KarlKarl Sorensen • 

BCL FIELDWIRE

Karl Sorensen is the president of Blue Collar Labs and managing partner at Blue Collar Capital Partners. With 15-years in construction and $100M+ in project management experience, Karl now helps facilitate the development, financing, and growth of technology companies that specifically serve the AEC. For more information, contact him at ksorensen@bluecollarlabs.com.

The impact of new technology on inefficient markets is none more disruptive than when innovation touches the skilled labor industries. Whether it was Gutenberg and his printing press, Babbage and his programmable computing engine, or Henry and his assembly line, the power of converting manual craftsmanship into hands-free automation is not only groundbreaking, it’s heralded in history-books as revolutionary.

One industry, however, that remains strangely omitted from the annals of history is construction. Despite being the perennial leader of global economic performance, spending $11.4 trillion in 2018 and apace to reach a staggering $14 trillion by 2025 (Statista), construction remains one of the world’s last holdouts for efficiency. The built environment, often typified by its traditional thinking, wasteful practices and rejection of innovative ideas, as a whole, seemingly exists in a technological vacuum. As other industries are achieving new innovative heights with self-driving automobiles, virtual reality and artificial intelligence, surely, construction is next…

Or is it? If experience and history have anything say, notwithstanding major changes in culture, perspectives, and engagement strategies, the forecast is grim.

But why?

Recently, Chicago-based Blue Collar Labs conducted an investigative study to answer this question. Their goal, to uncover the challenges that prevent technology companies from effectively engaging construction companies and solutions for overcoming these obstacles. By initiating conversations with hundreds of tech companies and their founders, CEOs, and salespeople, the researchers behind Blue Collar Labs were able to gain new insights into the matter, which challenges traditional thinking and engagement methodologies.

An Open Letter to Construction by Karl Sorensen

From my 15 years in construction, I understand life on the construction frontlines. Starting off as a field laborer for a general contractor, working my way to project manager of a DoD contractor, and now as the operations director for an LA-based healthcare contractor, I have seen operational inefficiencies at every level, in every sector, and within every department. As my role over the years, becoming more hands-on in helping contractors understand and leverage new technology products, both with my own construction company and as a consultant via Blue Collar Labs, the bevvy of excuses I hear primarily places blame on technology vendors. But by conducting this research project and directly engaging with technology companies across the globe, we uncovered six sources of frustration, all directed towards us, their construction counterparts. Here is what we learned:

1. Contractors must be open to change

The industry perspective on “change” has become a tired and overused punchline at construction conferences and events. But honestly, have we taken a long-enough look at ourselves to seriously consider whether our organization (or its leadership) is falling prey to the fear of change? According to Blue Collar Labs’ findings, technology vendors adamantly claim that they are unable to engage us, their construction counterparts, because we’re vigorously opposed to change. Further still, these vendors go onto say that we’re fearful of the changes that new technology brings. When asked what was holding construction companies back from adopting new technology products, vendors roundly responded by citing the industry’s inability to being “open-minded to change.” One survey respondent conceded, “the most frustrating thing is when one person in the prospect company is super stoked about our product, but the deal collapses because someone else in the prospect company is so incredibly resistant to change.” Another stated, “be open to change…and how technology can make [the company] and their workers more valuable.” And lastly, “stop assuming that tech is too hard to adopt, just jump in and try it.”

“[If you fail], fail fast but fail forward.”

Something to Consider: Is your organization truly open to change? Are you more fearful of the changes that new technology will bring or the consequences of not adopting new technology?

2. Make time for technology

Unsurprisingly, the second most consistently cited source of frustration was that we’re “too busy” to consider technology. Everybody seems to need technology but nobody has the time to talk with technology vendors. During the rare moments a successful connection is made, technology vendors often talked about being brushed-off, given the run-around or being passed from department to department, never getting clear direction. A noticeably exasperated respondent stated, “stop leading on salespeople and just be honest.”

Even when construction companies agree to purchase and adopt a new technology solution, the daunting and time-intensive task of implementation eventually erodes all enthusiasm. Nobody seems to have time to champion the new technology, ensuring that integrating it into existing systems is a success. As a result, and despite all initial excitement, technology implementation either stalls, is partially completed, or is never completed at all. Ultimately, this leaves both parties frustrated over the wasted time, energy, and money. One vendor said:

“[Stop being afraid] of the up-front effort with a technology product, especially with software.”

