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Demystifying The “Digital Transformation” Trend

 

Originally aired on 5/14/2020

59 Minutes

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In this webinar, InEight Director of Industry Solutions AJ Waters unpacks and demystifies the sometimes confusing topic of digital transformation in the construction industry, removing the cloud of uncertainty it raises for many companies.

You’ll learn why digital transformation efforts are no longer just for the “big boys,” how to identify signs that you need to make changes, what to look for in determining the intuitiveness of a solution, and where to begin with your own journey into technology.

Transcript

 

Kathy Wells:

Hello, everyone. Thank you for standing by. All participants are in listen-only mode and, as a reminder, this event is being recorded and will be archived on constructionbusinessowner.com. You may contact ReadyTalk’s customer service with any technical questions. I’m Kathy Wells, Editor of Construction Business Owner magazine, and welcome to Demystifying the Digital Transformation Trend, presented by AJ Waters and Construction Business Owner magazine.

Kathy Wells:

Today’s webinar is sponsored by InEight, and we’ll discuss how to simplify the process of adopting new digital technologies. InEight combines technology with a unified vision, delivering actionable insights and project certainty to more than 25,000 active users in more than 500 companies. Built on the history of construction and engineering excellence, InEight’s solutions help companies visualize, estimate, manage, control and connect all aspects of capital and maintenance projects. 

Kathy Wells:

It’s my pleasure at this time to introduce our expert speaker, AJ Waters. AJ Waters is the Director of Industry Solutions at InEight, where he works with customers to develop solutions that help solve their greatest project challenges. Previously, he managed the Center of Excellence Team for the Kiewit Technology Group and served as a program manager at Google, guiding the digital transformation of its global data center construction operations. He holds a master’s degree in Structural Engineering from the University of Nebraska, and a bachelor’s degree in Mathematics and Physics from Doane University.

Kathy Wells:

At this time, it’s our pleasure to begin the webinar. Please stay tuned after the presentation for the interactive Q&A session and please send your questions through the chat feature, and we’ll get to as many of them as possible. Now, I’d like to go ahead and turn it over to AJ to get us started. AJ?

AJ Waters:

Thank you, Kathy, and hello, everyone. It’s a pleasure to be with you today, and one thing I do want to clear up. I know the picture, it says a lot, and I’m sure you’re all thinking how great I look, but really, and truly don’t let the picture fool you. My first digital transformation was taking paper drawings and putting them on a computer. When I started out in construction, like many of you, I had a roll of drawings and a stack of colored pencils that I used to do takeoffs, and that, that right there, is how we did our work. We colored up the drawings. We did a few quick calculations, and then we entered that into a DOS estimating system, for those of you who remember DOS.

AJ Waters:

So it’s been a long journey, and I’ve gone through a couple of these, the first one being going to an on-screen takeoff solution as just a point solution for our estimating department to solve that one problem.

AJ Waters:

But one of the things we were very cognizant of in starting this webinar or coming up with today’s topic is, we put the term ‘digital transformation’ in quotations for a reason, and that’s really because that phrase or that concept in the industry has kind of got a bad rap. And what it is, is that the phrase tends to be scary to some just because it tends to have a lot of other thoughts that come along with it. When you first hear that the term digital transformation, probably one of the first things that comes to mind is dollar signs. That’s going to cost us a lot of money, and if we want to jump in or try to make some big process change and adopt some sort of technology, it’s going to be expensive.

AJ Waters:

Other things that that people think of is the time aspect. All right. Any digital transformation that we’re going to undergo will require time, not just to select a solution, but then to implement it, to get people up to speed on it, and to realize any sort of ROI from it.

AJ Waters:

Also, one of the things that has come to mind a lot when we talk to customers is, ‘What kind of hardware do I need to support this? I’m running around with a single laptop. I don’t want to have to buy a dozen tablets or upgrade my servers back at the office to handle this sort of bandwidth. And what kind of hardware?’ I think a lot of times that goes back to the money question.

AJ Waters:

And then, obviously, we are all in the people businesses. Construction is still a very people-focused set of operations. It requires skilled craft and skilled labor, so what’s it going to take to get my people up to speed on any sort of digital transformation that we try to go undertake? And this is typically what happens when someone mentions the phrase or the idea or the concept of digital transformation. The alarm bells start going off, and we start thinking, ‘Oh, that’s going to cost so much money, take so much time, and really disrupt our people.’

