couple of different times. Had some great conversations. We at WorkMax and AboutTime love CFMA and everything they stand for. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with that organization, but it’s definitely a good one for construction.

Eddie Campbell:

Yeah, very cool.

Mike Merrill:

Love it. Well, first off, let’s just talk about this planning process that contractors have to continually face, and of course, the way that that impacts their projects that are coming down the line. What can you share with us about those challenges?

Eddie Campbell:

Yeah, we like to say that we are at the bottom end of the construction food chain, that we’re generally the subcontractor of a subcontractor of a subcontractor sometimes. I mean, we really are the end of the road. By trade, we’re using BIM to generate shop drawings. We’re working under steel fabricators, sometimes engineers, design-builders, general contractors, but because we’re in this sub-tier position, we say we’re on the bottom of the pond looking up.

Eddie Campbell:

Because of that vantage point, we’re able to look up and see a lot of the flaw in the industry because all of those decisions made and all of those things that have been done to cast the dye and set the ball in motion for a project, well, they eventually stop somewhere. When you’re at the bottom, well, stuff rolls downhill and it usually rolls downhill until it gets to us, so I mean, when we’re taking a project apart and trying to do our portion of the project and we’re picking at it, and trying to make things work, it’s easy to look up and see how poor planning, poor structure, too much reliance on technology, in many ways, poor collaboration, poor communication, end up impacting a project in a negative way. In many times, we see it delaying schedule and things not going to plan. Nobody likes being there. It’s supposed to go to plan, it’s supposed to be built just like the general contractor planned, like the owner expected. When you set it up wrong, it’s very hard to achieve those goals.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, so when you run into those snags or challenges, how would you describe that trickle-down effect that can balloon up and, and be a problem down the road? Do you have a good way to describe that for the listeners?

Eddie Campbell:

Yeah. Well, in some ways, what we see, the devil’s in the details a lot of times for us. When things are left undone or pushed off for later, many times that is going to have a much larger impact on the project than it should have had, things get blown out of proportion. We like to look at the structure of things a lot and look at how are things set up. We’ve got this steel detailing thing that we do now. We’re really in this LOD 400/450 BIM realm, right? But the background’s in general contracting. My dad’s a general contractor, I’ve got my contracting license, so the heart is really living in that general contracting realm. We’ve worked around a lot of the architectural engineering firms, so we see what they’re doing. Then we’ve been able, even through the podcast, to visit with owners and see how projects get initiated.

Eddie Campbell:

Everybody’s got to do their part, right? The owner has a part in setting a project up, making sure that the project is viable, is being well-planned, that they’re hiring good designers, that they’re setting up good pay structures. What we’ve seen from our vantage point is as these things don’t happen and things start to unravel, we get what we like to say, is behind the airplane. When you’re flying behind the airplane as a pilot, that’s a bad deal, right? You want to stay in front of the thing that’s happening because when things start going down in the air, that’s not good. Things start to move very fast on you. We see project managers, that seems to be the standard M.O. is just rather than getting in front of it, rather than planning it, rather than thinking, “I’m going to take a tactical pause and I’m going to think about what we’re about to do,” it’s go. Go, go, go. That really comes to the detriment of projects. It’s just not rounding out the thinking on something before we do it.

Mike Merrill:

Hmm. Do you think that’s a construction thing? Do you think that’s a people thing? I mean, what do your experience tell you about that?

Eddie Campbell:

  

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I like that term, “Let it out in the wild.” It’s like in construction, we want to see the dirt flying and the hammer swinging and we can’t wait to get that project going to feel like we’re actually moving forward, so I think you’re right.

Eddie Campbell:

Yeah. Little anecdote. It was two days ago, we got a call because the general contractor’s really wanting us to do some laser scanning for them, and so we are going to go out to site, do some verification of what’s been put out, and the general contractor’s reasoning for trying to accelerate at the project is that the owner was going to make a site visit and the owner needed to see progress. It wasn’t strictly to actually complete the project, it wasn’t to hit a milestone that was on some schedule, it was just that the owner thinks we should be vertical by now and we’re not, so we have to show some action. Scheduling in itself a lot of times turns into that, it’s box-checking, it’s hitting those nodes that come out on the critical path schedules, just making sure that I show some kind of action.

Eddie Campbell:

A lot of times, I mean, we can flail, we can move our arms real fast and act like we’re running fast, but that doesn’t mean that we’re actually going somewhere fast, so yeah, it’s a problem, but I would say it’s not an easy one. It takes some self-discipline and it’s going to take some industry discipline for us to figure this out. That’ll open doors for a lot of the modular, a lot of the kitting, all that DFMA stuff that people talk about, Design for Manufacture and Assembly, all of that stuff bleeds out of better planning, which, I mean, that touches anything from the environmental concerns we have to the efficiency concerns we have because we’re terribly inefficient as an industry.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, it’s tough to build things. When you got so many hands in the pot, it’s a communication thing, right, a lot more than skills.

Eddie Campbell:

Yeah, I mean, it’s pretty well statistically blown out that we are the most inefficient industry and that gets parroted again and again and again. The question I have is: What are we doing about it and then what are we pointing our finger at and saying, “Well, maybe that’s the root cause”? How are we getting back to the root cause instead of just throwing a bandaid on the symptoms? Some of those root causes are interesting.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, your point about the planning, I mean, one of my favorite quotes is to fail to plan is a plan to fail. I believe in that and I think that has to do with life, not just construction or building or running a business, but it’s everything you do, you really should have a thought-out plan before you really engage in something that’s of any importance.

Eddie Campbell:

Well, sure. In some ways, that’s kind of a self-serving ax for me to grind because a lot of BIM, that is planning, right? That is, “I want to pour more detail into the BIM,” and here we are, we do detailed BIM, so it’s like, well, that’s kind of a self-serving thing. But I mean, we’ve seen it work, right? We see projects that are well-planned. We see documents that are good documents. We see designers that have had the time to do their job. Then we’ve seen the byproduct of when an owner or general contractor leans on a set of designers and makes them do their work too fast, or I mean, we had a project we were working off of, get ready for this, 30% documents. I mean, I didn’t even know we really issued much of anything at 30%, but 30%, and we’re actually progressing towards construction. I think revisions have gone from like revision 12 to changing to letters and we’re now on M. It’s insane. How can you hit that moving target?

Eddie Campbell:

There’s all that, but then there’s another side of it, which is maybe less self-serving and more just when you talk to people on a podcast, you get to have the benefit of learning. I don’t know how that’s going to go for you today, but for me, when I have people on my podcast, I get to learn, and when I get to do that and I just get to soak in, it’s amazing how many really, really intelligent people are out there in construction and how many people have different perspectives because there are just so many different realms that we come from in construction, so I could put my finger on BIM or technology or anything like that, but that’s just one little facet of it. We’re trying to steer the whole thing. I mean, contractual structure, the way we all work together.

Eddie Campbell:

There’s a group out on operator system 2.0 for the construction they’re calling OS 2.0, which is looking at these things, like how do we contract with one another? How do we pay each other? How might we integrate blockchain into how we get paid so that it’s not like 90 to 120 days before you get money so that contractors aren’t …? I mean, the leading cause of contractors going belly up is cash flow, right, so how do we have verifiable and good subs? How do we look at the insurances that we’re requiring and making sure that we’ve not doubled or tripled up on insurance, isn’t over-insured a project, or underinsured it? Just the whole ecosystem of construction needs a good, hard look. I mean, there are plenty of things that we can point a finger at, but a lot of that really is just stopping and thinking before we move forward and building that next thing. But that’s hard. I mean, the world moves fast and people need things, and it doesn’t necessarily feel great.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, right. Yeah, I agree with you on the point that we can learn a lot from those guests on the podcasts. I definitely, I learn every episode. I love those new perspectives and I think getting a global picture of the whole process and getting a handle on that is something that I’ve really been able to do, even more than I was ever able to do as an acting general contractor because my head was buried. I was working on my projects, I was worried about my stuff. Worrying about the industry and the economy and all these other things that impact what I’m doing were way back in my mind. I just wasn’t aware enough of those things and I think getting that extra perspective is critical for the modern contractor to be efficient and to compete and to remain profitable and solvent.

Eddie Campbell:

Yeah. I mean, hats off the project managers out there, too. I mean, that’s a tough seat to sit in. I mean, if you’ve sat there, you know. It’s easy for me to, from the outside looking in, say, “Well, you’re behind the airplane. You need to plan better and that’ll just solve your problems,” but when you come in for the day with a plan and then the firefight starts at like 6:30 in the morning and you’re like, “Well, I mean, I guess any plan I had for my day has now gone away because this is a legitimate emergency,” it’s easy to turn into more of a fireman than anything and just feel like that’s what your day is, just putting out one after another.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I think, and to your point, I mean, there’s a balance. I mean, we can plan until we’re blue in the face, but eventually, someone does have to move some dirt, someone does have to swing a hammer. We have to. Aiming endlessly doesn’t ever fire anything. I mean, you got to pull the trigger. I think the big thing, and I know I learn this on our podcast all the time with a lot of guests, and you probably hear it, too, but I don’t know necessarily. I think the software and the technology is better than ever. I think we have an overabundance of tools and resources to help us. I think the people are still the variable in this equation, don’t you?

Eddie Campbell:

Oh, yeah. I couldn’t agree more. That is, I think, the crux of our problems, it’s our ability to grasp that there is improvement that we need to make and that it’s not just going to come at the hands of some tool or technology that we have, that our ability to talk with one another to empathize with one another to work together, to actually work as teams. I mean, we hear the teamwork and collaboration, all of the buzzy things that we’re just done hearing, like, “Oh, my gosh, they said it again,” but it’s so true. We are still working at trying to, instead of building a building in spite of each other, build a building with each other.

Eddie Campbell:

I mean, how many times does a general contracting team, or even an owner, get done with a project, sit there and think about everything that went down, and say, “Man, I really wish I could do that again with those people. That was awesome. I really…” You might have pockets, you might have a few, but I mean, very seldom are we like… Most projects are, “Thank God it’s done. On to the next one.” I mean, just creating more positive experiences by having people work together, I mean, that’s the core of what we’re doing, right? We’re just trying to get people to align for a common goal.

Eddie Campbell:

We had a really cool story from Mr. Lee Evey, who was put in charge of the Pentagon renovation and was actually there during the 9/11 event. To hear that man talk about how he brought people together and aligned them, his whole thing, and he delivered this job, I mean, it was… Man, what were the stats? It’s a billion-dollar project. I think it was like a hundred million under budget and a year ahead of schedule. I mean, it’s insane to think about somebody doing that. The guy was a psychology major and some of the other things he was involved in was negotiating with the Russians for the International Space Station and its usage. He was a government go-to guy for special projects and then they turn him on the Pentagon Project. He’s got no previous experience in construction and then he has this rave success story.

Eddie Campbell:

Why? You ask him, and he is like, “Because I aligned people and I got them working for a common purpose and I helped them to see that what they do every day is really dang cool. You get to build something today and someday you’re going to drive past this with your kids and you’re going to say, ‘Hey, I helped build that.'” It doesn’t matter if you just place some rebar in the end of it, I’m sorry, if you were on the Pentagon Project, you will drive by it with your kids and say, “I helped build that.”

Eddie Campbell:

If we get that mentality out there a little more, get alignment, I mean, to hear that kind of success story out of somebody that’s not a construction theoretician, he’s just somebody who knows people, psychology degree, special education degree, and this guy brings people together in a way that’s so significant that he’s got a dream job by the end of it. This thing’s storied. I mean, that, to me, yeah, I couldn’t agree with you more. That is a story that is just proof that when you can get people to align, that that is the key.

Eddie Campbell:

It’s funny, that same guy, Lee, was telling me a lot of times he’ll walk away from speaking engagements where people that are in technology ask him to speak because they come to them and they’re like, “Lee, you did this amazing thing on the Pentagon Project. Tell me about the special technology that you used. Tell me about the special tools. Was it BIM? Was it BIM? Did you use some sort of new material? Was there something?” He’s like, “No. No. It’s just good, old-school aligning the people and good, old-school leadership.” Yeah, the tools are awesome. Technology’s great. I love it. I use it every day and I geek out over it, but it’s not the answer.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, that’s amazing. Well, in that regard then, really, construction, I mean, yeah, the materials and the tools to do things have changed quite a bit, and mostly just more efficient, but the communication side of things is, like we said earlier, it’s just people working together, just communication, having empathy, recognizing that the project doesn’t revolve around you, so to speak. Yeah, that’s a great story. I hadn’t heard that one before. I will have to look that up and learn a little bit more about it.

Eddie Campbell:

Yeah. I mean, buckle up. It’s about a two-hour episode, but I think worth the price of admission. Hearing that and learning the lessons from it and thinking about where we’re at, it gives me some hope that I do think that rather than being a complainer in the industry, trying to be an agent of change, being a voice that’s encouraging the people around, “Think, plan, try to operate together, align, use technology as a tool, but don’t believe that the tool is the craftsman,” those are big.

Eddie Campbell:

I’ll go you one more. This is kind of a personal theory, so you can take it and do what you will with it, but okay, so as business people, the career cycle that we go through is very fast now in comparison to our predecessors. My grandfather, who was a civil engineer and progressed through Messer Construction from being a carpenter to being a senior project executive, was there for 40-something years, like 45 years, right? The projects he was handed and the projects that he managed, I mean, he was five to 10 years older than I was when he started getting large projects to manage himself.

Eddie Campbell:

His tenure was something of remark. He stayed in the craft. Many times, we’re promoted and promoted and promoted and promoted because we’re trying to get to the goal of retirement as quickly as possible: “I want to be done with this.” In a day gone by, people didn’t have quite the same mentality about that, and they learned their craft and they expected to be there a minute. There was pride in being in a carpenter, there was pride in be a pipe-fitter, and doing that for a career where the expertise that lived there in those realms was immense. I don’t want to over-glorify what’s gone by. There are so many ways we’ve improved and we’ve come a long way in so many things, but it’s tough. I mean, when were you first named a project manager? I’m curious. At what point in your career? How old were you?

Mike Merrill:

I was probably 23. I started at about just out of high school, so I had a few years’ experience by then, but yeah, I was young.

Eddie Campbell:

You’re 23 years old. I mean, this is what we see. A lot of times, these are the people around us that were dealing with. I had shop drawings rejected and returned the other day at the hands of a project intern that had been in a company for two months with a lot of highly technical verbiage that… I mean, it was youth and zeal, right, so there’s something to be applauded there. That’s awesome. I’m like, “Go get it, man. Don’t lose that fire.” At the same time, there’s something to be said for tenure and being able to hone your craft and be a builder and that’s something that I know we’ve come to again and again and again: Love construction, love building, and actually want to learn your craft and learn your trade.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, and something that I don’t think we can put too fine a point on, even construction, I mean, yeah, it’s about the building, it’s about the project, but really, it’s about the people. I mean, you’re providing for families, you’re providing incomes, you’re providing safety, you’re providing healthcare, you’re providing food, I mean, all these things. The project’s just the excuse to have that experience all occur, and then you’re providing for a business, a place to generate profit and to feed their employees’ families. I mean, it’s about people. This whole thing’s about people and I think that companies that don’t lose sight of that, and I keep learning that on the podcast, company culture and some of the things, communication and working together, like you said, having teamwork and collaborating and being proud of what you’re doing because it’s the right thing to do as you work with others is something that makes all the difference in the world because at the end of the day, it’s just steel and concrete and drywall and wood and it’s lifeless.

Eddie Campbell:

Yeah. I’m at the doctor’s office, it’s probably a year, year-and-a-half ago, and I’m talking with this guy, he’s a general physician. We’re just talking, it’s a checkup, whatever. I asked him a question. He just came back to me, he said, “Like 99% of my job is telling people things they should already know: Get enough sleep, eat right, try to reduce your stress.” It was just things that you learn in middle school health and you’re like, “Oh, why do I have to even sit here?” But the truths are there: Exercise.

Eddie Campbell:

In construction, I don’t feel like the things that make us successful are so high and lofty and far off that we can’t attain them. In some ways, the things that we need to be doing are kind of like the simple fundamentals of life, like treating each other fairly, like treating the person across from you the way that you would want to be treated would be a huge one. There have been businesses built off of that that are incredible, Ritz Carlton being one that springs to mind, treating people fair, not lying to one another, “Do the right thing” is something you just said which really triggered that in my mind.

Eddie Campbell:

There are some fundamentals that I think would really go a long way, that if we all operated under those terms, the contract would come out a whole lot less, the lawyers after that would come out a whole lot less, people would get paid on time. We’d show up when we said we were going to show up, or have a viable reason for why that was excusable for us not to do so. There are just some basic things that, I mean, project schedules would be much easier to maintain if everybody did what they said. It would take a lot of variable out just not getting lied to about when the guy was going to get to site. I think some basic fundamentals would really help us out as an industry and I don’t think they’re unattainable and that’s why I think just, “Hey, just keep encouraging people.” Let’s do that thing, let’s be those people, and let’s not be the industry that’s earmarked for the worst efficiency. Let’s get out of that.

Mike Merrill:

I love that. Great advice. What role do you think the owner plays in all of this process? Because I know depending on the owner, this totally changes the attitude and the approach of the project and how it’s managed and whatnot. What do you think? What are your thoughts there?

Eddie Campbell:

Yeah, I think the owner sets the tone for the project in so many ways. I know the architect or design-builder, I mean just depending on how you structure things, they set a tone for the project. But I mean, think about how projects come to be and then think about what “owner” means. “Owner” might mean a college, “owner” might mean a hospital that build a lot, right, and they’ve got probably building programs and people that handle this thing, owners/representatives that are very savvy. “Owner” could mean a doctor. “Owner” could mean a homeowner, I mean, there’s just so many realms, right? Then how we come about, how do we initiate a project, I mean, that could be I have an actual thousand-page document that defines exactly how I have to initiate a project when I do it because I’m within this giant organization/midcap company that makes me do it this way and I will check all of these boxes and I cannot do this, or I’m in this state and the board of regents says, and it goes all the way over to that one-time builder at the golf course mentioning to a buddy, “I’ve been thinking about build my own office.”

Eddie Campbell:

The initiation of those two projects are vastly different and the trajectories of those projects are vastly, vastly different, and so does the owner have a role in setting tone? Yeah, you better believe it. That’s why having an industry with discipline will help this problem. I don’t think that we can point and say, “Hey, owners, do it this way.” I mean, to advocate for just one process, different projects will require a different process, and I think we need to acknowledge that, that one process may work better for one project than another. Coming up with ways to advocate for owners and help them identify that before they go build a building might be a really good project for somebody to undertake to just be there.

Eddie Campbell:

I’m not talking about being an owner’s organization. We know a few and they’re great and they do a lot of really good advocacy, but I’m talking about a place where somebody who wants to build a building can find a lot of good information about that in a format that helps coach them through maybe best processes that’s unbiased and doesn’t have maybe a reason for existence that comes from profit. I don’t know, just a thought, and really, some free-wheeling thought at that.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, no, it’s a great insight. I haven’t often thought about that or heard it discussed where the general contractor or the subcontractors are approaching a project specifically based on that owner and their goals and their intent with the project. I mean, yeah, you’ll hear conversational comments or, “Oh, boy, this guy’s a real… He’s a weenie,” for lack of a better term, or whatever it, has their personal-

Eddie Campbell:

That’s cleaned up.

Mike Merrill:

… their personal opinion about somebody and, “Hey, here’s your warning,” but really, stripping all that emotion away and just being practical about it I think’s a pretty wise thing to do when you’re approaching the project. Say, “Hey, look, here’s the important goals for this owner. Here’s what we got to really focus on. This guy really wants to see this progress, and so we got certain benchmarks we need to hit. As long as we can do that, we’re going to be fine, and we’ll have the latitude we need to do things the way that we feel like they need to be done and be done properly and efficiently and all that.” But yeah, I think having a meeting like that about each owner would be a really effective way for companies to have a better experience.

Eddie Campbell:

Yeah, just having a generally published place, I mean, we’ve got a lot of trade organizations that are advocating for a specific process, right, so trying to define a process that is agnostic of the right answer, is okay with whatever the right answer is and helps map that path, that could be useful for all of those different people that happen to find themselves with the owner hat on.

Mike Merrill:

Well, this has been a super fun conversation. I have just a couple more questions before we wrap up. We’re probably going to have to do this again because I don’t know that we really got to the root of all the good stuff that we could talk about. I guess just wrapping up, what’s the one thing you would hope the listeners would take away from our conversation today?

Eddie Campbell:

If I could come back to anything, any one point, it would really be the people thing, particularly that golden rule that I think a lot of positive things happen when you treat somebody else like you’d want to be treated because it puts you in their chair, makes you empathize, and I think not only are you going to do better business, I think you’re going to feel better about yourself while you do it.

Mike Merrill:

Well said. What’s something you’re grateful for in your professional life?

Eddie Campbell:

I am very grateful for the investment of people that knew more than me when I was young, people that mentored me, specifically my dad. I’m in a family business. My dad has poured into me and I really appreciate him and I really appreciate my team because I get to be surrounded by a group of people that I like and that I really enjoy doing this thing with. I appreciate my bro, too. The thing we get to do with the podcast, the work we’ve gotten to do together is just very cool, so those are things that are very near and dear to me.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. Family always is a special additive to the recipe, no question about it.

Eddie Campbell:

Yeah.

Mike Merrill:

Cool. Well, lastly, what is Eddie Campbell’s superpower, if you just had one to pick? I don’t need the whole list, just one.

Eddie Campbell:

My superpower? Well, you’ll probably laugh at this, but I love kids. I love kids. My wife and I have six of them, so one of my favorite things to do is just be around and cut up with kids, make them laugh, and see them as people. When I’m able to do that, it makes me feel really good about myself because it’s just a good way of making sure that you see a person for a person, no matter how big or small they are, no matter how important they are or what they could do for you. That kid might not have anything to offer you, no way of furthering your career or doing anything like that, but man, if you can make one of them belly laugh, that’s got to be a superpower is making a toddler belly laugh. I don’t know of too many noises in the world that are cooler than that, so hey, maybe a cutey answer, but I’ll go with that one. I like it.

Mike Merrill:

I love it, man. I think that’s fantastic. It may be one of the best ones I’ve heard so far. That’s cool. I love kids, too. I got four of them not six, but good work.

Eddie Campbell:

Right on, man. That’s awesome.

Mike Merrill:

Well, thank you again for joining. This was a lot of fun. We’ll have to definitely do it again and connect up down the road. I’d really love to line something up if you’re down.

Eddie Campbell:

Yeah, definitely. No, thanks for having me, man.

Mike Merrill:

Cool. All right. Well, thank you very much, Eddie, and thank you to the listeners here of the Mobile Workforce Podcast, sponsored by AboutTime and WorkMax. If you enjoyed the conversation that Eddie and I had today, we would love to have you give us a rating and a review, hopefully five stars, that’s our favorite one. Of course, share the episode with your colleagues and friends. After all, our goal here is not only to help you improve your business but your life.

Drone Technology is the Future of Job Site Management

Drone Technology is the Future of Job Site Management

Drone technology, also known as an aerial vehicle, has become a game-changer for the construction industry. Curious about what this technology can do and how it can improve your projects?

On today’s episode of the Mobile Workforce Podcast, host Mike Merrill chats with Keyona Wells, a freelance drone pilot and VDC specialist at Choate Construction, a technology-forward general contractor based in the Southeast. Tune in to hear Keyona break down the top ways drones are being used on job sites. She also gives her take on how drone technology is evolving and what this means for the construction industry.

 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Drones are changing the scope of projects. On the job site, drones are replacing other technologies during the planning and construction phases of projects. Drones can photograph, map and scale any piece of land during pre-construction. During the construction phase, drones can be used to confirm structural integrity, materials on hand and track progress for owners and contractors. Drone technology is also an innovative marketing tool that allows owners, general contractors and subcontractors to show off their work with stunning media content like photos, videos, and time-lapse clips. The media can be used to supplement marketing campaigns, social media posts and promotional website content. 
  2. Drone flight classes are worth the investment. All that’s required of a drone pilot is to take and pass a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) test, however, flight classes are still worth the investment and time. Flight classes are offered at local community colleges and community centers with large open fields for flying practice. Have your drone pilots get certified and receive hands-on training to be prepared for any possible situations they might experience in the field. 
  3. Stay on top of FAA drone safety regulations. Safety is always the number one concern on a job site and that remains true for drones. There are strict rules that need to be followed to remain in compliance. As drone technology advances, the FAA continuously monitors and updates rules in regards to flying them. In years past, one of the rules used to be that you could never fly over people on the job site. Now, the FAA has loosened that rule issuing waivers to fly over active job sites. As this technology continues to advance those waivers will become even easier to acquire.

 

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Episode Transcript

Mike Merrill:

Hello, and welcome to the Mobile Workforce Podcast. I’m your host, Mike Merrill. And today we are sitting down with Keyona Wells, a virtual design and construction technology professional. And if that isn’t cool enough, Keyona is also a freelance drone pilot. So really excited to have Keyona on and talk about her wealth of knowledge in all aspects of virtual design. And although we could spend a whole day exploring the world of drone technology, we’ll focus in on a few things that hopefully the listeners will find helpful.

Mike Merrill:

Keyona’s going to share with us what it takes to start and train as a pilot for drones, and also what using a drone looks like on the job site. We’ll also be talking about her experience in construction and also talk about how she feels the industry is evolving. So hello, Keyona, and thank you for joining us on the podcast today.

Keyona Wells:

Thanks, Mike. Happy to be here.

Mike Merrill:

Awesome. Well, I guess first of all, I have a lot of questions, but to start out, what made you want to be a drone pilot?

Keyona Wells:

Oh gosh. Well, I picked up my first drone on a construction site actually about a little bit over a year ago. So that was my first introduction to actually flying unmanned aircraft. But if we go back a little bit further, I actually worked on underwater submersibles in high school. I almost forgot about that, but yeah. Yeah. So it was part of a robotics competition where we built it, designed it, and then we spent so much time building and designing it that we didn’t really get to test it out very well. But it looked really cool, and it did function a little bit.

Mike Merrill:

Right. Awesome. Well, that’s cool. Well, obviously, there’s that kid in all of us that wants to be a drone pilot. Everybody sees a drone… I, every time I see a drone, I’m like, “Oh, I want to do that.” Right? Everybody seems to want to do that. But on a more serious note, if somebody’s really going to put that on a resume, if they want to truly work in a field that they can use that skill, what kind of background or what can they do to try and launch into something successful with that?

Keyona Wells:

Yeah. Well, a drone specifically, there’s a certification process here in the U.S., it’s called the FAA, Part 107 exam. That exam basically gives you a license to fly in commercial uses in the United States. And so that would be the first step in order to fly a drone, on a job site or any type of commercial usage.

Mike Merrill:

Okay. Is it like an online class or course? Or how do they go about taking that?

Keyona Wells:

So the course is offered in person, and there’s no mandatory courses that you have to take in order to pass the exam. But there are institutions out there that do offer training to get you up to speed on all the regulations and things you need to know in order to pass that exam. And I would definitely recommend going that route. You can study on your own. It’s just a little bit more cumbersome, because you’re filtering through a lot of resources, a lot of YouTube videos and helpful things like that on the internet. But yeah, I actually had the privilege of taking the class through an online institution and was able to really study for it that way. And then did some self learning on my own and then able to pass the exam. I think I got a 93 or something on it.

Mike Merrill:

Wow. Nice. Cool. Well, is it expensive to get that certification or take the exam?

Keyona Wells:

The certification? No. I’ve seen it from $130 to $160. It depends on the location and where you take it. So I’m in Raleigh and I took mine at an institution at the airport, so RDU International.

Mike Merrill:

Okay. And Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, right? Is that right?

Keyona Wells:

Yep.

Mike Merrill:

Okay. Cool. Well, so with that process, obviously online, you’re not going to learn how to fly a drone or you’re not going to have hands-on experience. So what does it look like to go from liking the idea of certification to getting certified, to actually being able to successfully fly a drone without crashing it?

Keyona Wells:

Yeah. I definitely recommend getting some professional training, obviously not everyone does, because all that is required in the U.S. is have that Part 107 license to fly commercially. There are a lot of pilots that out there who fly recreationally. You don’t need a license or anything for that. And they basically just figure it out trial and error, but where possible I would definitely suggest going to get a training or some type of hands-on flight operations course. There’s just so much knowledge you don’t even realize, even if you’re already a pilot with some years experience, there’s always something you can learn from someone who does it professionally. Right?

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. Got it. So would a class like that be taken on a football field or a city park? Or where did you learn?

Keyona Wells:

Oh, so I recently just took a class at the local community college here. I just happened to be on LinkedIn, I think. And I saw that they were offering partnering with a local drone technology firm here, and went ahead and registered for the course. And it was a great experience. That particular course was two days, 8:00 to 5:00. I think that’s the most that I’ve flown in one particular span of time. First it was about four hours of in-classroom instruction where you’re learning the drone anatomy. It’s all hardware, the software and just getting that textbook, obstacle-avoidance type class or tech knowledge. And then we went into the field and flew around for about four hours, just switching out batteries.

Mike Merrill:

I was just going to say, “That’s a lot of batteries.”

Keyona Wells:

Yeah, yeah. A couple batteries and parts.

Mike Merrill:

That’s really fun. No pun intended, but a crash course like that would be probably super helpful. Right?

Keyona Wells:

Right. Hopefully, no crashes.

Mike Merrill:

So is that how you first learned or did you already know your way around before that or tell us about that?

Keyona Wells:

So before that, I actually already knew my way around. So really just going out into an empty field and practicing the controls. Depending on the type of drone you have, you can actually do a simulator on the computer or on the controller without taking the drone off into the sky. So I just did a little bit of those and felt my way around the controls, like a video game.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, sure. So if you were to start all over again from scratch now knowing what you know, is there something you would do different?

Keyona Wells:

I’d probably get the hands-on instruction sooner. I think it’d just cut out a lot of guesswork and figuring stuff out on my own and just that intensive to… With that particular course, they offered the drones for you. So they had an extensive amount of batteries. So you could just keep playing around and really build that thumb dexterity to fly.

Mike Merrill:

Interesting. So your fingers are awkward positions, is it… Do your hands get tired from flying the drone?

Keyona Wells:

They can cramp up a little bit depending on what you’re doing. If you’re really trying to orbit around a particular target or anything like that, it really requires good thumb dexterity and holding that position perfectly, not hand tremors or anything like that will throw you off. So takes a lot of concentration.

Mike Merrill:

So how long have you been flying drones for at this point?

Keyona Wells:

This point I’d say about a year and a half. Yeah.

Mike Merrill:

Cool. So you’re an expert.

Keyona Wells:

Well I wouldn’t go that far, I still have a lot to learn.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. Well, cool. So thinking about that again, really… In fact, I’m at an event right now out here in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and they took a drone picture of everybody out on the Dallas Cowboys practice football field at this event. And this drone was circling, and it was interesting, because I knew that we had this podcast recording and all these people are talking about, “Oh, cool. I want to get a drone,” and then some people were, “Oh, we have a drone, but we don’t use it.” And it was just interesting, all of the different buzz around the idea of drones. So I think it’s fantastic that you’ve actually dug in and learned how to do this. And I’ve got to imagine when you’re a little girl you didn’t always want grow up and be a drone pilot. Is that right?

