Episode 791 10.4.22
Rich Humphrey, vice president of construction product management, Bentley Systems, joins Peggy to discuss some of the biggest challenges facing the construction and infrastructure spaces today. They talk about how technology can help better manage data, leading to lower costs and more-efficient project management overall.
Peggy Smedley: Rich, I love having a guest like you on the show who has just a wealth of experience in the construction and AEC industry space because you know, as I always like to say, what’s really happening in the market right now and the industry is just booming. There’s so much going on and with someone like yourself who’s got almost 30 years just talking about the industry knowing what’s going on, I would love to start with you telling us what are the biggest project challenges that you are hearing about or that you see maybe even on the horizon?
Rich Humphrey: Yeah, I mean there’s a ton of challenges, particularly, you know, where I’m focused in the infrastructure space where there’s a lot of funding going today and where it’s highly visible for most people, right? So, when we think about infrastructure, the demand continues to increase, projects continue to get more complex in terms of if you’re a contractor doing work for an owner like ADOT, you have to deliver more transparently, more sustainably. Safety after COVID has become an issue and probably the same results because of COVID. We have all these supply-chain problems or resource scarcity and just scarcity of people and materials. And then ultimately all this technology being thrown today at construction firms. So, they have more data than they ever had before, but it’s still not super accessible and it’s in data silos. So, with all this kind of increased pressure, construction firms that I talk to, they’re really trying to manage, how do they win projects, how do they manage risk, how do they deliver profitability and deliver better project outcomes for their customers when the nature of how they have to deliver is making it harder for them to be productive.
Smedley: You and I have talked about this in the past, that construction is not new to challenges. They’re not new to risk, they’re not new to trying to make profit, they’re not new to managing all of the things that happen. Sometimes it’s the perfect storm as we talk about, but now we have all of this data coming at us and to them that’s kind of new, trying to manage all the data and new, when I say that is because there’s so much increased pressure. So they have to figure out what data is the right data. And I think that increases the challenge so much more and is the increase of profits come into play and to try to overcome cost management challenges. There’s a lot to try to figure it out. Now they’ve got applications to help them. It’s all different things going on at once, but now they have to figure out how to do it better, faster, quicker. And that’s not something they’re used to doing. Well, and you at Bentley have said, Look, we’ve got to put all this together so they can visibly see it and be able to do it all in one place.
Humphrey: Yeah, and just to reiterate the challenges, at the end of the day, it’s all about keeping projects in control. If we talk about costs and stuff, there’s a lot of pain points. We mentioned that you don’t have enough time to estimate projects well. So they basically either struggle to win projects or if they win them, they’re not profitable last minute changes, it’s hard for them to track budgets and payments. Like you said, they just don’t have the visibility that they need into the data around project performance to make better data decisions to keep those projects in control and profitable. So, Bentley’s solution to that really is we’ve honed in on those problems and we’ve delivered a product that hopefully many people, many of your listeners have already heard about, which is Synchro Construction, which has become Bentley’s portfolio and brand and platform for construction management.
And it’s specifically that software portfolio. Although we’ve addressed and had a long history in the building market as well as an industrial market, we’ve really looked to fine tune our construction portfolio around civil infrastructure construction projects so that we can help those projects be planned better, delivered more efficiently, and ensure that there’s higher profits, and from a contractor’s perspective, while also meeting the budget and time constraints of their owners. Our ultimate vision for the data transparency you’re talking about is to lead the industry from where they are today in terms of digitizing their workflows, just going away from paper to digital means, but take them on the journey to what we consider a 4D digital twin. So, for us and for Synchro, Synchro really is that construction management offering that meets the needs of where our customers are at today but helps them on a path towards 4D digital twins.
And if you don’t know what a digital twin is, it’s basically how do I use 3D model-based workflows to add construction attribution like 4D schedules and 5D cost data and quality information and connect that to live data from the field. So the model becomes the interface and the way to be able to make sure that I’m accessing the right information at the right time in the right place. So that’s really what our vision is and how we are delivering this product called Synchro with as Bentley’s core offering among the rest of the Bentley portfolio to address construction workflows. And they get a little more specific around what else is in Synchro, right? And a lot of people have heard of the name Synchro before in the past and understand it as one of the leading 4D planning and simulation tools on the market, which we’ve since enhanced with 5D model-based workflows.
But Synchro has expanded horizontally to mean a full construction portfolio. So we also deliver project management and a lot of field management mobile application capabilities to help do cloud-based web and mobile collaboration for around data. But recently we have also released two new products into that Synchro portfolio, one called Synchro Cost, which does really hardcore contract management and management of the schedule values. And the other one is Synchro Perform, which is helping contractors better manage what is actually happening in the field from the perspective of how we are monitoring projects and resources against the actual cost from the field to make sure that we have realtime information and can keep the projects in control. So at the end, our view around construction and Synchro specifically is if you’re a construction firm or contractor, time is money and our Synchro portfolio is helping those construction firms get more of both.
Smedley: Well, I’m going to get to the heart of it, talk to me about how does it enable organizations to better control project costs? Because we’ve been talking about the digital twin in manufacturing and I love when we talk about the digital twin in construction because this is where we get to the heart of it. We have to make more money or we have to make money because we have to do more with less. And that’s a critical thing in construction these days.
