Look Who's Talking

Episode 496 | 01.24.17

Sam Lamonica, vice president/CIO, Rosendin Electric, www.rosendin.com, says it’s time to stop the madness when it comes to managing conflicting forms of data within the construction industry.

Jef Farrell, vice president, CTO, Swinerton Builders, www.swinerton.com, says the new Baseline to Build On Initiative will greatly impact not only the major players, but small and mid-sized firms struggling with the same issues as well.

Back in January, host Peggy Smedley sat down with Sam Lamonica, vice president/CIO, Rosendin Electric, and Jef Farrell, vice president, CTO, Swinerton Builders, to discuss the state of IoT (Internet of Things) in the construction industry and a new movement calling for an industrywide, data-protocol standard.

To hear this interview on The Peggy Smedley Show in its entirety, log onto www.peggysmedleyshow.com, and select 01/24/17 from the archives.

Smedley:
We’re looking at what’s happening with technology right now. It’s changing very rapidly and do we need standards in construction?

Farrell:
Oh absolutely. I mean I think we got to have some type of common language for us to link all of these technologies together or else we’re never going be able to take advantage of them. And right now we don’t have that so it’s something we need desperately across the entire spectrum of any Internet of Things. 3D, 4D, and 5D technology and how all of these devices both stationary and mobile all talk together. Yeah it’s going be key for us.

Smedley:
Sam, I recall a line you said is “We have to stop the madness.” Is what we’re trying to do with a Baseline to Build On Initiative that we launched with you folks at Rosendin and Swinerton Builders, are we going in the right direction with that in a standard protocol?

Lamonica:
Yes Peggy! I’m really excited about the Baseline to Build On program that we’re looking at getting involved in with you. We had decided a while back that we were going to stop being victims in this situation. Because we found ourselves being pulled around by the needs of the business—by the different folks in our business, everywhere from the baby boomers to the millennials who have different perspectives on technology. And all of the technology suppliers are now trying to service the construction industry. We were chasing all of the latest, greatest shiny objects. We were putting it in corner solutions instead of trying to put together a holistic, integrated solution set that we could leverage and use with one another in the construction industry.

Smedley:
So what do you think needs to be done in order to move the construction forward to achieve this? People have tried to do this before and failed. How are we going to make this different?

Lamonica:
We’re taking charge of this from a customer perspective instead of other efforts that have had been pursued in the construction industry, which tend to be supplier and vendor (driven). So we’re hoping that as a consortium we will have strength in numbers that will help us drive our vendors and our suppliers to a set of integrated solutions for us.

Smedley:
Jeff, do you think that’s the critical point to this?

Farrell:
I think it ultimately needs to be a joint effort. But I think the vendors need to understand that those that come to the table, those that are able to participate and take part in this common language will be the ones that succeed. And those that don’t will be the one single solution party that will always be out there on the perimeter.

Smedley:
Sometimes the small guys don’t feel that they should be a part of something like this. How do we get the small construction companies and the medium guys and gals involved in this thing?

Farrell:
It has to include the entire gambit of our industry. It’s great if all of the large companies say this is what they want to do, and probably have an amplified voice in that market. But, it’s the small and probably even more the medium-sized players who really have the most to gain from this. They’re the ones who are dealing with many different and a greater number of these issues than we are.

Smedley:
What do we hope to accomplish at the very first meeting on February 23 at Rosendin Electric’s corporate headquarters?

Lamonica:
Peggy, I’m hoping that we can get a good representation from a cross section of the construction industry, IT leadership, and that we can clearly articulate the vision for the Baseline to Build On program and get a consensus from the team to want to be able to participate in this. It’s a well-known fact that the percentage of ITs verse the percentage of revenue in construction is probably the lowest of any industry in the nation right now. So, we’re also struggling with an additional challenge, which is we don’t get a lot of funding for the new stuff. So, it’s important for us to spend every IT dollar wisely.

Smedley:
After that first meeting, what do you hope to think about? Do you want to establish like a framework, a vision of saying look we’ve poured out ideas, our visions of where we want to go with what this Baseline to Build On framework’s going to be and how we kind of set up the mission for what protocol would be, is that what you’re looking to do?

Lamonica:
Yeah I think so. I think we have to start with a fundamental framework that everybody agrees on and that the vendors in the industry can understand and work towards.

Smedley:
How do we get others to say I need to be a part of that voice? How do we get others to want to champion this with us?

Farrell:
Well I think this is a great first step and of course Sam being willing to host the first meeting in continuation of some of the great work that he’s already done. I think then it’s going to be up to us to contact each of us, our small group of trusted associates and build this. I’m thinking about a snowball going downhill that needs to accelerate and get more people to it, because we’ll be reaching critical mass by that.

Smedley:
We know that right now the construction industry is focused with looking at lots of data. What are we really experiencing right now?