Keyona Wells:

No, I can’t say I did. I wanted to be an astronaut so that maybe that’s close a little bit.

Mike Merrill:

Okay. Yeah. You’re getting there, step baby steps, right?

Keyona Wells:

Right.

Mike Merrill:

So what is it? Is there something about your personality or about people that seem to have a knack for this you think? Are there traits that seem to be common among people that gravitate towards this or that are good at it that you’ve noticed?

Keyona Wells:

I think enthusiasm and passion for learning something new. You don’t even really have to be gung ho about aviation or drones. But if you’re just really excited and passionate about technology and how that can work for your business or your company or whatever it is you’re doing, that seems to be the common denominator amongst many different backgrounds and people that I’ve met in the industry so far.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. So are there… And I know this is a newer… I guess I think I’m assuming it’s a newer industry, so to speak. Are there events or resources that are becoming more common for people to continue to develop their skills in drone technology?

Keyona Wells:

Definitely. I’m actually on the leadership board of the local chapter of AUVSI, which is the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. And we offer a lot of information out there regarding safety, legislation and resources, just for learning how to fly and connecting with other pilots out there. In addition to that you also have local groups. Like I said, the drone community is growing. The industry is growing and just about in every major city area, there’s at least a good handful of pilots and they probably have meet-ups regularly as well.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I love that. And I know obviously flying a drone in the park or out on a beach or somewhere for fun is a little different than on a job site. There’s safety concerns and other things that you have to be aware of. It’s a more professional environment or at least it certainly should be. What are some of the differences that you’ve had to either learn about or grow to understand so that you can operate safely on a construction site?

Keyona Wells:

Yeah. Well, safety is definitely the number one concern on a job site. And so flight over people, once you get the FAA license and everything, you understand that flying over people is not allowed. FAA regulations are changing that are allowing you to get waivers more readily in order to fly over people. But just because you can get the waiver doesn’t mean you want to or have to. If you don’t need to fly over people, then don’t, right? So that’s one of the number one concerns on a job site is because it’s active. You’ve got people building things, so they’re everywhere.

Keyona Wells:

So a way to mitigate that is really flying on off-hours where possible. So whether it’s super early in the morning or later in the day, once everybody’s gone home. Possibly over the weekend, if they’re doing a typical Monday through Friday schedule, even during lunch as well, while they’re taking a break and there’s less people on the job site. And for those cases where you do have to fly where the construction site is active, you want to stay on the outside of the job site or around a perimeter. So you won’t have to actually fly over people.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. Well, that makes sense. So obviously, this process is still evolving. Probably the laws are changing. They’re hopefully getting safer, and drones are coming out with better tools and things built within them, like you mentioned, the anti-collision stuff and other things that I think they seem to be safer than they were when I started seeing them pop up five or six years ago. Would you say that’s the case?

Keyona Wells:

Definitely. Yeah. The drones that I fly now are all equipped with obstacle avoidance, which is great. You want to use that as a last resort though. You, as the pilot, want to be more aware of your surroundings, but in the event that you’re too close to an obstacle, that is a fail-safe way, where it will stop and position with the drone. So there’s definitely… The technology is really advanced now.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. Cool. So what are some of the reasons that you’re using drone footage today and that company or the companies that hire you are having you help them with your service?

Keyona Wells:

Yeah. So there are lots of different things that you can do with a drone. On a construction site, in particular, I would say the main thing that I do are progress photo and the videos. We’ll use those for owner updates and internal updates. We’ll also use them to track material, lay down yard usage, and just overall progress of the job site in the book condition. Other uses are 2D mapping. So we’ll do what’s called an orthomosaic map where the drone will fly an autonomous flat path and then collect the data and then stitch together the photos and sequence to create a 2D map, essentially. So you think like Google Earth or Google maps, Apple maps, similar to that, but just in a localized area to your job site. You can also use a drone to generate existing topos as well. And so those are some of the uses that we use the drones for.

Mike Merrill:

Wow. It sounds like not only an efficiency tool, but also a marketing tool. Is your company using those? Are they using that for marketing quite a bit?

Keyona Wells:

Yeah. Yeah. Those drone videos, all that footage can be edited and videos that we do put out on LinkedIn, social media, that kind of thing. Owners really love the videos I’ve noticed, especially when you put a nice little soundtrack in the background, they really love them.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. So how do you take these photos for progress? Is it just every so often, or do you have a schedule or is it random? Is there any format?

Keyona Wells:

It depends on the needs of the project. I’ve done some job sites where they wanted progress photos every week, usually on the same day, weather dependent. Some will want photos every month just to have that monthly aerial. And then some are every two months. But I would say the average is usually once a month.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. Okay. Yeah. That’s interest. Yeah. I imagine these projects that are multiple years, I think monthly is probably pretty good, I would imagine. And if they want something like time lapse, then that would be a mounted camera somewhere I would imagine. And a drone isn’t really the right tool for that. Is that right?

Keyona Wells:

I would say so. Yeah. You would want to have a camera posted on the job site to do a time lapse, although you can create those with drones as well. There are a lot of autonomous softwares out there that allow you to take the pictures at the same location, same elevation, same angle every single month. If you were to do that over the course of a year, say you can then put those photos together into a time lapse video.

Mike Merrill:

Wow. So it’s using GPS technology to get the exact same angle as if the drone was mounted on a pole, so to speak.

Keyona Wells:

Yes. Yep.

Mike Merrill:

Wow. So what types of technology are you using for 3D modeling with drones?

Keyona Wells:

So we can use the drone… Again with some of those softwares like DroneDeploy or Propeller or Pix4D, you can do a 3D modeling mission. So the drone will fly in a defined path and essentially just capture 3D images. And once it’s stitched together, there’s a 3D model towards the end. And you can use that for… It’s really good for visualization. I would say I’ve done it only a handful of times, more so for existing buildings, just to give the owner, the developer, a rough idea of a piece of property that they may be looking at.

Mike Merrill:

Okay. So that’s used more for maybe a building that was built before BIM technology and those tools were available. Would that be right?

Keyona Wells:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yes. Yeah. I would say tools better suited for 3D model would maybe be like a laser scanner, actually just taking the handheld scanner out there and setting that up in various different areas.

Mike Merrill:

So do you do walkthroughs inside of a building with drones ever for people remotely?

Keyona Wells:

I’ve never done it personally. I’ve seen it done though. I would say you want to be careful with that just because drones generally generate a lot of wind. So if you’re going through a building, that could mess up your shot. So I would use maybe more like a 360 camera as opposed to a drone doing a fly-through. Yeah. Because you can mount that onto a hard hat, for example, or just a pole and ride that through. But I have seen people fly a drone through a building towards the end for final photography, usually a little smaller mapping money or something like that.

Mike Merrill:

Nice. So what looks and responses do you get from reactions from people when you are out flying a drone on the job site?

Keyona Wells:

I get a lot of stares. This is pretty funny. For one, it’s funny, because I’ll be flying the drone and looking up and then you’ll see someone walk by and then they start looking up and they look at you and they look up. And they’re just like, “What is she? What’s going on up there?” But yeah. And usually when I’m landing, people are really intrigued. Some are a little wary of it. Because they’re like, “Oh, is it going to hit me?” or something like that. But I do get a lot of interest from other construction workers and subcontractors from the job site about it.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. Are you seeing subcontractors and others using drones on those projects that maybe you’re working for the GCO?

Keyona Wells:

Yeah. I’ve seen site contractors use them quite a bit. Yeah. I imagine they use them for site analysis tools, similar to what I’ve done, where you can fly it for a mapping mission, for example, get some existing topos and you can take that data, then do a cut fill analysis and that could help you with your pricing and bidding.

Mike Merrill:

Nice. So what’s the craziest thing you’ve ever encountered while flying a drone out on a job site?

Keyona Wells:

I had an issue with birds on one job site.

Mike Merrill:

Oh, really? Wow. Tell us about that.

Keyona Wells:

Yeah. They came close to attacking the drone. Thankfully, they didn’t. But I noticed them, I would say like the week before, before I was finishing up a mission and then I saw a couple of birds circling and thought like, “Okay. I need to be wary of birds. That’s the first time I’ve seen them out here.” And then sure enough, the next time I go out, they get closer and closer and they’re starting to circle the drone. This was during one of those autonomous mapping missions. So the drone’s going, not super fast, but at a steady speed and in different directions. So the birds are just following the drone around. I ended up having to land and restart the mission on that one.

Mike Merrill:

Oh, wow. Crazy stuff. I imagine if you keep doing this long enough, you’re going to see some other crazy stuff shoot.

Keyona Wells:

Yeah. I’ve seen videos of people getting their drones attacked by birds. I did learn something recently too, that when you do run into birds, the best thing to do is to fly straight up, where my natural inclination is to go straight down, but birds can dive a lot faster than they can ascend. So it’s better to just go straight up if there’s any birds near them.

Mike Merrill:

Good to know. Well, Keyona, obviously, switching the conversation up just a little bit, you’ve been in the construction industry for five years plus, full-time and you’re so much more than just a drone pilot, if we’re going to put a label on something. What have you learned so far in your experience? And what’s been fulfilling for you in your experience in the industry so far?

Keyona Wells:

Yeah. So throughout my five years, I’ve had positions in operations, field management, office management, and now virtual design and construction. And I would say one of the best things is just having that service mentality and really being able to help the project team, help the owner and really provide a valuable service.

Mike Merrill:

I love that. That’s great. Yeah. I know we’re talking mostly about drones, but it’s like you’ve done really well in all these different parts of the construction trades and working for a company. And I think this just sounds like another opportunity that you’re making the most of and seeing where it takes you. Do you plan to continue being a drone pilot operator or doing something more or different as your career advances? Or what are your thoughts there?

Keyona Wells:

Oh, I definitely plan to keep up with piloting my drone and keeping up with the regulations and things as they change. I really like being involved in the community, teaching and helping others learn to fly and fly safe. It’s a passion of mine for sure. So I don’t think that’s going to go anywhere anytime soon.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I like that you worded it that way. It’s not just a hobby, right? It’s a passion. That’s a good term for it. I can see you enjoy it, and I can see why. So tell me this. How do you think your bosses have supported your career so far as you’ve advanced and done these different things? And what can you share other women and other young people out there that are looking at starting a career in construction?

Keyona Wells:

I would say that my leadership listens. They can see the passion that I have, and they were willing to take a chance and say, “Hey, you know what? Go ahead. If this is what you’re really passionate about, let’s help and equip you with the right tools to do this.” And yeah, that’s really great leadership listening. I would say for other employers really just believing in your employees and letting them show you what they can do. We’re really capable of quite a bit, if you give us that autonomy to try.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I love that. I totally agree. I think a lot of times leadership again, is more defined by allowing people to bring their great ideas in and execute on those, not having all the best ideas, that’s not leadership, right?

Keyona Wells:

Right.

Mike Merrill:

So are there some other ways that you’re seeing in your company or your experience so far that they’re leveraging young talent like yourself to help develop that for the future?

Keyona Wells:

I definitely would look at internships. I think recruiting the right people and bringing them in and having that internship pipeline is really beneficial. One, you’re giving college students a real world opportunity to learn how to use what they’re learning in the classroom and apply that. They’re also coming in with really fresh new ideas and stepping out of the box. So giving them that voice as well.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. These young folks have grown up in a world full of this technology that was new to some of us 20 years. It didn’t exist even 15 year, 10 years ago. So I think you’ve got some great advice there for our leadership listeners and those that are in positions of authority to hire. So internships, listening to these young folks, giving them a platform and an opportunity to explore their ideas. And it sounds like you’re making the most of those opportunities in your company right now. So that’s cool. So tell me this, we recently were recording an episode with a topic of mental health in the workplace. How do you think leaders can be more aware of this and help support individual team members that are having struggles with that?

Keyona Wells:

I would say definitely creating a culture where it’s okay to talk about those things. I know it’s September, so it’s actually a Suicide Prevention Month.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. Right.

Keyona Wells:

Yeah. It’s something that my company has really touched on a lot, especially this past couple of weeks, even down to Toolbox Talks. So we actually talk to our trades out in the field and give that platform to talk about mental health and what we can do to better educate ourselves on the signs so we can help and get people help sooner.

Mike Merrill:

Are there signs that… I don’t know if you’re seeing much of this struggle within your own organization or not, or within your industry peers that you affiliate with, but if so, what are some of the signs or things that you think are adding to this epidemic really that we’re having in society in general?

Keyona Wells:

Well, there’s… The pandemic definitely isn’t helping, and the brief period where we’re working from home and really the instability, right? Now as cases are climbing, people who may have one, gone back into the office, now they’re going back home. And it’s just nothing’s really stable in some areas. So that’s an added stressor there. So just being aware of that and what’s going on in the industry and just taking that into effect when you’re talking to your coworkers or when you’re as leadership talking to your employees.

Keyona Wells:

Burnout is definitely another sign. When you see an employee who maybe was super passionate in the beginning, and then they get quiet, that could be a sign there of that they may just be really overwhelmed, whether it’s with work or anything in their personal life. It’s just being one of those leadership or those bosses who takes time to just notice that and just ask your coworker, your employee, “Everything okay? Anything I can help you with?”

Mike Merrill:

Sounds like just being aware and then also being ready to listen. Love that. Have you experienced burnout so far in your young career at this point?

Keyona Wells:

I have, actually. Pretty sure I experienced my first burnout, I guess, probably in college, just engineering school in general. I think the most important thing for me to realize is something that may not go away and it’s prone to happen again. So having that awareness that things can get a little too overwhelming sometimes. So having that support system in place to help manage that as opposed to thinking that it will just up and leave and go away and I’ll be fine.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, that’s the old school mentality that I was raised with that and even imagine my parents, “Rub some dirt on it, walk it off, you’ll be fine. Don’t talk about it and it’ll go away.”

Keyona Wells:

Right. I think sometimes recognizing and leaning into that anxiety or that discomfort, it sometimes takes that power away from it. Maybe you can sit here and say like, “Oh yeah. No, I’m really anxious about this one particular thing.” And then it’s like, “Well, cat out of the bag now.” So you can take that and lean into and move on to whatever it’s you’re doing with that discomfort, as opposed to just trying to get rid of it.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. Well, I think we all have a natural reaction too, when just as a greeting, when someone says, “Hey, how you doing?” You’re like, “Oh, great.” And sometimes you’re not. You’re not doing great. You’re a train wreck, but you don’t want to say that. So you don’t, and then they think you’re great and then they move on and you’re still struggling, right? So I think your point of being aware is really, I think, pretty wise advice for all of us.

Keyona Wells:

Yeah. And even if some people may not feel comfortable being that person who can listen, they may think that, “Well, I’m not trained to be able to handle this particular person and mental health issues. So I don’t want to be the person that they come and talk to.” And that’s okay, but leadership and companies can also offer resources and make sure that your employees know that they’re out there. I was fortunate enough, I think, that my company had access to an app that gives you these mindful meditations on specific things, whether it’s like public speaking or airplane stress. And that’s been really beneficial. It was actually part of our health plan. And I had no idea until we had a HR person came and did a presentation on it. I was like, “Oh, that’s a great resource. I’ll use that.” So having those resources out there and making sure that your employees are aware of them.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. That’s great. And I thank you for bringing that to the attention of myself and the listeners. I think a lot of us may not be aware of some of those things that are available to be taken advantage of. And we just need to talk about these things more and collaborate with our industry peers and our employees again. Ask them how they’re doing and then listen. So I guess last thing on this topic. So if there was one takeaway that you would want the listeners to have from our conversation, what would it be?

Keyona Wells:

I would say to give yourself the benefit of the doubt, just like you would your closest friend, if they’re struggling or going through something. You need your best friend, and give yourself a break.

Mike Merrill:

Oh, love that. Cool. All right. Well, a couple other questions, more on a personal note. So what’s one thing in your life that you’re grateful for professionally at this point in your career?

Keyona Wells:

My coworkers. Yeah. I would say no matter what space I’m in or what professional setting or company that I’m with at that particular time, people are… I’m just really grateful for people. They really make your day and the experience just that much better.

Mike Merrill:

Love it. So, Keyona, what is your superpower that you’ve developed so far?

Keyona Wells:

So far? My superpower would be learning any type of technology. Yeah, and just to explain that further, just about anything can be figured out thanks to Google and me too.

Mike Merrill:

Hey, good advice. More of us older generation need to remember that, right?

Keyona Wells:

Yeah.

Mike Merrill:

All right. Well, cool. Well, thank you so much, Keyona. This was so much fun having this conversation. You’re a fun guest and fun to talk to.

Keyona Wells:

Yeah. Thanks, Mike.

Mike Merrill:

You bet. And thank you to the listeners for joining us on the Mobile Workforce Podcast today. If you enjoyed the conversation that Keyona and I had today about drone technology and the exciting opportunities that there are out there for young people everywhere and others that want to get into construction, please share this episode with your colleagues and friends. And, of course, give us a five-star rating and review on the podcast platform that you’re listening to this on. We always enjoy those ratings and reviews to help us to get this out to more potential listeners. And, of course, our goal here always is to, not only help you improve your business, but also your life.

Reaping the Benefits of Mentorship and Coaching in Construction

Reaping the Benefits of Mentorship and Coaching in Construction

Apprenticeships have been a staple in construction for thousands of years. To this day, the benefits of mentorship and coaching are apparent, but at the same time, they’re becoming more challenging to pull off. Why? People get stuck in the busyness trap and delay, delay, delay. But like all relationships, mentors and coaches require time and commitment to grow and flourish. With the fourth quarter kicking off and New Year around the corner, there’s no better time to prioritize mentorship and coaching. 

To learn more, host Mike Merrill welcomes Angela Highland to this episode of the Mobile Workforce Podcast. Angela is a project manager at Ironrock Commercial Construction, a Florida-based commercial construction company specializing in pre-engineered metal building erection and cast-in-place concrete. She is also a mentor and coach at Call to Action Coaching and Consulting and the host of Build. Lead. Succeed,  the official podcast of North America Women in Construction (NAWIC). During their chat, Angela explains the benefits of having mentorship and coaching programs in your business, and how having a mentor or coach can help you reach personal and professional goals.  

 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Mentor and coaching programs cost less than you think. Large construction firms understand the long-term value of coaching and mentorship and typically have these programs implemented already. These initiatives are affordable and smaller firms would benefit greatly from the knowledge and growth these programs provide to their employees.
  2. Match your mentors to your goals. Whether you pick one mentor or multiple mentors, make sure you focus on your goals with no more than one mentor per goal. Focusing on a single goal with multiple mentors can be overwhelming and might cause friction if multiple voices are involved in this process. 
  3. Mentorship fills in training gaps in your workforce. No one in your workforce knows everything. For example, after receiving a promotion from a craftsman to a supervisor, a new leader can turn to a coach to help lead and guide them in their new role. Linking a new leader with an experienced leader for coaching shortens the onboarding process and helps avoid inevitable mistakes.

 

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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 have Angela Highland on, as a guest.

Mike Merrill:

Angela is a Project Manager at Ironrock Commercial Construction, and also a mentor and coach at Call to Action Coaching & Consulting. She’s also the host of the Build. Lead. Succeed. Podcast, which is the official podcast of the North American Women in Construction or NAWIC. So, we love NAWIC, and we love supporting them. And we’re grateful to be affiliated with you, and have you on today.

Angela Highland:

Thank you so much, Mike. It’s a pleasure being here.

Mike Merrill:

Awesome. Well, I guess, first of all, I know this maybe wasn’t in the points we discussed, but what got you in construction originally? I’m super curious.

Angela Highland:

Quite by accident. I had some turns doing some business management over a number of years, and decided I wanted to venture out as a consultant. This was about 20 years ago. And ended up with a small commercial sign manufacturer, helping them out. And about that time, their main administrator left, and they needed a lot of help. And he asked me if I would consider staying on. And being new to the consulting world, not really understanding how it really works, I said, “I think I’d like to go back to that regular paycheck.”

Angela Highland:

So I went and helped him, and ended up several months later becoming a Project Manager. And he did all commercial signage, architectural stuff. And while I was there, I would get calls about other specialties, because signage is in the Specialties Division. And I asked him once, “Why do people keep asking for this? Why are they calling a sign company?” And he explained to me how it works with the different divisions. And he said, “You’d be really good. You could have your own business as a subcontractor. You could get the WBE certifications, and you could probably branch out.”

Angela Highland:

So I looked into it and did a little research. And about six months later, I opened my own subcontracting company. And here I am, 18 years later.

Mike Merrill:

Wow. The rest is in the history books, right?

Angela Highland:

The rest is history.

Mike Merrill:

Well, congratulations. That’s a really cool backstory. And I think it’s super awesome that you’ve been able to succeed and continue to build these dreams that you’ve had. Whatever they’ve been, they’ve led you to where you are. And you’re doing a phenomenal job of making a big impact, not only on NAWIC, but within the industry too. So thank you for the work that you’re doing.

Angela Highland:

I enjoy the industry. Like I said, I fell in by accident, but it’s become an industry that I love. And I enjoy it.

Mike Merrill:

That’s great. So what’s a piece of advice that you might give to somebody else that maybe is on the front end of a journey like this, or considering something like that? Is there any advice you’d give to them, as a mentor or a coach?

Angela Highland:

I would recommend that they try to find a support network. That has been really big for me. I was quietly sitting at my desk for many, many years, plugging away, growing a business, and really did need to tap into a different kind of a network. I felt a little isolated, but I was just running my company the way I know how to run companies. And once I tapped into a support network, though, everything changed. It opened me up a lot. It helped me understand that I knew more than I thought, but I also was able to find mentors that I needed to help me go to the next level.

Mike Merrill:

Oh, that’s great. I love that. So tell me this. I know the terms can be used loosely at times, who a mentor or a coach. What are the difference between the two, as you see it?

Angela Highland:

To me, a mentor is someone that guides. They listen to you and what you talk about. And then, they give advice back based on their experiences and their knowledge and their skillset. A coach is specifically trained in how to help you find the answers for yourself. So not everybody knows what those answers are, but through asking questions, listening to what your goals are, then we can find what you’re looking for. And then a coach can help you come to your own answers.

Mike Merrill:

Oh, I love that. Yeah. I mean, they say often, the coach is basically on the sideline. So the game is what happens between the lines. And I love that you’re bringing that point up that a good coach will allow someone to make their own decisions and kind of help them along the way.

Angela Highland:

Absolutely.

Mike Merrill:

So is there a stigmatism in construction or is there hesitancy that you see for companies to seek out mentors or coaches in their business practices?

Angela Highland:

So I’ve got a little of a different perspective on this because I’ve been a business owner, I’ve worked on the subcontracting side, and of course, now I work on the general contracting side, because I sold my company back in 2017. And then, went off into the coaching realm, did all the training. And of course, COVID kind of brought that to a close. So I’m back into construction, which is great. And through the power of my relationships, I was able to get on the GC side, which is a way different thing, but enjoying that just the same. But my point is is that I feel like I’ve got a good perspective here. A lot of companies, smaller companies especially, they don’t seek out mentoring or coaching programs for their employees. I see a lot of the bigger GCs are doing that. Sometimes they have those programs in-house because they’ve seen the value that it brings to the table.

Mike Merrill:

Well, that’s great. That’s a great insight. And I think for those of you that are smaller organizations listening, I know that we would both highly encourage you, both Angela and I, to seek out those mentors. Tiger Woods had a swing coach. Michael Jordan has a shooting coach. It doesn’t matter who you are or how great you are at your craft or your skill, that third party perspective is certainly something that we could all use more of.

Angela Highland:

I agree. And there is surprisingly very affordable ways to go about that. Doing a mentoring program in-house is very easy to do. And you can do that when you are a very small company. Coaching, you can find a coach that will come in and help with personal and professional development for your staff. They could come in one day a week, or two days a week. And a lot of companies are surprised when they find out it’s not going to cost them. I have a million a year to bring in a professional.

Mike Merrill:

Right. I actually really love one of the points you just made. You said, “Personally, not just professionally.” So how important is that personal side in mentoring or coaching?

Angela Highland:

Oh, it’s huge because there’s an overlap, right? How we feel on the inside is how we’re going to act on the outside. And that is at home and at work. I mean, how many times do you see people bringing their personal lives into work, and it affects the job that they do every day?

Mike Merrill:

We’re human.

Angela Highland:

We absolutely are human. And if you are out of control, if you’re emotionally out of control, or you are not an organized person, or there’s something holding you back from going out and charging forward in your career, or even just to make the duties of your job be successful, that’s a problem, right? So if you start with people personally and professionally, you can affect people on both sides of the coin.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. Great advice as well. So as a woman in construction, and someone who is a mentor and a coach, I’m curious, do you face hurdles because you’re a woman? Do you feel like that becomes a problem or a challenge at times?

Angela Highland:

It can be. I have not had a lot of problems with it. I’ve experienced a little bit in this past few months, because being a project manager on a job site, sometimes men may not necessarily want to take direction from a woman. There could be a little bit of weirdness there. But I’m built a little differently in that I love to have communication. And if I see somebody’s having an issue, I have no problem going and talking to them about it, and trying to figure out how we can come to a resolution.

Angela Highland:

I think there’s always room for mentoring and coaching on the job. Each one of us every day, can mentor each other without being an official mentor. We can also coach each other.

Angela Highland:

I’ll give a small example. I have a new superintendent on my job site. And he started out as a mason. And he just showed a lot of skill just in construction in general, so we made him a superintendent. He came out. He was doing a good job. He’s great with the other trades. He’s great with the owner. He represents the company very well. But he’s feeling a little unsure of himself. He knows way more than he thinks that he does. And he gets a little emotional and a little passionate in certain situations, if he feels like there’s another man on the job site that’s questioning him. He may not necessarily like that. And there’s been a couple of times where I’ve had to pull him to the side and say, “You’re the leader here. You’re the point man. You set the example. If you’re going to get triggered into an argument, more than an argument, a fight, that’s not good, that doesn’t set a good example.” And I said, “So just take a deep breath. If you’ve got to walk away, then walk away. That’s the best thing to do.”

Angela Highland:

And it really helped him. And he came back to me a couple of weeks later and he thanked me. He’s like, “Thank you, because now when I feel myself getting frustrated, I just walk away. I tell him, ‘I’ll be back in a few minutes,’ and I go away, and I walk around. And I’m able to come back with a cool head and a clear line of thinking and a better solution overall.” And I think those are things we can all do for each other naturally.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. What a great example. I love that. I know obviously you’re a skilled mentor because probably your communication skills are paramount in allowing you to do that. But what does somebody do to make sure that they find the right mentor for them?

Angela Highland:

Well, I think there’s a couple of different things. First, you’ve got to get out there and meet people. If you’re doing it within your own company, you really do have to become very social. You got to get to know people and get to know them and ask questions, because that’s the only way that you’re going to be able to figure out if that’s a good person for you, right? So, that’s one way.

Angela Highland:

Another thing is that if you’re working with somebody that you really admire and you just click with and you just think that they’ve got something to offer, go talk to them because people love to be needed. So if you walk up to somebody in your office or out on the job site and say, “I’m really struggling with this. And I noticed that this is easy for you, or you seem to handle this really well. Can you help me with that?” And sometimes it’s all you have to do is ask for help. That’s a big one.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. What I’m hearing you say is we need to be a little bit more vulnerable.

Angela Highland:

I think absolutely. And in construction, that’s not always top of mind.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. It’s hard for most men too, for sure.

Angela Highland:

True. Absolutely. But I’ve seen a lot of good things come from especially the younger tradesmen that are coming in to talk to some of the older tradesmen, because they have such a wealth of knowledge. We all know that things are way different in the trades right now. We’ve got an aging workforce that’s going to be retiring out, and we don’t have enough people to fill those positions. So anything that we can do with the younger workforce to help them kind of move forward, not just in their skill, their hard skill, but also that soft skill. Very important.

Mike Merrill:

So as somebody who’s looking to be mentored or to be a mentee, what are some tips or things that they should focus on to make sure that they’re really absorbing, what’s being shared and able to move forward with change?

Angela Highland:

Listening is key. You have to be able to listen to understand, right? Not to respond, as they say. And really take in what this person is telling you. Even if you might not agree with it, still listen to them and see where they’re going, because there may be a lesson they’re trying to tell you, or a key point that you could pick up on.

Angela Highland:

I think another thing to do is to sit down and make a goal sheet. So I’ve created mentoring programs for companies. I created a mentoring program that the National Association of Women in Construction uses. And we start with just a goal-setting sheet. Some personal goals, but professional goals. And it doesn’t always have to be about a big, “Well, I want to make a hundred thousand dollars a year. Or I want to reach this position.” Sometimes it can be more on that soft skill side of, “I would like to learn how to get along better on the job site or communicate better on the job site.” Something like that. So I think those are very important. Goals are huge.

Mike Merrill:

So I know in my business, we have meetings like most companies. And some meetings are really long, and some meetings are really short. And sometimes, a really short meeting seemed to be a lot more impactful. We get in, we communicate what needs to be done. There’s expectations and accountability. You’ve got deliverables. And you actually remember what you’re supposed to be doing, and you can just go forward. Where does something like that come into play when it comes to working with a mentor in their valuable time? They have a limited amount of time. Our boss is paying for their time. And then we also have a job to do, so we really need to get back to being productive. So what advice would you give in making sure as a mentee or someone who’s being mentored, that they’re able to actually take full advantage of that opportunity to change and improve?

Angela Highland:

I think going in prepared is really important. I think if you’ve got a piece of paper and you guys work through what your top three goals are, is a nice way to start. When I first was creating the mentoring program that I use, it was trial and error with my mentee. But I just went in with a piece of paper and said, “What are the three goals that you would like to tackle within this next six months?” And she came back, and we discussed it a little bit when we wrote them down, we whittled it down to something nice and achievable. And then every month, we would meet and we would go back to that sheet of paper. And it helped us stay on track and not go off into these tangents, and set milestones in place. “Okay. Well, what are you going to do this month to achieve that milestone?” And then maybe come up with three answers for that.

Angela Highland:

So we just kept going back to the goals, because it is nice to have the conversation and tell the stories because it helps us all learn about each other and understand where we’re at. But you’re right. We’re all busy people. So if you have something to focus on, and you can track it and not forget month to month what you’ve been talking about or what you’ve been working on, I really believe that you can achieve the smaller goals that help you lead to the bigger goals.

Mike Merrill:

So do you see a need at times for multiple mentors or coaches?

Angela Highland:

I think that depends on the mentee. It depends on what they have going on. Some people just have one specific goal. And so one mentor is good, or one coach is good. But sometimes I’ve seen people that have other things. For example, in the mentoring program, we had a girl that wanted to get better at time management, but she also wanted to be able to speak in front of a group. And so she got two because one person wasn’t necessarily good at both. And she liked that because it helped her get the different perspectives as well.

Mike Merrill:

I love that. Well, and each of them would be very keenly focused on that piece. And so she probably got a little more specific attention to both.

Angela Highland:

Yeah. If you’re lucky enough to find somebody that can help you with both of those, that’s great. But not everybody can do everything.

Mike Merrill:

So it sounds almost like that was… Was that a NAWIC program or was that a local chapter or national? Where did that come from?

Angela Highland:

That was a local. So when I came on with NAWIC back in 2012, they didn’t really have a professional development program or a mentoring program. And they were really wanting to find ways to add value so that they could gain more members. And they realized that professional development really was the way to go.