AJ Waters:

And one of the reasons for that is that back in 2018, McKinsey did a survey, and they found out that just 16% of organizations were seeing sustainable performance improvements from digital transformation. And that’s a really small number. When you really dig into it, 16% is not a very good success rate. And so, that lore or that fear of undergoing a digital transformation and that mantra that kind of comes with it, that’s something we want to try to piece through to today. And so, one of the first things that we want to do is … well, let’s talk about what a digital transformation is. Why do we have these kinds of fears or these thoughts when we first hear that phrase?

AJ Waters:

And when you look at the definition, the short-form definition of digital transformation, it’s the use of new, fast or frequently changing technology problems, or technology to solve problems rather. And right away, for me, the concept of ‘fast and frequently changing’ is one of those alarm bells, right? I’m going to go, and I’m going to put in or go through this major transformation in technology that’s changing so fast and so frequently that I’m not going to be able to keep up. And as soon as I put something new in, I’ve got to go rip it out and replace it with the next new thing, right? And so, that’s one of the big fears around this definition.

AJ Waters:

And the longer answer, if you go to The Enterprise Project and you ask them to define it, it talks about fundamentally changing your business, but then it gets into it being a culture change, continually challenging things and getting comfortable with failure. And again, you can see why the cost, the time, the hardware, the people change management and those thoughts continue to just creep up in our minds.

AJ Waters:

And so, as I mentioned, today’s agenda is really pretty straightforward. What we’re going to try to do today is to remove some of that mystique, or some of that bad rap, from the term digital transformation. We want to unpack it a little bit and dissect it in a way that makes it a little bit more comfortable, and one of the first things we’re going to do is explore what has changed recently to make it so that digital transformations can be something that is consumed by an organization of any size, any shape.

AJ Waters:

And once we do that, we’ll take a look at what are some of the signs? What are the hints that maybe a digital transformation could be right for your organization? And if you are kind of tracking along with those hints, we’ll talk about one of the key things you need to focus on when it comes to solving problems with technology, and that’s making it intuitive. And then, we’ll wrap up at the end with some ideas to get you started determining how you can begin jumping into a digital transformation if this is something that sounds right or sounds fair to you.

AJ Waters:

So, first and foremost, let’s talk about what why digital transformations are no longer just for the big boys. It’s not about the companies that have large amounts of capital to invest in all the time and the resources available. And so, why is that? What has changed? Well, over the last decade, there have been a few major advancements in technology that really changed the landscape specifically when you dive into it, it has the landscape for capital projects and construction in general. And in those three things are mobile technologies becoming more mainstream, cloud computing really taking off, and user experience taking a front seat. And while that last one’s not necessarily a technology, it is being embraced by technology, and that’s what’s really key in this.

AJ Waters:

So, let’s take a look at each one of these individually. First off, mobile becoming mainstream. It wasn’t much over 10 years ago when I (and probably most of you) was walking around with one of these. This is what the business user had, and the goal was for there to be 24/7 communication, the ability to respond or take action on something that popped up and, in the keyboard provided, a quicker way to get to that response, and the little blue light obviously notified us when one of those messages came through.

AJ Waters:

But what’s really interesting about this particular device is when you recall what everyone else had, right? The average consumer was walking around with a device that could barely send a text message. You had to hit the same button three times to get the letter you want. And so, it made for this divide between your average daily consumer and the business user, and it caused for there to be different technologies that were being consumed at different levels.

AJ Waters:

But then as we mentioned, a little over 10 years ago, something happened. A phone launched, and while the iPhone isn’t the only one, it was the first. And very shortly thereafter, more and more popped up, and it wasn’t just a business-only device.

AJ Waters:

Today, everyone has one. Your average person in the field, your average employee is walking around with one of these in their pocket already – not just something that can handle communication as far as instant knowledge or action or a decision being made, but maybe more important to construction, there is a camera in everyone’s pocket when it comes to documenting what’s going on at the jobsite. And so, mobile became mainstream, and that really started to change this concept of digital transformation.