Something to Consider: If technology is a priority, make time for it. If it isn’t, than don’t. Either way, be clear with the technology vendors. Also, when budgeting for new technology, also budget the time for implementation and adoption.

3. Identify a strategy for evaluating, selecting, and implementing technology

Another theme that became apparent in this study is that many construction companies have very little self-awareness of their own inefficiencies, therefore, ill-equipped to properly evaluate, select, and implement the correct technology. Findings showed that technology companies repeatedly battled against a “lack of internal knowledge” or “no cohesive strategy” when engaging construction companies.

When construction companies don’t diagnose their own inefficiencies, there is a behavioral trend of choosing the popular tech products, not the correct tech products. One frustrated technology vendor stated, “stop buying the shiniest, most heavily-advertised, and generally overpriced construction software systems. You’ll overbuy, have an under-utilized system, and hemorrhage profits. Just solve the main problems with software specific to those problems”. Another respondent provided a similar response:

“Stop chasing shiny pennies without first establishing their goals and then working on their processes.”

It is incredibly important for companies to know and understand their own processes before they start considering digitizing them. At minimum, it is important that we clearly identify our goals, choose qualified decision-makers to be involved, and develop a baseline process for vetting through technology. This will save us the time, money, and frustration in the long-run

Something to Consider: In order to optimize our processes, we must first have a process in place (even if it’s paper-based). Attempting to throw technology at a non-existent (or poorly defined) processes will only result in creating a bad, organizational processes.

4. Nominate a technology decision-maker

Although this seems obvious and unremarkable, most construction companies never designate a decision-maker responsible for responding to and evaluating new technology opportunities. This is a simple adjustment we all should be willing to make. Regardless of company size or market sector, we each must identify a technology champion within our organization; not only to become a clear point-of-contact for outside technology vendors, but also championing internal technology decisions to the health and success of internal operations. The first and most-immediate benefit from having an on-staff, qualified, technology decision-maker is streamlined communication. A designated technology champion becomes a central figure with whom outside technology vendors can engage, preventing the rest of our organizations from feeling “spammed” by persistent outside salespeople. Additionally, this removes information silos commonly associated with construction organizations. A designated technology champion can field internal requests for technology adoption and implementation. Instead of project-by-project decisions made autonomously by project managers, a designated technology champion can make decisions that best serves the entire organization.

construction tech

Something to Consider: Designate a construction technology champion (or team), willing and able to field inquiries from technology vendors, to lead discussions of technology within an organization, to make technology decisions on behalf of the company, and to constantly monitor the effectiveness of in-house digital solutions.

5. Realize there are no ‘silver-bullet’ products

A common misconception amongst construction companies is that technology products should solve our every organizational issue, the proverbial silver-bullet. As stated by one technology respondent, “don’t look for a perfect, one-stop solution.” And reinforced by another, “[stop] trying to get absolutely everything [you need] in one solution”. Certainly, there should be an expectation that technology products will automate and simplify specific processes within construction operations, however, it is ignorant to assume that any singular, technology product will satisfy every operational whim. Only after we successfully identify specific inefficiencies and goals are we then equipped to choose the right technology product. Specificity is key. Having vague metrics, general expectations, and ambiguous goals may lead us to purchasing a car just for the radio. Being specific will enable us to choose the right product for us, or if it fails, we know exactly why/how we failed. Eloquently stated by one technology vendor, “just solve the main problems with software specific to those problems”.

“[Stop] trying to get absolutely everything [you need] in one solution.”

Something to Consider: Assuming technology products will solve all spoken and unspoken operational deficiencies is unrealistic. Keep it simple. Identify specific organizational inefficiencies and goals, then find a technology product that meets your needs.

6. Treat technology vendors like partners, not adversaries

Lastly but importantly, it’s imperative that we partner with our construction technology counterparts, rather than treating them like predatorial opponents. They exist to make our construction businesses more efficient and profitable. In return, the majority ask for us to pay a subscription fee. It’s at this point, construction companies start treating technology vendors as adversaries. Of course, their technology isn’t free. Them requesting money from us for their innovative technology should not be a surprise, a deal-breaker, nor a reason for distrust. Conversely, what is the cost of not having their technology on our jobsites? Everyday, we run the risk of unforeseen variables and freak accidents; from unsafe jobsites and faulty work to overrun schedules and inefficient labor. In all reality, technology companies are saving us more than just money. They’re looking out for us. As such, they deserved to be treated like partners. One vendor stated, “look for vendors who will truly partner with you, and then let them truly partner with you.” By being open and honest with our inefficiencies, we’re inviting the opportunity for growth. Another technology vendor stated:

“Describe more about your organization and how it’s currently managed, so we can better formulate an idea of how we can help.”