Angela Highland:

And one of the national officers happened to be talking to me at a conference. I was kind of a new member and she said, “So what do you think about our little organization here?” And I said, “Well, it’s not little.” I said, “But I love it. I’ve found my people. This is great. It’s women in construction. I’ve got the support network now. I’ve got business opportunity, professional contacts.”

Angela Highland:

And she said, “So do you have women at your job?” And I said, “Well, yes, I do. I have four women that work for me.” And she said, “Are they members?” I said, “No, they’re not.” And she said, “Why not?” And I said, “Well, because as a business owner, I’m not sure what value it would bring to them. As a business owner, I was finding value.”

Angela Highland:

And she said, “Well, what would give you that?” And I said, “Well, professional development so that they could learn and be better.” And so they asked me if I would help them build that, because I was talking about ideas. So I help them create that. And then the mentoring program came along. And the Orlando chapter, which is the largest in the country, since I was incoming president at that time, I went to the current president and said, “I’d really like to start a mentoring program in this chapter. And let’s vet it out. Let’s make sure it’s going to work. And then, let’s tell everybody nationwide, over 120 chapters, and maybe they’ll pick up on it. I really saw that that would be a great way to really move a lot of women forward in the industry.”

Angela Highland:

And so she said, “Okay.” And that’s what we did. And it was a success. And I happened to get a great young lady, that I worked with, that met every single one of her goals in six months. So I felt rather successful about that. But what’s interesting is I learned just as much as she did. It was a two way street. And mentoring should be a two way street.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. They say, if you really want to learn something or become really knowledgeable about it, you should teach it. So I could see why that would make sense.

Angela Highland:

Yeah, absolutely.

Mike Merrill:

So what can our listeners do for their organizations, whether they’re a business owner or they’re part of the staff of the company, to create and foster this company culture of mentorship?

Angela Highland:

There are a number of resources out there in the interwebs, that you can tap into, that would help you start an in-house mentoring program very easily. I’m glad to be a resource for anyone that needs that as well. Sometimes it’s just sitting everybody down and saying, “Who would like a little help? And who’s got skills in this area?” And then you pair them up, and you let them go. And then maybe you check back in every 90 days to see how it’s going. And then after six months, maybe you bring it to a close and start the cycle all over again. So, that’s one really easy way. There’s also some softwares out there for bigger companies that can do mentor programs. So, whether you go in-house or out of house, there’s definitely resources.

Mike Merrill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). So obviously, NAWIC has a program for this, and you’ve been a big part of rolling that out. And it sounds like it’s going really well, which is fantastic. I love hearing that.

Mike Merrill:

What about men that work for these organizations? Can they be a part and participate in some of these NAWIC programs with their team?

Angela Highland:

Absolutely. I think just you have to seek out your local chapter. Not every chapter is doing the mentoring program because each one has its own board of directors, and they kind of do their own thing in their chapter, under the national guidelines, of course. But there’s always room for that. A lot of times we have our regional conferences, we have our national conference, men are always invited to come. We don’t bar the door or anything like that. And I think it’s important to do because I think men should be part of the conversation. I really do. Like the podcast that I do, I don’t think it’s only for women. I think it’s for women in construction and the men in the industry that support them, because there’s a lot of men that are very supportive of women. And because they see that it’s not about if you’re a man or a woman, it’s the right person for the job. How do we help everybody get forward?

Mike Merrill:

Oh, I love that. I just keep thinking back to the communication point that you made earlier. It’s all about the communication. And we need to learn to communicate, men and women alike and together. And we all have the same goal in a company, right? We’re all working towards the same destination, hopefully. And I love what you’re doing to help bring those talents to the industry that maybe have been lacking in the past.

Angela Highland:

Yes, I’ve spent a lot of time on the coaching side. A lot of the training that I went through was to have an awareness of different personality types. I got certified in DiSC and a couple of other things, because to me, that’s where you start. If I can understand you and what you’re bringing to the table, then I can find some middle ground where you and I can communicate, right? Because you have those people that you work with, that just rub you the wrong way, or you just never can see eye to eye. But if you suddenly have a tool that makes you aware, okay, this is an A-type personality, and I know how this person is. If I can come at them from a different angle that helps us communicate better, you can just get a lot more done. So you’re right. The only way to do that is through communicating and getting to know people.

Mike Merrill:

I love that. That sounds like a whole other podcast episode, we need to have you back on to discuss. I really think that would be very valued. I mean, I can think even in my personal life, we’re always dealing with and working with and around people. And collaboration and cooperation are just a blessing when they can occur. And sometimes we get in the way of that, I think.

Angela Highland:

Yeah, you’re absolutely right. I had to do last… Well, before COVID, I got the opportunity to work with a concrete company who was looking for somebody to come in and help their concrete leads with a little bit of leadership. And so I went in with my DiSC assessments, and have them do this whole thing. And I walk into this room. And these guys, you could tell it was the last place they wanted to be like, “Why am I in here with this lady for the next six weeks? I don’t even want to do this.” And I think they were pleasantly surprised at what they learned. And we made them interact with each other, so they got to see that they really did have a skill working together as a team. And if they just tweaked things a little bit and understood each other, that they would work even better together.

Angela Highland:

And by the end of the six weeks, they all said they felt like they could identify behaviors on their teams. And they felt they were better equipped to go out and listen and interact with their teams. And let me tell you, as a coach, that was huge for me. I felt like it was a big win, that you were able to make that kind of a breakthrough.

Angela Highland:

And we ended up going back because I wanted to see how they interacted with their team. So we did an undercover construction day. I dressed up with just grubbies and went out, like I was some temporary project manager on the site. And I was able to observe them in the field. And it was really impressive. It was working what they were doing. So I think that awareness, the communication, and just getting people to open up, that can be hugely beneficial.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, that’s cool. Sounds like a little Undercover Boss episode going on.

Angela Highland:

I had so much fun. They didn’t even know what to do. And they were looking at me like, “What is she doing here?” Because nobody knew except these three guys, because through the training, I was in the front office. So nobody in and out, in the plant, even knew I was there. So it was a lot of fun. I would love to do more of that. That was amazing.

Mike Merrill:

That’s a good idea. I like that. So, is there some training available or how does a mentor learn to be a good mentor? I mean, there’s people that have natural talents and abilities, of course, and maybe they’re good communicators, but how do they get structure to help other people through mentoring?

Angela Highland:

Well, they can always reach out to me. They can email me. And I’m glad to share my resources, because it literally takes 15 minutes to give people the tools. These are tools that I have, that I don’t charge people for, because I think mentoring should be free and for everyone. And anything that I can do to support other people in that journey is hugely important to me. So they can always reach out.

Angela Highland:

And I’m glad to get on a Zoom with all this great technology we have now. Since COVID, it’s the big silver lining, right? So, I’m glad to jump on a Zoom call with a bunch of people and walk them through it and even tell them how to go about it. Literally, the first time I did it, it was like being back in elementary school with a tri-fold foam board with pictures on it. And people love that. It’s very tangible to them. So yeah, glad to help.

Mike Merrill:

And that’s very cool. Well, I appreciate that offer and I hope that some listeners will take you up on that. I’m very intrigued with what materials you must have. I’m sure there’s a great need out there for companies to take advantage of that opportunity.

Angela Highland:

Absolutely.

Mike Merrill:

So lastly, I do want to ask, what’s the number one takeaway that you would have the listeners leave this podcast with today?

Angela Highland:

The number one takeaway is that you always have resources. You just have to seek them out and you have to advocate for yourself. If there’s something that you want, whether in your career, whether personally, anything, if you don’t know how to get it, you are the only one that can go seek that out. Nobody’s going to come and find you. People just sit back and wait. And you might get lucky, but the chances are, you’re just going to be sitting and waiting for a long time. So I always encourage people to go after what they want, and if it’s even just to have a conversation with somebody to get it started. So, that’s what I would say. You have to go ask for what you want.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, be a little brave, it sounds like, for just a minute.

Angela Highland:

Yeah. Just a little bit. Yeah. Once you do it, it gets easier every time.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. And you realize, “Why did I wait so long to do that? That really wasn’t that hard.”

Angela Highland:

Right. You just got to jump over that puddle. And suddenly, you don’t mind if your shoes get a little wet, and then you don’t even think about it anymore. And what I have found also is once people start asking, when you get to some goal-setting, it becomes easier for them, because they realize that it doesn’t have to be this big, giant thing. It can just be a baby step. And now they’ve advocated for themselves, and that didn’t hurt so bad. So maybe now I can go ahead and get this little thing. And wow, okay, I achieved that. And then you get that confidence. And now, you’re ready to tackle bigger and bigger things. And suddenly, you’re conquering the world.

Mike Merrill:

It sounds like progress to me.

Angela Highland:

Yeah, absolutely.

Mike Merrill:

Great. Well, so last couple things, just wanted to ask you, what’s one thing, Angela, that you are grateful for in your professional life?

Angela Highland:

Opportunity. I think every woman in America should be grateful every day for the country that they live in, because there are so many places out there that you don’t get the opportunity that you get here. And I think that that’s worth saying, because we take it for granted. We forget that we can step out, we can go jump on a job site, we can own our own companies, we can start our own coaching practices, and nobody’s there to put you back down. It really is all up to you. And I’m so grateful that I have those opportunities that I can go out there and do those things. And that I can fail, and that I can get back up and try again. And nobody holds it against me.

Mike Merrill:

Great point. It’s okay to fail, right?

Angela Highland:

Absolutely, it is. A hundred percent.

Mike Merrill:

I heard someone say, “Fail faster”, right? And then you can get to success sooner, right?

Angela Highland:

Yeah. Fail forward. That’s how you learn.

Mike Merrill:

I love that. All right, very last thing. So what is Angela Highland’s superpower? Just pick one. We don’t need 10. I’m sure you’ve got 10.

Angela Highland:

I don’t have 10, but it’s very hard for me to think about that. I think my superpower is I’m very good at making you believe that you can do anything you want to do. And I’m willing to do whatever it is to help you get there. And I think any of my acquaintances, my friends, my coworkers, I can confidently say that they would agree with that, because I’m always trying to see how I can help people. I’m a teacher at heart, I think. I think that’s an archetype that I have. And I really do just want for people to live their best lives on their terms. And anything I can do, I will push them from behind. I have no problem doing that.

Mike Merrill:

Oh, that’s fantastic. Well, NAWIC is fortunate to have you. I can see why you’re heavily involved. And I know why they are grateful that you are.

Angela Highland:

I love NAWIC. It’s been a powerful force in my life. And so for me, it’s giving back. It’s an all voluntary association. And I continue to stay involved because I do care and I’ve been bitten by the bug. So if I can help support other women in their careers, then I want to do that.

Mike Merrill:

Good for you. Well, thank you again. Thank you for joining us today. This was such a fun conversation and very insightful.

Angela Highland:

Thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure. And I’m glad to come back and have more conversations.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, look forward to that. We’re going to hold you to that. We’ve got it recorded now, so you can’t wiggle out of it.

Angela Highland:

That’s what I said. Thank you so much. This was great.

Mike Merrill:

Absolutely. And thank you to the guests for listening to the Mobile Workforce Podcast today. We’re so grateful that you joined us, and we appreciate your involvement and your feedback. We love those ratings and reviews as well, of course. If you enjoyed what Angela and I had to discuss today and some of the things that we were able to talk through, and hopefully spur some ideas for you in mentoring and receiving coaching in your organization, having better communication, we encourage you to please share this episode with your colleagues and friends in the industry. After all, just like Angela stated so well, our goal is to not only help you improve your business, but your life.

Why Understanding the Economy Benefits a Construction Business

Why Understanding the Economy Benefits a Construction Business

The relationship between the health of the construction industry and the economy is undeniable. In fact, many economic reports use construction activity as an indicator of economic health. How can this data help contractors get the most out of their business today? 

Host Mike Merrill asks this question and more to today’s guest Dr. Anirban Basu, the founder and CEO of Sage Policy Group, a firm that provides economic consulting and analytics to business leaders across the country. Dr. Basu shares how construction has been impacted by movements in the economy over the past year and shares his predictions on what could be around the corner next. He also gives tips on how contractors can better understand the impact the economy will have on their businesses, as well as how to prepare for whatever comes next.

 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Don’t miss out on government stimulus packages. Stimulus packages released by the government are built to support key infrastructures in the economy, of which the construction industry is always included. Stimulus packages release cash into the economy to be spent. Do your research on what is available to you, and where the money is allocated, to take advantage of these funds. Missing out on government sponsored projects hurts you twofold –– you lose potential new business and it gives your competition a leg up.
  2. Reimagine recruiting tactics to combat the labor shortage. The lack of new workers in the construction industry is because of the outdated image that the industry has projected for years. Employers need to update their recruiting tactics, promote technology on the job site, and take the time to do proper recruiting at local school career days. If the problem isn’t addressed soon, the labor gap could become a permanent problem that will lead to a slowdown in productivity, which would negatively affect the entire economy.
  3. Rethink drastic actions that could hurt your business in the long run. Acting too quickly and letting go of skilled staff based on the possibility of an economic recession could damage your business more than the recession itself. Once a workforce has been laid off, it is very difficult to rehire that same group of workers. Data gives business owners much needed clarity on future events, so there is never a need to make an emotional decision out of fear. Don’t be impulsive at the first sign of an economic correction, or you will miss out on the benefits that come with an economic recovery.

 

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Click Play to Listen to the Podcast Now:

Episode Transcript

Mike Merrill:

Hello, and welcome to the Mobile Workforce Podcast, sponsored by About Time Technologies and WorkMax.

Mike Merrill:

I’m your host, Mike Merrill, and today we are joined by my friend, Anirban Basu, who’s an economist at Sage Policy Group, also an economic consultant and analytics firm that helps businesses develop the analytics and messaging needed to get new ideas off the ground.

Mike Merrill:

So today we’re going to talk about the economy. We’re going to talk about how construction has been impacted by the movements in the economy over the last year, and what Anirban predicts will happen in the very near future. We also will discuss how contractors can understand the impact of the economy that it has on their business, and also how to prepare for whatever comes next.

Mike Merrill:

Hello, Anirban, welcome, and thank you for joining us today.

Anarbanu Basu:

Privilege to be with you today, absolutely.

Mike Merrill:

Awesome. Well, before I get into the conversation, I met Anirban last year in Beaver Creek, Colorado at a CFMA conference where he was a keynote, and so I just felt like I had to have you on the podcast as soon as we could and I’m excited to have you today.

Anarbanu Basu:

Yeah. I’m delighted to be back. Good to have met you then and good to see you today.

Mike Merrill:

Thank you.

Mike Merrill:

So, let’s just talk about, really quick, if you could give us just a 30 second explanation of what the industry of construction needs to have a handle on as it relates to the economy.

Anarbanu Basu:

Well, several things, but I think for and foremost: labor force.

Anarbanu Basu:

So what I see out there is a lot of contractors are telling me that their backlog is strong, that there’s a lot of deal flow, plentiful opportunities to bid on new projects, but their constraint is can’t find the workers to support that growth, to deliver the services that they want to deliver. And of course, one of the other things that we’ve seen has been a general increase in the cost of delivering construction services, not just the workforce, but of course, as widely report in the media, many materials prices, whether natural gas, or lumber, or other prices have been volatile during this period, sometimes rising, sometimes falling, but still much higher than those prices were pre-pandemic.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, that’s a great overview.

Mike Merrill:

So if we talk about the last year or two, we’ve actually seen economies shut down, supply chains breakdown, government stimulus initiatives, to name a few things. How do you think the government stimulus has helped the construction industry today?

Anarbanu Basu:

I think pretty massively.

Anarbanu Basu:

Between the stimulus packages passed in March of last year, March 27th, signed by Donald Trump, the first stimulus package, the CARES Act, that was a $2.2 to $2.3 trillion package. And another package less than a month later, including more monies for paycheck protection, then another package, the Consolidated Appropriations Act signed by Donald Trump on December 27th, and then another package signed by Joe Biden on March 11th.

Anarbanu Basu:

You put it all together around six trillion dollars in stimulus. And so that’s kept the economy together. There’s lots of liquidity in the economy right now, lots of cash flowing through the economy. That translates into better real estate outcomes that we would’ve had, but for those injections of cash. And when you have better real estate outcomes, you have more construction as well.

Anarbanu Basu:

By the way, governments, in many cases are flush with cash too, because of the Biden stimulus package, which sent $350 billion to state and local governments. Some of that money has yet to be sent, but the point is, more money available for infrastructure and other forms of public spending as well.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, there’s a lot of money moving around in this economy, to your point.

Mike Merrill:

So how do you think that technology has helped these construction companies, at least initially, as it relates to this stimulus money?

Anarbanu Basu:

Well, I think it’ll help them more going forward, because it’s difficult to change business models.

Anarbanu Basu:

It’s difficult to change the way one delivers construction services in a very short period of time, but given all of the deal flow that’s out there, given need to try to curtail some of these construction cost increases, given the shortage of skilled workers in the construction industry, increasingly firms have to turn to technology to get the job done.

Anarbanu Basu:

It could be robotics, could be drones, other forms of technology, material science, but the point is, ultimately it’s going to be technology that will help construction deal with some of these supply chain issues. And so I think the strongest construction firms right now are trying to install and train people on new technologies right now and the faster they do that, the better, especially if that technology helps to supplant some of the people they would like to hire, but simply don’t exist in the economy.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, that’s a great point.

Mike Merrill:

And I think one of the other things that we’re seeing is technology is filling these gaps that have been created by this, just these disruptions. How do you think those will help shape the future and make it better?

Anarbanu Basu:

Well, make it better for some and worse for others.

Anarbanu Basu:

So technology is often expensive, and training workforce on new technologies is often expensive, and challenging, tricky. And so generally speaking, when you’ve got this level of change in a short period of time, it benefits larger employers, larger contractors. They have the financial wherewithal to purchase new technologies, the financial wherewithal to train their workers. So small contractors may not have that.

Anarbanu Basu:

So one of the things you might expect to see during this period is more consolidation in the industry, as well, as smaller firms are scooped up by larger firms, as they try to create more economies of scale, including with respect to the purchase of technology.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. We definitely keep seeing a large consolidation in the marketplace, even in construction.

Anarbanu Basu:

Yeah. There’s no question. You see that in manufacturing, you see that in all kinds of aspects of economic life. There’s a book that was written in the 1960s, “Small is Beautiful”. Well, I’ll tell you right now in the economy of today, big is beautiful, and that’s what a lot of people are realizing.

Mike Merrill:

That’s a great takeaway. “Big is beautiful” I like that.

Mike Merrill:

One of the things I noticed, you had posted on LinkedIn, you were talking about the Jobs Report, which I know is a really great topic that you like to talk a lot about. You’re clearly an expert on it, but you said that it was a bigger bust than the Packers taking Tony Mandarich second overall in ’89 NFL Draft. So pretty funny. What are you hoping to see?

Anarbanu Basu:

Yeah, Tony Mandarich, of course, the great offensive lineman and turned out to be a total bust for the Green Bay Packers, not a complete bust, but mostly a bust given the hype. And so that’s what happened during the August Jobs Report.

Anarbanu Basu:

So coming into that release by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, economists were collectively forecasting that the nation would add nearly three quarters of a million jobs or had added nearly three quarters of a million jobs. In August, the number turned out to be 235,000, and that’s a hole of 500,000 jobs roughly, and so deeply disappointing.

Anarbanu Basu:

And again, a lot of this has to do not with the hiring side of the economy. Ostensibly, there are 10.9 million available unfilled jobs in America. There are 100 job openings right now in America for every 83 unemployed people. So the demand for workers is high. The problem is trying to induce members of the workforce to fill available jobs. That’s where the challenge has been. It’s been part of the supply chain issue globally, but also in the United States of America. And so that was the focus of that piece was trying to figure out why the labor market is just not functioning the way it ought to be.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. That’s a huge gap.

Mike Merrill:

I don’t think that state can be really understated. I think one of the other things too, that we’re seeing, and I know we didn’t talk a lot about this, but what kind of a gap are you seeing in the labor market for new recruits coming into construction?

Anarbanu Basu:

Yeah.

Anarbanu Basu:

So prior to the pandemic, we had had a bit of a growth in, for instance, apprenticeship program participation. We’re seeing more and more young people enter the skilled construction trades. That was good. It didn’t mean that we didn’t have shortages. And doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t have had challenges, even without the pandemic, because we have a lot of retirement in the construction industry every year as well.

Anarbanu Basu:

The average construction worker actually is quite old, and many of the best construction workers are Baby Boomers, and they are now retiring in large numbers. But, with the pandemic, we saw a lot of apprenticeship programs halted in place. Again, you’re talking about training people on equipment, and often that requires people be in-person, be with the equipment, be with instructors or on so forth.

Anarbanu Basu:

And that’s exactly the kind of activity that was shut down in March and April of, for instance, of 2020. So a lot of interruption in terms of human capital formation, human capital entering the construction trades. I’m starting to see now these apprenticeship programs come back to life. Some of these apprenticeship programs themselves have installed new technologies to provide, for instance, online training. But again, some of the best training is in person on heavy equipment, dealing with forklifts or whatever equipment we’re talking about. And you just don’t get that remotely as much as you can in person.

Anarbanu Basu:

So construction is facing big human capital challenges going forward and even more so as Baby Boomers continue to retire in large numbers.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah and I think most people would agree with that. There’s really no…

Mike Merrill:

We can get around without the in-person stuff in some regards, but it’s just not the same. There’s no substitute for in-person. I think you would agree with that.

Anarbanu Basu:

Yeah. And one of the issues that people don’t talk probably enough about is immigration.

Anarbanu Basu:

So we have a confused immigration policy in America. We just don’t know how to feel about it, I guess, at least collectively. And so I’m not talking about illegal immigration, by the way, I’m talking about legal immigration, but there are a lot of fine carpenters out there, a lot of fine electricians, and plumbers, and pipe fitters out there, not to mention glaziers, and welders and machinist mechanics. And yet immigration has slowed population growth in this country and it’s one of the reasons that we don’t seem to be able to grow very fast as a country anymore without a stimulus package in place.

Anarbanu Basu:

But you take away the stimulus. America becomes a pretty slow growth country.

Mike Merrill:

Interesting take.

Mike Merrill:

Tell me this, I know obviously at Sage Policy Group, your entire business model is about predicting and projecting what the future looks like.

Mike Merrill:

So what are you seeing the impact of these projects, and also policies, that are coming online trending to today, moving forward?

Anarbanu Basu:

Yeah, so it’s easy to focus on the negative. So, people are talking about well, the high cost of steel, or iron, or higher shipping cost, lack of workers, so on and so forth, confused immigration policy, foreign policy failures, whatever it happens to be. We can talk about all of these things, but at the end of the day, there’s a lot of deal making in America right now. So interest rates are low, cost of capital is low, investors have a lot of money to invest, private equity firms have a lot of money to deploy. And so that us into deal making and often real estate is the place that that capital heads to look for return. When interest rates are so low you’re looking for return, real estate often offers significant return. And when you have a lot of investment into real estate, you often also trigger a lot of construction.

Anarbanu Basu:

And so that’s where we are right now. That’s why backlog is pretty high for many contractors. That’s why many contractors are pretty confident right now. Yeah, they’re dealing with higher materials costs. Yeah, they can’t find enough workers, but there’s demand for their services and that makes them happy. They’re bidding opportunities and that makes them happy. Then the challenge becomes, once you get the project, delivering to those contractual obligations, now that’s challenging.

Anarbanu Basu:

Nonetheless, a lot of firms are saying our margins are recently strong, we’re passing along a lot of our cost increases to the final consumer of construction services, so not a terrible market. And again, a lot of that has to do with Federal Reserve policy, the bond buying program, meaning quantitative easing, low interest rates, and therefore the need to try to find ways to generate a return on capital. And again, real estate is one of those ways.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, you can’t build any new construction project without land to put it on. So obviously that’s the bottom line, and you only go up from there.

Mike Merrill:

So I think that’s intuitive and insightful that you’re drawing that distinction.

Anarbanu Basu:

Real estate, of course, it can involve investment in land, but what I’m also seeing is a lot of modernization of existing structures.

Anarbanu Basu:

So obviously the office market hit hard by remote working, the retail real estate market hit hard by online shopping, and all those retail bankruptcies we suffered last year: J. Crew, JC Penney, Pier 1 Imports, True Religion, Francesca’s, Lord and Taylor, so and so forth. And so some of these commercial real estate segments are quite weak. And some of these buildings therefore have to be adaptively reused. That attracts capital to modify these structures, modernize these structures, perhaps create a new use for these structures. And that creates a lot of construction volume. So that’s what I’m talking about when I say investment real estate. Yes it’s sometimes it’s raw land, but sometimes it’s standing buildings that need to be modernized or to have their purpose shifted.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. And with that shift, have you seen more companies going into that repurposing and reconstruction, versus what it used to be?

Anarbanu Basu:

Oh, no question. Necessity is the of mother invention. So if the deals are not in the new construction arena, so for instance, we’ve seen a real decline in hotel construction, or new hotel construction, during the pandemic. Well, of course business travel has been affected because we can do things via Zoom now, for instance. So that affects the hotel sector and we’ve talked about office and retail space already, and so it’s not about new construction often.

Anarbanu Basu:

We have plenty of office space in this country, given how many people want to work remotely going forward. We have enough retail space given how many retailers have gone bankrupt over the past 18 months or so, but what has to happen, therefore, is people own this real estate, they have to try to reposition that real estate for the modern economy, for today’s economy and that often results in construction investment.

Anarbanu Basu:

And so, yes, I think a lot of firms are taking advantage of that, whether they’re glaziers, or roofers, or HVAC professionals. But modernizing these structures, very important.

Mike Merrill:

So what are some construction trends in technology that you’re excited for that you’re seeing coming down the pike right now?

Anarbanu Basu:

Yeah, it’s hard not to be excited about buildings that are more energy efficient, for instance, and that’s a big deal.

Anarbanu Basu:

People have different views on climate change and so on and so forth. I don’t want to get into the politics of that, but we have had a lot of violent weather recently and there appears to be some probability that humans responsible for some of this climate change or global warming. And so to the extent that we can have more efficient buildings, I think that endures to the benefit of all of us, and at a minimum, what you do is you actually end up using less electricity, which means lower electricity prices.

Anarbanu Basu:

So even if you don’t believe in climate change, there’s a benefit there, that’s one. Second, material science. We constantly looking for new materials to improve the performance of buildings, their ability to withstand natural disasters, whether earthquakes, or hurricanes, or whatever it happens to be.

Anarbanu Basu:

So very excited about that. Obviously looking at the quality of construction. So looking at drone technology, it helps people manage their projects, understand the quality of construction taking place, where there may be errors, and to try to catch those early in the process, so the project can move forward without those errors being infiltrated into the project.

Anarbanu Basu:

All those kinds of things are very, very exciting. But again, you need a skilled workforce to deal with these new technologies. And I think that’s one of the places where America has fallen somewhat short.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah and I think one of the topics that we’ve spoken about on this podcast quite a few times is the opportunity for more women to join the construction workforce and new roles that are being created by these technologies.

Mike Merrill:

What are you seeing with that? Is there anything you can share with the audience?

Anarbanu Basu:

Well, the industry is actually working really hard to try to broaden access to occupational categories, to jobs, whether that’s for women or for minorities, or for others who have been historically underrepresented in the construction trades. That’s a very important part of this. Today women are more educated than men. So it seems to me that if we could find more are people, generally, I don’t like to get into all this identity stuff, but it is true that women have historically been underrepresented in construction, including construction management.

Anarbanu Basu:

Since the lion’s share of college degrees are now going to women, it makes sense to start looking increasingly towards women as a source of intellectual capital to drive construction, to improve the quality of construction service delivery, to drive innovation in construction.

Anarbanu Basu:

And so, yes, I think the broadening of participation is very important to the industry on all kinds of grounds, including grounds of social justice so on and so forth, but particularly for industry outcomes, because the industry does not have enough access to human capital right now and obviously broadening access endures to benefit of everyone.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I think that’s great.

Mike Merrill:

What are some technologies that you think are underutilized right now that more companies could be taking advantage of that maybe aren’t?

Anarbanu Basu:

Yeah. I think prefabrication, for instance, is one of those techniques that’s underutilized. Modular construction is also underutilized.

Anarbanu Basu:

People tell me all the time about all the barriers to modular construction, modularization, so on and so forth, but one of the things that workers like is they like working indoors, often in comfortable controlled settings. If you have a manufacturing-oriented construction service delivery model, as opposed to an outdoor construction service delivery model, that helps minimize some of the vagaries of weather, for instance, some of that variability, but also might help recruit more workers who don’t want to work outdoors necessarily.

Anarbanu Basu:

And again, some of this is cultural. I don’t think Baby Boomers, by and large, had any difficulty working outdoors. They took shop class in high school and they were excited about working with their and minds at the same time, and seeing tangible proof of their efforts. Younger generations are different. They aspire more toward flex time, they aspire more toward comfort work-life balance, all these kinds of things.

Anarbanu Basu:

And so there’s some different production models that are out there and modularization is one of them. And I think that’s one of the models that the industry can choose to under-utilize.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, that’s great.

Mike Merrill:

Well I think one of the other things, along with that is the skilled labor shortage. We’ve got a lot of people retiring and the Baby Boomers are now phasing out of the workforce.

Mike Merrill:

So how are we going to fill those positions if we can’t recruit more people?

Anarbanu Basu:

Yeah. The youngest of the Baby Boomers turned 57 this year. Assuming you start the generation as being born first in 1946 through 1964. So 1964, those folks are turning 57 this year, if I’m doing my math correctly.

Anarbanu Basu:

So yeah, so we’ve already seen a lot of Baby Boomer retirement. We saw a lot during the pandemic, we’ll see more going forward. And so we’re depending on younger generations, but these younger generations often didn’t have shop class. They’re taught to test. They were taught that what matters is passing tests, getting to four year college, passing more tests there, and then finding your way into the workforce. And so a lot of those young folks didn’t even realize that construction offered plentiful middle-income opportunities are better.

Anarbanu Basu:

And one of the things about construction is it offers a lot of opportunities for entrepreneurship. One can start their own paint contractor, or electrical contractor, or mechanical contractor, or whatever it happens to be. You see a lot of entrepreneurship in construction, you see a lot of small business operators. And young often aspire for entrepreneur opportunities, but they don’t even recognize construction as a pathway to that or prosperity generally.

Anarbanu Basu:

So yeah, there’s a lot of work the construction industry has to do to reach into the hearts and minds of young people. And, for the most part, the industry has not done a great job doing that. And that’s one of the reasons it faces the issues that it faces today.

Mike Merrill:

So are there things that you see companies doing, or that you wish companies would do more, in terms of recruitment and almost even marketing the opportunities that are available?

Anarbanu Basu:

Yeah, no question.

Anarbanu Basu:

The industry has to act as one, because it faces a common problem, this lack of human capital, this lack of skilled craftspeople. And so to more forcefully make the industry’s presence known to folks in high school, two year colleges, even at four year colleges. I think it’s very important, here’s the issue: if you’re an in individual contractor, what are you trying to do today? You’re trying to get the construction done. You’re trying to satisfy your contractual obligations. You’re trying to deal with things like rising materials, prices, recruiting, hiring, firing, safety regulations, all those things. How do you have time, then, to go to a high school for career day, or to a two year college, so on and so forth, to deliver some form of seminar. When do you have the time to create the content for that seminar?

