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Partnering Technology with a Successful Construction Company
Jason Burns, VP & CIO, Hunter Roberts Construction Group
Cloud Computing is Constantly Evolving
The move to cloud computing has been an ongoing change for the last decade. IT departments used to put in hard lines, servers, and stand-alone phone systems in construction trailers. We used to have large plan rooms and the only way to solve a challenging construction problem was to a huddle the project team in the construction trailer and flip through the drawings. Today we have fully-virtualized systems that allow trades people in the trailers to talk to executives in the office in real-time while each views drawings online. Phone systems and fax transmissions are virtualized as well. Document sharing is done through cloud share systems, utilizing delivery methods like Box.com and Microsoft SharePoint.
These innovations have allowed us to automate systems that keep the entire construction team up to date, deliver the most recent documentation, and allow for instant communication. Above all else, it allows for the delivery of information to the field through an inexpensive mobile device. Further, we have begun capitalizing on Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) that allow us to sync in any matter we want. For instance, when we want to sync BIM360 and our blueprinting all on one document set, we can do this in a single set of construction documents instead of five revisions. By utilizing real-time markup systems provided by software such as Bluebeam, the entire team can go online, review, and mark up changes at the same moment regardless of their physical location. This results in quicker resolutions and is enhancing communication for all project stakeholders.
There are still many areas that need to be overcome. As we have virtualized all of our work, the issue shifts from where we store all of the physical documents to the issue of growing file sizes, mostly related to 3D modeling. My team is working to resolve that problem using web-based Virtualized Desktop Infrastructure so that the file does not need to move through the data pipeline but, instead, is accessed via a remote server.
As we have virtualized all of our work, the issue shifts from where we store all of the physical documents to the issue of growing file sizes
Innovation through Business Intelligence
At every conference I’ve attended, CIOs in construction, and in other verticals, are struggling to foster innovation and growth in technology through input from their staff in other departments. The problem is that it is difficult to get the general workforce to think past what’s in front of them. When the open call goes out to staff to improve our technology, much of the innovation they recommend falls under the category of inventing a better mousetrap. The issue here is that we need to look beyond capturing mice and begin thinking about catching bigger game. These situations put the responsibility on the CIO to brainstorm and produce working models of products and workflows that can make the company more productive. In this scenario, though, the question begs to be asked: are you really innovating?
I believe that innovation within our industry requires partners, subcontractors, and employees to lead real change in the way we build. We can do this by investing in Business Intelligence, Enterprise Resource Planning, and better use of tablets, but we are not truly innovating unless we start changing how the work is actually completed. I have many ideas that will change the way buildings are built, as do many of the CIOs I have these conversations with, but the buy-in required to manifest these ideas within the broader construction marketplace is at a scale that, as of now, seems impossibly difficult to obtain.
There are many lessons I have learned over the years I’ve managed and steered technology for a construction management firm. There’s no doubt that staying on top of new technology and effectively implementing and managing these systems is critical to keeping a growing business at the top of their market, but staying smart is only half the battle. Being a leader within the organization—knowing how to sell, working within budget constraints, and providing technology assistance as a resource to the company—is also critically important. The following three are three lessons that I return to time and time again in order to help me lead my team:
1)You need to adapt your IT organization from using a “NO” strategy to a “YES” strategy. The IT approach should be similar to that of a sales person: “YES, we can do that.” IT operations in all verticals are always working hard to protect their organizations; this can still be done with a YES approach. By being a resource that is perceived as working with the operations teams to provide solutions, instead of against them, you are more likely to be in control of the process as you find solutions to their problems. The minute you become a NO organization, as perceived both around your company and within your own department, you increase the chance that your employees will go around you to find solutions. This isn’t to say that this never happens in a YES environment, but it will happen less and the organization will grow as a whole because of it.
2)Your helpdesk should be internal and should be trained to be good listeners that do not make their end clients feel bad for bringing issues forward. Similar to efforts as a YES organization, this will drive IT acceptance, increase trust, and boost long-term issue resolution because your helpdesk will be better in tune with the user base and can react to changes and problems, foreseeing them and reducing down time for employees.
3)Align as a partner to all department heads. If you want to drive change, be a productive member of the company, and be more than someone that keeps the lights on, you need to create and maintain relationships with all department heads and executives. These relationships will translate to inclusion in meetings, planning sessions, and decisions on issue resolution. A great CIO has the ability to foresee the entire landscape of the company and, often, become more cognizant of issues unrelated to technology because they have the ability to touch and see it all. This will mean that you are part of business solutions and can help prevent issues without technology being part of the resolution.
I think the biggest takeaway here is that all the lessons I have learned require partnering. Partnering will advance the development of your own career, and those of your team, while playing a significant role in the success of the company.