Lamonica:
Well, in addition to the normal standard types of data that you would normally expect out of the construction business in terms of ERP (enterprise-resource planning) data and project schedules and project plans, we’re now seeing a whole brand new wealth of data that’s coming into the industry with all of the newest, latest, and greatest technologies that are making their way from consumer and the military and the other business sectors into construction.

We’re looking at technologies, augmented reality and virtual reality. We’re looking at technology like intelligent safety gear with monitors that can monitor the health and safety of employees. We’re looking at drones making a significant impact on the construction business and if you think about some of those technologies, they all generate a lot of data and if you think about those technologies, they also generate data that in many instances require instantaneous monitoring and reaction.

It’s becoming a much bigger challenge for us in the construction industry in terms of how we monitor it, manage it, and deal with it on an ongoing basis, especially if you think about at the point of construction and some of the places where we build, we don’t have a lot of infrastructure in place so managing data in areas where there’s not a lot of bandwidth for us to utilize, it becomes an interesting challenge for the industry.

Smedley:
Are you seeing a lot of benefits? Are you seeing a lot of overwhelming insight?

Farrell:
I think right now we’re seeing a lot of volume but the benefits haven’t been coming as fast as I think everyone would normally expect.

Smedley:
That’s a good point. We talk about it and everyone says, “You know, data, data, data.” The Internet of Things is like data on steroids. Are we pushing it too much? We say “Well we’ve got to get there,” or do we have to get there at a steady pace that makes sense?

Farrell:
I don’t expect to get there, but we’re going to get there bits and pieces at a time and each incremental step has to provide value in and of itself. Right now, we just see so many different solutions being thrown at us and so many different options thrown at us and quite frankly a lot of them are really just, I call them “solutions looking for a problem” instead of the other way around.

Smedley:
What really needs to happen in order to better leverage data in construction? We’ve seen a lot of different things happening in some of the other vertical markets like retail and manufacturing. Is there something specifically that we need to do in construction that’s different, let’s say, than our sister vertical markets?

Lamonica:
I think one of the things that we need to get a lot better at in the construction industry is standardization because right now there are a lot of different companies with a lot of new and interesting technologies that are all trying to make their way into our industry but because the number of construction businesses that there are in the United States and all over the world, we have not done a really good job of picking and choosing and standardizing so that we’re all using the same slides on technology. We’re all using the same platforms and we’re all using the same backbones to integrate those systems.

Smedley:
Would you agree with that, Jef? Is that where we’re struggling in the construction industry?

Farrell:
Yeah, in order for us to really take advantage of all of these different technologies, we have to be able to integrate them together and to get one system to talk to the other or at least be able to compile all the different pieces of data into a single source of truth, if you will.

Smedley:
One of the things that we’ve all talked about is cost associated with that truth that you talked about. It’s kind of like we’ve got this craziness that’s occurring because costs are getting so high at managing what we call the data. It’s a technology explosion and you can’t make a mistake when you pick a technology. I know that’s hard to say, but do you experience that?

Farrell:
Yeah, I think that when you look at some of the legacy systems and these big enterprise-based ERP, I think the days of those are numbered in our industry. There’s so many new technologies. So many new folks are coming up with new and innovative systems and those of us that are tied in to a single enterprise-wide system can’t take advantage of them so I think in the future, it’s going to be a much more “à la carte” existence than just buying one system to rule them all, if you will.

Smedley:
And Sam, how does that work with you guys dealing with subs that you have? You know making sure that those subs are able to stay current with you as you pick certain technologies?

Lamonica:
It gets tricky on a number of different levels for us, Peggy, because we are ourselves a subcontractor, so we have made some very good strong attempts at standardizing the platforms that we use within Rosendin Electric, but oftentimes when we are working on a construction job, the technology is selected either by the general contractor or by the owner so sometimes we are required, contractually or through other agreements, to use technologies that are not within our standard software suite.

That creates problems for us and then if you think about subcontractors downhill, they’re not sometimes as big or as technologically advanced as we would like them to be so getting them to be able to leverage the technology and to integrate with us becomes a challenge as well.

Smedley:
That’s what we talk about. No matter the size or the depth of a company, whether you’re the GC, whether you’re the facility manager, whether you’re dictating it, it’s a trickle effect with technology as we’re looking at it all. One of the things that we’ve talked about is looking at trying to address the problem with current solutions. Can you address the challenges with what exists today?

Farrell:
We’re doing the best we can with what we’ve got and what we’ve got is certainly enough to maintain the status quo but, as Sam was saying, we really appreciate the binds that some of our good and worthy subcontractors are put into when they’ve got one general contractor using one system, another general contractor using another system, and they’re forced to learn all of these different ones. When if we just had the system that would actually talk to one another, we’d be able to just amplify the benefits tremendously.

Peggy Smedley, host of The Peggy Smedley Show

By | 2017-04-27T21:22:48+00:00 3/16/2017|

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