AJ Waters:

The other major technology piece that took off was the concept of cloud computing, and it’s been almost 20 years now since the first couple of streaming services launched. I bet if I were to have asked you, thinking all the way back to 2003 for iTunes and 2005 for YouTube, that seems like it was just yesterday when those things took off.

AJ Waters:

But it really wasn’t until 2006 when the first provider of an enterprise cloud deployment came into the mix, and that was Amazon. Shortly thereafter, that gave way to Netflix. That’s what Netflix uses, and why it was one of the first out of the gate. But then came Google and Microsoft, and the big three round it out. And now, everyone has an enterprise cloud system. If I were to ask most of you today, you’re probably using Office 365 or Google docs now as a way to move your email and your documentation and everything to the cloud.

AJ Waters:

But even looking at this, 10 years ago was the last time a major provider jumped into the cloud. But even so, in the last five years, Amazon is still seeing exponential growth of their cloud business. And what’s happened is that cloud computing has taken off to a level that now, operations in the cloud and calculations that are used to require a load of RAM on your local machine, are being done in a millisecond in real time, and every device is getting that update. And so, cloud computing taking off really was a key change in the consumption of digital transformations.

AJ Waters:

And the last one of these, again, is user experience taking a front seat, and if we go back to our example of mobile technology, in today’s world when you hand one of those mobile devices to anyone, they can use them almost immediately. They’re intuitive. They’re very simple. You understand where to tap. You know how to swipe. It’s all very second nature to us regardless of age or where you live or what your background was. And one of the key reasons behind this that often goes unexamined is user experience.

AJ Waters:

The number of user experience professionals whose sole job it is to make your life easier when it comes to software is continuing to climb across the world, and in 2000, it was less than 10,000 total. But in 2010, it was up to 100,000, and now in 2020, we’re just over a million. So, with the number of people focusing on the ease of use of your solutions going up by 10X every 10 years, you can see how it becomes much easier to consume things like digital transformations.

AJ Waters:

So, the question is really, ‘How does all this help?’ Well, first and foremost, if you’re talking about devices that everyone already owns, a lot of times, that can help to alleviate upfront costs. The device is already in their pocket. You don’t really have to do a lot to get them to use it. They’re pretty familiar with it. They use it every day to text or talk or email, and so it relieves that first strain.

AJ Waters:

But the second thing it does is it also relieves the time strain. It’s not as difficult for us to get up to speed on. We already use it. We’re familiar with it. It’s intuitive, and when you bring in the cloud software as a service and items that are hosted elsewhere and already installed, deployments are quicker because you’re not installing software on local machines and going from machine to machine to machine to make sure that the software is installed and it’s updated.

AJ Waters:

Both of those combine to be very beneficial when it comes to the hardware. We already talked about it. These people have these devices in their pockets already. Cloud computing typically runs in a browser, so as long as the machine that you have is able to ping the internet, it’s not about getting a new machine with faster speeds or capabilities because all of the computation effect is happening somewhere else. And again, the training is typically easier because it’s stuff that we already know, stuff that we’re already used to, and it’s delivered electronically. No more reading long manuals or trying to page through documents to understand what’s happening. And all of this combines into digital transformations being something that anyone can consume and not so much just one of those things that big companies with a lot of capital are able to do.

AJ Waters:

So, if you’re tracking with us so far, then the next thing you’re going to want to take a look at is what are some of the signs that we’re ready to make a change? I understand that digital transformations, they can be done at any level, so how do I know if I’m ready for one? What we’re doing is working. Everything’s fine. We don’t really have a lot of major issues or pain points, so what should I be on the watch for?

AJ Waters:

And really there are a couple of common industry challenges that we tend to see either in construction or capital projects that are telltale signs that you’re about ready or that you’re struggling with something that maybe a digital transformation could solve. The first one is good old paper processes. If you still have a lot of paper on your jobsites, you might be ripe for a digital transformation. If you’re wrestling to report on disconnected systems or if you’re struggling to leverage historical data, those are also both places where maybe a digital transformation is right for you. Or the last one, you just keep getting requests from your employees that something needs to change. They are saying, ‘There are better ways to do this,’ and asking you for those better ways. And again, we’ll unpack each one of these a little bit.