Anarbanu Basu:

So that’s why we are in this situation now. Nonetheless, if the industry does not act as one on this issue, it’s going to continue to face these human capital shortfalls, and that’s what translate into higher budgets, meaning that broken budgets for construction, lengthier delivery schedules, and ultimately a less productive US economy.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. When you talk about this supply chain and the challenges that they’re having. I know with my personal home, even to try and get something repaired or, there’s a chip shortage, or there’s always something that affects something else. And it feels like construction, just like a lot of other industries, seems to be impacted heavily by these things.

Mike Merrill:

When do you think the economy will get this ironed out?

Anarbanu Basu:

Yeah, I would say at some point in 2022, we’ll start talking less about global supply chain disruptions. We’ll talk less about chip shortages, or stuff with lumber shortages, or whatever it happens to be. Shortage of steel, rising price of natural gas, all things we’re experiencing right now, because it is said that the cure for high prices is high prices. What does that mean?

Anarbanu Basu:

When prices are high, suppliers have an incentive to increase output in the short term, perhaps by adding shifts, and increase capacity in the longer term. And that means new saw mills, or new semiconductor, or manufacturing plants or whatever it happens to mean, but that takes time. But the high prices are an inducement to make those kinds of investments, and also high prices truncate demand, or quantity demanded, at any given moment.

Anarbanu Basu:

So at some point, these high prices are going to induce a better set of equilibrium, or a better set of equilibria, with respect to supply and demand. But I think that’s a 2022 story, and here’s the thing. A lot of the economists earlier this year said by now, supply chain should be orderly. That global supply chain issues should have gone away. They were wrong. They’re going to last with us well into 2022 and it’s consumable beyond that.

Anarbanu Basu:

But of course, a lot of that has to do with COVID 19 and the public health outcomes yet to be determined.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I think you’re spot on in terms of the price being the cure for the price. I have never heard anybody else say that, but it makes a lot of sense to me when I hear you say that. It could self correct, because eventually it will find that equilibrium, like you mentioned.

Anarbanu Basu:

We economists believe in the market mechanism, so we believe the market ultimately works. It may take some time to equilibrate. May take some time to clear the marketplace, meaning supply equaling demand, but it happens.

Anarbanu Basu:

We economists believe in the market and (or most of us do at least) but it takes time and right now we haven’t had enough time.

Mike Merrill:

Well, and certainly one of the challenges, and, of course, again, keeping away from politics, but when we have so many things being manufactured overseas, or in China, or different places, we’re depending on those supply chains to feed our supply chain. We’ve learned that we’ve quickly been hobbled because of those challenges.

Mike Merrill:

Do you think we’re doing enough to work through those and get around those so that we’re future proofing this from reoccurring down the road?

Anarbanu Basu:

Well, it’s difficult to know if we’re doing enough, but we’re doing something.

Anarbanu Basu:

So one of the things we’re seeing is that more manufacturers, US-based manufacturers, are re-shoring more of their supply chain back to North America, including the United States. So we’re seeing more steel being produced in America. I think we’ll see more other items being produced in America, going forward, in part to protect intellectual property, because is obviously it’s been a big issue in China. For instance, American companies having to give up intellectual property to have access to those markets. Also, the Chinese workforce has become much more expensive over time as that country has developed. Obviously we’ve had these myriad supply chain issues. We’ve had tit for tat tariff battles, so on and so forth.

Anarbanu Basu:

So all that’s going on. So a lot of American CEOs are being persuaded that the time is now to bring back parts of that supply chain. The problem is there’s some barriers to doing that. So you need workforce, you might have capital back in China or Vietnam or Malaysia, and you don’t want to give up on that capital cause you’ve invested in that money. You might need to put more capital into America, that costs money. So a lot of barriers to re-shoring, but we’re seeing more of it, and ultimately I think that’ll lead to better supply chain outcomes in North America.

Mike Merrill:

So do you see some strategies that say a plumbing contractor in Kansas City, Missouri, or Baltimore, Maryland for whatever argument as far as someone’s location is.

Mike Merrill:

What can they do to really get away from these challenges, or at least hedge their bet a little bit in the future, should this kind of thing come down the pike again?

Anarbanu Basu:

Here’s one thing. It might be a surprising answer. Market the heck out of the place.

Anarbanu Basu:

So one of the things that I notice is that many of the most successful plumbing contractors, aggressively market their services. They create economies of scale and because they become more visible in their community, they’re able to hire more plumbers and therefore, and also generate more reliable pace of work for those plumbers. And so that’s, I think, one of the things that you do, you market heavily, you bet on your own business, you advertise on television and in other media.

Anarbanu Basu:

You mentioned Baltimore. We have a plumbing outfit here called Len the Plumber. Very successful, always on TV, hiring lots of plumbers because they’re visible to the plumbing community, but they’re also visible to the household community that uses those services. And they have done a fabulous job growing that business, and I think marketing has a lot to do with it. I’m sure they also offer excellent plumbing services, and one might think that’s enough, but in business, as many people know, it’s not enough.

Anarbanu Basu:

You have to market, you have to market effectively and you have to market quite aggressively to differentiate oneself from the pack.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I’m love that. We’ve got a local plumber here that’s on the radio all the time and half of their, I would say from just my own perception, half of their commercials have to do with recruiting new employees, not even just their services.

Anarbanu Basu:

Yeah, that’s the game. You’ve got to stand out from the pack. You’ve got to make yourself known in this world, and marketing still matters.

Anarbanu Basu:

Now the nature of marketing has changed. So it’s no longer about advertising jobs and newspapers. It’s not even advertising services, newspapers necessarily it’s it might be radio, it might be television, it might be online, it might be Facebook, it might be Instagram, but you got to be out there. And that’s one of the things that often, if you’re great at plumbing or you’re great electrical work or mechanic work, but you don’t know necessarily anything about advertising, it matters. And so that’s a place where some very successful firms have managed to differentiate themselves.

Mike Merrill:

Well, and I think to your point, one of the things, when I think back over the years, that company originally was only advertising plumbing. And then over a year or two, they started advertising heating and air. And then I noticed the next year they started advertising for electrical work. And so they clearly found a model from a marketing perspective that allowed them to expand into these other trades and clearly be wildly successful.

Anarbanu Basu:

They’re broadening their platform. They’re using, of course, their balance sheet. They’re using their name recognition. They’re using their demonstrated work in the household or commercial space. They’re doing all of those things and leveraging them to continue to grow that business again, “big is beautiful” and the faster you can get big, the better it happens to be often.

Anarbanu Basu:

There are economies of scale, benefits from being big, and so it sounds like that contractor has managed to find the right formula.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I love that, “big is beautiful”, that’s a great takeaway.

Mike Merrill:

So, if I was going to ask you, what’s the main takeaway that you would share with the listeners today from our discussion?

Anarbanu Basu:

Yeah. This is a very unusual time. That this has been a time fraught with uncertainty, but construction has been one of the industries that’s fared the best during this period. Part of the reason for that is that in much of the country it was deemed to be an essential industry. So it was never shut down the way that many other parts of the economy were shut down the tourism sector, for instance, but many others. And now the challenge is now that the economy coming back out and there are construction opportunities to find that workforce.

Anarbanu Basu:

Here’s what we’ve learned. Here’s what one of the things we’ve learned globally. We’ve learned that it’s pretty easy to destroy your capacity. So it’s pretty easy to lay off workers. It’s pretty easy to shut down a manufacturing plant and take a tax write off. It’s very hard to rehire people and to reopen facilities. That’s what we’ve found.

Anarbanu Basu:

And that’s the thing we’re dealing with right now. A lot of capacity was destroyed early in the crisis because people said, “oh, it’s going to be a deep recession, it’s going to be 2008 again and we need to cut costs right now to survive.” And then all of a sudden, the economy turns around as early as May of 2020, we start to add millions of jobs by that point but now you have to rehire those workers. Where are they? Hard to rehire. You have to reopen those facilities. How are you going to do that? That’s expensive. And so, at the end of the day, that’s the struggle we’re part of right now, trying to get back up to speed, to meet all the demand that’s out there.

Anarbanu Basu:

And so that’s what we’ve learned. And so if you destroy capacity as a firm, you better be careful because you never know when you’re going to need it again.

Mike Merrill:

Great point. Well, I like to usually close out the podcast episodes by asking a couple personal questions, if you’re all right with that.

Anarbanu Basu:

Go ahead.

Mike Merrill:

So, Anirban, what’s something that you are grateful for in your professional life?

Anarbanu Basu:

Oh, our staff.

Anarbanu Basu:

I’ve managed, over the course of 17 years, to create a business. Early in the business’ history I had a very difficult time keeping staff. So whenever I had a good employee, they left for another employer, they used us as a stepping stone. At some point we became established enough that all of a sudden people started applying and looking and wanting to work for us. They wanted to leave other employers to come work for us. And so we have a fabulous staff now that we’ve cobbled together over the course of years.

Anarbanu Basu:

I’m very thankful for that because they’re the ones who do the heavy lifting every day. I often work one hour a day. It’s an important hour. It’s a speech, presentation, something like that but it’s one hour. These folks work eight, nine hours without complaint, generate fabulous analysis, and then I go out there and provide people a sense of that analysis, and I take, often, the credit. I don’t mean to, but it’s often given to me. But the staff, our staff at Sage Policy Group is fabulous.

Mike Merrill:

Well, great job setting up a company in an environment that allows that to happen.

Anarbanu Basu:

Yeah. I’m very proud of that. I’m very proud of the fact that I have to make payroll every two weeks. So a lot of the economists they don’t realize how important things that “accounts payable” and “accounts receivable are”.

Anarbanu Basu:

A lot of small business operators and other business operators realize that’s life, accounts receivable, accounts payable, how much cash is in the bank and so on and so forth. When’s payroll? When’s healthcare going to be taken out of the bank account? All that kind of stuff, health insurance, but I live it. I get whopped with these healthcare costs, just like any other employer. I’m an economist, I’m supposed to talk about the economy, but I feel it as a person, as somebody trying to operate a business and trying to make payroll every two weeks.

Anarbanu Basu:

And so it’s very real for me, and I think that’s one of the reasons that we’re probably better at forecasting the economy than many other economists.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I would agree with that. I’m sure it keeps you grounded.

Anarbanu Basu:

Yes. The fear of missing payroll, which we have not missed in 17 years, our 17 year existence, but that fear, of course, that fear early in the pandemic, when all of our speeches were canceled, because we do a lot of public speaking, it’s one of our revenue sources. All those speeches are canceled. Where do we go from here?

Anarbanu Basu:

So we had to do some re-imagination. We had to create some more mechanisms by which to reach the public during that period. And so that’s part of the innovation, many construction firms have done the same thing. They’ve had to find other ways to get the job done, to get contractual work under their belts, and so on and so forth. And so that’s part of business. And so a lot of economists who work for universities, they get sent a check every two weeks. In fact, what happens is they get direct deposit. They don’t know what it is to make payroll and so on and so forth.

Anarbanu Basu:

I’m not bragging about that. I’m just saying that I think it’s made me a better economist having to go through process.

Mike Merrill:

I love that. So, in closing out, what’s one skill that you have developed that you would say is Anirban’s superpower?

Anarbanu Basu:

Yeah. I don’t think this audience will believe me when I say it, but it’s public speaking.

Anarbanu Basu:

So I think I’ll probably disprove that with this interview, but I’m a good communicator, by economist standards. I write well, I speak well, and I analyze data, of course, I know all about the numbers, but a lot of the economists who are fantastic analysts are not good communicators, and I’ve really worked hard to be a good communicator to try to tell the story that the data are telling in a way that’s understandable to broad audiences.

Anarbanu Basu:

And so I think that if there is a superpower, that would be the one.

Mike Merrill:

I love that, and I totally agree. That’s why I told our producer immediately. We have to have Anirban on as soon as we possibly can. So…

Anarbanu Basu:

And thank you for the opportunity.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. Thank you for joining us. I had a great time and again, look forward to catching up to you next month at the CFMA conference and into the future.

Anarbanu Basu:

I’ll be there. I look forward to seeing you as well.

Mike Merrill:

Thank you.

Mike Merrill:

And thank you to the listeners for joining us today on the Mobile Workforce Podcast, sponsored by About Time Technologies and WorkMax.

Mike Merrill:

If you enjoyed the conversation that Anirban and I had today, please share this episode with your colleagues and friends. After all our goal here is not only to help you improve your business, but your life.

 

Top Ways Data Collection Reveals New Business Opportunities

Top Ways Data Collection Reveals New Business Opportunities 

The construction industry knows data is a top priority, but there remains confusion around how to collect it, how to store it and what to use it for. Still, it’s an intimidating undertaking, which is why many construction business leaders get overwhelmed and put data collection and analysis on the backburner. But, as the saying goes, if the best time to start was yesterday, the next best time is today. 

Joining host Mike Merrill on this episode of the Mobile Workforce Podcast is David Campbell, the co-host of the Brewing with BIM Podcast and the Application Specialist at Topcon Solutions, a leader in providing AEC technology and training. David shares commonly asked questions on data collection, digital twins, and common data. He gives tips on teaching your teams to interact with that data, and talks through software that stores data and the best ways to pull meaningful insights from the data you have. 

 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Common data is the cornerstone of a well built tech stack. Common data allows all of the information coming in and out of your business to be centralized. This allows activity to be tracked and shared with the entire leadership team. By implementing common data, every decision being made on job sites and in the office are based on the same point of reference, which simplifies the entire operation.
  2. Creating a digital twin eliminates mistakes. A digital twin is an online duplication of the project where everything that will be, or has been done, is represented and accounted for in the cloud. This gives future new owners and maintenance staff the ability to make the right upkeep and design decisions 20+ years down the road. A digital twin isn’t just valuable to the owner after a project is completed, it is a valuable commodity starting when the general contractor breaks ground at the job site.
  3. Review your data processes every six months to a year. Once you have a system in place, it needs to be continuously reviewed for maximum efficiency. As a team you should be reviewing how you are handling and using your data. The more a company tracks their projects, the more they’ll learn from the data that gets collected. For example, you can start by collecting and using your project progress and payroll data to run both reports. Once that is established the next step would be to connect the two to start tracking and understanding your labor efficiency. In today’s market these opportunities to improve productivity cannot be wasted.

 

Subscribe to the Mobile Workforce podcast to receive alerts as the new episodes post on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or Spotify.

Click Play to Listen to the Podcast Now:

Episode Transcript

Mike Merrill:

Hello, and welcome to the Mobile Workforce Podcast. I’m your host, Mike Merrill. And today we are sitting down with David Campbell. David is an Application Specialist at Topcon Solutions, a leading provider of AEC technology and training. He is also the cohost of the Brewing with BIM, a pretty cool podcast that’s a lot of fun to listen to. And David has a wealth of knowledge on implementation, data management, and also workforce education. So today we’re going to talk about data collection and what is considered common data that’s collected, as well as how these two things improve construction projects. So David, welcome to the podcast today. Excited to have you on.

David Campbell:

Thank you for having me. I’m excited to be here.

Mike Merrill:

Awesome. So, one of the things that I mentioned a minute ago, you have some oversight or some connection to training for job sites. So how does your job and training relate to implementations of new technologies?

David Campbell:

So, typically what I do is I would introduce people to the technology, do demonstrations, things like that. Get everybody kind of warmed up to the idea with lunch and learns. There’s many different approaches that we can use for it. But at the end of the day, what we end up doing is figuring out what’s best for the company in terms of the implementation and of what software. I use BIM 360 or the Autodesk Construction Cloud, Revit, ReCap, a lot of different tools. It just, again, kind of depends on what that company is trying to achieve.

David Campbell:

But at the end of the day, when we’re looking at an implementation for a company, it has to be a phased or kind of tiered approach. We’re looking at the different positions that would benefit from what parts. If we’re looking at project managers versus a project engineer or design engineer, they’re going to use the software a little bit differently. Well, I’m trying to step over myself there, but they’re going to use it a little bit differently than each other. So we have to really figure out exactly how it’s going to benefit them.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. Sounds like you’re dealing with trainings for different people in different roles that would have a different, unique perspective. So how do you balance that in the trainings to make sure everybody gets what they need and their takeaways are helpful for their position?

David Campbell:

Oh, I tell them to ask questions. Questions are huge. A lot of people when you get into a training session, some people will be scared that they’re going to miss something or they’ll want to wait until the end to ask questions. I usually tell everyone that I teach right upfront, ask your questions. Don’t let me steamroll you with this data because there’s a lot of information that you’re going to learn in the class. Especially if it’s a two or three-day class, it can be very overwhelming. And to try and balance it a little bit, typically what I do is I like to get a good scope call first before the training even goes. We got to get that scope.

David Campbell:

Once we have that scope and we have that agreed upon kind of agenda, then we’ll go into the class. And me being an instructor, the agenda tells me what I need to cover during that class. But at the same time, it benefits you as an instructor to know who’s in your class. And as you’re getting to know the different personas, you start getting an idea of the directions or exercises that we can do during that class to kind of start bridging it between everyone. Because of course, one piece doesn’t fit everybody.

Mike Merrill:

Right. It makes great sense. So are there some common themes that you hear people asking at the beginning? A lot of these classes, are there some parallels?

David Campbell:

Oh yeah. I mean, some of them will ask, why am I here? That’s always a good one.

Mike Merrill:

In every situation.

David Campbell:

Yeah, right. Well, in some ways they’ll ask, how is this going to benefit me? What is this doing for me and my team? And honestly, the first part of a class I’ve found is kind of feeling each other out in the sense of you want to establish yourself as a knowledgeable instructor, but at the same time, you have to do some give and some take. In terms of you have to learn from them at the same time. You have to communicate and be open with that communication to learn not only what they’re doing, but how they’re doing it. Because if you just go in and try to teach them, let’s say you’re doing a Revit class and I’m just going to show you three days of Revit, it can be overwhelming and they could leave the class feeling like they haven’t really learned anything that’s going to benefit them with their position.

David Campbell:

So right up front it’s usually good to get that out and to ask, “Hey, what is your goal with this class? At the end of the third day, if you could learn one thing and it would make you happy, what would that be?” And you’re not trying to get, hey, I’m just going to go ahead and teach that person that, and this is going to be an easy class. No, what we’re really trying to do in that sense is to figure out, okay, what is most important to you and what are the steps that we need to take to kind of get there?

David Campbell:

I’ve often found that a lot of people will ask, if it’s a BIM 360 class, or if it’s a Revit class, they’ll start asking about how do I start getting other people within my company to use this? How are others that do the same thing I do, how are other mechanical engineers or project managers, how do they use this program? That’s a very common question because a lot of times people don’t know what they don’t know, and we want to be able to show them. But at the same time, you don’t want to open up the flood gates all at one time, because it’s like drinking water from a fire hose, it’ll be too much.

Mike Merrill:

Right. Yeah. I’m gathering from what you’re saying, there’s always a learning curve and it could vary depending on the person or their role. But I think that’s a great insight for people to understand going in. This is going to take some time. This isn’t going to just roll itself out and jump up and start tap dancing on the desk as soon as you can install the system or connect up to the cloud, right?

David Campbell:

Yes, sir. Yeah. There’s always a learning curve with it. And one of the things that I’ve talked about in my industry because it’s training. And a lot of people will feel like, okay, well we bought the software. Why do we want to spend more money on training? Well, because the way to look at it is there’s always a learning curve. Always. Now, there is a way to shorten that learning curve, but there’s still going to be the curve. There’s still going to be after training, you have to take it. And not only think about what you learned in training, but translate that into how you’re going to use it every day. How are we going to use it on our projects? How are we going to use it? Are we going to start on the existing projects that we have today? Or is this a future like we have another project coming in that we want to go ahead and spearhead this on?

David Campbell:

And a lot of times, I find that’s very beneficial for companies to do in terms of starting with a new project, because it helps them find those little nuances that are kind of a pain or the workarounds that they need to do, generate questions about how do we do this specifically? Because in that sense, if you’re already in a project, usually it’s everybody a hundred percent. It’s like a fire drill. We’re trying to get it out. We’re trying to get it done. But if you have some time with a new project coming up where you can slow things down a little bit, it’s usually pretty beneficial to start there and then go ahead and figure out what speed bumps are kind of obstacles that you might approach and how to get around that. That’s going to be part of the learning curve as well. It’s fully implementing the software, but not just to a point of where you’re using it, it’s where you’re using it and excelling with it.

Mike Merrill:

Okay. Yeah. I’m really hearing two different things there. The first one is you really have to have a keen focus on that number one goal, or what’s most important for your role. And then number two, you have to have an open mind and be flexible to kind of take in what other benefits that you can add to that main goal. Would that be right?

David Campbell:

Yes sir, exactly. Yeah. Having an open mind is huge. A lot of people need to, I would say they don’t need to, but it’s a good idea to take a step back and open up your mind to how is this going to change what I do currently? I do find that in some classes, some people have been very stuck with their process and the way they do it currently. And okay, that’s great. It works for you. But that may not be how this new software works. Now, we can do the same thing. It’s just a different way of thinking. And in that sense, when we can open their minds and start looking at, okay, we’ve always done it this way, but let’s go ahead and try it this way and see what happens. A lot of times once we get that adoption or that mindset kind of set, it’s a little bit easier in terms of communicating and really to, I guess, get into the software itself. It’s really where you’re one track minded where you get that pushback saying, well, we’ve always done it this way. Why should we change it?

Mike Merrill:

Right. Yeah. That makes sense. So I know Topcon, obviously a huge company. Go to the big trade shows, CONEXPO or World of Concrete. You guys have huge booths. There’s all kinds of really cool tech. But when I boil it down and I think of Topcon, I think of data. I think you guys just gather a lot of data. What is it about that that’s so important or what should companies be prioritizing with the data that they’re looking to collect or that they should be collecting?

David Campbell:

Well, I would say the amount of data and how you’re using it. Like these great scanners that we have, a lot of times, I mean, laser scanners are awesome and they will generate you a nice full picture or an as-built conditions of a building or a site. But a lot of times people will stop there. And the problem with that is you have all of this data that you can use in more ways than one, but you don’t. In the sense of, if we can use it to generate surfaces to know what our cuts and fills are going to be, or if we know that something existing needs to be moved or we’re going to reuse it in the actual model itself, having that data available to you, knowing where the pipes are running through your buildings or the utilities are coming in. Different things like that, they’re very beneficial to have.

David Campbell:

But kind of pushing it to that next level as well is making sure that everyone in that project has access to the data. That’s going to be your biggest thing is not only visualization into the project, but access. I like to say my common data environment. That gives everybody that access point to find that data and to essentially dive into it and use it how they need to. Because of course, different positions are going to translate that data differently.

Mike Merrill:

Well, yeah. And you’re talking about all these different data types and what comes to mind for me is I’m thinking some, like a project manager, might need data on a daily basis to make sure the job’s running smoothly, but maybe the HR or legal department, if you’re a large enough company, they’ve got a whole different goal with this. This is all about reducing risk and liability. So that data may be far more critical in the end than the project manager’s data, but it’s only utilized when there’s a problem. So I think understanding the importance of why, which you mentioned, is the key to all of this.

David Campbell:

Yes, sir. Yeah. And I think that’s a great point that you bring up. A great example as well, because we start looking at construction projects during COVID times. And a lot of times like the laser scans, again, for example, they’ll be used to kind of generate that picture of what’s going on or what those as-built existing conditions are. But we’re starting to see them used more for also safety. They can generate safety issues. Or they’re using it to track construction progress. And in terms of if we start talking about accounting, if you’re looking at paying for different projects or different, I can’t remember what I was going to call it, but essentially your different assemblies that are being installed on the site as your subcontractors come out, if they do one portion of the work, we’re going to go ahead and pay them for it. Well, we want to evaluate that and essentially make sure that everything is the way we specified. So this data can be used by so many different people in so many different ways. We just have to figure out how to interpret it.

Mike Merrill:

And of course, you’ve got to collect it in the first place in order to do anything.

David Campbell:

That’s it. Yes, sir. It has to be there.

Mike Merrill:

So, at what point does somebody who’s implemented a new technology or a new solution, at what point can they say, okay, this now has become a valuable tool and I’m glad we did it. This implementation was successful. Are there benchmarks or things that you could, check points, you could point out?.

David Campbell:

Yeah. So a lot of times what we’ll do is we roadmap with our clients or with our customers and figure out where they are now and where they want to be. And essentially what we do with that is kind of as you’re saying there, we do a phased approach to generally a month or two after they’ve been using the software, we do a check-in and we’ll say, “Hey, what are your questions? How are you guys doing with your projects? Do you guys need any screen shares?” That’s another kind of service that we’ll offer is jump in and do project-based consulting with a screen-share and say, okay, these are the issues that we’re running into.

David Campbell:

Generally I would say six months to a year down the road, they’re already full steam ahead and they’re just trying to push it in new ways at that point in terms of figuring out how else can we use this and who can use it. A lot of times I’ll work with general contractors and they’ll start a design bill. Well, their design engineers are using it for drafting, but the field personnel have also found a use for creating their schedules or their bill of materials, generating that quick information, or being able to just jump into the model and take measurements and dimensions is very valuable for them. So it’s again, kind of checking in and seeing, okay, is the communication here open? And how else can, let’s say, we use this data in what ways?

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. It’s like running financial reports. You don’t need to know necessarily certain things every day, but once a week would be really nice. Monthly has got to be probably minimum. But if you don’t look at your finances but twice a year, I hope it’s going well.

David Campbell:

Yeah, right. It could be bad juju.

Mike Merrill:

So, lots of data types, lots of roles that need to leverage that data. I mentioned at the top the term common data. What would you say would be some common data points that you would consider that fit that definition?

David Campbell:

Well, so again, kind of from the Topcon perspective, I’ll use a lot of the Autodesk like BIM 360 or the Construction Cloud. We’ve also seen box, Dropbox, Citrix. It’s an area where all of the team members, project stakeholders, can go to access this information. And there’s so many different kinds out there. My biggest point with it though, is of course figuring out what works for your company, but also staying connected. That’s a huge piece with all of this. If your models are updating and you can’t see them as they’ve updated, are they valuable? If you’re creating RFIs, if you’re creating submittals, if you’re creating issues or even if you’re doing clash detection and coordination with a model or with a project, is it connected?

David Campbell:

If you’re trying to use two or three different softwares and you’re trying to bring everything together, you need to have it in a common data environment, whether it’s folder structures or what have you, you need to have it available for the different stakeholders in the sense of yes, the RFI is going to be valuable for the contractor, for the architect, the engineer, what have you, but they’re also going to be valuable for the owner and for any owner’s reps or anyone financing the project to see what’s going on and why are they behind schedule? Why are they applying for this change order? Why is this happening? If you can really start getting that paper trail and establishing the connection between that data, it starts really helping everyone in the project to get on the same page. And it helps those decisions get made sooner.

Mike Merrill:

That’s critical. Quicker decisions made better. So just for clarity, the term common data, someone might hear that and think, oh, well, that’s just common data. That’s data that everybody has. But what you’re talking about is data that is common among each stakeholder and everybody has access to. Is that right?

David Campbell:

Yes, sir. Yep.

Mike Merrill:

Okay. All right. So that’s great. I love the idea of that visibility across your team.

David Campbell:

Yes, sir. Yeah. And it’s very important for all of the different projects going on today, whether they’re small residential or they’re bigger commercial. To have that connectivity, to have that common environment where everyone that’s involved in the project can go into as I said, even residential with homeowners being able to go in and look at that 3d model of their home and look at the different materials and be able to provide input with what’s going on with that house. It’s very valuable for a contractor as well as an owner.

Mike Merrill:

Love it. So I’ve heard you talk in the past about, I think this relates to what we were just talking about, about a digital twin. What does that term mean and why is that actually important?

David Campbell:

Well, digital twin has kind of been a buzzword in our industry for a little bit, but what we’ve found is that the digital twin is when you have a full, let’s say digital copy of that model or that building of the site, of the building, what have you. The reason why it’s important to have a digital twin is to, again, give everyone visualization or the capability of visualization into that project, into the building, into the site. And this doesn’t just start and stop at owners or the design engineers, the drafts people, whatever. It doesn’t really stop there. There are so many different ways to look at this in terms of usage. Whether it’s facilities management, your maintenance team needs to look at an air handling unit and find the warranty information that goes along with it, or who replaced these different parts last. Or if a piece of equipment, a pump has been replaced.

David Campbell:

It’s important to know that not just of course for keeping the building as it is, but if that owner in 10 or 15 years wants to update it, if they want new construction to happen, or they’re going to sell that building and they want to actually hand this off to someone else, being able to hand over a digital twin, in the sense of you’re handing over this full 3d model that has all of your assets in it, all the piping, everything’s modeled and tracked and updated. That’s a very valuable thing to be able to hand over to someone. And I’m actually going to talk about this tonight, my Tap Tour presentation I got going on, but 80% of the buildings in the United States are over 20 years old.

David Campbell:

And in saying that, 80% is a pretty high number to think about when you start looking at, do we have as-built drawings for those? Are they in CAD? Are they paper? Or most of the time when I was working in architecture, I wouldn’t have anything to start with. I’d go find a paper roll, but it was all tattered and falling apart. It’s hard to really start translating what’s in that building. And then you don’t know what’s in the walls. You don’t know what’s above the ceiling. If anything’s been added. It’s really difficult to really get your feet under you for this project. And yeah, that’s on TNI jobs, but at the same time, as we’re finding in construction, most of our projects are TNI. We’re doing a lot of rehab to bring up our current infrastructure, but the current

David Campbell:

Yeah. I mean our current buildings, or what have you that we have today, a lot of times it costs so much money to be able to build a new building, but it’s even costing more to go into a TNI job because there’s unknowns. And if we can really start getting rid of the unknowns and arming people with that information or that data to make the best decisions that they can, whether they’re purchasing the building or they’re wanting to restore it, or they’re just wanting to go through and update different things in their building.

Mike Merrill:

Well, I’ve got to believe that if you’re talking 20 years ago, we were just starting in business and collecting data on PalmPilots, disconnected, no such thing as wifi. No Bluetooth, even. So I don’t believe that 90% of the buildings that are 20 years old or older have anything digital other than maybe the blueprints.

David Campbell:

Yep.

Mike Merrill:

It’s a great point you make and very, very interesting statistic. So when you talk about TNI, just for the listeners that don’t understand, what does that acronym refer to?

David Campbell:

Essentially it’s going into a building and rehabbing it. I call it TNI, but I cannot think of what the acronym exactly stands for, but I’ve always known it as restoring or rehabbing a building. And for some reason I’m blanking out.

Mike Merrill:

Ha Ha you’re getting older.

David Campbell:

That’s it. But yeah, it’s restoring or rehabbing an existing building.

Mike Merrill:

Okay. Got it. So, one of the things of course when I hear you talking about this sharing of data, we’re talking about cloud technology obviously. This comes up a lot on our podcast and a lot of the other podcasts for construction and technology that I listen to. There are still companies out there that are resistant to the cloud or have concerns. Is there anything you would say to them that you feel like might resonate a little bit better than maybe some of the information that they’ve had in the past if they’re still not a believer?