Something to Consider: When construction companies begin looking at their relationships with tech vendors as partners, rather than adversaries, we will all start to discover unprecedented opportunities for efficiency.

Of course this doesn’t capture the breadth of the disconnects between construction and technology, but it’s a good starting-point. Not every company will need the latest technology, however, we should all be serious about efficiency, safety, and quality for all company stakeholders; employees, owners, clients, end-users, subcontractors, etc. Not only will this provide a superior end-product, but this will provide a better construction experience.

HeadshotTara Callinan • 

#17526 Clark

When asked to think of a male-dominated industry, construction often comes to mind. Because of all the people who work in the field, only 9 percent are female!

There are several reasons why — including unequal pay and lack of female leadership. However, according to a study by Balfour Beatty, that’s all about to change. The study states that by 2020, the total number of women in construction will almost triple to about 25 percent of the total workforce.

Are you ready to make a change?

To understand how women can transition to a career in construction and overcome working in a male-dominated industry, we spoke to Stacy Saenz, a Project Engineer at Clark Construction. She had the following tips for women who are passionate about construction and want to succeed in their roles.

1. Be prepared for anything, always

In construction, no two days are ever the same. For Stacy, there is no such thing as a typical day on the job. She said: “If there isn’t a meeting, a site walk, or an inspection (or all of the above) there’s another puzzle to solve to keep the job moving along.”

2. View challenges as opportunities

Stacy said one of the biggest challenges she faces is the fact that there are not enough women, especially Latino women, in construction management positions. With men holding 92 percent of all leadership roles, it can be difficult to break down barriers and find someone to look up to. As the next female hire at a construction company, however, you have the opportunity to pave the way for future women in construction. Volunteer to lead workshops, ask for additional training, and apply for internal promotions to cement yourself as a force to be reckoned with.

3. Never be afraid to ask questions

The best piece of advice Stacy ever received was to ask questions ALL of the time. She said: “There is no such thing as a dumb question. The best way to learn is to ask the right questions at the right time in order to execute your goals.”

4. Find a mentor (or be one)

Throughout her time in construction, Stacy has had multiple mentors, both personal and professional. She said: “I wouldn’t be where I am today without the guidance of my mentors. Since graduating, I have participated in professional development workshops where I have had the opportunity to mentor students in the Bay Area pursuing degrees in Engineering. Through these events, I am able to share more about my experiences, advice on pursuing a career in construction, and interviewing tips for women.”

For more tips on how to recruit and retain women in constuction, read this blog post. It’s time to level the playing field!

HeadshotTara Callinan • 

#17286 Power design

Key facts

  • Power Design, one of the nation’s leading electrical contractors, migrated off PlanGrid and onto Fieldwire
  • They transferred 227 projects, worth more than 1.4 billion dollars, with zero downtime in eight weeks
  • More than 100,000 different documents, tasks, and photos — about two terabytes worth — were transferred in the process
  • A total of 2,100 users were on-boarded and 2,000 new iPads deployed
  • By 2020, 100% of Power Design will be using Fieldwire

“We needed a scalable solution”

With innovation and integrity at its core, Power Design strives to use the best-of-breed construction technology for its large scale and complex electrical projects.

However, until just recently, Power Design was using PlanGrid to manage all of its people, projects, and processes. Brad Moore, Power Design’s VDC Technology Manager, realized some shortcomings with the platform and started vetting Fieldwire to be their next solution.

“We needed a scalable solution and we wanted to work with a construction technology company that we could depend on for a solid product roadmap,” said Brad.

He quickly realized that Fieldwire checked both of those boxes (and more). Brad was so impressed by Fieldwire’s ease of use and ability to help his boots on the ground that he campaigned for immediate buy-in and companywide adoption.

“The goal was to migrate off PlanGrid 100% by the end of the year — so that by 2020 we’re 100% on Fieldwire.”

Brad Moore, VDC Technology Manager at Power Design

“I started digging around in the backend and looking into Fieldwire’s API to see if it was possible for us to transfer all of our data — about two terabytes — from PlanGrid to Fieldwire. Once I realized we could, we started planning the whole process.”

Planning for a seamless roll-out

Brad was assigned the mammoth task of planning the companywide roll-out of Fieldwire. He had to decide who was going to get the application first, when they were going to get it, and how he would facilitate training in eight different regions across the country.