AJ Waters:

So, dealing with paper processes that I already mentioned, when I first started in construction, it was about a roll of drawings and a stack of colored pencils. And we’d color that drawing up, and we’d get all of our calculations done. And lo and behold, out would come an addendum, and then it would be about, ‘Do I have the right version? And if I don’t, let me cut out this clouded area here. I’m going to tape it over the top of the takeoff I already did. I’m going to recolor it, and I’m going to make some adjustments to my calculations,’ right? And that’s something that we find a lot of companies are still struggling with is, most importantly, do I have the most up-to-date version of the drawing, or has there been a release up to this point?

AJ Waters:

The other paper process that we see, more often than not, is the timecards. Everybody remembers tracking out in the field. You got the employees down the left that cost code across the top, and when you flipped it over, you filled out your log, and everybody signed and said they weren’t hurt, right?

AJ Waters:

And it’s not so much the timecard or the collection of that data that is the issue. It’s more what happened after because that timecard has more than one person that it needs to go to afterwards. Obviously, Payroll needs it. You got to pay the people whose hours are on the card. But typically, the Safety Department wants to know how many hours you worked while people were saying they weren’t injured, so they need to get a look at the hour total. You likely need to send it to the person who’s in charge of your quantity tracking or your percent complete. How much quantity did we get installed, and what can we claim and then, therefore, bill to the client?

AJ Waters:

If there’s a rework code on that time card, your quality guy probably wants to know about it. The Quality Department or person is going to track that and understand how much time they’re focusing on in rework. And the list can go on and on, right? And so, it’s the whole process of passing the timecard around to all these different people that that becomes very manual.

AJ Waters:

And in today’s technology landscape, both of these are solved. Drawings can be overlaid, right? You can get notifications that the page that you’re looking at is the wrong drawing, and here’s a link to get the right one. We’re very quickly able to access things with mobile devices right at our fingertips. And with the timecards, same thing. That mobile device, whether it’s the one in your pocket or a tablet version, takes you right to where the work is to do the capture, but at the same time, when you hit ‘submit,’ it can be routed to however many different departments or people you need to send it to. So, if you’re dealing with a lot of paper processes still, that might be a sign that you’re ready for a digital transformation.

AJ Waters:

The next one is wrestling to report on disconnected systems, and this is probably one of the biggest ones we come across when we’re working with customers is that they’ve gone out, and they have made some changes to digital solutions. Maybe they went out and get they got an estimating system to replace Excel, or they got a timekeeping system to replace paper timecards, or maybe even a document system that does takeoffs and electronic documents.

AJ Waters:

But what happens is, when you want to take all of those systems together, and you want to report your percent complete against the original quantity based on what the field captured, you’ve got to do some sort of export and call on our good old buddy Excel to run a PivotTable, right? And hopefully, the cost codes line up with one another, and we’re both tracking from the same system, and hopefully, nobody spelled anything wrong because then it’s not going to match. And your charts or your graphs are going to have jumps or dips or things that are not expected when it comes to trying to determine what happened between these different systems. So, if you’re still wrestling to try to pull all this data into a single source of reporting, a digital transformation might be right for you.

AJ Waters:

One that’s near and dear to my heart is struggling to leverage historical data, and here’s why. Even before I was an estimator coloring up those drawings, I was an intern in college at a metal building manufacturer, and this was my job. Every single day as an intern, I went to the warehouse. So, we had a warehouse offsite, a huge warehouse, and in that warehouse were racks and racks of drawings and folders and boxes. And what this warehouse contained was all of the past projects that this company had done. They’d been around a long time. They had a lot of past projects.

AJ Waters:

And my internship was spent going to the warehouse, grabbing the next box, and standing in front of a large-format scanner to pull in all of the information. The company was worried about that warehouse going up in smoke and losing all of that historical data. So, my job was to, every day, create a new file folder, and then when I had the file folder created for that project, hit ‘scan.’ And while that’s all well and good, it solved problem number one, if the building goes up in smoke, we have our historical data. The one problem is in looking at that data file, tell me where the cost report is.

AJ Waters:

Or I’m building another building for that client. It’s similar in nature, just in a different city, and I want to know what productivity factors I had last time. Where can I go find the production reports? And while we had those things, obviously, looking at a list of filenames with dates associated to them makes it very difficult to solve that problem. And so, if you’re struggling to leverage your past projects or to pull in your historical data, maybe a digital transformation is right for you.

