Archive for the ‘Industry’ Category

Boosting Profitability for General Contractors

January 19, 2012

As profit margins drop past the 2% mark, general contractors are compelled to look for more innovative ways to drive profitability. Recently, I learned of a GC that hired a third party services firm to photo-document its work on a large school project and passed the cost onto the owner with a slight markup. While I see the rationale behind adding value-added services as a way to improve revenue, I find this particular choice questionable.

Construction Photo-documentation firms offer a valuable combination of construction knowledge and photography services to owner/developers who lack the experience and resources to scrutinize the construction of their buildings. Most also offer a deliverable that includes construction photos delivered via the web.

However, does this make sense for a GC? Can these firms offer expertise that the GC doesn’t already have on staff? Do they hold the secrets to construction photography that a GC can’t match with a $500 camera purchase and a basic photography course at a local community college (or even online)? The answers are obviously no and no.

So, therefore, the missing piece of the puzzle must be the ability to deliver construction photos with a web interface offers more than a link to a Sharepoint folder. If a GC could deliver a comprehensive package of photos to an owner that offered a complete record of as-built construction and critical installation details, now that would be valuable.

And now, the GC can offer just such a deliverable. In my next post I will describe how Geedra enables GC’s to self perform the photo documentation of their projects, and in doing so transforms an overhead cost, into a value-add service that boosts profitability.

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Poll for Construction Estimators

January 16, 2012

Our friends over at Software Advice are conducting a poll about current practices in construction estimation.

You can take the 5-minute poll here.

Top 10 Reasons Sharepoint Sucks for Photos

January 2, 2012

I talk to a lot of GC’s and Architects that use Sharepoint(tm) to store their photos. When I ask them why, their answers usually include something about security (a questionable claim in my mind; Are your needles secure, just because you know which haystack they’re in?) and company policy. Then the grumbling begins.

Here’s a breakdown of Sharepoint’s shortcoming’s as a photo management solution:

#10 Too much typing & clicking required – To file photos in way that provides any meaningful information later on (you know, when your really need them), Sharepoint requires you to spend time creating unique folders or typing LOTS of unique filenames. (e.g. ProgressLevel4DeckPrepour11032011.jpg, oh my)

#9 One-dimensional searching – If I need to verify the window flashing installation on ten different levels, it would be nice if I didn’t need to scroll through hundreds (thousands? millions?) of photos of rebar and framing on each and every one of those same ten levels.

#8 Picture Library doesn’t support sorting – Wouldn’t it be nice to have Excel-style sorting capabilities, while being able to simultaneously view the photos too?

#7 Can’t define a range of search values – How much quicker would it be if you could define a range of search values? E.g. Verifying the curtain wall anchors on the northeast corner of the top four floors.

#6 No comment – In the age of social media, is it too much to expect to be able to add comments to construction  photos?

#5 No sharing – Isn’t a tad bit ironic that there’s no built-in photo sharing in a solution that has “Share” in it’s name?

#4 Upside down? – Does your neck hurt from viewing upside down photos with no way to fix them without opening them in another application and then re-saving them?

#3 No rules – Usually, a 7-person team will adopt 7 different photo naming and filing conventions.

#2 Patient searching required  – “No Files Found” , is a painful phrase. How many times have you gotten this result repeatedly after struggling to come up with the right search criteria? An interactive search panel that allows for “tweaking” searches would be a real time saver.

#1 Starting from scratch – A new project means a blank slate and recreating your file names, folders and organization all – over – again.

Is there a better way? Most definitely the answer is yes.

iPhone and iPad Photos in the Dark

December 23, 2011

If you have ever tried to capture a critical photo in low light with your iPhone(tm) or iPad(tm) you have experienced the devices’ shortcomings in low-light photos. With small lenses and no flash, iPhotos in these circumstances are grainy and generally poor quality when compared to even the most basic point-and-shoot cameras.

Now there’s a new new app called NightCap that allows you to adjust the exposure of your device’s camera with impressive results.

Risk Management Means Innovating Beyond Checklists

December 21, 2011

A recent report from McGraw-Hill (also discussed here) outlined the results of a survey of owners, architects and general contractors examines the ways in which project teams on $100 million projects handle risk management. The report suggests that formal risk control processes “beyond simple checklists”  are necessary for these projects to sufficiently mitigate their overall project risk.

The costs of risk in these projects are staggering. For example the average size of a post-construction disputes is $3 million dollars. But what’s striking to me is how common it is for these projects to be dealt a blow from risk related issues. Consider these statistics:

  • Almost a quarter of projects are hit with schedule delays.
  • Close to 20% of projects are over budget.
  • About 10% of projects experience disputes.

And these are the big boys. The best-in-class, technology savvy, resource-rich organizations that one would expect to have their act together. But even the best and brightest are subject to the ill effects of overruns, scope creep and safety and site conditions.  As a matter of fact, “unforeseen site conditions” was listed as one of the most difficult risks to quantify. It’s nice of the MH folks to formally recognize something we all know to be true; once you break ground, you never know what can happen next.