He said: “We had to onboard 2,100 users — 500-600 of those were on-campus and everyone else was in the field — and deploy 2,000 new iPads.”

To Brad’s delight, this entire process took as little as eight weeks!

In such a short amount of time, Power Design hosted 16 different regional training sessions which lasted a mere two hours each. Following that, they deployed their new iPads and migrated 1.4 billion dollars worth of projects off PlanGrid and onto Fieldwire.

“We transferred 227 projects stretched across 15 states and 100,000 different documents, tasks, and photos with zero downtime.”

Brad Moore, VDC Technology Manager at Power Design

Achieving zero downtime

Brad added that the key to achieving such a seamless outcome was having immediate buy-in from stakeholders. He said: “You also need separate pilot teams if your company is spread out geographically like ours. These people helped calm a lot of nerves in our dispersed teams.”

To secure buy-in from Power Design’s executives, Brad reminded them of their goal to triple in size by 2027; a goal that requiired software that could scale with them. He emphasized the importance of using software that’s designed with a contractor in mind and with task management at its core.

“To be honest, once we got people in the application and using it they were like ‘oh, okay, this makes a lot of sense,’” said Brad.

Brad Moore

Uniting dispersed teams

As a result, Power Design was able to connect its various teams in one place. Brad said: “We have a lot more collaboration and transparency with Fieldwire. Everyone, from accounting to the project managers and pre-construction teams, was affected by this decision. So we’re collaborating much better now.”

To learn more about Power Design and why they chose Fieldwire, read Kim Slowey’s latest article for Construction Dive.

HeadshotTara Callinan • 

#17001 Construction trends

Construction technology, according to the Construction Institute, refers to the collection of innovative tools, machinery, and software used during the construction phase of a project. Examples of construction technology include mobile apps, VR headsets, automated machinery, drones, and more! Two of which we’ll get to later…

In a nutshell, technology refers to the products and processes you use each day to efficiently accomplish tasks. When technology is absent, productivity flatlines and projects often get delayed. Hence why there is a push for craftspeople to adopt construction technology at a much faster rate. Although, you shouln’t rush out to buy the latest gadget just because it looks ‘cool.’ Research and evaluate the different types of construction technology available and find something that works for you, not against you.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the whole process, seek professional advice from construction technology companies like Fieldwire that are here to help you adapt to change and progress with real confidence. It’s important you know that while new technology might seem overwhelming at first, it is the key to longevity in this industry. In fact, 70 percent of construction companies that don’t adopt technology will go out of business, meaning it’s more critical than ever before to embrace tech that’s revolutionizing construction.

Here are two examples of construction technology that are changing the way our industry operates.

Construction Technology Example #1: Mobile Apps

With 93 percent of craftspeople already using a mobile device on-site, it’s clear why mobile apps have one of the highest adoption rates in construction. Mobile construction apps give jobsite teams the tools they need to efficiently accomplish tasks. With Fieldwire’s mobile app, for example, craftspeople have the ability to:

  • Communicate in real-time to accelerate decision-making and resolution
  • View and manage plans from the field even without an internet connection
  • Instantly share important data (files and photos) with the office team to ensure everyone is always on the same page

This way, projects can progress without any miscommunication that has real costs — far worse than many construction companies realize. In the U.S. alone, an estimated $31 billion each year and four hours each week is lost to rework caused by miscommunication. Mobile construction apps that support the real-time flow of information have the power to reduce this loss significantly!

“It’s easier to communicate with the general contractor because all of the information is right there at our fingertips. Within seconds, we can pull up anything on an iPad and hash things out with them.”

Phil Blake, Regional General Manager at Colt Builders

Construction Technology Example #2: Drones

No longer just a high-tech military device, drones (or unmanned aerial vehicles) have emerged as an essential part of the construction process. Not yet fully autonomous, but almost there, today’s drone technology can be scheduled at select times to monitor and record site activity across multi-billion dollar construction sites, including Microsoft’s Redmond campus. From capturing aerial videos to transporting equipment and materials, there are many uses for drones across a variety of industries. In the construction industry, the technology has become particularly useful for monitoring project progress and tracking material quantities.

DroneDeploy CEO and Founder, Mike Winn, said the two most broad ways of thinking about how drones are used on a construction site include “understanding construction progress — using drone photos, drone maps, and 3D models to map exactly what’s happened on a construction site, and using drones to help with site modeling — understanding the topology of the land before something gets built.”