AJ Waters:

But the last one that I tend to have some fun with folks sometimes is just the continual requests from employees, and again, this goes back to that device that’s in most of our pockets these days, whether it’s new grads coming out of college who have grown up with this their entire lives, or it’s just your typical employee who now is communicating with their kids this way, the majority of our employees communicate with a mobile device and, a lot of times, face to face, especially now. And we’re asking them to put one of these on their desk and figure out how to dial, right?

AJ Waters:

Or the way they share content is wirelessly. They never have to plug into anything, and they can share whatever they want. And we’re in the middle of the conference table at the office trying to find the right cord, and is it long enough? Will it connect to my computer?

AJ Waters:

Or maybe the way we handle our financials and track our banking. Well, that all happens at the touch of a finger, and we’re at work looking for the next Excel super-spreadsheet. Or going back to the college concept, these new employees have gone all through school using digital technologies to learn in their classes, and we’re saying, ‘Hey, go color up that drawing.’

AJ Waters:

And what ends up happening is, at home, I get to be George, but at work, I’m pedaling my car like Fred. And a lot of times, that causes some strife or you get a lot of requests from employees: ‘Hey, there’s got to be a better way to do this.’ And if you’re hearing those, maybe it’s time to take a look at a new solution.

AJ Waters:

And the follow-up question to that always is, ‘Well, what kind of solution should I take a look at? What’s my end goal?’ And more than anything else, more than any specific problem statement or any specific all-in solution, the one thing that I think everybody can agree on is that the new solution needs to be intuitive. It’s got to be something that users want to use and that is simple to use.

AJ Waters:

And so, again, going back, let’s define what you mean exactly by intuitive. Well, that means having the ability to understand something without any evidence or reasoning behind it. A few examples are psychics. They’re intuitive. That’s how they read people, right? But probably more specifically for many of us, mothers or fathers, they’re intuitive when we’re trying to lie to them, right? They can see right through us.

AJ Waters:

But if we were to relate this to what we’re actually discussing today, a process or a software can be said to be intuitive if it’s easily learned without training. Think about the first time you picked up the device in your pocket to send a text message. For many of us, we didn’t have to sit down and read a five-page manual that said, ‘Tap the messages app. Enter in a contact and start typing a message.’ And it also wasn’t two entirely difficult to figure out how to put in a smiley face or a monkey face or a firework of some sort, right? Emojis. We could just naturally do that.

AJ Waters:

So, what is it specifically that makes software intuitive? Well, since this isn’t one of my areas of expertise, I actually sat down, and I interviewed InEight’s Director of UI/UX, Fred Hall, and I grabbed a couple of quotes from him specifically. And the first thing that he told me is, ‘It needs to use some sort of applied knowledge, and what applied knowledge does for a user interface is allows people who they’re going to want to use it versus being forced to open it up because they hate.’

AJ Waters:

Again, think back to some of the digital transformations you’ve done in the past. Was the software truly more efficient or easier to use than maybe the piece of paper? Sometimes, they weren’t because it was before user interface really became a focal point.

AJ Waters:

But what applied knowledge does is if I were to tell you, ‘Press a button,’ you’d probably know which one was good and which one was bad, right? Green means go. Red mean stop, cancel, get out, right? That’s applied knowledge. Never press the red button. We hear that all the time, and so that’s an example.

AJ Waters:

Another example of utilizing applied knowledge is international symbols, right? This is the power button. We all kind of understand that. Another one that we typically all understand is the volume button. In this example, this is a bad example of utilizing applied knowledge. Typically, when we click on the volume, we expect that scroll to go up and down, and in this example, it goes left to right. So, that would be an example of not utilizing applied knowledge.

AJ Waters:

The other thing that an intuitive software will do is simplify your workflows. Many of us are familiar with Excel. We’re engineers. That’s what we do. We use spreadsheets. And what you’re probably going to see here is you’re going to recognize Excel before the new file slide out and Excel after the new file slide out.