David Campbell:

Yes and no. I would say that in some ways you’re not going to change a person’s mindset if they completely distrust it. Now, I could tell you that most things are on Amazon Web Servers and at that point, hey, do you buy things from Amazon? Do you give them your credit card information? Do you trust Amazon to hold your credit card information, deliver your stuff to your house and not end up taking everything that you have? Well, at the same time, I think it’s becoming more and more standard honestly, to use cloud processes nowadays. You’re seeing companies like Bluebeam or Autodesk who are both actually hosting data on the Amazon Web Servers. Now they’ve both actually been certified by… I can’t remember exactly what the certification was. It was from the government. They’ve actually been certified-

Mike Merrill:

Talked to maybe compliance?

David Campbell:

Yes, yes. Actually that is it. They’ve gotten the compliance certification to host that data on their servers. So in saying that, you know it’s secure. If the government is going to utilize it, you know it’s secure. Well, okay. Maybe on paper, right? Yeah, maybe take that one just back a little bit. But it’s new. And let’s say this, that the cloud technology itself is not as new, but pushing all of your data up to the cloud. It is this new idea that is really coming out big in the AEC industry because everybody wants to be kept up on the same page. Everybody wants to know that when this MEP model updates and they had a clash where one of my pipes was going through a column, has that been updated? If it has been updated, how did they update it? If this pipe is going through this HVAC duct, have they dropped it down? Have they put it over? We didn’t know what happened.

David Campbell:

I guess this is the other kind of point I wanted to make is we need to look at how having that cloud connectivity benefits us at the same time because we’re always doing that balancing act. Yes, we want to make sure everything is secure. We have to. We don’t want to leave anything out so it gets stolen. But we also want to make sure that it’s going to be beneficial for us to use in a way that is going to better what we can deliver, and better our turnaround times.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. It’s the old risk versus reward argument about making any decision. If the value of moving this direction is greater and the benefits are greater than the potential risk or the cost of staying the same, which what we know and we see, and I think most companies are understanding now. If you’re behind technologically from your peers in construction, you’re going to have a really hard time competing. And especially when it comes to the workforce. You hand a clipboard to some kid that just graduated with a construction management degree out of college and he’s going to look at you cross-eyed and want to throw it back at you. He’s not going to know what to do with it, right?

David Campbell:

No. Where’s my iPad?

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, right. Yep. So, we’re talking about the cloud technology. We’re talking about this TNI jobs having… In my mind, I come to think of an owner manual of your vehicle. Something that you can reference back to as it relates to that building. So that would be an argument for the cloud. When there’s an update, when there’s been a rehab done, or when there’s been new work completed, or in addition, you’ve got that documentation of not just what, but when and why and how, so that when there’s something else that needs to be done, you can reference back to that and have that most current information.

David Campbell:

Yes, sir.

Mike Merrill:

Love that. So what about avoiding unnecessary redesigns or making something actually worse off after trying to improve it? Is there any track on that that we can talk about?

David Campbell:

Yeah. So kind of going back to where we were with the cloud technologies and weighing your benefits versus risk. In terms of redesigns, it’s typically done when there’s a breakdown in communication or there’s a lack of communication. And what we’re seeing with the push to the cloud is that it really is enhancing visualization, communication and collaboration with different project teams and stakeholders. What we’re seeing is that it actually gives us the capability to remove that need to go back for the redesign or that constructability review, because it’s incorporated. Well, kind of tying back to my previous point of staying connected. If we can keep all of this data in let’s say a common data environment and keep it connected in the sense of knowing when the RFI has come up, knowing why they come up, or if there’s an issue that’s generated from the model.

David Campbell:

If we have someone that is knowledgeable, whether they’re an engineer or a contractor that gets involved with this project, let’s say sooner in the process rather than later, a lot of times they’ll be able to generate that insightful communication or those issues to say, “Hey, this isn’t constructable. This isn’t going to work like that.” And if we can get to that point of where all those stakeholders are actively engaged in the project, in this environment, within this model to tell you, “Okay, this is where our current utilities are. This is where we’re coming in. This is what we need.” You’re going to help because a lot of times in our industry, one of the biggest things, and you’ll hear this complaint across the board, when you’re going from architecture, or let’s say conceptual design or construction documents even over into what’s actually going to be constructed, there is a big gap.

David Campbell:

A lot of times these construction companies will say, “We have to redesign this model because the architect took it to this level of detail and they don’t know how this building is going to be constructed. So we actually have to build our model to how it’s going to be constructed,” which is a huge waste of time and energy. And at that point it’s like, if we could get people involved earlier in the process to see what’s going on and share or communicate that information, that knowledge that they have.

David Campbell:

These drafts people may not know exactly how it needs to be built, but if you can get that contractor, that engineer involved and to say, I’m looking at your drawings as you’re going through detailing and I notice something, let’s go ahead and bring up an issue there and say, hey, this isn’t how it’s done. I’m going to send you a drawing with… Even if you hand draw it on a napkin, you can draw something up in Bluebeam with some lines and some symbols. Just to be able to give them the insider, that visual into how it’s supposed to be done. It benefits everyone involved and especially the project.

Mike Merrill:

I love that. And I think the big thing with all of this, it’s similar in my mind to a handshake agreement or verbal discussion agreement versus something written and documented.

David Campbell:

Yes, sir.

Mike Merrill:

The plans are a documentation of what is to be built and how it’s to be built. And if we can update those, as renovations or additions are made or changes, whether it be mid-construction or 20 years down the line like we were talking, it would be critical to have that documented so everybody, like you said, is working from literally the same page.

David Campbell:

Yes, sir. Yep.

Mike Merrill:

That’s great. So a couple of quick, more personal questions. So what’s something that you are most grateful for in your professional life?

David Campbell:

That’s a good one. I am grateful for the opportunity to really get out and work with so many different people and so many different personas from the construction industry. I’ve been very grateful to work with big companies out in the Pacific Northwest to big companies in Indiana. It’s interesting because you start seeing the differences in technology or how they’re using it across even just from the West Coast to the Midwest. And that to me has been so valuable to be able to the conversations to see, okay, how is this person using it versus how is this person? And what is beneficial to them versus what is beneficial to project manager, draftsman, what have you?

David Campbell:

I’ve been grateful to be involved with this technology as it just really builds, I guess, on my passion for construction. I love construction and I do love helping people. And in my mind, the technology, and I guess the people really help bring it together. And that’s really what makes this so fun to do is that we can utilize this technology to really help owners get better buildings or get GCs to deliver projects on time and on budget. Or if it’s helping architects and drafts personnel to be able to speed up the things that they do within the program to generate these drawings faster so they’re not staying up till two, three o’clock in the morning or four o’clock in the morning, trying to get a bid set out by 6:00 AM the next day. So if you can help someone by teaching them, it’s a great feeling.

Mike Merrill:

Cool. Yeah. Giving back. All right. One more question. So what is David Campbell’s superpower?

David Campbell:

Ah, dude, my memory.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah?

David Campbell:

Yeah. For some reason, I don’t know why, but I can remember a lot of stuff. And it’s been nice because especially as I’m getting into the new software or as new things release, if it catches my eye, I’m on it. I’m all over it. And I can’t forget it. I can’t forget it.

Mike Merrill:

You’re a good old guy I guess, right?

David Campbell:

Yeah. Right. That’s it.

Mike Merrill:

You don’t hold grudges, do you?

David Campbell:

No, right.

Mike Merrill:

Cool. That’s great. Yeah. Memory. What a great asset and resource. I’m sure it served you well. All right. Lastly, main takeaway for the listeners today?

David Campbell:

So I’d say the main takeaway is to be open to technology, open to new doors opening, understand that there is going to be a learning curve with any new technology that you go to implement. Don’t approach it thinking that it’s going to be the same stuff different day. And when you’re really looking at this different technology or this hardware, software, what have you, start looking at the big picture. Don’t just think, how is this going to affect me on this project or these next two projects? Start looking at, how can this help us get better and compete more or compete better? We really want to be able to, when you want to build company, when you want to essentially build on the offerings that you have, it is good to think about the data that you can get, but also in what ways you can utilize that data. How do you optimize it?

David Campbell:

Whether it’s taking a scan and sending it through verification, or it’s scanned a BIM where you’re creating a BIM model from the scan. Or even if it’s safety positioning or accounts, accounts payable, whatever it is, figure out how anyone in your company can utilize it. That’s going to be a huge key for you is not just looking at let’s say the construction of it, because construction is so much more than just building the building. It’s paying for that building. It’s making sure the utilities are good. It’s making sure all the coordination is done. There’s so many different pieces that go into it. Start looking at how this can help you as a whole, not just one department as a whole.

Mike Merrill:

Well said. I love that. That’s great. Well, thank you so much for this insightful and enjoyable conversation today, David. I really enjoyed talking with you and having you on.

David Campbell:

Yeah, guys. Thank you so much for having me on and yeah, thank you very much. It was a great conversation and I look forward to continuing working with you guys.

Mike Merrill:

Sounds great. Well, we’ll definitely connect up again down the road. All right. Thank you to the listeners also today for joining David and I on the Mobile Workforce Podcast, sponsored by AboutTime Technologies and WorkMax. If you enjoyed the conversation that David and I had today, or gained some valuable insights, please rate and review the episode as well as the podcast generally. And of course, as always, share this with your friends and colleagues. After all, I know I can speak for David and also myself in stating that not only do we want to help you improve your business, but your life.

 

How CRM Systems are Supporting the Modern Day Contractor

How CRM Systems are Supporting the Modern Day Contractor  

Managing your previous, current and future customers can be overwhelming for any business. Especially in the construction business when there are a million other things that require your attention immediately. Fortunately, there is a type of software out there that can manage and automate the process of staying connected with your customers – a customer relationship management (CRM) platform. Having a CRM is fundamental to any modern contractor. Today’s guest is an expert on CRM systems and the ins and outs of how a CRM can change your business. 

Nick Peret is the Founder and CEO of Summa Media – a marketing and technology company that specializes in helping roofers grow their businesses with technology. Nick shares his knowledge of how to get on top of managing your business, leads and clients. He also explains how a CRM system greatly increases your business’s ability to manage communications, convert leads into clients and ensure that important connections aren’t lost.

 

Key Takeaways:

  1. A CRM is used to manage leads and clients for every business of every size.  A CRM centralizes every lead from every source in one place where they are tracked and every action is recorded and shared with the entire sales and leadership team. This means that every call, text and email is documented so no one is double contacted or completely ignored. A proper CRM system keeps your business from losing out on engaging with your customers, creating and saving new business opportunities. 
  2. Setting up your tech stack properly gives you a competitive edge over the competition. Being willing to spend the money and time to create the right setup cuts down on the chaos in a business. The right technology gives leaders clarity into what marketing campaigns are working, a deep understanding of what it takes for each lead to be created and how to best make sure that each lead is pursued and followed up on without increasing the busy work for the team.
  3. Take advantage of automation to take tasks off your team’s plate. Every platform available today gives automation options for tasks from client proposals to labor-management tracking. For every automation your team is not using, productivity is suffering. For example, having an automated proposal process eliminates busy work for your sales team. Without it, they waste time off the phone or out of meetings building a proposal by hand instead of closing new deals. An automated system gives your team their time back, giving them the opportunity to perform the work that they are skilled at instead of the busy work that their position creates.

 

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Episode Transcript

Mike Merrill:

Hello, and welcome to the Mobile Workforce Podcast. I’m your host, Mike Merrill. And today we are sitting down with Nick Peret. Nick is the CEO of Summit Media. He’s the number one marketing agency in all of roofing. At least that’s the rumor I hear on the street. Nick has a wealth of knowledge in computer technology, online advertising, and years of supporting contractors take advantage of both of those things. So today we’re going to talk about managing your business and especially leads and clients and how a CRM system greatly helps you increase your business’s ability to communicate and manage those connections, as well as convert those leads into actual clients and business so those important connections don’t get lost, so. Hello, Nick, and thanks for joining us on the podcast today.

Nick Peret:

Mike, my friend, what’s going on? Thanks for having me on, I appreciate it.

Mike Merrill:

You bet. Happy to have you. It’s always good to chat and catch up.

Nick Peret:

Absolutely.

Mike Merrill:

So tell me Nick, or tell the listeners, I should say, what does a modern contractor look like today that’s taking advantage of these types of tools?

Nick Peret:

Well, you can almost reverse engineer that a little bit and think about a negative experience that you have with a contractor. So let’s say that you hire somebody to work on your home or your property building, whatever it might be. And you had a bad experience with them. Usually it has to do with communication. You hear it all the time, right? Contractors lack the ability to communicate to their prospects and their customers. So it’s losing them opportunities to close more deals, it’s losing them opportunities to get a good quality experience for the customer then ends up getting referrals and reviews and things like that. Right? So, our main goal at Summa is how can we implement technology, right, to streamline business operations for roofing contractors and help improve their communication, whether it’s internal to their employees or to their customers.

Mike Merrill:

Makes sense. Well, tell me this then. So what exactly can contractors do to take advantage of this online presence today?

Nick Peret:

There’s different buckets, right? So, if you’re looking at online presence, online presence is more going to be how you brand your company, right? So that’s going to be things like, five star reviews on Google my business, it’s going to be having a really good website, it’s going to have social media pages that are constantly posting content, right, on a regular basis. So maybe a few times a week, or maybe even a little bit more, right? Showing off your projects, getting good customer reviews and testimonials online that you can showcase, right? If you’re doing some cool projects, video production and stuff, that’s always a great way to do that and represent what you guys have got going on. I mean, there’s a variety of ways. But online brand presence can be all about how you look online, right?

Nick Peret:

Your perception of value that you have to offer your customers, right? Let’s say you spent money on a lead, or maybe you were doing door to door sales, right? However that lead was generated, right, you paid for that. And when you have that person engaged with you in a sales process, right, at some point through that sales process, they’re going to look you up online, right? And that’s where the perception of value really takes place. Now they’re analyzing you online and there’s a perception of value that you have to offer them, right, as a customer in their head getting informed.

Mike Merrill:

Okay. So when you talk about online, I mean, you mentioned social. How important is the social media side of things today?

Nick Peret:

It’s really interesting. I think that you have to be active on social media for sure, but there’s a variety of ways you can go about social media. Some of it could be brand reputation and presence, right? And that’s just making sure that you’re showing that you’re active and that… Pretty much playing the part of your ideal customers. Whatever your ideal customer would look for online, trying to replicate that through social media posting, and I mean showcasing your customers, your employees, your projects, and stuff like that. Other people use it as a lead generation tool, right? Some people are doing Facebook advertising and have a ton of success with Facebook advertising. Now, that’s not one of our specialties. Our specialties in terms of marketing is more on the outreach side, and we’ll dive into that. But there is a ton of people who are having a lot of success on places like Facebook advertising.

Nick Peret:

Or if you look at LinkedIn, that’s another great platform. And what’s crazy is, you even see platforms like TikTok. I mean, there’s not a lot of contractors on TikTok, but the ones that are doing well on it, they’re generating leads. It’s crazy. I’ve seen people in the contracting space with, 180,000 plus followers on TikTok.

Mike Merrill:

Wow.

Nick Peret:

And maybe it’s one of those situations where, hey, they were the first players there, right? And if you think about it, if you look at Facebook as a social media platform, it’s very, very saturated. Everybody and their mom has a Facebook page and is trying to do something or sell something on Facebook, right? TikTok, as a contractor, probably not as many. So if you can figure out a way, right? If you’re a very creative person and you feel like you can think of a way to utilize that for your business, for branding, it seems like it’s doing some good things for businesses in the contracting world.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. All right, say it was TikTok, or it was Facebook ads, or it was lead gen that was outbound, like email campaigns, et cetera. What’s the best way to manage those leads however they come in, once they do?

Nick Peret:

Yeah. So that’s going to be where the CRM system takes place, right? So, we’ve worked with a variety of different contractors, different sizes, in different stages of their business as well. And no matter how far you are in your business, right, or where you’re at, make sure you have some kind of CRM system. Now, what’s so great about the CRM system is it can keep everybody in the same page, right? It’s an organized, fundamental tool, right? Where all the leads, jobs, and everything, right, and the communication between those people, those prospects, is all held in one spot, right? So for example, we work with a lot of roofing contractors, right? So ideally, the way you have it set up is no matter what your lead source is, whether it’s a website, a social media form, or from a Facebook ad, or whatever it might be, or a sales generated lead, you want to make sure that it’s all integrated into your CRM system, right?

Nick Peret:

So now every contact and prospect is going to be in that CRM system just to make sure that nothing’s missed, right? I mean, we’ll work with some contractors and we’ll do lead generation for them. And after the first month we’ll have the list of leads that we have generated for that client. And if they don’t have a CRM system, a lot of it gets lost right there. They’re so busy, they get all these emails, they have all these things that they’re trying to keep track of. Now, if you don’t have that organized, you spent so much money in sales and marketing but it falls through the cracks. So ideally before you try to build this amazing marketing machine, you want that foundation that everything is located in.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. So with the CRM, how commonly are you seeing contractors take advantage of that versus not? Do you know, is there any statistic that you can share?

Nick Peret:

It’s getting a lot better, right? But the biggest thing that I noticed in the software world is, people will buy these tools and then kind of implement them, right? So what happens is they’re paying X amount per month. Maybe they have some contacts going in, half the team uses the tool a little bit, but there’s not really rules to follow or a process of the…. So it’s really not even built out. And then, six months goes by, years go by and you’re like, “Hey, how’s everything going with your CRM?” Or how’s it going with any software, really, that these contractors are implementing, “How’s it going?” And they’re like, “Oh, it’s not bad.” But I’m like, honestly, I think if these contractors set up any of these softwares… I mean, we help contractors set up a ton of different softwares. And if they really have them set up right, they would love the tool, right?

Nick Peret:

These tools are in existence for a reason. Because if you leverage this technology, you’re going to have a big competitive advantage over your competition. The way you communicate to customers is going to way better, your ROI and sales and marketing efforts are going to be better, your businesses are being more streamlined, everyone’s going to feel less chaotic because your business is now more systemized, right? And everyone’s going to be on the same page. It is beautiful, right? But contractors have to be willing to spend the money to get this stuff set up appropriately.

Nick Peret:

And honestly, a lot of people we work with, lead generation and marketing, people will always have their like, “I don’t know if I can trust this company, blah, blah, blah.” Right? And so there’s a process to build that trust. But people usually see value in the technology of limitation where it’s like, “Hey, I can set up your CRM, a proposal tool. If you want to use CompanyCam for taking your photos or whatever it might be, we’ll have everything organized in one spot.” Right? And people see the value in that, because if it can save them time and make them more profitable it’s kind of a no brainer.

Mike Merrill:

Well, and we do this in our business, and most, I think, most software companies would do this, but we track very definitely how much each lead costs. Where does it come from? Which campaigns worked the best? And because these leads can be so expensive, it only makes sense that you would really keep track of what is actually generating them. Not only the most leads, but the actual best leads.

Nick Peret:

Yeah, yeah. A hundred percent. And yeah, like you’re saying, you’re paying for these leads. So you want to make sure you’re maximizing this. And so one thing that we noticed too, and it leads on to things, is having a proper followup system, right? Usually what happens is, we’ll build out in the CRMs their sales cycle, their production cycle and everything like that and they’ll have all these different stages that we can take them through. The first step in the sales is going to be lead, right? And the next one’s going to be either an estimate or inspection or whatever the next step is, and that discovery meeting process for the contractor. Now what will happen is that we’ll be in the lead stage, sales rep will call that lead, right? Guess what? They can’t get a hold of them. What happens after one phone call that they aren’t able to get a hold of that prospect who’s in need of their services? What do you think happens, Mike? Where does that lead go?

Mike Merrill:

The bottom of the stack. And they might get forgotten even, right?

Nick Peret:

That’s what happens. It gets forgotten. I do. I used to be in outside sales. Trust me, I want the next hot thing. Give me the next hot prospect, right? So that lead is now dead, right? So the money you spent on that for the most part is dead. But if you set up automations where if it sits for that lead stage for three days, that person automatically gets a text and an email following up with them to schedule that meeting or whatever it might be. Your salesperson doesn’t have to do any of the extra work, right? But you still have an opportunity to be like, “Hey, salesperson. If you follow these processes we built out, we’re going to set up automations. We’re going to help you do your job. Which means you’re going to sell more deals because you’re going to schedule more meetings that might’ve been missed because we have a follow-up system for you.” Right?

Nick Peret:

So now you’re convincing the salesperson to do it, right? You’re getting more leads that actually convert into meetings, right? And that’s just a piece of it. But automations and systems can do beautiful things for contractors because some of them, if they’re a little bit further behind in this stuff and they implement this, it’s going to be night and day for their company.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. And I know in this market, at least for the last couple of years, I’ve heard this so commonly. It’s like, “I can’t get anyone to call me back.” It’s like, “I got 10,000 feet of fence to put in. No one will even call me back.” Right?

Nick Peret:

Oh my gosh, man. You nailed it. You completely nailed it. And it’s a scary thing. So it’s like, man, if we can focus on the fundamentals, right, and just really be good about how everything’s systemized so that each customer is going to have the same exact experience, right, and you’re having good communication to your team internally and to the prospect or customer, good things are going to happen. Because now you’re just doing the fundamentals, which is high quality communication. The beauty of communication, right? And you’re going to be winning more deals, right? Getting more customers, getting more reviews, getting more referrals, by just having good communication and organization.

Mike Merrill:

Right. That’s well stated and I know it to be a fact. But I know that a lot of listeners out there, they’re tracking things on paper or spreadsheets or I’ve seen hundreds, literally, of magnet boards in shop floors or office spaces of construction companies that I’ve visited over the years. And it’s just amazing what a CRM will do for a company once it’s properly set up.

Nick Peret:

Yeah. Mike, my favorite is the big contractors that have no tech, no processes written down, and they have somehow built this really big company. I’m like, first off, that is super impressive that you were able to do that without this tech stuff. But it’s like, imagine if you put that in now, what could happen? Because you already got the brand, you’ve got the projects, everything.

Mike Merrill:

Well, and they say, “Well, we’re too busy.” And it’s like, well, yeah, but if you follow it up properly and you have people beating down your door, well the next thing you can do is raise your prices a little bit, right? You’re still going to get that volume of work you can handle and now your profitability goes up. I mean, it just makes sense. But you got to take that first step to know, right?

Nick Peret:

Amen to that man. Well said.

Mike Merrill:

So, are there CRM systems that you often recommend? Are there ones that you standardize on? Or what are some options that companies could take a look at if they’re interested in implementing something like this?

Nick Peret:

Yeah. I mean, I’m looking to do… I’ll mention a few different tech companies if you don’t mind.

Mike Merrill:

Sure.

Nick Peret:

But I’m always trying to do tech stacks, right? So pretty much what that means is we try to stack different technology that we see is trending in the space or we think could differentiate some things or make it a little bit easier for you guys. So, JobNimbus is a big one.

Mike Merrill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Nick Peret:

I mean, they have what we call open APIs, which basically means we can connect other tools to their system very easily, right? So they have integrated partners that’s no energy, but there’s some other ones that, because it’s open, we can add them. So the CRM, we love JobNimbus, especially in the roofing space, right? So you have JobNimbus. And then we hear another thing is, “All right, hey. We spend way too much time on putting together proposals.” Right? What happens is I get home from work, I did all my stuff today, I put out all the fires, I did all my tasks, but now I have to put together two proposals, right?

Mike Merrill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Nick Peret:

And so we like to use Summa Quote. A reason why is, pretty much we can put all our costs, right, our material costs, everything, into the system. Deciding on what our markups going to be, make it simple enough where you can make it from your phone, right? We’ll custom design those, make them at a brand same point really stand out from other proposals that prospects are getting. Love that tool. CompanyCam, right? And remember, all this gets integrated. Now with CompanyCam, what we like is you pretty much use it to get all your before and after photos of these projects that you’re doing for your record. It’s pretty cool. And then you have a map where you’ve done all your projects. They’re constantly innovating and doing some really good things. So they’re one of the more popular tools for sure that a lot of the people that we know are using it.

Nick Peret:

So those are probably the three big ones. We have tools like Hail Trace, where people who are doing insurance restoration work, that’s a big one for us in our space. But that pretty much allows you to identify where storm amps are. So let’s say if there’s a storm, it hits an area, it can be synced up to your JobNimbus where if you have customers who are in that area that have been hit, you know. And so then that way I can now notify my previous customers, right? Which are going to be the easiest way to get into that area and start making things happen.

Mike Merrill:

How amazing. I mean, wow.

Nick Peret:

How clutch is that, man? It’s pretty cool.

Mike Merrill:

Well, and then you mentioned something else, I think it’s important to reiterate. You mentioned actually creating a quote on your phone.

Nick Peret:

Yeah.

Mike Merrill:

That’s pretty incredible.

Nick Peret:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). I mean, think about how stressed out people are. I used to be in sales. My least favorite thing to do was run all my meetings, crush my day, and then had to get back because I did outside sales, I’d be traveling. I had to go to my hotel room and put proposals together.

Mike Merrill:

Right.

Nick Peret:

It’s like, “Oh dude, I had such a good day. But because I had such a good day, now I have to go do my admin stuff.” Right?

Mike Merrill:

Yeah.

Nick Peret:

So, sales personalities, they want to just have the next prospect. They want to get the next deal. They wouldn’t be spending time… You want your salespeople to be spending-

Mike Merrill:

Near the phone work, right?

Nick Peret:

Yeah. Exactly, the phone work. Well, and the thing is, if you have good salespeople and you put them in a spot I think, where they can go do what they’re best at, which is talk to people, right, potential customers and customers.

Mike Merrill:

Right.

Nick Peret:

And you try to handle as much of the admin stuff as possible where you can limit it for them, right? So that’s what Summa Quote is going to do for them. It’s going to save them time, they’re not going to spend as much time on admin. I want to limit my salesperson to admin work as much as possible.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. You want him to sell the next job, right?

Nick Peret:

Because that’s how you’re going to get more money, that’s how they’re going to get more money.

Mike Merrill:

Right. Yeah, I love that. So with these tools in place, so there’s automation of quoting and tracking companies that might be prospects in an area, like you mentioned Hail Trace. Once you’ve done all that, what kind of automation is there for internal communication within the team?

Nick Peret:

Yeah. 100%. So pretty much what we do is, it’s pretty cool. So we set up boards, we had set up a sales board and we set up a production board, right?

Mike Merrill:

Digital, right? Obviously.

Nick Peret:

What’s up?

Mike Merrill:

Digital. Digital production board?

Nick Peret:

Yeah, yeah. Exactly. Exactly.

Mike Merrill:

Okay. I just want to clarify.

Nick Peret:

You take the boards that these guys are used to using, right, on the whiteboard. We make it digitally, right? And so there’s going to be, sales reduction will be the big ones and then there’ll be billing and closing. That’s kind of how standard it is. But pretty much what you want to do is, anything that’s internal communication, you want reminders, right? So whether it’s a follow up with a lead or follow up with a prospect or whatever it might be, right? We want to make sure that we’re reminding people to do so. Because usually what happens is people get busy, they forget what to do. So if we’re able to send automations where they get an email reminder, a JobNimbus reminder, or a text reminder, it just makes sure that everyone stays on top of things. Now, when you’re looking at a sales board, for example, right? And I’ll go through some of the other ones. It starts with lead, right? Then it goes to the meeting or whatever it might be, and then it’ll go to proposal, and then it’ll go proposal won, proposal loss, just for a simple board.

Nick Peret:

The whole goal with automations is to push that lead from left to right. Just think of it that way. That’s the easiest way to think about it. Because you want to get it through the journey, right? So as soon as that lead comes in, the faster we can move it all the way through the sales board. All the way into production. Get it into billing. Right? And then close out that job. The faster you’re going to get a return on your investment for that lead, right? And that it’s also going to help with any kind of bottlenecking. Maybe there’s a point in the productions process, right? Where all of a sudden somebody forgets to order materials or whatever it might be, right, and there’s a miscommunication. That’s where we need to make sure that we’re improving our speed through that production process.

Nick Peret:

So now what we can do is we can track, what day did that lead come in to production, when did it get out of production? Right? Where was the bottleneck? What stage did it stay in too much? Right? So if we can send reminders to the people to order materials, right? Send reminders to the customer that we’ll be there tomorrow at 6:00 or whatever it might be, right? Pushing that thing all the way through automations is huge, right? And ideally what you want to do is pretty much just think about this process, right?

Nick Peret:

So if you were going to hire someone like us, just think about your process right now, right? Because then what we would do is we’re going to digitalize that. You guys are already doing this, you already have a process, you already have a system. Now we just got to pull it out of you guys. And that’s the hardest part, is we have to ask the right questions about it, right? Well, who’s going to get communicated to in this stage? Right? You know what I mean? Really understanding who’s part of what. And it’s kind of cool because all of a sudden everyone starts to realize that they already kind of had it, but it was just they’re missing some fundamental pieces.

Mike Merrill:

Well, there’s a go button at the beginning and then at the end. It’s like a digital conveyor belt, right?

Nick Peret:

Yeah.

Mike Merrill:

It’s a fixed process. And there are certain steps and they all need to be taken in a certain order and a certain timeframe. And why wouldn’t you automate that if you had a tool that could help you do that?

Nick Peret:

It’s beautiful. And sometimes, I mean, we’ve taken people… We’re working with a contractor out in Florida right now, and we started out doing lead generation. And then we realized they’re running the entire company on pen and paper. And so we realized when we started to follow up about, “Hey, what happened to this lead?” Or whatever it might be, that there was some misconnect, right? And there were some stuff we can probably organize. So we actually were like, “All right, we’re going to pause lead generation. Let’s just talk about it and see if we can help you with the systems and processes.” Right? And we started to set up all these different tools for them. And in the beginning it was a lot to digest, right? But we do ongoing training and everything like that and kind of help through us, like make tutorial videos. It was a little bit of a learning curve in the front end.

Nick Peret:

And I’d be like, if you’ve been running your company for five, 10 years on pen and paper, it’s going to be a bigger transition. But you got to think, that friction in the front end that you’re going to have to deal with will hopefully be worth the investment. Look at it as an investment, right? In my mind, it makes your company more valuable. Really, if it’s systemized and organized.

Mike Merrill:

No question. Well, yeah, you can predict that revenue which is, that’s everybody’s goal, right?

Nick Peret:

Yeah, exactly.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. So the other thing… In my mind, I know… I mean the word CRM is customer relationship management tool, right? So, the management of that relationship, relationship isn’t one and done, right? That means an ongoing connection. So what are some tools within the CRM that companies are using to maintain that relationship and keep connected with all of their customers and prospects?

Nick Peret:

I mean, I still love email marketing. I really do. I think that email marketing still has a ton of opportunity to be communicating. Even text message marketing too. So text message marketing and email is kind of like the one-two punch that we really like to utilize, right? Whether it’s communicating with your customers or trying to generate leads. Texting is the way the future in my mind though.

Mike Merrill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Nick Peret:

When you’re looking at the best way to communicate to potential customers and your current customers. So if you’re looking at, for example, lead generation, right? Nowadays, everything starts with good data. Everything.

Mike Merrill:

Right, right, right.

