Posts Tagged ‘construction photos’

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.

Like Aspirin for a Hangover

November 26, 2011

I get the same kinds of questions over and over. Does Geedra prevent construction defects? Does Geedra make litigation go away? Will Geedra keep a project on schedule? And my answers are always the same; Construction risk will never go away, though Geedra can often help mitigate that risk.

There is no single solution that can prevent many of the most vexing problems in construction. However, by enabling project teams to readily research construction conditions at any time, Geedra reduces the time and effort necessary to resolve such problems.  After all, it’s often not the single issue itself, but the countless hours of investigation, forensics, depositions and expert testimony that drive the cost of resolution.

As anyone that has had a hangover will tell you, a couple of aspirin in the morning doesn’t make the hard drinking of the night before go away. It just makes it less painful.

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?

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.

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...

The Photo-Data Transformation

July 22, 2010

In my previous post I identified the cost associated with extracting information from the photos and video used to capture ground level information from construction project sites. Information extraction costs are a function of time once the project ends and eventually reach impractical levels as the project team disbands and their tribal knowledge of the project evaporates forever.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. What if the project team could encapsulate their tribal knowledge into an archive that remained accessible to the project team and the owner of the finished building for the duration of the building’s life? – Time out. You may be thinking, um, OK Geedra blog dude. Are we talking about some kind of Vulcan Mind Meld?

By packaging the visual media (photos and/or video) with the project team’s intimate knowledge of the images in the media into photo-data, we can make that information accessible without incurring the extraction costs associated with current forensic research efforts using construction photos and video. The components of photo-data include data tags (for indexing and research), annotations (tells the story of the image), contextual references (other photos, floor plans, reports) and any other supporting information.

(c) 2010 Geedra, LLC

Once converted, photo-data information will be resistant to degradation over time, making it as accessible 10 years after completion as it was 10 minutes after the photos were taken. Facility managers and building owners can not only benefit from knowing the history of their building’s past, but can continue to build upon their photo-database by adding new photos to capture conditions during building improvements and major maintenance overhauls. In doing so, they are making a major improvement to the value of the physical asset in a move that will lower operating costs and reduce operation risk for the life of the building.

What’s the Problem?

July 21, 2010

Dude, what's your problem?

Ask a project manager or construction manager about their chosen strategy for jobsite photos and you’ll get strange conglomeration of solutions. The three most popular of which are:

  • Sitecams (aka webcams)
  • Photo Documentation Services
  • Shared Document Management Systems

That’s quite an eclectic list of solutions, which leads me to ask the following; If those are the solutions, what’s the problem? After all, each solution offers its own distinct benefits.

  • Sitecams – Constant monitoring of jobsite. Remote Access. Provides transparency for the public.
  • Photo Documentation Services – A trained set of eyes behind the camera for improved compliance.
  • Document Management Systems – A secure system for archiving photos taken by the project team.

Those are all very desirable benefits that any team would embrace. It seems that each solution attempts to deliver ground level information from the project site. However, they don’t deliver that information in a format that can be immediately evaluated, like data on a spreadsheet. Instead, each solution presents visual media (in the form of digital photos or video), which serve to both store and communicate ground level project information.

There is a cost associated with extracting information from visual media so that it can be converted into a usable format.  The information extraction cost* is low  during construction when the context and subtle details (aka “tribal knowledge”) are fresh in the minds of project team members-see chart below.  However, as construction ends, the project team disperses and memories fade, the extraction cost continues to rise until the project’s tribal knowledge evaporates for good.

In my next post I will propose an alternative solution for preserving ground level project information indefinitely.

(c) 2010 Geedra, LLC

*Examples of Information Extraction Costs – time spent searching for media, reviewing media images for relevant information, interviewing project team members for background information, corroborating design data or consulting reports with visual evidence, etc.