Humphrey: Yep. Right on all the challenges that we mentioned, we’re not going to solve them and keep projects in control and time and budget by doing things the same old way. We have to leverage technology and ultimately get to this vision of a digital twin. If we think about project controls from a cost and schedule performance perspective, if we dig a little deeper into what Synchro’s delivering, it’s really around first how do we help contractors and construction firms and thus the owners do a better job winning the business in the first place. How do we do a better job estimating and delivering proposals? And the way Synchro does that is around 4D and 5G workflow. So, we leverage that model to be able to load up the means and methods into the model and the path of construction that the contractor’s going to do to actually build the project so that at the end of the day, the output is automatically reporting out quantities and estimates and durations from the model itself.
And the value for that for contractors is more accurate results, more time to be able to actually do scenario analysis around, hey, if I built it this way, could I save money? If I identify areas of risk, how do I mitigate those? And doing it the way people do it today with 2D PDF plan sets and marking it up and if a design change is particularly in a design build project, they have to start from scratch is really not the way to go about it. So that’s one area where we help up next is, once I’ve won the project and I built a plan in terms of the budget and schedule, I need to communicate that to the operations team that’s going to actually execute. And we do that with the same digital model and then lever that to manage contracts. So ultimately things are going to change.
I’m going to be capturing issues, I’m going to be capturing RFIs, though it might lead to change orders, I might find different conditions in the field and I need to be able to track my actual schedule of values and if things change, I need to be able to track those changes and communicate them to everybody in the project ecosystem so that both the owner, the engineer and the construction firm end up in the right place around that. And then finally, I’ve already mentioned field performance management. That is the other area. We’re doing a lot of investment because particularly for infrastructure construction projects, even as a prime contractor, they typically self-perform much of the work. So it’s all about managing the resources, the people, the heavy equipment that’s costly, they need to utilize it and the movement of materials around. And if we can deliver a digital solution that is monitoring and tracking the utilization, the actual costs in the field, it helps the construction firm make quicker, better decisions so they stay on control and that all their project teams have the right information to better utilize the resources they have. They don’t want any time working on non-value added work. And I can talk about a couple of examples if you’d like.
Smedley: I think examples are critical. So please do, because I think the collaboration side of this to me and field preparation on anything is essential. Please share those with us.
Humphrey: Yeah. So, I kind of dug a little bit deep already into our model-based preconstruction planning process and where we have a large contractor in the U.S. There’s one particular case where they want a large complicated infrastructure project, a highway project with a complicated interchange by basically working within a design build environment to work with their design partner and ultimately build an aggregate model that they were able to, which is unique in the industry, able to take civil models for example, and split them into their constructable components along alignments the way that the contractors are actually going to build it. And then they applied their work breakdown structures and cost codes and schedule logic to it and in the end that made it so they could rapidly iterate on different scenarios and come up with the best design in its related already cost engineered. So, their proposals back to their owners were basically the winning proposal because it had in a short period of time that they’re given the most diligence around risk and costs and engineering.
So that the ultimate proposed project, and how it was going to deliver, and the accuracy at which they can create their estimates was such that they were winning on costs, but also winning on demonstration of the ability to use technology to deliver the project, which the owners realize will end up with a better project outcomes in terms of cost, budget, and schedule for them in the long run. So that was a really good example of controlling costs and information exchange and communicating a model simulation that was effective. We have another case, a firm that we worked with another construction company, this time in Australia, where they used Synchro cost and performance management solutions to basically easily and accurately capture the actual costs that I was talking about, but the specifics around it where they were capturing daily logs, events in the field issues, actual costs of crew costs. And so at the end, they pretty much had about 135,000 events captured and 280,000 labor hours that were meticulously tracked digitally. That in the end contributed to success, this project being on time and on budget.
Smedley: Rich, what I love about Bentley Systems is you always have the best customers. You guys know what you’re working with and you lead them to this great opportunity for them to have success. So I want to leave on this great high that we have right now that we’re talking about. What advice would you give other construction professionals who are working on these infrastructure projects who see that they’re slogging along, and they need to know that there’s great opportunities right now and they can use technology to better what they’re doing?
Humphrey: Yeah, I mean my advice to them is, look, realize that you can’t keep doing things the same old way that the saying ‘if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.’ Well, you’re broke. You actually have to look at it. And I was just meeting with an engineering construction firm yesterday and it was, well, if you look and you see that most projects are either failing on profitability or don’t meet time and budget, it’s something’s broke, right? So, you realize that and then make a plan for how you’re going to leverage technology and that it is a strategy to digitize your workflows, right? And start your journey from an evolution to what I consider digital automation and then finally digital transformation of your workflows towards a construction, digital-twin enabled environment. So that’s my advice. And obviously the logistics of after creating a strategy and getting the entire organization to, to buy into it is you need to get project teams to buy into it. And so part of that plan needs to be a rollout of technology, the right technology to address critical pain points that they have today and test it on a project and then scale.
For more information on Bentley Systems go to www.bentley.com/Synchro.