Nick Peret:

Right? It is the beauty… We’re in the data era right now, right? And everything you’re doing in a marketing standpoint is surrounded by that. So for example, for us, we work with a lot of roofing contractors. So they want to work with commercial property owners and property management companies. That’s who they want to work with. So now, I mean, you can find databases like CoStar, Reonomy, right? These commercial databases that have accurate information of your ideal prospects. Now this is for any commercial contractor, really, it doesn’t really matter, right? And you can use that information. What we do is we actually take that information out, right? And we make a list of your ideal clients, right? So now we have a sales list and a marketing list of the exact people you want to work with and they’re the key decision maker, right? Once we have that data, we run it through a verification tool, basically verifying the data is good before we run our campaigns. Never bounce for emails. Twilio lookup for phone numbers, right?

Mike Merrill:

No bump phone numbers, right?

Nick Peret:

No bump phone numbers.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah.

Nick Peret:

So now we have the accurate information of your ideal clients.

Mike Merrill:

Right.

Nick Peret:

Then we put them through email campaigns and text campaigns, right? Just asking these people if they want an inspection, if they’re willing to meet with you guys. And it is unbelievable the response that we’ve had on text message marketing. Now, when you wouldn’t just have good communication with your customers, right, doing some kind of text campaigns, right? Think about the email campaigns you’re already doing to your current client base, right? To just build that relationship, what are some fun text messages that you could do? Maybe giveaways, riddles, right? First person to answer this riddle wins a hundred dollar gift card. Now I’m sending riddles to my commercial property owners, right? That maybe they don’t even work with me yet but the thing is, I’m sending them a riddle. I’m not even bothering them.

Mike Merrill:

Right, right.

Nick Peret:

You know what I mean? So little things like that could help you win because everybody is on their phone and everybody’s looking at text messages. So if you’re looking at open rate and visibility, that’s text messages right now.

Mike Merrill:

Well, with any marketing you just want to be top of mind. So when there’s an issue, that you’re the name, you’re the logo that comes to their brain, right?

Nick Peret:

Top of mind, exactly. So that’s why you just do little drip campaigns, right? Like you’re saying, what are you doing to stay in touch with your current customer base? That’s where your money is. That’s where the reviews come from, the referrals, the additional business or new business. It’s all coming from that previous client base.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I love that. I love the point that you made about the text messaging campaigns, because it’s absolutely true. Emails bounce, they get unread, they get spam filtered. But if you send somebody a text, they got it.

Nick Peret:

Oh, yeah.

Mike Merrill:

They’re going to get it. They may delete it, but they probably saw it before they deleted it, right?

Nick Peret:

They’re seeing it though. And then, like you’re saying, you’re just hoping top of mind where it’s more of like, you’re hoping that that’s the right time that they’re going to need your services for sure. But yeah. With a text, I mean, you can send text reminders from your CRM system to make sure that you send reminders to the people internally, you can do reminders for production to your customers via text message. I mean, there’s so many different things you can do to that. I mean, think about it. If you already have a customer and you’re going through the project phases and any reminder or update or notification, you’re just texting them through your system, it’s pretty nice. And then that conversation stays in your CRM system so everybody has it to reference.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. You’re tracking the steps that that went through in order to… Again, same thing, win business, right? It took 14 contacts or touch points before they actually picked up the phone and called you or send in an email request, right?

Nick Peret:

Yep. Exactly.

Mike Merrill:

So do you know, I mean, are there any averages or revenue or cost type effectiveness statistics that you can share? Does that make sense?

Nick Peret:

Yeah. 100%. I mean, JobNimbus alone, it’s interesting because we take all these different softwares, right? And we’re kind of developing our own solution. So we don’t actually create any softwares or develop any softwares. Pretty much what I do is, we’re kind of just eyeing up all these different tools that we see people using, right? We’re working with contractors all over the country. What tools are they using? What’s working well? Who has a really good, defined system, right? If we’re working with some of the bigger companies, it’s like, “Hey, what processes that they built out?”

Mike Merrill:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Nick Peret:

Right? You know what I mean? And understanding that, right? So what we do is we take all these different softwares and we build our own, pretty much, solution if you will. But for JobNimbus, they say average revenue growth is 43%, eight hours a week saved per person, 25% more payments collected. And that’s just for one of the tools, you know what I mean? So when we take all these different tools and try to make this ideal system for roofing contractors, if you will, for us, good things are going to happen here and save a lot of time. Hopefully, your revenue should grow, right? And then your return on investment for any sales and marketing efforts should go up, and then, yeah. Just customer satisfaction too, I feel like is a big one.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah.

Nick Peret:

When you’re unorganized it’s really hard to keep your customers happy. When you’re organized and everybody’s on the same page, that customer every single time is going to have the exact same experience and it’s going to be a good one.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I know a lot of businesses are really after referrals. Or at least on paper everybody says, “Oh we want referrals. We want referrals.” It’s like, at least here in our company, I always say, “One new logo. One new customer should and can always equal three more.” So if you’re maintaining those leads and taking care of them through a defined process and they feel that love, then they’re very likely to refer you when they have an opportunity, right?

Nick Peret:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). People buying from those they know, like, and trust. So.

Mike Merrill:

Love that. So are there any, if people are listening and saying, “We’re not using a CRM right now. Sounds like maybe we should be.” Are there questions or things that they should be asking themselves to kind of qualify where they can leverage this?

Nick Peret:

Or what tools to go with, you’re saying?

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, yeah. Essentially, what are some questions they can ask to really kind of define the path that they should take?

Nick Peret:

Yeah. I mean, honestly, this is where getting a professional in this part would definitely help. Either someone like me or somebody else. Just because it’s a little bit of an overwhelming process. And so the reason why I love this software integrations for contractors… And they’ll go to like a trade show, they’ll sign up for three different softwares. They have a login. First week after the conference, they log in, they’ll look at it. It’s like, “Man, this looks like a lot of work.” They bounce out. They never log back in. You know what I mean? And that’s kind of the story that I was talking about. And that’s why I started to realize that this is such a huge opportunity. Anything I think that we can do as a company. The lead stuff is great, that funds everything.

Nick Peret:

But I think that this is probably the most valuable thing that we could do for contractors, in all honesty. Because that software that you already know you should use because you heard it around the industry, or you see them at the trade show, you see they’re doing well, those are the softwares you should be investing in. So there isn’t like a magic thing that I find out there. I get connected with people in the industry. I find what vendors I like and have good relationships with, and I feel like I can trust them and they would offer good support if I did bring them customers and stuff like that. And that’s what I look at.

Nick Peret:

So we already know what tools. If you’re listening to this, you probably have listened to a lot of the tools you should be using too, right? So biggest thing is, get somebody that can help you implement this stuff, right? And I think every contractor in the industry probably has somebody who is implementing CRMs or other tools. Because if you just make that jump and let them do it for you it’ll actually get done, and your business will reap the rewards.

Mike Merrill:

Right. Yeah. Well, like they tell their prospects, hire a professional. Hire somebody that does this every day. Not some weekend warrior, right?

Nick Peret:

Yeah, exactly. Think about that. When you’re meeting with prospects and you tell them to, “Hey, hire us because we have this reputation, we have this insurance, we have all these different licenses, right? We take this time. Don’t hire a Chuck in the truck.” Right? Same thing with this, right? Hire somebody that’s going to get it done for you at high quality, that you know you can trust, and it’s going to be awesome for you guys.

Mike Merrill:

Love that. Great advice. So tell me this. This is shifting gears just a little bit. What’s something in your professional career, in your business, what’s something you’ve learned or been grateful to come to an understanding to at this point?

Nick Peret:

I mean, for me, I grew up in a blue collar family in Wisconsin, right? So I kind of came from the contracting world, if you will. And then I went to college for marketing and ended up working for Milwaukee Tool after that and did some outside sales there.

Mike Merrill:

Oh really?

Nick Peret:

Yeah. So I was still in the contracting world the entire time. But I think something that I learned through my time is, no matter what you’re doing in business, just keep trucking, right? And you’re going to find opportunity. For me, I knew I wanted to work with contractors. And I was getting started. You’ve had Randy on the show. He was just starting The Roofing Academy, at the same time I was starting Summa. So that way, when someone became a member of The Roofing Academy, I was able to help them on the marketing side, right? And I met so many different people in roofing. And that opportunity kind of found me, if you will. “Roofing found me” is what they like to say, right?

Mike Merrill:

Yeah.

Nick Peret:

And I was so grateful for it. So I would say honestly, for the roofing industry, I’ve been very, very grateful. And then that always takes me to my next thing too is, go niche. Be specialized. When we’re working with all the contractors, we weren’t the best. And now I think when we’re working with contractors or roofing contractors, almost specifically commercial roofing contractors at this point, you’re able to get really good at what you do because you’re doing the same thing for the same people. You’re not trying to be the best at everything, right? So the more specialized you can be, I think, in the contracting world, the better you’re going to be. So your customers are going to be happier, right? You’re going to get more return business. You’re going to get more referrals, more reviews, right? Which leads to big wins.

Mike Merrill:

Right.

Nick Peret:

So.

Mike Merrill:

Love it. All great stuff. So last personal question. What’s a skill that Nick Peret has developed and become what you’d call your super power?

Nick Peret:

My superpower. It’s interesting. When I started Summa media, I did everything and I realized I sucked at a lot of things, right? Now we look at our team, they might be able to get something done in 15 minutes that took me four hours. And so for me, I feel like, I think communication is one of my super powers, right? I’m not very good at a lot of things, but I really like having conversations with people, communicating. And I think any kind of dream or vision that you want to achieve, you need to be able to communicate that to people and get them excited about that. And if you can do that, that’s definitely a superpower.

Mike Merrill:

I love that. Good for you. Cool. Well, you’re doing well and I’ve enjoyed getting to know you better. And again, your organization’s definitely got a great reputation in the industry. And I appreciate what you’re doing for our common customers and prospects because they need the help, right? They’re good at the blue collar stuff. They’re good at fixing groups and doing the great work that they do, but they need a professional in the backend to help them with these digital and automated technology processes that you guys specialize in. So.

Nick Peret:

Appreciate it Mike. Thanks so much for having me on, man.

Mike Merrill:

You bet. So one last thing. So, what is the main takeaway you would want the listeners to have from our conversation today?

Nick Peret:

Use technology, right? That’s what creating the modern day contract is all about. Use technology. And the thing is, if you have had a company forever, 25, 30 years, right? And it’s going just fine without the technology, you are an amazing person and amazing entrepreneur, but hey, let’s make that jump because you’re about to get even better, right? So don’t be afraid to jump on the tech train. Get somebody to help you out with it, right? Even if it’s somebody internal, right? Who’s the best with technology, right? And just get it done. Become a modern day contractor because they’re going to be able to communicate better to their customers, better serve their customers, are going to have better internal communication, right? It’s a no brainer. So check it out. Get some technology implemented to your business.

Mike Merrill:

Great advice. Thank you all. It was a lot of fun having you on. I’ve enjoyed the conversation and look forward to connecting up and continuing to be in touch down the road.

Nick Peret:

Yes, sir. Thanks Mike.

Mike Merrill:

Awesome. Thank you. So thanks Nick. And also thank you to the listeners for listening to my next conversation today. If you enjoyed the things that we discussed or have interest in some things that Summa media might be able to help you with or learned something interesting today, please share this episode and the rest of the episodes of the podcast with your colleagues and friends. After all, our goal here is not only to help you improve your business, but your life.

 

The Benefits of Embracing a Collaborative Approach in Construction

The Benefits of Embracing a Collaborative Approach in Construction  

Have you ever wondered how successful managers and contractors keep their teams and projects on time and under budget? It boils down to collaboration, specifically on job sites and in the technology solutions they use. David Swider is an industry advisor at InEight Inc., an Arizona-based company that helps construction companies visualize, estimate and manage all aspects of their projects from start to finish

In this episode, David explains what “the collaborative approach” is and how it is applied in the construction world. He shares how it’s changing the way vendors, contractors, subcontractors and customers approach building projects. David also breaks down exactly how transparency, data, workflow and KPI tracking work together to drive collaboration.

 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Team collaboration is the key to success – in technology and on job sites. When everyone’s success is interconnected, it fosters an environment of collaboration. This is why collaborative platforms shine – teams enjoy transparency while everything they need, such as BIM, KPI reports, and labor statistics, are all in one place. A collaborative job site encourages shared ideas and best practices that traditionally would never make it outside of a siloed team. By opening data and communication across functions and teams, employees become more engaged and leaders see better results.
  2. New modular technology boosts collaboration by integrating technologies. Modular technology doesn’t remove the need for skilled and experienced leaders on the job site. Instead, it allows all the data on a job site to flow between different platforms – which supports, you guessed it, collaboration. Modular technology allows key personnel to spend their time utilizing their experience instead of looking through files to dig up data.
  3. Real-time earned value is the best KPI to assess a team’s effort. Monitoring real-time earned value is the best way to stay in scope and on budget. The real-time comparison of actual spending and progress against what was projected creates insights your team can use instantaneously. Real-time earned value is critical to understand where each part of the project stands to evaluate the efficiency of how your teams are performing compared to the budget.

 

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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 my good friend and industry peer, David Swider. David is an industry advisor at InEight Incorporated out of Arizona, and also helps construction companies visualize, estimate, manage and control all aspects of their capital maintenance projects. So, David has a great knowledge in sales management, project management, and also lead generation.

Mike Merrill:

Today, we’re going to talk about a business practice termed as the collaborative approach and how it’s changing how vendors, contractors, subcontractors, and customers approach their building projects. David is going to break down how transparency, data, workflow and KPI tracking work together to drive collaboration. Hello, David, and thank you for joining us on the podcast today.

David Swider:

Hey, Mike, thanks for having me. I’m really excited to be here. Good to catch up. It’s been a while. COVID, we don’t get to see each other at the shows as often as we used to. So, really happy to be here today.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I love that. And now every time I see David in a van, I got to give him a big bro hug. So, it’s been too long. So, getting back to the topic of our conversation today. So, what exactly is the collaborative approach that I was referencing?

David Swider:

Mike, it’s funny, you should say that, right? As much as you and I have been through over the last several years and search engine optimization, you’re seeing the word collaboration, it shows up in every list, right? Version of the truth, collaboration. It’s become a catchphrase.

David Swider:

At InEight, the foundation of our business has always been trying to tie together the scope, schedule and actuals, right? That’s the collaboration we feel is what everybody is looking for and what all the clients are looking for is tying together that in, and the ability more so than just tying together, the scope, schedule and actuals, is getting that information in the hands of the folks who need it when they need it.

David Swider:

And what that does is for companies who are just saying, “Hey, do I jump into a technology? What do I do?” It forces organizations to think strategically, both while they’re planning their work, and then also as they’re progressing their work. Right? So, in my mind, it’s not only across the players involved but also across the tools that they already have in their landscape. So, that’s what I’m saying. I mean, what are you seeing in the market?

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I think collaboration is a key term that everybody uses and I think some companies are pretty good at it. And some, maybe aren’t so much. But I know with API integration, we’re seeing a lot more product to product collaboration, which I think is more the key that we’re all looking for from a technology provider. Would you agree?

David Swider:

Yeah, I would. Right. I mean, and I also am always reticent in, it’ll probably come up further in our discussion of the API too. Right? I mean, a lot of folks hang a lot… It was like bin was years ago, right? “Oh, it’s bin, you got a bin?” Like a stack of them. Yeah. It was a buzzword. Right? So, I had this magic API. And sales guys or vendors tend to have that magic API that gets them right where they’re going. Right? But you’re absolutely right, we definitely see that. Right? I agree with you on that.

Mike Merrill:

So, how do contractors make more space to allow for better or more collaboration?

David Swider:

In my experience, and again, we’ll hit that a little bit at the end, but the good contractors don’t really need to make space for collaborations, because they’ve already in mind have already started that collaborative journey as they’re being awarded or even prior to being awarded that work. Right?

David Swider:

Unfortunately, what happens is sometimes the collaboration is forced, because the contractor is driving it, but they’re not engaging the owners, the architects, the engineers, the CMs, the facility managers, the fabricators in that collaboration, right.? It always tends to be maybe a contractor to a sub, or they’re not truly bringing in all of the workflows that need to be there. Right? So, making that space habits.

David Swider:

And in InEight, we’ve identified about 200 project workflows in a typical capital project. Now, we built our platform and have those workflows built out to about 175 of those. But what it does is by building those out, it helps us identifying the who. Identifying the who that sounds like a Dr. Seuss, right? Who and him on that podcast, right? Identifying the who. But in terms of collaboration, it identifies who needs to be in that collaboration, as well as what tools need to be in that collaboration.

David Swider:

So, a collaborative approaches is what we really find that our clients are looking to us for, and you as well, right? Is to give them some of that predictability, give them that outcome certainty that they’re looking for. And the only way they’re ever going to get there is if they’re collaborating at some form, right? Again, what are your clients saying there?

Mike Merrill:

I love that. Yeah. One of the things that we see and a phrase that we like to coin and that we hear out there is live field data, that real time visibility and ability to share with cloud-based technologies, and opportunity to share different data sets for different roles, different people within the organization, having that real time access is a critical piece to allow that type of collaboration to even occur.

David Swider:

Yeah. It really is. Right? I mean, when we look at it, there’s a lot of logos out there. Right? So, I mean, I don’t envy our listeners. Right? How do they know? How do they sift through it? I mean, every other day, I mean, even in our industry, I’m getting my own things to look at. So, it becomes a tough one. Right? But it definitely is, how do you get that real-time data? How do you get those analytics? How do you get those KPIs that really give you the health of your project? That’s what all of, in my humble opinion, over 30 years, that’s what all of us should be striving to do with our clients is help them find that equilibrium in their project to get that visibility.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I completely agree. So, when we talk about modular technology, what is that exactly? And why do you think that’s maybe on the rise today?

David Swider:

Well, again, when we’re talking about modular technology, that’s a tricky question, right? Because I’ll go back to what I said before. We typically think AEC and not the O, right? And it’s often the contractors who are driving the tool selection, as we know, right? The contractor drives it. And I can never understand that. And maybe that’s another podcast for us down the road, right? Mike is. I don’t understand how owners aren’t really doing more of the dictating of what tools are in play. Ultimately, they’re paying the bill. I get that the contractor may say, “Hey, it’s going to cost more, if I have to use a tool” but at the end of the day, they both want the same visibility. Right?

David Swider:

So, but what happens is, to your point earlier, the AECO companies are bombarded with these companies offering that magic API, right? You know the discussion it’s, “Our tool has an API that can connect to your solution, blah, blah, blah.” And then two CIOs later in a boatload of professional services money, you’ve now become, instead of a construction company, you’re now a technology company. Right? So, it becomes very, very difficult to manage that integration landscape.

David Swider:

And again, I’m sure any of our listeners would be familiar to that concern. And don’t get me wrong. To integrate is great. But what value is it, if you’re integrating a platform of connection points, whose connection points don’t solve your problem, right? And you should, for that benefit, pay a percentage of revenue, to have just a bunch of connected points, but don’t solve the workflow. I don’t know that that’s what my clients are asking for and what I’m seeing.

David Swider:

Candidly, I think, we got a bad rep, right? Mike, you and I, and again, I’ll stop here, but we get a bad rep in construction for saying, we don’t have great tools or we don’t have technology. Or if I go to one more meeting, where they say, oh, the landscape in construction technology is brutal or the worst, it’s really not. What we don’t have is we don’t have integrated technologies. We have plenty of great technologies. We just don’t have integrated technologies, in my humble opinion. Right? I don’t see that acquisition, just because everybody is wearing the same logo, doesn’t mean they’re any better integrated, right? The tools have to be an integrated.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. To your point, I mean, and this is going way back. I can think of 15 years ago, we had a customer in Texas, a smaller organization. They were utilizing our mobile technology to collect field data. And their owner was so impressed with the reports he was now getting, because we had this live field data being collected, that he mandated that the other four contractors that were also working on that project also standardized on our platform. And he actually helped pay for and subsidize the cost of some of that system for each of those companies, because the value that they would receive by having that real time daily reporting that they’d never seen before, because of these Excel-base, or spreadsheet-based, or paper-based systems.

David Swider:

And again, that makes sense. Right? You could see where it is because again, who wants to show up in a work in progress or a whip meeting in a trailer every Monday, knowing it’s going to be an honors meeting because they’re either not on the same page, someone’s telling a fib, or maybe stretching where things are, or they don’t even know where they are. They’re looking at a report, that’s this thick. How can you find something week over week? And then how good is that data you’re bringing in if you’re ushering it in that way? Right?

David Swider:

So, that’s why we feel that the industry needs to be in that collaborative mindset of truly bringing a modular solution to play. It doesn’t matter what the logo is. Yes, we love always to say, “Your logo, my logo.” But it’s the right tool that gets the information, is the company, I think that wins the game with the owners and the contractors at the end of the day.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I think that’s great. And I think with GCs, are you seeing that because of the technologies they’re standardizing on and maybe the tools that they’re requiring? Are they selecting certain subcontractors because they’re more professional with those tools?

David Swider:

You do. And there’s two things that I see. And again, I’ll dovetail back. I mean, I go back to when technology… I’m an old guy, right? I know I don’t appear in this great video. But I go back when the big technology was, you’d have a mailbox with a light on it, and if a job had your trade on it, that light would light up. And that would send you the notice that there was a job that needed your trade. That’s how far back. I go back to when they take the plans. And the big thing was you could blow them up on a light box and do grease pencil takeoffs. The big thing after that was they threw a GTCO digitizer that would do the measuring. Then it would never put plans and specs online. Right?

David Swider:

So, to your question of, does a GC pick subs because of that? Actually, I was at the World of Concrete when COVID broke out. When I was walking by, two younger college graduates, and the kids were laughing to each other, saying, “Could you believe that the contractor wanted me to walk out with a clipboard as opposed to a tablet?” Right? Again, I was mortified, right? So, when he said that, then you start to think, what tools are they? Are they really selecting it? And now, what it does is it brings to bear two problems, you bring up with that question, Mike, is the subcontractors have to be prepared with technology and the GCs have to have good technology, if they want to attract the talent, not only of the subs, but even the talent on their own teams. Right?

David Swider:

We’ve got a little bit of a generational thing going on, where you’ve got to have a little bit of best of both breeds in order to truly be functional there. And of course, the GCs want to do, because that leads into the more information that they’re getting back or the more accurate, or the more data points they get back, the better off they’re going to know where they are, the better off they can manage that relationship with the owner.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. Great points. So, when we have these types of tools, are you seeing that on occasion or in some instances, because they’ve got these technology tools, that maybe they can even bridge that experience gap, or maybe somebody who doesn’t really know, hasn’t been around the block a bunch of times, might still be effective in the role because they have that data and they can simply react to it?

David Swider:

Yeah. Again, it touches on the amount of gray hair I have. Right? So, as we now say, the more seasoned, experienced folks, right? As opposed to me, I just call it being an old guy, right? I wrote an article about, I called it the 35 Years Between the Years. Right? And while the more seasoned leaders have that experience, the technology doesn’t push them aside. I hear it in a lot of companies, right? You’ll get a lot of the, “Will he bid lows?” Right? Will he bid low, folded arms and not going to go ahead and tore up this technology, right? Because you’re asking him to go against generational amounts of gut-feel and money that they’ve made before either you or I walk on their site to say, “Hey, we’ve got a better way.” You’re fighting that. Right? People always ask who’s our competitor or competitors. That gut feel is that instinct, that that contractor thinks they know what they know. Right?

David Swider:

And candidly, the seasoned professional has even more to gain from tools like yours and mine, because now, instead of doing all the manual, keep pressing and finding versions, and looking through spreadsheets and pulling it off of servers to find documents, they now have it at their hands, so they can really take the steps of really concentrating on what they have learned in those 35 years, which is how to do the work at the lowest possible cost and retain the highest possible margin. Right?

David Swider:

So, in our industry, let’s face it, everybody is looking to reduce that risk, right? AI can provide instances and dependencies, but the seasoned professional, have that benefit of learned experience as well. So, it’s not so much the A or the artificial, it’s more of the intelligence, so they can leverage both data points now. And it makes that seasoned professional even more.

David Swider:

I don’t want to just get up on a podium here, but where it really helps for folks who are thinking about, do they jump that digital divide is, now, you are also closing that gap. You’re closing that generational gap because now the less seasoned professional, right? Can go ahead and learn from that benchmark, that AI, learn from that boots in the field experience. So, that now when Susan retires to Bora Bora, you can wish her well, because all of Susan’s knowledge is now captured in tools like yours and mine, where you can leverage benchmarks and find best practices, and find years of experience and tribal knowledge that now you retain. It’s your business, right? That’s our companies that we deal with. That’s their intellectual property. They shouldn’t lose it because somebody retires.

David Swider:

So, I find that once we get through these discussions, the more seasoned professionals become even more of an asset and it helps bring up the next generation a little bit quicker.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I love that.

David Swider:

Are we out time? I’m sorry, man. I got going there. I forgot.

Mike Merrill:

It’s all good. So, speaking of that, what I’m hearing you say is, it’s not only the what, but the why. And the why is something that seasoned professionals just have that wealth of knowledge and can plug into that technology, and make that tool even more efficient than someone who doesn’t know why. Right?

David Swider:

It really is. Right? And then if you have that, think of what else you get. As somebody who might not know the answer to that why, now you have that data inference in your hands. So, why? Well, you can take out the anomalies. Well, why do we think these trades get 40 welds an hour? When everything we say, show they get 20 welds an hour. Well, then why build the next estimate out that’s just 40 welds an hour? Because as soon as you flip it over, your guys in the field are 20 welds short an hour. Now, they’re playing that game. So, you’re already kicking somebody out of the blocks in a bad way.

David Swider:

So, that’s why we think, again, a collaborative platform allows us to set scope early, identify those markers, track the progress against those, and truly give visibility to all the players. I mean, can’t really say it’s not a secret sauce, but it’s mathematics and it’s visibility, and transparency, that again, I think the companies that are succeeding now are providing to their customers.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I love that. And with the tools of today, why not? Why wouldn’t you?

David Swider:

You can make it easy, make it easy, right? Again, I’m not saying, because again, AI and that kind of stuff, it still gets that, “Oh, you Hocus Pocus, how are you going to predict this? My job isn’t the same. No two jobs are the same.” Now, understanding that, but getting data inference points and production rates and actual numbers.

David Swider:

I mean, how many times have we heard that on the job and the trailer door busts open, and we’ve got to work stoppage or a psych condition that needs an answer, right? We’ve got everybody standing around on a shovel. And if you’re not armed with some data, you’re going to make a decision, that PM or that project engineer is going to make a decision, again, maybe based a lot on gut feel. Right? And maybe something that’s say schedule and maybe a little bit of budget right then and there. But now all of a sudden, fast forward to six months from now, when we’re revisiting that area, where that incident happened and we just put a fix in, and now let’s say that fix causes a problem for what we’re doing near that fix. Now, what have we done?

David Swider:

So, now that error you have, because you didn’t have a collaborative platform, you didn’t have the data that you needed, now it gets compounded and keeps hitting in the head with a hammer because it will continue to come back and haunt you throughout that job.

David Swider:

So, if you have things where you can say, “Hey, I can remove some of this risk. I know this happened on our last one. Let’s be aware of that.” Whether it’s safety, whether it’s collision clash, whatever it might be, having that information upfront is again, where things really sit to make somebody a productive company, to be able to transfer that data back and forth.

Mike Merrill:

I love that. So, that’s a really nice segue into the next thing I wanted to bring up. And it’s a term I’ve heard you use at InEight. And before that for, well, over a decade, the term real time earned value as a KPI. What does that mean and what components make up that term?

David Swider:

Mike, and that’s the very key to all of it, right? So, one of the things that keyword does very, very well is earned value and does visibility, right? And what earned value is, I think if we take a step and talk about the importance of earned value, it would be good to start with what is earned value for some of our folks who may not track it as often, or why it’s important to have, right?

David Swider:

So, first you need a budget at completion, right? So, how much work should be done by the end of the project for a given set of activities, right? So, that’s the first part. You need a budget at completion in order to get to earned value.

David Swider:

Now, to illustrate, let’s say we’re doing, I don’t know, let’s say we’re doing 500 foot of pipe, and we’ve estimated that this is going to be $20 a foot. The budget at completion then, obviously is a hundred thousand dollars. So far so good. I know I’m an old guy, but my maths still holding up.

Mike Merrill:

You got it.

David Swider:

All right. So now, we’re coming up to earned value. So now, the next thing we have to add is the actual cost, right? How much has the work we completed cost us to this point of progress, right? So, there is no equation for this. It doesn’t depend on how much work was done, but it’s actually the actual dollar spent.

David Swider:

So, in our example, let’s assume the actual cost right now is $55,000. Okay? So, the earned value will tell us how much in dollars or workforce hours, should I have spent to achieve this much progress. Is that still correct?

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

David Swider:

So, the formula becomes very simple. Earned value is the physical percent complete times the budget at completion. Right? So, now I’m getting to answer your question, right? I just taken us back just a step to make sure everybody that we’re tracking on earned value.

David Swider:

So, using our example, let’s say we’ve installed instead of 500, let’s just say we’ve installed 300 foot of pipe. Well, here’s earned value on that, right? So, if earned value is the percent of complete times the budget at completion, we now would say 300 feet divided by 500 feet, times the budget at completion. So, that would mean 300 feet divided by 500 feet is 60%. 60% of a hundred thousand would be 60 grand.

David Swider:

Now, in this example, let’s say we spent 55,000. So, if we said today, “Here’s where we are. This is what we’ve earned.” We’ve now earned $5,000 more than we could have been. Right? Now, again, in our company, we take it a step further. We do, “How much have you spent?” So, it’s not only how much have you earned. If you tie earned value to schedule, now you’re saying, “How much have I spent?”

David Swider:

Now, bringing down that whole path to answer your question, earned value is critical and why tools like ours are a need is because, how could you possibly look at an owner, or a contractor, or somebody in the face and say, “Here’s what percent complete I am.” Or, “Here’s what I’ve earned so far.” If you don’t have access to that information. If you’re not getting data of where are we today. I mean, heck, if you’re waiting for it to come out of your accounting system at the end of a week or two weeks, “This guys are lit. It was two weeks.” We’d be lucky. You’re looking in the rear view mirror. You can’t make up the budget or the schedule for that time that’s passed. And that thing is old. So, now how far are you really behind? Right? And that’s where I think we start seeing the rumble a little bit. So, that’s where we look at some of the front end of it, right? Is earned value is critical in our opinion of transparency and project certainty is knowing where you really are in your job. Sorry, go ahead.

Mike Merrill:

I was just going to say, especially in a market like this, where most places are so behind and so booked out, and so busy, that before they even get an opportunity to really analyze the last job, they are three more jobs deep, right?

David Swider:

Yes. It happens, right? They’re blowing and going, if they don’t have longer jobs, shorter tail jobs, that happens. But a lot of times we get asked, well, does somebody ever see that folks lose perspective of that. Right? I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of somebody losing financial perspective on a job since I was a kid growing up. My dad and he’s knocking the materials of Legos off the table and laying out blueprints. I knew full right well, how well we were doing on that job or we weren’t. Right?

David Swider:

So, there’s no shortage of folks who will get in somebody’s backside about, “You’re not hitting the budget or the financial aspirations of this project.” But again, it’s like the quote says, Mike, it’s not what you know, it’s what you think you know that ain’t so that gets you in trouble. Right? Now, that was attributed to Twain. And I did a whole thing for another podcast on it. But that’s what gets a lot of our folks in trouble is, “Oh, I think we’re 30% complete.” Based on what? By your man hours alone? Because if you don’t have quantities put in place, are you really that percent complete?

