Posts Tagged ‘construction productivity’

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.

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.

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.

More is Not Better

March 31, 2010

When it comes to technology in construction, I encounter two themes time and again.

From providers I see solutions that I can best describe as “Walls of Text”, that is to say huge, unapproachable applications with dry, generic-looking,  form-driven interfaces.  – Why is it that you NEVER see a screenshot of a project management solution? Because they all look the same, that’s why!  – Regardless of their application, these solutions feature the Mega Swiss Army Knife approach to software by loading up on countless features that require hours of training before a user can begin to use them productively.

The Mega Swiss Army Knife

On the customer side I hear overwhelming frustration. From users in large, actually the largest, organizations that commit to the mega solution,  there’s the time commitment for training, the time spent on data input, status updates and managing data exchanges with project partners.  Often times, for those in “smaller” organizations (i.e. those with less than $200 million in sales), there is a feeling that these huge enterprise apps are elephant guns when all they need is a .22 caliber rifle. It’s no surprise that many of those in the latter group turn to home-baked solutions for project management, estimating, accounting and other back office functions. That’s right, they choose to develop the software and infrastructure, pay for maintenance and then risk obsolescence rather than dance with the 800 lb gorilla.

What’s the answer? Obviously, no one has offered anything worth embracing yet. My hunch is that the key to the winning solution will be in the interface.  Construction is one of the most tangible, relevant industry in our economy, yet the software in which the industry conducts its business is mired in text and numeric data.  The one solution that actually wins over a significant chunk of market share* will be the one that breaks from the mold and translates that data in a visual manner worthy of the industry that it serves.

*Note- despite my best efforts, I was unable to come up with any market share data for use in this post. If you have any, please provide a link in the comments.  Years ago, when I last saw this market data,  the industry was dominated by the “Other” category with major players like Prolog barely registering in the double digits. It’s no wonder that none of the current software providers include actual market share in their press releases. Instead, they boast of their “X percent” increases over previous years. Which, of course, is code for “We’re embarrassed to tell you how little of this market we actually own.”

Flat Fee Construction: An Opportunity for Innovation

March 3, 2010

When you hear construction and The Great Recession in the same sentence, you wouldn’t expect it to be good news. But I read an article today in the Wall Street Journal that has me brimming with excitement over what the future holds for our industry.

Given a choice between going out of business or keeping their construction businesses alive, contractors are striking flat fee deals with banks to build/finish the houses of failed development projects.  Sure, the contractors quoted in the article mention that such contracts “help stop the bleeding” but how long would you expect any business to continue to work just for the sake of keeping the lights on? The strongest contractors will innovate in order to improve (create) their profits.

Where will the innovation come from? Well, I hope jobsite technology gets a good, hard look (OK, I’m biased). But you can’t predict these things. Maybe it’s more efficient use of materials or labor, new contract structures or creative insurance policies. Who knows? Every penny gained through innovation goes directly to the bottom line. Now’s the time to try things!

Given the large inventory of unfinished work in the now infamous markets of Florida, Arizona, California and Nevada, flat fee contracts with banks offer contractors a solid alternative to the bare-knuckled bidding wars that are taking place for government projects. Contractors in these markets can work in familiar territory to improve themselves.

What about you? What are your recession-inspired innovations?

Filtering Jobsite Information

December 1, 2009

In telecommunications the “Last Mile” problem refers to the difficulty service providers have in connecting thousands of houses in a neighborhood to a main high-speed data line. Put another way, the Last Mile problem is a distribution problem, distributing a pipe full of data through many many smaller pipes.

Jobsites have a “First Mile” problem, that is there are thousands of simultaneous  operations on any sophisticated site, each of which is generating its own critical “data”, with no centralized means of collecting the data and then delivering it to back office operations.  Pick any of your existing operations software solutions; accounting; scheduling; project management; every one of these requires human intervention in order to “extract” new data from the jobsite.

However, there’s a problem with the current method for extracting data from a jobsite. It’s the human problem. Whenever we rely on a human to transfer information by observation, there’s a natural filtering process that takes place. Especially when that human is a stakeholder in the process. Schedule updates are the most common casualty of this type of stakeholder filtering. Ever hear a superintendent utter this most damning phrase, “Oh, we can make up that time. No Problem”?

Rob’s Interview with Blogger Mikhail Surkan

November 25, 2009

I sat down for a chat with Mikhail Surkan to discuss the challenges and opportunities for a starting a company in the middle of The Great Recession.  Speaking of challenges, we also discuss the prospects for Geedra in gaining traction in the construction industry.