Posts Tagged ‘construction photography’

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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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.

Geedra vs Sharepoint

January 2, 2012
Photos on Geedra™ Photos on SharePoint™

Automated photo filing on Upload

Yes. Photos filed according to user profile, project profile, time, date and other data assigned by camera. No. User manually files photos by file and folder names.
Menu-driven, point-and-click photo tags Yes. No.
Construction-specific tags Yes. Tag types include: gridline, level, room number, camera orientation, multi-building designations, CSI division codes + text-based tags No – text based tags only.
Searching by single tag values Yes. No.[1]
Searching by multiple tag values Yes. No.[1]
Searching by a range of tag values Yes. No.
“Excel-style” photo sorting by tag value. Yes. No.[2]
Instant Search Experience (Search results appear as search criteria are entered) Yes. No.
Integrated Photo Sharing Yes. No. Share by email.
Integrated Report Builder Yes. No.
Photo-detail view Yes. Yes.
Individual photo comments journal. Yes. No.
Pre-defined comments menu Yes. No.
Hiding redundant photos Yes. No.
Automatic filtering of duplicate photos Yes. Even works when filename is changed. No.
Built-in photo rotation Yes. No.
Remote web access. Yes. Yes.
Cloud-based storage Yes. Office 365 only.
Seamless user experience from any Browser or Operating System Yes. No.[3]
iPad compatible Yes. Yes. (Separate app required)

[1] Requires extensive additional configuration and customization by administrator.

[2] SharePoint Picture Library views do not support column-based sorting.

[3] Certain features require Microsoft Windows and Office.

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.

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.

From Photos to Photo-Data

March 23, 2011

Some time in the 1970’s, dedicated word processors were introduced to the world providing writers with a set of tools that enabled them to control the presentation of their words, not just the content. For the first time since Mr. Gutenberg made the pen obsolete as a publishing mechanism, writers regained a measure of control of the presentation of their words from the typesetter. Thus began a transformation where communication with written words moved from a sterile process of repeating the authors characters to a nuanced presentation that conveyed, context, emphasis and intent.

In 1983, Microsoft introduced Word. Word not only continued the evolution of the presentation tools of its earlier counterparts, but it eventually established .doc as a generally accepted standard for digital document files. And with standardization, comes efficiency, predictability and eventually innovation. Since the files in an archive of .doc’s all behave in the same way, it is possible to explore millions of documents at a time and zero-in on the nuance of a four-word phrase within seconds.

Such innovation in searching eventually led to the use of tags (or metadata) to identify details within a document, allowing for categorized searching. A practice commonly used in blogs and social media (aka Web 2.0 applications.)

Begin Search: "Ark of the Covenant"

A similar transformation is underway with digital photos. As a whole, the digital photo universe is just beginning to move beyond the storage and display of pictures on a screen to the nuanced presentation of photos complete with context, emphasis and intent. The Photo-Data era has begun.

Without tag data, photos are opaque collections of 1’s and 0’s that yield no information about the content represented by the visual images they contain. Tags offer us the ability to search through gobs of photo-data without the need for us to visually interpret each individual image.

The one drawback to tags is the tagging process itself.  Current methods for applying tags to digital photos in the consumer and professional photography markets rely on humans to review images and then select the appropriate tag(s) that describe the image content. The two problems with this process are that it is labor intensive and tag selection is subjective.  Given that there are an infinite number of tags available to describe general interest photos, and that different photos mean different things to different people, it would be next to impossible to develop an automated method for effectively tagging all photos.

However, if we instead consider a group of photos from a defined audience with a shared perspective (with variances), the tagging process can then become a candidate for automation. The construction industry is such an audience and each construction project provides an opportunity for shared perspective that enables a finite number of tags to have relevance for a bulk of the audience.  I look forward to exploring next leap in productivity gains that Photo-Data will make possible.

Trailer-Ready Technology

March 9, 2011

Here’s my perspective on the state of technology in construction today; it’s upside down. No matter what the application, (design, project management, punchlists, etc.) the universal theme of innovation in our industry centers around delivering “office-ready” applications to the jobsite with a mobile device.

What’s that you say? You have a tablet that puts your model, your schedule, your email and a ton of other information, right in the palm of your hand? There’s no refuting that technology gives us unprecedented access the critical information when and where you need it. But stop swiping and pinching your screen for a moment and take a look around you. Your standing in the mud! There’s a welder making sparks over your right shoulder, with the backup alarm from a loader blaring in your left ear. Is this the time and place for you to reply to that RFI response? Since you’re out on the jobsite, don’t you think you should focus your attention on the operations that are happening around you? After all, seeing is believing and there is no replacement for seeing actual construction in process (or recently completed) with your own eyes.