Mike Merrill:

Right.

David Swider:

Right. So, I mean, those are the things that tools like ours or companies like ours seek to do with our clients. And as I’m sure WorkMax is helping your clients. Right?

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. For sure. So, when you have that kind of data and you’re utilizing those KPIs in real time earned value, how can that positively impact the confidence in the project, not just for the builder and the subcontractors, but the owner?

David Swider:

Well, that’s a real good one, right? And again, I don’t want to lean on keyword exposure too much, but I will say, because what it does is it brings both the visibility and the transparency, and truly provides what we hear as the buzzword, that real version of the truth. Having that knowledge of what it is, makes those meetings way less attainable. Right? And that’s one of the things, you’ve got to look at companies that do things really, really well. Right?

David Swider:

And the thing with being in the top tier, they know where their nickels and dimes are. Right? They know that. Their teams know what should be accomplished, shift over shift, and what their vendors and their contractors should see. Now, is that always easy to identify? No, it’s not. Right? Do all the jobs go off ahead of budget and ahead of schedule? No. I’m sure they wish more of them would. Right? But starting with an honest level of, “Where are we?” You can then truly attack the problems.

David Swider:

If you went out to our clients and yours, I mean, our collective clients, and you were to ask, “How many times did you ask where’d you get that number?” Or, “Hey, how many times did you, “Oh, we won money.” Until 90 days from now to your point before, about you’re blowing and going on three other jobs. And hopefully, you’re not paying Peter to pay Paul on a job you’re upside down on, right? By taking two more to pay off the one that you’re short on. How many of those stories do you and I hear Mike at the shows, where guys say, “Hey, yeah, we thought we were doing good until, well, all 90 days later, when all the invoicing process, when all the change orders got through, when everything came, all of a sudden, we’re upside down.”

David Swider:

So, that’s what good companies do well is they’re able to see that and have that transparency. And that’s how earned value, positively affects project confidence, because everybody is dancing from the same hymnal or reading from the same hymnal, right? We’re all looking at the same data. It’s not subjective. Right? It’s objective. This is the map, right? And that’s what I’m seeing. And that’s how we’re building clients that sometimes compete, “Hey, they joined venture just the same on the next job.” Right?

Mike Merrill:

Sure.

David Swider:

What they’re all still looking for, are those the same, visibility, transparency, data collaboration. It doesn’t matter whose tools. If they have that, then it’s a happier job or a better job, a more communicative job, makes it so there’s less angst and difficulty going through. And again, it’s a tough industry.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. And I’m sure you’ve seen the same thing that we have when those JVs happen, and they’re utilizing a tool that gives them that real timer earned value, that gives them that live field data. Immediately, they are telling the JV partner, “Hey, you got to get on this technology also because we’re not going to run our dollars through your old clunky system or your manual collection tools. We got to track all the money the same.” Right?

David Swider:

It really is. Right. I mean, again, I’m thankful for the growth of your tools. I mean, our tools, I think we’re doing it. I mean, if you do Baskin-Robbins, right? So, vanilla chocolate, but let’s just be in the store. Right? Let’s be in the ice cream store of helping that capital project use the tools that they need, the ones that fit the right fit, and then give them that visibility for that project success.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. That’s great. So, are there some modern solutions or tools that take away from this real time earned value accuracy.

David Swider:

If I’m really looking at it, they’re not too hard to find, right? When you see them, right? Because you’ll know as a contractor, you’re going to know when you don’t know, right? You’re going to know, “Hey, I don’t know where the crew is.” Or, “Hey, I woke up this morning and got to change the schedule. Do I have crew to cover that?” Right? Or, “My tools that I have, I’m still waiting on.” Right? So, it becomes, who are you waiting on? We have a lot in just our document controls module within our own tool, where we’re tracking what RFPs, whose ball in court is it?

David Swider:

I saw with yours as well, right? You’ve got a whole list of what ball in court, where is it, what items are left? What are we ticking off? Right? Same thing here. Those without that kind of knowledge, unfortunately, if you’re a sub, it’s not, “Hey, I’m going to get on those tools.” Or, “I’m going to get left.” You’re already behind, right? If you are that non-tool. Or I guess, you are a tool. But you are that non-tool in that collaborative space, if you’re not able to get your information in and out.

David Swider:

I mean, even if it’s as bad as import export, at least being able to get the data where it needs to go, we call that the data bus, right? Connecting. It doesn’t matter what you need in your landscape. And I think that even tips it off a little bit more. And I don’t want to digress too far here, but that’s also what a collective…

David Swider:

We started out the call on what a collective platform does for you, right? Is it doesn’t seek to take out money that you’ve already invested good or bad in a tool that may be working for you. Right? What it does is it says, “How do I get the data, even if it is, my sub who might be great?” I mean, let’s face it, they’re subs because they know their trade. It came down from family. They should be proud, right? Because they don’t know your or my tool shouldn’t have an impact. However, we have to help them.

David Swider:

So, our tools have to help the ones that are not able to do it, so that we can get the data that we need to help them bring along. So, I’m finding a lot of ours are looking more toward that. And the ones who are definitely, “I’m not going to do it. I think they’re going to see a tough road to home, to be candid.

David Swider:

I mean, there’s not any real sizzle there. Right? It doesn’t mean that anybody has to get rid of it. But the companies that should earn a company’s business, a client’s business, are the ones who just go back to listening. I can’t tell you how many times Mike, I hear vendors say, “Oh, well, what keeps you up at night?” As a client advisor for my clients, if I’m asking that company on, what’s keeping them up at night, because I should already know what’s keeping them up at night. I already should already have an idea or an understanding of where they’re going to find those blind spots.

David Swider:

And at the very least what I am going to do, as opposed to just delivering a platform with connected end points and say, “Look, we connected one more.” I’m going to do a little bit more of a listening. Right? I’m going to take that listening approach and say to your point, you called it the whys, right? Why is it keeping you up? I know what’s keeping you up, but why is it? Is it because you don’t have the tools here? Is it because you’re getting stuck here? Right.

David Swider:

And that goes back to your, again, great questions you’re asking Mike, because that goes back up to your KPIs thing, right? EVP, your earned value. What are you measuring? I can tell you, what’s keeping you up at night. Let me look at a handful of what we’re measured. And I’ll tell you right then and there, I can help you identify where you’re having blind spots. And I don’t say, take out the technology. I’m just going to show you where it is and let’s figure out why we can’t get to that number.

David Swider:

And let’s just start there. For me, it’s incremental changes. It’s not a rip and replace. And I got to throw a whole big platform and a collaboration at it. No. It’s let’s start with, where are you getting bit? Right? Why are you getting that? And then once you have those answers, as a good vendor, or as a good partner, in my case, as an advisor, what I do is I look at my clients and I listen to what they’re saying and say, “Hey, this is what I see. And now, let’s look at what’s in your landscape. Let’s figure out who the people are that are involved with the why. And let’s figure out the products that are involved with the why, and then solve.”

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. And I’m sitting here thinking, as you’re speaking, sometimes they have some of the right tools. Maybe they just need one other bolt, or maybe they need to swap one for four. Maybe they got four things that are underutilized, that don’t integrate, that aren’t working and collaborating. And they could replace that with one that does, and it may bring everything together. So, like you said, it’s not necessarily rip and replace in a lot of cases, it’s more, let’s assess what we already have in the toolbox and see how we can more effectively utilize those, and then get even, so that we can get them.

David Swider:

That’s where rubber really does meet the road in my opinion, when we see it, right? It’s not about more technology. It’s just about the right technology, connecting the technology that is working for you. And again, being able to leverage that for your project outcomes.

Mike Merrill:

Love it. Well, so let’s shift gears just a little bit, and I just wanted to ask you more of a personal question, if that’s okay.

David Swider:

Sure. Wait a minute. I didn’t get that on the front one. Go ahead.

Mike Merrill:

I’m not going to ask you about your-

David Swider:

Yeah. We’ve been to a lot of Vegas shows that you know lets be careful. Go ahead.

Mike Merrill:

No, Greasewood Flats stories.

David Swider:

Yeah. Exactly.

Mike Merrill:

So, what’s something that you’re grateful for in your professional life? Is there one thing that you really just are so thankful for?

David Swider:

Well, that’s a good one. Yeah. I started to say from how far back I’ve come, right? If I look at my career over the years, it’s always been an orange tree, number one. So, I don’t know a lot of folks who’ve had it, but from 1989 to here, I’ve been on the construction technology side, some family involved, but on the construction technology side for all of these years. And I’ve eaten a fair amount of rubber chicken and shoe leather stakes at industry events. Right? But the value of that is what I’ve been able to learn at those meetings from those industry best practices along the way over 20 years.

David Swider:

And again, fortunate to be aligned with our parent, Kiewit, who brings a tremendous amount of visibility and breadth of knowledge and experience. What’s that helped me with is it’s almost like an ongoing doctoral education for me. Right? From always being accelerated to the next level because if I’m grateful, I’m surrounded in my entire professional life to have been around people who were smarter than I am, who know the industry better than I do, who’ve allowed me to come and experience their bid days and their job sites, and walk on and see the problems. I couldn’t ask for it. I couldn’t speak the way I do or have the knowledge I have if I didn’t have those people around me throughout my career.

David Swider:

So, if I’m thinking about the grateful, I’d say it’s for having the level of really, really bright people, experienced people in our industry, taking me along the way for the journey.

Mike Merrill:

I love that. Yeah. That’s great. I can relate to that as well. So, what’s David Swider superpower?.

David Swider:

Oh, geez. Super power, I wasn’t going for that. Maybe the dovetailing off of the last one is maybe I’d say I’m a dynamite. If you have to be super, you have to put it in reflexive in there, a diagnostician. I don’t even know if that’s a word. That’s a Jersey word maybe.

Mike Merrill:

Works to me.

David Swider:

But what it is, is over those 30 years, what it has done Mike is, and for you as well, right? And I’m not saying that many years, but is it lets us see what the good companies do really well and what the poor companies do, maybe not as well. Right? And now, because I’ve had the experience, and that enables me to go ahead and reach out to those prospective clients, where I can really just simply sit down and drive the questions. Right? It’s still old school for me.

David Swider:

There’s many tools that are out there in the LinkedIns and all of that. For me, it’s still the same good old listening, right? Why is that thing keeping you up? Why are you not seeing what you need for that KPI? Why are your jobs not landing ahead of schedule or on schedule, and on budget? And I can ask it without intent. Right?

David Swider:

A lot of times you get now, especially because everybody has got a solution that everybody can sell, everyone wants to ask that question knowing, “Oh, but here’s how I can solve it. But here’s what I can do to help you.”

Mike Merrill:

It’s a loaded question.

David Swider:

Yeah. I get to come back as a diagnostic guy and be able to do a little bit more of that, “Well, here’s what I’m hearing you tell me. Here’s what I’m seeing in your workflow. I know these are the real workflows because I’ve been doing it for 30 years.” So, I don’t have to worry about whose logo, right? “Oh, well, we’re using your competitor.” “Hey, great. Good for you. Right. Let’s go ahead and see. Now, is your competitor able to get the data into this part of your business that’s suffering right now? If it’s not, let’s figure that out. Right? What can we do to fix that?” To your point, modular solution, someone who can listen and advocate for the client solution, not just for, I’m looking to rip and replace and throw a whole new platform and ask you for a percent of revenue, right? That’s not, I think what’s led to my sustainability over 30 years in this industry. And I’m sure to be the last one with anybody who’s listening, they’ll never want to see me again at the show, but that’s just the passion, that has and you get that.

David Swider:

So, I guess a superpower would be the dynamite diagnostician. And I have to write that down. Maybe John can check and see if that’s really even an English word.

Mike Merrill:

Put that on the business card, right?

David Swider:

Yeah. It’s a swaggerism. To see if I get that trending.

Mike Merrill:

I love that.

David Swider:

So, what do you think? Mike, wait, tell me what yours. Now wait, I gave you mine, but other than being able to do a Jean-Claude Van Damme, completely vertical split from a vertical stance up three feet off the ground, what’s your super power?

Mike Merrill:

I can do that, but that’s probably, I hope that’s not the best thing I’ve got to offer planet earth or the industry. I would say I just care. I really do want to help and make an impact, help others to find improvement and progress. And you I think that served me well for, like you almost, 30 years now of construction experience. And I think that’s how contractors are, we’re builders. We want to build something. We want to do something that’s impactful and that’s long standing, and that’s firm, that’s going to withstand the weather and the storm, so to speak. So, I think for me, I just care about what I’m putting my time and effort, and my passion into, very much like you, I think.

David Swider:

Yeah. I think it is. Right. So, hopefully, we both can enjoy continued success down the pathway.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. I love that. So, very last thing. If there’s one takeaway from our conversation today, what would you have the listeners part with?

David Swider:

Well, Mike, let me again, thank you for having me on. I know I’m a little windy. I appreciate it. I talk fast, but everybody else just listens slow. But is simply having a collaborative platform, doesn’t get you there, right? The companies that should earn our listeners’ trust are the ones who really do listen, right? Who do really see to your point, help somebody else succeed, help the industry get there. It’s not sizzle. It’s not flashy. But it truly is the purest form of serving the client, so that shouldn’t have to worry about what keeps them up at night, right? They shouldn’t have to need to worry about that, because they know they’ve got the tools in place that will help them tomorrow, no matter what obstacle. Let’s face, it’s going to come. Tomorrow, it’s not going to be what it was when I went to bed at night.

David Swider:

So, being able to know that they can handle it because they have the right environment, that’s the takeaway. Right? Partner with somebody who can bring that level of education or that level of servitude, I think would be more of what I would tell guys to do and ladies, not just, “Oh, let’s pick out a platform for the sake of everybody else who’s on that platform.” Or, “Let’s pick out tools because we need the tool.” Seek to understand that workflow and where those areas for increased efficiency are, and then plug the hole with that. You may find, like you said, you’re taking away four tools that you don’t need, or you may just be adding one that maybe boosts everybody. Right? So, all the tools in your landscape. So, that would be what I’d say. It’s old school, 50 years ago, goes back to just the, build a relationship by listening and not listening with intent, just listening to understand what they’re saying, not with the intention to sell something.

Mike Merrill:

Well said. Well, thank you. I very much enjoyed the conversation today, David. I loved having you on.

David Swider:

Hey, Mike, thank you. I look forward to doing it again sometime.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. Sounds great. And thank you to listeners for joining us today on the Mobile Workforce Podcast. We had a great conversation today, David and I, and I had a lot of fun. I hope you gained some insightful knowledge and some nuggets that you can take and apply into your business life as well.

Mike Merrill:

If you enjoyed the conversation, please give us a five-star rating and review. We’d love to hear your comments and feedback on the podcast. And most importantly, please share this with your friends and colleagues in the industry. Like you heard David and I both say, we very much care about and have a lot of passion for helping others and other companies, our customers, prospects, and friends in the industry. And so, please again, share this with your colleagues, so that we can not only help you all improve your business, but your life.

Data Protection 101 for the Construction Industry

Data Protection 101 for the Construction Industry 

Construction technology, just like any technology, is at risk for data breaches if not properly protected.  While most of us are comfortable using a safe or filing cabinet to keep physical paperwork safe from prying eyes, digital protection is a foreign language. Fortunately, simple steps can be taken to avoid having a security breach. 

Wayne Newitts is the Marketing Director at Viewpoint – a TRIMBLE Company, an integrated construction accounting and project management software and solutions provider. With more than 20 years of experience in construction technology, Wayne has a deep understanding of what it takes to bring a construction business into the 21st century and how to do it in a way that protects one of a company’s most valuable assets: its data. In this episode, host Mike Merrill talks with Wayne about what data to collect, how to collect it, how that data can be used to boost productivity, and, most importantly, how to keep your data safe once and for all.

 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Data is only valuable when it meets certain collection criteria. Any data is potentially valuable, but it only shows its value when it is collected and utilized properly. To make sure your data is usable, ask these three questions: Is it accurate? Is it in real-time? Is it connected? If your data is not trustworthy, current and retrievable, then it isn’t worth anything. If you can’t say yes to all three you need to go back and look at your processes and means of collection and find where things got off track. Once your data meets the collection criteria, the leadership team can use the data to run your company as effectively as possible.
  2. Data is only helpful if it is being used. Data needs to have a consistent baseline to be valuable. It needs to be collected on a consistent basis, be held against a consistent measurement and reported in the same format. The data then needs to be processed and reported, converting it from data into information you can analyze and take action on.
  3. Control the access employees have to your data. The simplest and most effective way to protect your processes and data is to limit who has access to it. Too many companies give everyone access when really only one or two people need it. 

 

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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 the Wayne Newitts. Wayne is a marketing director at Viewpoint, a Trimble Company. Viewpoint is an integrated construction accounting, and project management software company and solutions provider. So Wayne’s been in the industry for about 20 plus years, so you’ve been doing this a long time, is that about right Wayne, 20 years or so?

Wayne Newitts:

It depends, right now it’s feeling like 40 but yeah, most days 20.

Mike Merrill:

Perfect. Okay. So we’ll go with 20. So Wayne knows what it takes to really survive and also thrive in this economy, in this industry, within the construction accounting platform space, I’ll say. So today we’re going to talk about what data is collected out there, how it’s collected, and also how we can leverage that data to boost productivity in construction? But most importantly, how do we protect that data that’s been collected from the outside sources and threats that can come into the space, that we hear about so much in the news today? So hello Wayne, and thank you for joining us today.

Wayne Newitts:

Well hello Mike, you look familiar to me, I think we’ve met before, haven’t we?

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I was on some Mr. Clean Commercials a while back, but anyway-

Wayne Newitts:

That’s what it is. Okay. Thought so. Anyway, it’s great to be talking to you again, sir. Mike and I do go back a little bit in this industry for being the second or third largest industry in the country or in the world. It’s amazing how sometimes it does seem like a smaller community sometimes right, Mike. But no, I’m thrilled to be here, thank you so much for inviting me so. I’m sure you’ve got some questions for me.

Mike Merrill:

I do. I mean, and one other thing too, I’ll have the listeners take note of, Wayne’s work for three of the largest providers in the construction software space historically. So definitely a long resume, a long tenure at each of those places, and one of the things that I really enjoy about Wayne’s background and his experiences, he approaches this from the sales and marketing angle. So it’s a little different than some of the guests that we’ve had on in the past and I’m really excited about the conversation today.

Wayne Newitts:

Yeah. Or as my wife would say, I can’t keep a job Mike, so yes. Anyway.

Mike Merrill:

Eight to 10 years at a time, right.

Wayne Newitts:

Right. Right.

Mike Merrill:

Then the day comes and you do something different. All right. So today, I guess one of the main things that I wanted to talk about is if we’re talking about data generally, what types of data do you think construction companies should be collecting if they’re not already?

Wayne Newitts:

Well, gosh that’s, I’ll make a general statement Mike, it’s that any and all data is potentially valuable, but it is only valuable if it meets three general criteria and that’s, is it accurate? Kind of no-brainer. Is it real time? Because the longer the shelf life, the less accurate it actually tends to be, but also something we’ll hopefully talk about a little bit is, is it connected? Are your data points connected or do you just have a big old bucket of data that you have to go fishing through, right? So really any data is of value if it’s accurate, real time and connected, and that means you can put it to some use, which we can talk about it in a bit. That’s my short answer to that question, and then we can get into maybe what types of data are contractors collecting, or maybe should they collect? Am I anticipating it?

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. Love that. That’s great. You’re definitely in the same wheelhouse I’m thinking of. And maybe even a little precursor to that now again, you’ve worked for these large construction accounting companies and ERPs solutions providers. How are they doing today? I mean, not just specifically Viewpoint where you’re at now, but how generally is the market today at collecting that data, protecting it, et cetera.

Wayne Newitts:

Well, of course the answer is it varies all over the place. The one I think salient point I’d like to bring up is we’re seeing in the marketplace in general, not talking about anyone specific company, including my own, but we’re seeing this almost a bifurcation between systems that are more holistic and platform based, where all of your data is gathered in more of a warehouse type of environment, and then applications are running off of that. Versus these, I guess, so-called, but a best of breed point solutions which… And I’m not saying that one is better than the other, in fact, I think they both need to compliment each other.

Wayne Newitts:

But in the point solution domain, where you’re, you have an application for X and then different one for Y, and different one for Z, it is an environment that does cause you to think about data security, data capture differently. So in a general sense, the way the industry’s working with data right now depends on whether you are a platform provider or a more specific application provider. If you’re a platform provider, you’re looking at different things like, am I delivering via the cloud? What type of cloud services? Or am I moving away from on-premise software? If you’re a point solution provider, usually those things are a little more determined for you, but let me just stop there and you can redirect me Mike, if I’m heading off the reservation.

Mike Merrill:

No, that’s perfect. So obviously you pointed out there’s cloud solutions, there’s on-premise solutions, then there’s cloud hosted where they’ve got an on premise solution in the cloud, that obviously would dictate some of the security functionality that’s available for those platforms.

Wayne Newitts:

Yeah, no, for sure. And the type of data, the volume of data that we’re gathering right now is also having a big impact where now looking at data that is, oftentimes can expose us even more than it has in the past through security breaches, potential ransomware attacks and what have you. And we can get into some of the protections that companies should be considering again, whether you’re using a large platform based solution or more of a point solution application. But anyway yeah, full stop there, sir.

Mike Merrill:

So you think obviously when we talk about data, we’re talking about something that’s already digitized or collected in some form digitally, are companies doing better at that?

Wayne Newitts:

Well, I think we’re seeing less of the coffee stained sticky notes that come back in the, in your Ford F-150 once a week from the job site to the office and you have to, you toss it on the accounting’s desk and they have to make sense of it. That is more or less going away, but certainly not in all cases, I think a lot of us see examples of that all the time. But yeah, turning data into digital resources is the way to turn data into value for your company. If it’s on paper, if it is even digitized but disconnected, you’re not going to be getting value out of that data. And we see this often, companies will go to extremes to gather tons of data from their job sites, from their individual crews, and then it just enters a black hole. Nothing happens to it, it’s not working together, it’s not connected, it’s not correlated. That’s something I can definitely talk more about.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I think you’re definitely echoing something that, I believe he’s your general manager, but Matt Harris, with Viewpoint also was on the podcast. And he talked about collecting data by the half day, and that was a new term that we hadn’t heard before. So I really, I liked that you brought that up.

Wayne Newitts:

Yeah. And in fact, as granular as you can make it, half day would be a dramatic improvement for many contractors. But imagine a world with me Mike, where data collection has become more and more automatic as technologies like the internet of things, right? I mean, what application could that possibly have in construction? Well, quite a few applications. Where we’ve got our devices and our equipment and even our structures themselves are able to now talk to us, so to speak, and deliver data on a real-time basis. A constant communication established between elements of a job site, not just individuals, not just supers and CMs, PMs gathering data on their mobile devices, which by the way, is a dramatic improvement over a number of years ago. But we’re quickly moving to a time when our inanimate objects are becoming more animate and are able to give us data. It’s up to us however, to make use of that data and very importantly secure it so.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I love that. And I think I’ve heard you speak in the past or talk about the term actionable intelligence. Can you talk about what that is and how that relates to this data collection that you’re talking?

Wayne Newitts:

Well yeah, absolutely. I mean, it’s still, this garbage in garbage out saying which does definitely apply here, but that’s a little bit more towards, is my data accurate real-time and connected? If it is then it’s probably not garbage, but still it doesn’t have to be garbage, is it valuable to you? And how do you make data valuable? And the answer is in the premise you just stated, which is make it actionable. If you gather all the data in the world, but it changes nothing and it doesn’t drive any different behaviors or activities.

Wayne Newitts:

Well, there might be some value in that it could be a benchmarking tool for you in the future. But that’s also contingent upon you using it as such. So when I talk about making data actionable, what I talk about is along two dimensions. Number one, it’s got to be connected. Let me give you just probably a bad analogy. You’re driving down the road, Mike you see a pothole in the road. What’s your first inclination? You’re clicking along at, okay. I’m sure it’s just 55 miles an hour.

Mike Merrill:

Sure.

Wayne Newitts:

All right. Sure. You’re driving down the road, you see a pothole. What do you do? Go ahead.

Mike Merrill:

You’re going to swerve hopefully hit the brakes.

Wayne Newitts:

You’re going to swerve. Absolutely. Right on it, hit that thing. My gosh. When’s the last time you checked your shots, who knows? So you swerve, oh no. You didn’t check your side view mirrors. You’re in trouble, buddy. You’re going to run that Prius right off the road with your big old pick them up truck. Well, that’s not good, right. So I mean, very basic example of needing to have connected data. You see what’s in front of you through the front, through your windshield, got to also look in your side views, and your rear view. You’ve got to have a 360 view of your situation in order to make smart decisions. These data inputs, pothole in front of you, the Prius on the side of you, have to be connected in order for you to make a decision.

Wayne Newitts:

Now, ultimately I would argue that if you’re driving down this road and there’s tons of potholes and cars on either side of you, the right decision to make ultimately from that data, if you’re capturing that over time is, maybe I should be on a different road. Maybe I should check my maps application or find a different path. And that ultimately is of course, where you want to get to, if you’re running a business. Is gathering this data, using it to be reactive but most importantly, using it to be proactive and that more or less leads to the next topic, which is you’ve got to correlate the data. So what does that mean? We’ve all heard about artificial intelligence, machine learning, all of the many different terms and acronyms around new information technologies these day.

Wayne Newitts:

A little bit of a secret, behind all of this predictive capabilities now of software tools, it all is fundamentally correlation. And that means when X happens, Y is it going to happen more or less likely. That doesn’t necessarily mean X causes Y right, that’s the difference between correlation and cause and we can get philosophical about that. But the key is when you’re gathering data to make it really actionable, nothing lives in isolation. When X happens, what will the likely results be? What can I expect to happen next? There are many examples of this. For example, one contractor I was talking to who was using predictive analytics, got into it because they were just losing money on certain jobs. And they did not understand why. They were trying to get down to, immediately dive into the causes.

Wayne Newitts:

Well, maybe it’s the project manager, or maybe it’s the subs that were bringing in on this job. Maybe we’re using the wrong equipment. I don’t know what it is, maybe we’re… What is it? So the answer was let your software, which is now available, predictive analytics software, look for correlations, not necessarily causes but, and in this particular case, it was an issue of the jobs in which the project managers working these jobs were relatively new. And that’s a pretty simple conclusion. One could have come to that without predictive analytics, but the predictive analytics showed their ability to actually identify the likely, and in this case real cause for profit fade on these certain projects. And you can imagine a lot more complex situations, perhaps it’s his combination of subcontractors you’ve got on certain jobs.

Wayne Newitts:

We had one contractor working with analytics who realized it was just purely this zip code. They never really understood why when we, when they did work in a certain zip code in their area, it just never worked out well for them. Nothing particular about it always happened. Well, they just stopped really looking actively for business there. It turned out it really did help their bottom line. And to this day, I have no idea if they figured it out, figured out exactly why, but you could also argue, does it matter as long as you’re making good decisions based on data. So connected data. So you know whether or not to swerve, hit the brakes or ideally find a better road and then correlate the data together.

Wayne Newitts:

And for that you do need tools, either teams of really smart people looking at it or more efficient I would argue, the software tools that are now becoming available to the market. So went on a bit of a diatribe there, sir. Hopefully I was sort of addressing your initial question, which I honestly have forgotten by now.

Mike Merrill:

That’s okay. No, that was great. Actually, I love that analogy. The dynamic of the pothole right, along with the blind spot is a really good visual, I think for people to think about. It’s not just the problem in front of you, but you’ve got to be aware of the domino effect that may fall over because of that, right?

Wayne Newitts:

Yeah. Yeah. You can’t operate on one data point alone.

Mike Merrill:

Love that. That’s a great takeaway. So when we talk about actionable intelligence, what are some ways that can go wrong? Are there times where people overanalyze or over depend and then they maybe missed the boat on something that could have been more obvious?

Wayne Newitts:

Well, a hundred percent, it’s paralysis by analysis, right. And there often is a feeling like, well, okay, if we’re going to be a data driven company, everybody’s using that term when is enough? When do you have enough data to start making decisions? My fairly simplistic response is, well if right now you’re pretty much flying by the seat of your pants, any amount of data that you bring in to help you make decisions is good. But when you find that you’re spending time gathering and analyzing data, and you are not seeing anything come from that, any change in your workflows, any improvements in your profitability, that’s when you’ve probably gone a bit too far, there is… Like, with everything in life, there’s a sweet spot.

Wayne Newitts:

And it depends on the type of contractor, the complexity of your jobs, how much data you really need to be successful. I will say that even if you are gathering data that you’re not putting through the analytics machine and churning out actionable results, raw data still has value in benchmarking, right. So you can benchmark what happened on certain jobs, because you never know down the road, whether the data you’ve captured and have stored away, now with technology is little or no effort on your part, if it’s all coming to you automatically, you can use this data in the future in ways that you may not even realize you can use it today. And here we could, I could go syfy on you and give you all sorts of my scenarios for what I think will happen down the road.

Wayne Newitts:

But I’ll just point this out, who would have thought that drones flying around a construction site even five years ago, who would have thought that they would add much value to live construction, right? Other than well, let’s check security on the site, et cetera. It is right now, amazing applications that drone based data are giving contractors during live construction, to monitor and help them improve project delivery. So anyway, that’s a whole another podcast I imagine. So let me pause there.

Mike Merrill:

We’ll have to circle around and do some other discussions as well. I mean, you brought up the drones, I still remember, I mean, it wasn’t that long ago, but I remember hearing out of multiple contractors mouths, “Oh, I don’t need that. That’s a kid’s toy, that’s not a construction tool.”

Wayne Newitts:

Yep. And the thing is the construction tool is visibility into your projects and yes, you can use a drone just to get pretty pictures. Sure. But you can use a drone also to, and I’ve seen this in real life, more accurately estimate job progress than you can in any way, using any other method, by simply… And I’ve actually seen drone data be turned into 3D models that can be compared against BIM models and you can get very accurate job progress reports. And we all know that for progress billing and other reasons, having accurate identification of your progress on the job is key for cash flow and many other things. Yeah, absolutely. And that was just five years ago to today who knows what three years from now we’re going to be talking about? And I’m sure will involve augmented or virtual reality and other technologies that are coming on board so.

Mike Merrill:

Well, and I guess, to back up on the conversation, we talked about digitizing and collecting and putting it in the cloud. I guess one of the negative impacts could be if you’ve got everything digital and you’ve got it all in a format where it can be accessed, but then you don’t properly protect it, now all of your data is at risk.

Wayne Newitts:

Yeah, I mean, I won’t even call up any examples because I think we’ve all been hearing them in the news lately, right. It’s every week, that’s the latest exploit or hack. And construction, our industry is very much affected by and vulnerable to data security breaches, I can give you many examples. I would say this in general to anyone, any contractor listening, every device you’ve got, every computer, every desktop at your headquarters, in your office, every tablet that a super or CM is using in the field, every mobile phone that one of your workers, one of your techs or your subs are using, look at those as front doors, into your own personal house. That’s the level of danger here we’re talking about.