With an estimated market value of over $127 billion in commercial applications, it’s clear that drones are making the transition from novelty item to indispensable business tool.

Synchronize and standardize to optimize construction technology

Without standardization, the positive impact of construction technology is lessened. If you have contractors and owners using different software, communication will be disconnected and the prevalence of double data entry will sky-rocket.

In fact, a recent study by Dodge Data & Analytics found that 42 percent of contractors use both the owner’s project management system in addition to their own, which increases the likelihood of risk as contractors duplicate efforts.

Without synchronization and standardization there is a real disconnect on the jobsite. Construction companies should look for technology with open API architecture that can seamlessly integrate with other systems to streamline and simplify daily tasks.

Burnham Nationwide, a building permit expediting and code compliance consulting firm, uses Fieldwire’s open API to integrate directly with its ERP system in order to manage access to each project and set of documents the company is working on.

“The capabilities of the Fieldwire platform are superior to the likes of PlanGrid. Fieldwire’s task management, customer service team, and it’s easy-to-use APIs allowed us to use it as a solution across the country.”

Carson Kyhl, Co-Founder and President at Burnham Nationwide

As investor momentum continues to build for construction technology, examples of construction technology will continue to emerge and propel the industry forward. If you’re excited to start working with construction technology that’s easy-to-use and affordable, please request a free demo of Fieldwire’s mobile app today.

HeadshotTara Callinan • 

Listen to “The ConTechCrew 189: Service Time, Not Scooter Time with Yves Frinault of Fieldwire” on Spreaker.

Starring in The ConTechCrew’s 189th episode was Yves Frinault of Fieldwire! In this episode, Yves spoke about his professional experience in the military and tech and expressed his strong opinions on amateur scooter riding.

Until just recently, there had been 3 years and 160 episodes between Yves Frinault’s appearances on The ConTechCrew podcast

And boy have things changed in that time!

Since Yves last spoke with host James Benham, he’s raised a record amount of funding and become a U.S. citizen; news James thought was well worth opening with:

“We’re thrilled to have you as part of the American team and we’re excited to have you back on the show.”

Throughout the latest ConTechCrew episode, Yves spoke about his career in tech, military experience, approach to developing Fieldwire’s app, and more! You can hear all about it online.

Don’t have time? Here is a list of key takeaways, quotes, and insights from the podcast:

  • It wasn’t until Yves served a year in the French military that he learned the importance of efficient communication.
  • While working in tech at Ubisoft, Yves realized there was a high bar set for products in Silicon Valley. He said: “I realized a product must be enjoyable to use. So when Javed and I started Fieldwire we told ourselves we were going to make a product that’s truly enjoyable for craftsmen on-site.”
  • Yves is a strong believer in ‘the Freemium model,’ confirming that there will always be a place for small teams to use Fieldwire for free.

“We’re seeing a lot of freemium models flushed and it really upsets construction companies.”

James Benham, ConTechCrewChief

  • Fieldwire’s task dashboard is used to track any piece of work that needs to be dispatched and inspected. When talking about Fieldwire’s task dashboard, co-host Rob McKinney told Yves: “It sounds like you’ve taken the two-week lookahead, the project plan, and even some lean methodology and baked it into this new online experience for the office and field to convey productivity and profitability.”
  • Yves and his staff use Fieldwire internally to manage and view all of their tasks by priority each day.
  • Fieldwire is used on a variety of projects to track and manage the construction of airports, hospitals, highways, and even prefab structures.
  • Originally, Yves pitched Fieldwire as ‘the Jira for Construction’ due to its open API which allows one piece of software to integrate with another. Yves said this capabilty is being more utilized as construction companies start to hire in-house developers to build integrations.
  • Yves predicts that the convergence of construction hardware and construction software is coming and that it has the potential to take a lot of burden off field-workers.
  • By 2025, Yves predicts that 80 percent of Fieldwire’s revenue will come from subcontractors.

“It’s hard to build software that can be used by both GCs and subs but It appears you’ve been able to thread that needle pretty well, Yves.”

Rob McKinney, ConAppGuru

  • Yves believes there are better long-term financial benefits for skilled craftspeople than Uber drivers, who tend to focus on the immediate deposits in their bank accounts rather than the depreciation of their car.
  • Fun fact: Yves is not a fan of electric scooters. He said his co-founder, Javed Singha, once rented a scooter and face-planted in the streets of Oakland, CA.

Want more? Listen to episode 189 to hear more from Yves about founding Fieldwire, plus his fresh-takes embedded apps, scooters, and more!

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