AJ Waters:

And while the new file slide out, in the long run, has been helpful, I’m sure you all remember the first time that you tried to go look for an Excel file to open. You hit File, and there’s the slide out. Then, you’re like, ‘Okay. Well, I need to open something,’ and so there’s the next view of the slide out. ‘Well, I haven’t opened it before, so it’s not in my “Recents” list, so I have to hit “Browse.” And then, finally, here comes the file browser on Windows, right? So, was it the multi-click process the first time you tried to do that?

AJ Waters:

But when you look at the workflow, how it used to be, click ‘File.’ There’s your drop-down menu. Click ‘Open,’ and there’s your file browser. And what happened was, they took what was only two clicks, ‘File, Open,’ and they turned it into three clicks, ‘File, Open and Browse.’ And so, a lot of people didn’t like that file slide out when it first launched because it didn’t simplify the workflow. It actually made it a step more complex.

AJ Waters:

But one thing that Excel did right with this is, specifically, the location of ‘File.’ Location matters, and one of the other keys to UI/UX is the concept of the ‘Law of Locality.’ And while we won’t get into the specifics of that, we all know where File’s at when it comes to a program that we have opened.

AJ Waters:

And one of the things that this example also denotes is, on the left-hand side, you’re seeing your Windows machine, on the right, a Mac. And one of the things that location didn’t do well is the ‘Close’ button and the ‘Maximize’ and ‘Minimize’ buttons. Macs and PCs have those on opposite sides of the system, so it’s one of the hardest things to relearn if you change an operating system. Location matters.

AJ Waters:

But really, more than anything else, an intuitive solution doesn’t make me think. I don’t want to have to think through this. I don’t want to have to guess or experiment or read a manual or ask others to help me through it. And just to give an example of that, let’s go back to our friend from before. One of the most intuitive softwares that I can think of is the camera on a mobile device. It looks like a camera. You tap on it, it opens up and there’s one button. You push the button.

AJ Waters:

Don’t believe me that that’s an intuitive software? Look at your local electronics store’s demo tablets and take a look at the camera roll. I bet you’ll find something similar to this, which happens to be my daughters iPad, but she very quickly figured out how to snap that photo and take all sorts of pictures of herself, right? And it’s just an intuitive thing that you don’t need training for. You don’t have to think really hard. You just tap the camera, tap the button and away you go.

AJ Waters:

So, let’s take everything we’ve learned up to this point and let’s just put a nice little bow around it. Let’s say that you followed along to here, and you’re in agreement. Digital transformations, those are right for anyone. We’ve got some of those telltale signs and we know we need something that’s intuitive. Where should we start? Well, first and foremost, it’s always a good idea to do a couple of sanity checks. Ask yourself, ‘Are we truly prepared for this? Do we have the right people in place to make it work and do we know what’s important to us, really?’

AJ Waters:

And when we look at each one of these, specifically, while we talked a lot about how the cost and time impacts have been minimized from new technology, they don’t completely go away. And so, are you allocating budget for it, and are you expecting it to take some sort of time? Because it will take time.

AJ Waters:

Also, people are still involved. It’s a very people-heavy business. So, has change management been accounted for? These are some of the questions you can ask yourself to truly dive into, ‘Are we prepared to attack a digital transformation?’

AJ Waters:

When it comes to having the right people, one of the first things you need to ask yourself is, ‘What do we consider a stakeholder?’ And I’m not talking about the guy next to the tent who’s waiting for his hand to get hit by the hammer, right? A stakeholder is the person whose job is truly going to be impacted by the transformation you’re looking to undertake. It’s not an executive that doesn’t push the buttons at the same level as the superintendent or the engineer, but it’s those truly executing the process each and every day and getting some sort of impact or gaining some sort of advantage from making a change.

AJ Waters:

But all that being said, executives are truly required. You need some sort of champion or sponsor in the executive wing who’s going to help allocate the budget, allocate the time, find the appropriate stakeholders, right? And so, there is definitely a place for both types of people. If you’re missing either one of those, it’s going to be difficult to get something implemented or get it across the line.

AJ Waters:

Lastly, what’s most important to us, really? And the reason I bring this one up is because, when we sit down with customers and we ask them, ‘You’re looking at us as an opportunity or an option for a new software or a digital transformation. What are you looking to gain out of this?’ inevitably, everybody says, ‘We want to be more efficient.’ Okay, that’s great. What does ‘more efficient’ mean? Do you want to take clicks away from a process? Do you want to have higher throughput? Do you want to reduce overheads? Do you want to increase profits? What does more efficient mean to you and, more importantly, how will you quantify success of a digital transformation? What KPIs? What metrics? What are you after? What are you chasing to try to quantify success?