Wayne Newitts:

I mean, there’s huge opportunity. If you’re a contractor not using digital technology today, you’re probably not going to be a contractor for terribly much longer, right. I think we all know that. But you’re also opening your yourself up to vulnerabilities with every single electronic device. Or any device that runs off of data and I can share, I will share a story, time permitting about this. So there are really three things about data protection that I would like everyone to understand. And first is just access and that’s step number one. How do people who need to access your data, how are they doing it? And by way I’ve some I guess, life pro tips I can share with the audience, here’s some things that might seem obvious, but you really should be paying attention to.

Wayne Newitts:

Number one, the software that you’re using, how many people have admin rights to that software? How many people can get in and change permissions, right? So we at Viewpoint, we sell ERP systems. These are fairly holistic, going across multiple departments of an organization. Permission setting is terribly important. You do it wrong and you can give anybody permission to see anyone’s payroll, for example, not so good. So very basic stuff here, but make sure that you have your software locked down and you understand who are the admins? And the admins understand what permissions they’re allowed to give to the different folks using it.

Wayne Newitts:

And of course, as a corollary, make sure that the software you’re investing in a wonderful software like WorkMax, or possibly Viewpoint, but make sure that your software does have that ability to give different permission levels to different folks who are using it. So step one, step base, step zero, really there. Now, mobility, of course. Obviously Mike, I’m talking on a podcast all about that. Mobility has given us great benefits, but also it’s really exponentially opened up the potential threat vectors for us in data security. Make sure you have first of all, a plan for mobile security. It doesn’t mean you need to necessarily go out and buy MDM or mobile device management software. Although I personally would recommend that, I wouldn’t recommend any particular vendors, there’s a lot of good ones out there.

Wayne Newitts:

But at least have a plan and a written policy for how you and your staff, your crews are going to use their mobile devices or devices that you provide for them. And that’s usually decision number one, right. Again, that could be an entire podcast on mobile device management and security there, but have a plan, have written processes, have it be part of onboarding and training for all your crews, and consider looking at some software for that. And then Mike, I go out on the road all the time and talk about the wonders of the cloud, back even when it was a dirty word right, in our industry. And now it’s pretty much table stakes. And I will say, and I’ve seen it that the cloud, believe it or not, you kind of just have to let go. Just be a little Zen about it and let go and realize that just because you can put your hand on that server under your desk or in your server room and know that’s where my data is, that does not make it more secure.

Wayne Newitts:

All it takes is one upset employee with access to that device and a USB drive and security is gone. And a lot of your data, it might be gone or corrupted. Enterprise level cloud providers, whether it’s one of the major ones like Microsoft Azure or Amazon Web Services, they have to provide, it’s their business to provide a high levels of not just availability to the software, but security. So look for SSA type, SOC type two compliance. And of course with enterprise providers, it’s always going to be the case. But the security provided by the cloud I mean, we’re talking biometric security. You can’t get into a data center without literal retinal scans, hand prints and speaking very nicely to the ladies and gentlemen carrying automatic weapons around, securing these places. Your data in a enterprise clouds environment is generally super secure. Sorry, I went on a little bit of a proselytizing mission there for cloud-based software, but I do believe it.

Mike Merrill:

It’s a great point. I don’t think you could echo that loud enough.

Wayne Newitts:

Yeah. One other thing though, and I want to end on this because I do think it’s the most important aspect of security and I’ll say it twice, implement multi factor authentication. Implement multi factor authentication, MFA. It’s as simple as having to have two devices to log in. Every time I login in the morning, I try to remember on a Monday morning what my password is, okay. Got it right. I get in before I can access any of my company’s applications. It goes, all right, we’re going to push something off to your cell phone, Wayne. And now I’ve got to find my cell phone, darn it. Oh, and charge it. But it makes me have to prove that not only do I have the information to log in, but I am physically the person, unless I’ve been kidnapped or something, I’m the person who is really doing it.

Wayne Newitts:

So having two, ideally three mechanisms to log in, if you want to be terribly secure. The number one way to avoid any type of technical hacking of your system. Kind of leads me to my next point, mike. I feel like I’m really rambling on here, but I’m passionate about this. And the next point is it’s not all technology, it’s training. Y’all have seen some of the attacks read about, heard about the attacks recently that have, at various industries, Colonial Pipeline, et cetera. Almost every case, it began with social engineering, not any fancy coders sitting in dark basements doing fancy Mr. Robot coding on their computers. No. It was someone picking up the phone or sending an email that was a phishing email with a pH, trying to get some basic information from you just enough so that they could then access your company systems.

Wayne Newitts:

And so training your folks in how to identify phishing attempts and how to avoid social engineering, phone calls and texts, and what have you. And we all get them every day, right. You’ve just won a new sweepstakes, click this link, right. Sadly, it’s a numbers game and sadly, and you don’t want to be on the wrong side of that numbers game. So train your folks. There are plenty of, I mean, in numerable companies, consultants who can come in and help train your vendors in many cases. Mike and myself, our companies can step in and give you some basic help in that regard as well. But that’s super important. We’ll leave it right there. And those are just some of my obvious, many thoughts about the importance of data security and things that you should do about it.

Mike Merrill:

Well, I love that, and your point about two factor authentication that I also like, is that if for some reason somebody was nefariously trying to access your data, you would then get that text on your phone that somebody is trying to access your system, using your credentials.

Wayne Newitts:

Absolutely. Happened to me, happened to me. And so that’s where training comes in too though, Mike. Because I could have easily said, “I don’t have time for this. I’m just going to hit. Yes, it was me because I have work to do.” That’s where training comes in. That’s where you realize no, my company could be really, really damaged by this and my career, right. So very important. Yep. Absolutely.

Mike Merrill:

Lots of great points Wayne, this has been very insightful. I’ve really enjoyed this conversation and I think we definitely need to have you back on and further some of these other discussions.

Wayne Newitts:

Anytime, sir. I live for these types of discussions and I never have enough mic time so.

Mike Merrill:

Microphone or Mike Merrill, I don’t know which, but-

Wayne Newitts:

Oh well I’ll just let you run with that. All right.

Mike Merrill:

Well, before we wrap up, I do have a couple of other questions that I wanted to run past you. All right. So what is Wayne Newitts, superpower?

Wayne Newitts:

Oh, well it sure isn’t Jujitsu, still a white belt there. Yeah, I get choked regularly. No. All right. In business and really in life, but particularly when I’m going through my day, it’s really listening. There are two types of listening and one is not real and the other is. Be present with the person you are engaged with or the audience you’re engaged with. Be very aware of what you’re doing, not thinking about the next cool thing you’re going to say or how you’re upset that Sally or Joe just said that, and you disagree and you can’t wait to get in there and argue.

Wayne Newitts:

Listen very carefully and listen without an agenda and without an ego. Now you can have an agenda and have an ego we all do, but when you’re engaged with a client, with an owner, with a vendor, anyone, listen very actively and very attentively, just be present. And that has really helped me I think, in my career and in my personal life.

Mike Merrill:

That’s fantastic. I hear you, Wayne. I hear you.

Wayne Newitts:

Do you really, mike? Do you really?

Mike Merrill:

I do.

Wayne Newitts:

Okay.

Mike Merrill:

All right. So then secondly, what’s a business challenge that you’ve overcome, and worked through and how did you do it?

Wayne Newitts:

Well, let’s go back to ego. My ideas Mike, of course smell better than anybody else’s, right. I know just the thing to do in every situation, and I’ve been doing this for 30 years. Oh my gosh. So it is a challenge sometimes, especially if you’re working with either newer folks who, people of a certain age like myself have younger folks coming in, different ideas, different perspectives. It can be a challenge too and again, kind of a callback to listening, right. It can be a challenge to have the humility, to shut up, open your mind and really consider what the other person is saying. And that’s been a bit of a challenge for me as I’ve gotten further on in my career.

Wayne Newitts:

So look for ways to be humble because that’s how you grow. And so that’s how I’ve overcome it, is by just realizing everything I’ve ever learned in my life, I didn’t just magically make it up, it came from someone, it came likely from either someone more senior than me, or now I’m realizing it’s coming from people more junior than me, who understand things differently about the way our industry works, the way data works. For example, a lot of the ideas I talked about today, I didn’t come up with any of them, they were all shared with me. But that’s the biggest challenge again, the callback to listening, but also realizing that there are often many different ways to look at an issue and a problem.

Wayne Newitts:

And it’s very important to take yourself out of your mental comfort zone and look at things from different perspectives and get that 360 view of your business and your life. And that’s been my challenge. It’s one I work on every day, because been there, done that, bought the T-shirt, right. But, no, no, that T-shirt doesn’t fit anymore, right. You’ve got to always listen and look at different perspectives.

Mike Merrill:

I love that. Well stated. I appreciate you being vulnerable and sharing that as well, it’s something I can certainly learn from myself.

Wayne Newitts:

There you go. My heart’s out there, Mike. My heart’s right out there.

Mike Merrill:

I can feel it. So the last thing, what’s the one takeaway you want the audience to have from our discussion today? What’s the last thing you would say?

Wayne Newitts:

Well, we’re talking about data. We’re talking about, from a mobility or not standpoint. I would say when asked yeah, more data is better, but, a capital B, on that but, you’ve got to have a plan first for what you’re going to do with it, and you’ve got to… And depending on what you want to do with that data, how you want it to turn into that actual intelligence, that’s really going to change something, then stop and think do I have the tools to make that happen? Do I have the expertise? Do I have the knowledge, to make that happen? More data is better, but it actually is worse if you’re just dumping it all into a bucket and things just get harder to find. I think we can call a scene on that one there.

Mike Merrill:

Okay. All right. And cut now. Thank you, Wayne. I really, really appreciate the conversation today. And again, look forward to having another one down the road on a different topic.

Wayne Newitts:

I would love to Mike, thanks so much for having me today.

Mike Merrill:

Absolutely. Our pleasure. And thank you again to the listeners for joining us today on the Mobile Workforce Podcast, sponsored by AboutTime Technologies and WorkMax. If you enjoyed the conversation that Wayne and I had today, please give us a follow, on our LinkedIn platform as well as at WorkMax underscore on Instagram. Also, please share this episode with your friends and colleagues in the industry. Of course, our goal here is to continue to bring valuable conversations that help you make the difference. Our goal of course, is not only to help you improve things in your business, but also your life.

 

Technology’s Role in Changing Office and Job Site Communication

Technology’s Role in Changing Office and Job Site Communication

The success of any construction project starts with accurate planning and management. Unfortunately, the margin for error has shrunk down to a point where traditional methods for pricing out and running a job can easily put any project into the red. In part two with Anne Pfleger, she explains how technology has changed to meet these planning and management needs head on. 

Anne Pfleger  is the Estimating, Safety and HR Administrator at Charles Construction Services, the PreQualification and Estimating Administrator at Hancock Structural Steel and the President of the National Association of Women in Construction. In this episode, Anne shares how estimating and project management has changed through COVID, and what new technologies are out there to make management simpler. She shares how construction technology is changing how safety and HR departments function on the job site.

 

Key Takeaways:

  1. Changes due to COVID have been stress inducing. COVID-19 has changed how business in construction is conducted, and a number of workers dig their heels in at the sight of change – especially when it comes to technology. Both IT and HR can ease this burden by ensuring workers receive the tools needed to master modern construction technology. Once the technology is utilized across the job site everyone benefits from the increased efficiency.
  2. Drones are one of the most important new technologies on the job site. Drones have been around for a few years but their importance has surged. From fire damage repair to asbestos removal, drones take dangerous inspection work and remove the ability for a person to be injured. Drones also save time for walkthroughs, progress reports and material management.
  3. Communication from leadership needs to match the individual. The channels available to communicate with colleagues are unparalleled, but just like any technology, these are effective when they are used.  Slack, text, email and phone calls are the most direct options, but they aren’t the only ones. Internal Chat functions and digital forms also give unique platforms to communicate. It’s the leader’s responsibility to make sure that they are connecting with their workers in the most productive way possible. 

 

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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 again by Anne Pfleger. She is back by popular demand. We had a great discussion with Anne about her role as national president of NAWIC. That’s the National Association for Women In Construction, and we felt like it was fitting to have Anne back to talk about her specific role in construction. So, Anne wears many hats in her day-to-day job. She’s also not only the president of NAWIC, but she has a job in construction. So she works with estimating, safety and an HR administrator for Charles Construction Services Company. She’s also the prequalification and estimating administrator at Hancock Structural Steel. So, Anne, a pleasure to have you back. We’re really excited to talk about some of your role in construction specifically today. Thanks for joining us.

Anne Pfleger:

Thanks Mike. It’s great to be here again.

Mike Merrill:

So, Anne, can you tell the listeners how COVID has changed processes for estimators and project coordinators?

Anne Pfleger:

Construction made us remain essential during COVID. So, we were able to still be on the job sites building projects, but there was a lot of things that did need to be changed and we needed to adapt very quickly. We had to have a lot stricter social distancing on the job sites because workers’ sanitation was a huge thing and anybody that was not crucially needed on a project, they would work remotely. So technology had a huge part in that, by being able to stay connected to the job site through virtual platforms such as Zoom and other like Teams, Microsoft Teams to meet, those project managers and those positions that would normally be on the job site were still able to feel connected. Also in the state of Ohio and I’m sure that this was done in other states as well, we also have to have inspections of our jobs and that needed to be done in order to continue moving along with the projects.

Anne Pfleger:

So the county and the state set up ways for the superintendent on the job to virtually go through and have them do the job inspection. And that was actually very challenging for some of our more seasoned field superintendents. A lot of them have been very, don’t want to change, some of them even hate having their smartphones. They want to go back to the flip phone. So for my role in HR and safety and IT, there was a lot of training that I did throughout the pandemic to bring them up to speed and try and instruct them and that’s very challenging when you’re virtual trying to train somebody virtually how to do something because you’re not right next to them.

Anne Pfleger:

So, that was very interesting, but I think what it did was it just kind of pushed forward the things that we need to be doing, using technology more. When we’re traveling to job sites for a meeting or when the inspectors are traveling to job sites, that travel time takes up a lot of the day. And I think with the way that we’re using technology now more, we’re going to be able to get more done because they’re not having that travel time. If they can just hop onto a meeting virtually and inspect an area on the job in order for them to approve the inspection, or if they need to reinspect something really quick because they fixed it, I think that that’s going to help move our projects forward quicker and be able to get them done maybe even a head of schedule, depending on. Can’t control weather yet with technology, but we do have that option.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. That’s great. I know, kind of like you stated, you became a glorified technical support agent for your field employees. Is that right?

Anne Pfleger:

Yes, that’s definitely right and when you’re trying to explain to some of the older gentlemen about using technology, I even had to explain to one who’s my age and he’s totally against, he doesn’t even, he hardly uses his tablet that we give him, but yeah, they were reluctant, but they knew it had to be done in order for them to keep moving and they wanted to work so, to travel and things, they had to do it.

Mike Merrill:

Well, it sounds like you were able to work through that and most of them are probably caught up to speed. Would you say now in 2021, is it easier to be a project manager or coordinator then than it wasn’t 2020 and prior?

Anne Pfleger:

I think you have more tools to make it, I won’t even necessarily say it’s easier for you still have things that happen on job sites that you have take care of. That will always, always be. But I think that the resources and tools you have will make those situations easier to take care of and even progress the project along as well. So it will help definitely.

Mike Merrill:

So have you got some new software tools now that you would feel are indispensable at this point that you really think you’ll depend on moving forward?

Anne Pfleger:

I think really the use of the virtual platforms like Teams and Zoom, that will definitely be something that we’ll always use because it’s a great way to connect. It’s a lot cleaner than just even doing FaceTime or something like that. So, and I know that they’re all improving on what they have to offer. Kind of Zoom is adding some things and Microsoft Teams as well. So they’ve been seeing what is being used in each one of their, their software and they’re improving on that. So I think that as we go along, it’s going to get even better.

Mike Merrill:

Sure. Do you feel like these tools have helped get a better grasp on accuracy of data collection and the tools that they’re using now?

Anne Pfleger:

Yes, definitely. Something that Bluebeam is becoming more accessible and acceptable, I should say, now with everybody using it to update the drawings realtime, instead of having to update them and then send the files, then having comments of, just that back and forth takes forever. So to be able to do that in realtime really is helping because it helps especially with asbuilts, as you’re progressing with the project, keeps everybody up to speed on where you’re at with it. And then at the end, it’s much easier when you’re putting all that stuff together because it’s already been done throughout the whole project.

Anne Pfleger:

I remember I was on the project side before I came to the estimating side. And I remember when you had to have three copies of asbuilts. You did not have a plan copier, so you’re hand-doing all, every single sheet, your hand-doing it. Now you can do it on your computer and you can make notes, it’s just amazing what you can do. And that’s been progressing for a few years now but I think now it’s really being pushed forward even more because of the pandemic. Believe me, I would never have chosen this way to push technology forward, but it had to be done.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. That’s a great point. It kind of became a defensive reaction that we all had to take, but ultimately it was for the greater good of advancement of processes for sure, so,

Anne Pfleger:

Yeah.

Mike Merrill:

So, are there any other big tech innovations that you’re seeing coming down the pike? You mentioned Bluebeam. Is there anything else that you’re excited about or that you think will be better now that we’ve gone through this transformation and adjustment?

Anne Pfleger:

I think drones are really moving forward quickly, used on the project. You could use them for a multitude of different things. Not just the progress of the job, it can be used for inspections of, you have to go into a building maybe to, just had a fire and you had to do some work in there, or even for asbestos removal. You can take the drone in there to look for that. Asbestos is horrible. You have to have certain people certified to do that abatement and to be able to send a drone in there to just find the areas where that needs to be removed is going to save a lot of, not only time but the health and wellbeing of the employees. So I think that drones are going to be more and more used. Again, they’ve kind of started being used in the last few years for all those types of things, but it’s really being pushed again because it’s safer, it’s keeping, you have your workers, they’re separated, you can get realtime information. You can get progress reports that can be sent to the owners and other people on the Teams.

Anne Pfleger:

One thing that I really thought that was very distantial actually before COVID that even the way that they have the software out there that you could put cameras at certain spots on the job site to have video time-lapse, and that is really becoming better and better as things go on. Again, I think that the pandemic kind of pushed that forward as well so that people could really show not only what’s going on with the project, but the end product.

Anne Pfleger:

So if the company that built that building, whatever it was for, they could use it for marketing material because it’s that good of quality of video. When everything first started, it’s kind of blurry, but you have the video even on, and that has really gotten tremendously better. It helps out with, when you’re doing punch lifts on the job, you can actually have a team in the office and somebody flying the drone and go into something, if you’re looking for a sort of thing and the architect says it’s not done, you can show them if it’s done right then and there and they could check it off. And you really see drones and other video-type software really becoming more and more useful for all types of projects.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, that’s a great point. And I had a guest on the other day and they mentioned how it’s interesting that they could find an owner manual for their 1992 Honda Accord, but this multi-million dollar building doesn’t have one. There’s no, but now we have the opportunity to have that type of documentation or manual so to speak, of that building, because we’ve got these tools.

Anne Pfleger:

And a lot of the manuals are searchable if they’re electronic, which is another key thing. I actually literally, we’ve been spending the last couple of weeks putting together a digital operations manual for a product that we’re completing and we had to bookmark everything and make it so that everything was very searchable on, and they could have it at their fingertips. They didn’t have to flip through, and this book was almost 5,000 pages. Imagine if it was hard copy, trying to find one thing that you needed.

Mike Merrill:

Glad you didn’t need to do that in triplicate, right? By hand. So, I love that you brought up the safety impact and HR impact with the drones are helping improve for employees. Are there any other things related to safety and HR that you’ve seen have changed because of these reactions?

Anne Pfleger:

Now on the safety side, there are more technology for, there are exoskeletons that they’re building for people to be able to safely move things, pick things up. One thing that on the HR side is that they’re actually and this is a company that NAWIC has partnered up with recently, it’s called People First, and it’s a platform for employees to, if there’s some sort of HR situation, it could be harassment, it could be whatever type of situation that’s related to HR that an employee can start the process of an incident right there on the app. And it makes it a little bit easier for those members that, those employees that don’t feel comfortable going and talking to somebody about it because there’s that, not that person on person conversation that you’re having about the situation, especially from a woman’s side. We tend to be a little bit more emotional and to be able to get something started, to have it looked into, and the way that this is set up with People First, and they’re getting out to different types of industries, actually. They reach out today what to get into the construction industry.

Anne Pfleger:

But it makes the employees feel comfortable knowing that since their company signed up for this, that there is going to be no retribution or whatever type of incident that they bring up. Because that is one of the fears of women in the industry, especially trades women, is that if they bring something up because somebody is treating them differently or harassing or bullying them, they’re going to have repercussions for bringing it up or it’s going to make it even worse because she said something. So having this opportunity, and what’s really neat about this software is that if somebody sees an incident and they’re not part of the incident, they can report it. So again, it gives other people an opportunity to stand up and say something. And honestly, I think that’s what we need to be doing more is when you see something going on, stop it, intervene because once one person sees you intervening and making a difference, I truly believe that that will make them want to do the same and stop other things from happening.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, that’s a great point. We had Stuart Binstock who’s, I don’t know if you know Stuart, he’s the president of CFMA, Construction Financial Management Association. And we had him talking about suicide prevention and also the impact of injuries on a company, even on their bottom line financially, and the true costs that impact a company because somebody was injured or heaven forbid killed. And so that was a big thing he mentioned continuously was just like at the airport, if you see something, say something and so many of these things can be prevented. And I love that you tied that into even from an HR bullying perspective that we as an organization or as an industry need to raise the bar and really have more accountability to help make it a safe environment for anybody who wants to come participate. We need every hand we can get right now. And we’re short-staffed everywhere. So that can help our business by being more inclusive, like you’ve mentioned.

Anne Pfleger:

Definitely.

Mike Merrill:

So were there other, I know contract tracing, I’m sorry, contact tracing and other things related to COVID have been a big deal and something that we’ve had to adjust and adapt to accommodate and be accountable to. Are there any things along safety management like that, that have changed and that you think might continue forward even after the pandemic’s gone?

Anne Pfleger:

I think we will see more regulations, safety regulations coming out about sanitation on the job site. This is one of the things, again that women have been talking about for many, many years, just sanitation on the job site and proper fitting women’s PPE, and the workers had that in the light with OSHA for a while. They’ve reached out to us wanting to have conversations about working out some regulations to get put in place because the pandemic has showed them that yeah, what you guys have been talking about all along. We should have been doing all along. We might’ve helped to alleviate maybe some of the spread. When you’re working on a construction job site, you are in there with each other, sometimes you have to work very closely with one another.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. That’s a great point. So, tell me this, I know this wasn’t really in our pre-dialogue, but I am very curious. You are a woman in construction. We’ve talked about NAWIC. When I read your resume, I about needed to take a nap in between because there’s so much that you’re responsible for. So, how did you get in this role and position? When you were a little girl, did you aspire to be involved in a construction company or? Tell us about that journey a little bit.

Anne Pfleger:

Yeah, actually I was kind of a tomboy growing up, but I actually worked in the transportation industry and that is a very heavily regulated industry just like the construction industry. But how I got into construction is I was recently divorced and a single mom and the trucking company I worked for was an hour away, each way. So I was like two hours on the road. So I wanted to find something closer to home. So I applied for a receptionist position at a local general contractor, Charles Construction. And I met with… It’s a family run business husband and wife, and I interviewed with the wife and had a great conversation and I thought it was going wonderfully. And towards the end of the conversation, she said, “Well, I’m not going to hire you for the receptionist position.” And I was like what to say, what happened here?

Anne Pfleger:

Before I could she said, “We haven’t been looking or needing a project administrator, but we’re going to make a position for you.” So they hired me in as a project administrator. And it actually ended up working out because the project administrator that was there gave her two-week notice. So I was able to. I didn’t get much training, but that’s okay. I’ve love to just dig in there and figure it out for myself anyways. But it was a really good transition for me, going from trucking to construction because they’re both very heavily regulated. And I’ve been with Charles since 2005, I started on the project side and have moved myself over to estimating and then I also do the safety HR and IT. So, that’s how I got into construction.

Mike Merrill:

I don’t think, it doesn’t sound like you regret it.

Anne Pfleger:

No, no. I love it. I love working in the construction industry and I love being a part of NAWIC and being here to be able to support other women in the industry.

Mike Merrill:

That’s fantastic. So is there one thing or another that you really focused on or studied in order to further the career that you’ve built for yourself?

Anne Pfleger:

I’ve always been a numbers person and I did, people say, well, why didn’t you become an accountant? And an accountant, they’re in a box. You can’t really go outside the lines, you got to stay within the box. And I’m definitely somebody who likes to stay outside the lines. So I actually ended up getting my degree in business management, which kind of encompassed everything. And I worked on the project side, but when I kind of got a feel for the estimating, I was like, okay, that’s numbers, that’s just, I love doing that. So I took some classes, actually, while I was getting my degree… I ended up getting my degree 20 years after I first started. That’s a whole, another story. But I did take some blueprint reading classes while I was getting my degree in construction. I needed some extra credit and I just loved it. So I let my boss know that I was interested in learning more about the estimating side.

Anne Pfleger:

My boss has always been so very supportive of whatever I wanted to do in my career in construction. So we started moving me over to the estimating side and I actually, I still help out with all of the estimating that we do in our company but I now estimate pre-engineered metal buildings, which I just love. And this is another thing with technology because the program that I use is actually on the web and I can go in it and put all the building specs in and run pricing. If I need to get it down to a certain price, I can play around with it right online, make whatever changes I need to get to the price that our customer was expecting, so,

Mike Merrill:

Well, and I love that you said you told your boss you were interested in getting into the estimating side of things. So you actually stepped up and were bold and shared what you were thinking. And I think that’s a gap that a lot of people have. They assume that people are going to take notice or they’re going to somehow magically read your mind and know what it is you want. And you put yourself out there and it sounds like it served you very well.

Anne Pfleger:

Yeah. And that is important, but not all people can do that. And that’s why I want to be here to be able to help those people that can’t or don’t know how to, maybe mentor them to have the voice or be their voice.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah. We had a recruiter on the podcast a while back that was talking about that same thing about presenting themselves appropriately for the things that they wanted to aspire to or that they want to advance to or graduate into. And I think, especially with this younger generation, it seems like they like to text a lot and they’re not quite as good at the in-person communication thing I’ve noticed, at least with my own children. So I don’t know if you’ve noticed the same thing or not.

Anne Pfleger:

Yeah. I do see the same thing. You just got to find out how they want to communicate and communicate to them that way. So I know that my boss, he would definitely be one of those people that if I prefer texting, he would text me. I personally like to sit down, have a cup of coffee and talk but you have to be adaptive to that. And I think that’s what’s important within the companies that we have in construction, it’s that culture to be able to adapt it to change to your workforce, because that’s the only way that we’re going to entice the younger generation to come into the industry, is if we’re communicating with them, how they know how to communicate, whatever that is.

Mike Merrill:

So we have to all make TikToks and Snapchats about these things and they’ll pick it right up, right?

Anne Pfleger:

Right. Yeah. I haven’t gotten into Tiktok yet, I do Snapchat once in a while, but I don’t have time to learn a lot of that kind of stuff but,

Mike Merrill:

I know. Me either. My wife’s Snapchats with her daughters all the time and they have fun and I, once in a while, I’ll give a token little snap here and there just to show that I know something about it, but it’s not second nature to me either. So, tell me this, is there one challenge, I mean you’ve been in these different roles, you’ve obviously advanced your career, you’re in a higher position in your organization. Obviously they heavily depend on you for a lot of different things. What’s one business challenge that you encountered and that you overcame and how did you work through that?

Anne Pfleger:

Personally, where I’m at in Charles, I don’t have a challenge because this has been such a great team to work with. Of course, throughout the year you may have conflicts with personalities amongst employees, but really the company that I work for really cares about their employees and wants to help out. I joke with my boss’ wife, I’m the work wife, she’s the home wife. So, you get to know them. And I think that that is also very important when you work within a company. I’ve never worked for a large company. And I know that would be very different for me to do that, to be a number than a person. So honestly, I don’t have anything in the company, that I am here now.

Anne Pfleger:

Now I can tell you, I did have a situation with a company that I worked for, for short time and was also run by a couple. And the husband had major anger issues, major. And this was the first time in my life where I ever quit a job that I did not have something lined up. But after I called my father one morning, because I was getting to work early, at 7:15, I was calling my father, bawling because of the owner, what he just did. My dad says to me, “You need to leave. Quit.” I said, “Dad, I don’t have another job.” “I don’t care. We’ll figure it out. Get out of there.”

Anne Pfleger:

So I know that those things are out there. And I think that that’s why it helps me today to understand what some of the women on the job sites or even in their own work environment. I think it’s ridiculous that there’s any type of harassment going on. Come on, we’re here to do a job. We’re trying to make a living for our family. There should be none of that other stuff going on, but it does happen. So I think that sometimes you need to go through those types of situations to be able to understand when other people are going through it and how to best lead them to get through it. So, that’s kind of, naturally.

Mike Merrill:

Well, thank you for sharing some of those more personal stories and some of your history. I’m sure that there are listeners out there that will find that valuable and inspiring. And I hope that any of them that are going through those challenges are able to make that same decision and leave that environment that’s toxic or unhealthy for them and find a better place. There are a lot of great companies out there. We work with thousands of them all over the United States, in Canada and even internationally. And I just take my hat off to so many of them that are quality organizations, they want to do a great job, they love their customers, they care about safety. I’m just so pleased to be involved in such a wonderful industry. And I love that you’ve shared so much of your personal history and growth in your organization, but also that you’re extending that into your role in NAWIC and helping raise the tide for all the other ships in the harbor.

Mike Merrill:

So in closing, is there one takeaway that you would like to share with the listeners from your role and your position and your experience in your construction company today?

Anne Pfleger:

Well, I think in my construction career, and it kind of goes with my neighbor for all as well. And I think I mentioned this last time when we were talking, but it’s still very important, that you can be and do whatever you want to do. Don’t let barriers stop you. There’s a way to get around them. It may take time. Like I mentioned, it took me 20 years to finish my college degree, but I got it done. And that was something else I wanted to, with my son. I wanted to show him that, you know I didn’t get my college degree right out of high school, I still got it. I think that that’s important for people to understand. Do it on your timeline. If it takes you a little longer to get where you need to go, that’s fine. Just keep your eye at the end and you can do it.

Mike Merrill:

Yeah, I love that. Yeah. Life’s a marathon, not a sprint, right?

Anne Pfleger:

Definitely.

Mike Merrill:

Love that. Well, thank you so much, Anne, for joining us again today. I had another great conversation and again, just enjoy getting to know you better personally and professionally and look forward to opportunities to connect again down the road when we have the chance.

Anne Pfleger:

Sounds good. Thanks again, Mike.

Mike Merrill:

Thank you. And thank you to the listeners for joining Anne and I today for this conversation. If you enjoyed the things that we talked about or learned something new and insightful, we invite you to please give our podcast a rating and a review, as well as share it with your friends and colleagues within your organization. Of course, we love it when you follow us on all the socials @workmax_ on Instagram or on our LinkedIn page at WorkMax. Again, we’re grateful for your participation and listenership and we hope, not only that you’re able to improve your business, but your life.