Posts Tagged ‘construction technology’

Construction Needs Troublemakers

April 6, 2011

I had lunch with Josh (not his real name) the other day.  Josh joined a large General Contractor last year as its first BIM director because the company’s owner came to the realization that his company was falling behind in technology innovation and need to get involved “in that BIM stuff” (my words, not his).  So, he hired Josh.

Josh is a guy that’s always looking to tinker. He finds out about new technologies, new processes, new services, and he’s the first one to start thinking about ways to adapt them to his organization. He won’t let a title like “BIM Director” limit his scope to just BIM. So, he’s made himself the inhouse expert in IPD projects, cloud computing applications and smart phone apps. The IT department thinks Josh is a real troublemaker, because he’s pushing them constantly to change their “old tech”/ “we can host anything”/ “MS Exchange Server Rules” mentality.

Guys like Josh weren’t hired by construction companies 10 years ago. But in these days of thin profit margins and hyper competitive bidding, contractors are chanting the “innovate or die” mantra a lot more often than they used to. However, they have a lot to learn about truly embracing innovation within their organizations.

Josh has his hands full for sure. Why? Well, he’s trying to turn his oil tanker with a canoe paddle. while the captain is in the wheelhouse trying to hold the line. Rather than give Josh the authority that he needs to boldly innovate, his company has tied his hands by forcing him to work with (i.e. around) his IT organization, which, in a nod to the “Greatest Hits” of 70’s management structure, still reports to the CFO. While Josh is committed to finding new, better ways of doing things, IT is focused on maintaining the status quo.

The owners at Josh’s company haven’t yet realized that they are in an innovation dip. It’s up to Josh to stir up enough trouble to make them wake up to the fact that innovation requires abandoning old practices in addition to introducing new ones.

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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 🙂

A Wishlist for an iPhone Punchlist App

September 23, 2009

From the Software Advice Blog… Bringing Your Punchlist into the 21st century.

I applaud the fresh approach to solving the Punchlist Problem.  However, there are certain functions on Chris’ list that will require some heavy lifting to accomplish. Take a look below and then share your hi-tech dream application for construction.

A couple of taps brings up 3-D floor plans; you manipulate the 3-D model with your fingers until you drill down to your exact location in the room; tap the specific problem area, tag it’s location, take a picture and quickly fill out a form describing the problem.

  • 3D floorplans are a rarity in jobsite trailers, much less on handhelds. A quick browse through iTunes didn’t turn up any existing applications with this capability.
  • location tagging; How? By GPS, grid, room, room type? GPS coverage inside a finished building can be spotty. Are the other locations pre-loaded? If so, by who? If not, you’ll need quite a robust interface to accommodate the various grid/room combinations that can occur on various projects.
  • take a picture – yep, we can do that
  • quickly fill out a form – lots of work to be done here. Ideally, checkboxes and dropdowns can streamline this function, but some original content generation will be required. A voice recording could make this easier, but you better have a high-quality, noise-reducing microphone.