Let me clarify what I mean about technology in construction being upside down. All mobile applications have one fatal flaw. People. In that, every application ultimately relies on a human being for inputting new information by observing a condition and then relaying their impression of that condition, usually in text, but sometimes with the help of some other media (photo, audio, video, etc.)

What’s wrong with this use case:

  • There’s only one perspective. That of the person holding the mobile device.
  • The media provided is single purposed and dead-ended. It exists to support the observation and if you are not part of the audience interested in that observation, you would not have otherwise seen/heard the media.
  • As I alluded to before, this process is a grossly inefficient use of the user’s time. It’s also terrible way to capture ground-level data.

And furthermore:

  • There are far more people on site without that mobile device loaded with the same application than there are with that device/app. i.e. There are more people observing conditions on the ground than there are people capable of recording/reporting the conditions.
  • Wouldn’t it be better if the supporting media were available and searchable to anyone involved with the project for them to review for any number of purposes?
  • The conditions on the ground at that moment in time will, most likely, never exist again but could, quite possibly, be very important to a number of different people months or years later.

It is for these reasons that Geedra has embraced a new philosophy towards innovation in the construction world. We call it Trailer-Ready Technology™(TRT). The objective of TRT is to embrace the first-person perspective of individuals on the ground to capture 100% of observable information at the time of occurrence in order to deliver on-demand accessibility at any time in the future.

These are the guiding principles of TRT:

1. First, get the media

Geedra cannot accomplish anything without the recorded media. Identify and address any and all obstacles that might discourage a Geedra user from moving his/her media from a local device to a Geedra application. 

2. Design to accommodate existing behavior

Geedra applications should offer new users productivity improvements from the first time they log in. The interface should be inviting and next actions obvious.  Geedra applications should not require new users to modify their behavior in order to use them.  Asking people to change behavior in order to use your solution is the same as asking them not to use your solution.  However, once they have begun using their Geedra application, the application should incent them to explore new behavior.

3. No Typing

Typing should be the last option considered for data input.

4. Avoid dedicated hardware solutions

Users don’t like change. If you ask them to change and then hand them a new piece of hardware, that hardware can become the focus of their displeasure. It is better to initiate a change in behavior through their existing hardware and in order to ease the transition. If dedicated hardware is necessary, introduce it later after the new behavior becomes routine and ensure that it delivers a significant jump in productivity.

I’ll provide more details about our application in future posts. For now, keep your eyes open and watch out for that loader. Those things can leave a mark 🙂

Top 10 Tasks for Construction Superintendents

September 8, 2010
Stumbled upon this on the state of Washington Workforce Explorer site.  In reviewing this list, it occurred to me that jobsite photos and video should play a critical role in supporting most of these tasks. I have added comments next to each task (where appropriate) to specify the role that visual media can(should) play in performing the task.

If you’re not using photos in this manner, you should ask yourself why not.

Top 10 Tasks

  • Examine and inspect work progress, equipment, and construction sites to verify safety and to ensure that specifications are met. – Photos used to record progress and report conditions.
  • Read specifications such as blueprints to determine construction requirements and to plan procedures.
  • Estimate material and worker requirements to complete jobs. – Photo archives can provide visual references for similar jobs from the past.
  • Supervise, coordinate, and schedule the activities of construction or extractive workers. – Photos serve as a reference to confirm access, availability of materials and equipment.
  • Confer with managerial and technical personnel, other departments, and contractors in order to resolve problems and to coordinate activities. – Photos augment written and verbal communication and provide confirmation of resolution.
  • Coordinate work activities with other construction project activities. – As mentioned above, photos provide information on current site conditions.
  • Order or requisition materials and supplies. – Webcams and photos confirm receipt of materials, preventing over-ordering.
  • Locate, measure, and mark site locations and placement of structures and equipment, using measuring and marking equipment. – Photos used to augment measurements and markings.
  • Record information such as personnel, production, and operational data on specified forms and reports. – Photos augment written records and allow for forensic research of conditions not properly recorded.
  • Assign work to employees, based on material and worker requirements of specific jobs.

Bigger Haystacks

August 23, 2010

Digital photos are free. Which means that if you have gone through the expense to put a camera on a jobsite, it makes sense for that camera to take as many pictures as possible. Usually more than is necessary (after all, they’re free right???)

Then let’s consider all of the stakeholders who take pictures on a jobsite; There’s the General Contractor of course, then the owner and owner’s reps; the architect and the cajillion consultants retained by the architect; inspectors, municipal, regulatory and otherwise; subcontractors, and oh yeah, anybody else with a hardhat and a camera phone. Did I forget to mention aerial photos and fixed site cameras?

Do all of these photos add up to better coverage of jobsite activity? More coverage definitely, but better? That’s debatable, because at the end of the day it doesn’t matter how many photos you have if you can’t find that critical piece of information that you’re looking for.

Found it! Er, wait. Wrong floor...