Site conditions change, often unpredictably so. However, as I’ve discussed before, unforeseen conditions present a challenge in dealing with the risk of the past where costs pile up as those charged with investigating, analyzing and negotiating a resolution struggle to recreate the conditions on the site at the time in question.  Capturing this critical information doesn’t happen by accident. If the principles of major projects are going to take a dent out of risk-related costs, it’s going to take organization-wide efforts to make recording site conditions a mandatory (and routine) practice.  Current methods rely on individual project managers to establish their own systems for recording information, leading to a different system for every project and predictably inconsistent results.

Extreme Photoshopping

November 29, 2011

Interesting coverage in today’s NY Times about legislation in Europe and proposed in the US about labeling photos that have been highly re-touched to the point where the appearance of the subject has been substantially altered.

In the case of a single photo, it’s next to impossible for the naked eye to detect a professional retouch. However, in our world of construction photography, we rarely deal with a single make-or-break photo. In cases where photographic evidence exists, there are often many photos from many different cameras that show the same subject. Anyone who is inclined to modify a photo in their favor, better plan on hunting down all of the other photos as well if they hope to succeed.

 

The Construction Project: A Startup That’s Built to Close

November 29, 2011

It is extremely difficult for someone who has not participated in a construction project to comprehend the complexity involved. As I have said before, a construction project is akin to starting a factory that makes buildings. Only after you do all of the personnel and partner recruiting, product design, process planning, procurement, infrastructure building, quality system design, customer service and warranty planning, you shut down the factory after the first completed unit rolls off the line.

Re-Imagining the Contingency Budget

November 9, 2011

*RP - Risk of the Past


In an earlier post I discussed the risk of the past (RP) and the ways in which it impacts the contingency budget of a construction project. The table above presents a “before and after” scenario, where the effects of the RP are reduced through effective use of media to capture and record events and conditions in real time so that they may be examined later.  By effectively leveraging media to lessen the uncertainty over past conditions, the contingency budget can be reduced in many ways as explained below.

Scope Change

Collateral work is the biggest driver of unanticipated scope change costs. Owners can fail to fully comprehend the impact on construction of what may seem to be a minor change request. While inaccurate or incomplete progress reports by the contractor, may lead an owner to believe that sufficient time exists to implement a change without incurring major rework.

Contractors can use media effectively to clearly convey project progress to owners and then build on that knowledge to illustrate the impact of design change costs. In doing so, both parties know what they are in for when approving a design change.

Coordination

Work that is completed out of sequence harms productivity and can lead to unnecessary charges. Often a single instance of out-of-sequence-work can lead to a pattern that spirals out of control. Contractors can use media to capture and share lessons learned immediately to correct these issues and prevent further loss, rather than waiting until the end of the project when the damage is done.

Design Deficiencies

Let’s face it, the RFI is overkill for many contractor inquiries. How many times does the response to an RFI read something like “See detail D-1”? For example when it comes to process related questions such as window installation, Architects can utilize photos and video to clearly convey to prescribed process for proper installation providing for an easily repeatable process throughout a project.  In the case of a valid RFI request, media provide an effective tool for contractor and architect alike for confirmation of compliance.

Delay Claims

This is an area where the answer is almost never as clear as black and white. Clear evidence of jobsite conditions can allow for a thorough examination of factors contributing to delay claims and often bring to light details that do not survive through recollection and typical documentation alone. For example, even severe weather events are often not the “show stopper” that they might appear to be in hindsight. A jobsite bogged down in mud, might still be quite productive when it comes to interior work, for example. Photos and video can also conclusively settle issues of materiel delivery schedules or access by subcontractors.

Post Construction Legal Expenses

Well, the lawyers are going to get theirs anyway. Aren’t they?

Eliminating the Risk of the Past

November 9, 2011

Why do construction budgets need contingencies?

There are many facets to the answer but they boil down to two; the risk of the future and the risk of the past. While there are many things we can do to mitigate the risk of the future, it is a fact of life. Weather will change, buildings will leak and misunderstandings will continue. However, effectively eliminating the risk of the past is well within our reach.

What is the risk of the past?

It’s the decay of knowledge over time. As knowledge decays, uncertainty rises and our ability to make informed decisions suffers. Certain facts blur into vague recollections raising doubts and costs in the process.

How do we eliminate the risk of the past?

By recording the present, of course! Photos, video, sound and written notes are all key components of capturing the existing conditions on a site. The more facts we capture surrounding an event or condition, the more accurately we can examine it at a later date.

How does eliminating the risk of the past effect the construction contingency?

The right photo can eliminate the need for hundreds of hours of discovery, depositions and expert testimony.  Claims about sidewalk damage, impaired access or performance milestone melt away in presence of irrefutable evidence.

In my next post, we’ll take a look at the effects of reduced risk of the past on a contingency budget.

Photo-Shopped? Need a New Term

October 20, 2011

New advanced software allows for the placement of objects into photos with a completely authentic feel. Keep this in mind the next time you see photographic evidence and question the likelihood that what you are seeing is true.