AJ Waters:

And it really comes down to the old methodology: is it a SMART goal? And we see these goals a lot, and many times what happens is, we see SMAR goals. It’s specific, measurable, attainable and realistic, but a lot of times people forget the ‘T’ on the end – meaning, we want this to be time-bound. There’s got to be some sort of intensity or goal to get this across the finish line. If we’re not really time-bounding our goal, then we don’t have the same kind of buy-in. We don’t have the same kind of sponsorship, right?

AJ Waters:

And then, don’t forget to always be thinking about what’s next. We talked about the definition of a digital transformation being continually changing, ever-changing technology. And so, if you’re going to go tackle one problem, make sure you’re thinking in the back of your mind, ‘What is going to be the next thing, and are we prepared to tackle both, or at least to some context, report on both?’ We don’t want to end up in that same position where we can’t report across disparate systems or disconnected data. Always be thinking about what’s next and what could be the next journey based on the problems that you solve up front.

AJ Waters:

And so, you really want to focus in on fixing pain points. Going back to McKinsey, digital transformations are only successful if there’s a clear definition of what will create business value. What is really important to you? In other words, don’t go out and buy a bunch of drones because it sounds cool but because there is a clear definition of how it will create business value. And I use drones as an example because they’re kind of another key buzzword in the industry right now, but make sure of what you’re chasing, right?

AJ Waters:

And so, there are some quick wins that you can look for, especially when it comes to construction and capital projects. We talked about some of those quick wins that are ripe for digital transformation – things like documents and the ability to get those up in the cloud and available on any device, no matter where you are at any time. We talked about time tracking and the ability to get it mobile and submitted to as many departments as necessary. But there’s one other quick win that we indirectly talked about and one of the places that I think is ripe, and that’s cost management, specifically when it comes to leveraging historical data and looking back at what you’ve done before and using that to look at what you want to do in the future.

AJ Waters:

So, those are some of the ways that you can get started as far as what are some questions we need to ask ourselves and where are there places that we could find, maybe, a quick win when it comes to construction. So, let’s do a really quick review, and then we’ll jump into some of your questions. Today, what we did is, we tried to take that phrase ‘digital transformation’ and break it down a little bit and understand why they are working, and not just why they are working now for some people, but for everyone. We took a look at why they are not just for the large companies anymore.

AJ Waters:

And we took a look at what signs point toward needing to undertake one of these. And if you’re seeing some of those signs, what does it mean to find an effective solution, something that’s intuitive? And then we walked through quickly some places where you can begin if you’re ready to take that next step.

AJ Waters:

So, thank you all for listening up to this point. We’ll open it up for Q&A, and we’ll go from there.

Kathy Wells:

Thank you so much, AJ. You made some really great points in those slides, and it looks like it’s got our attendees thinking. So AJ, if you’re ready, we’ll dive right into these questions from the audience. And everyone in the audience, if you still have questions, please feel free to shoot those over through the chat, and we’ll get to as many of them as we can.

Kathy Wells:

Okay. Let’s start off, and I think you just touched on this, AJ. ‘For companies looking to undergo a digital transformation, you mentioned a few areas that were ripe for quick wins. Where should I start?’

AJ Waters:

That’s a great question, and it really goes back to those quick wins such as documents and time tracking and cost management – those are great options to think about. But it goes back one step even further, one slide further, in focusing on a on a pain point, right? And where are you struggling, maybe, to get through a manual process? What is taking longer than it should, or where are you losing data? Maybe there’s a place where things have to be simplified down, and you’re not getting the same level of detail that you used to be getting. So, look really closely for either data leakage like that that you’re losing, or for a process that just has too many steps, and those are great places to start taking a look at digital transformations.

Kathy Wells:

Cool. Thanks, AJ. Let’s hit this next question here: ‘Do you have any suggestions on which solution we should prioritize that can help accelerate our digital transformation?’

AJ Waters:

Yeah. So, one of the things I like to point to, and it’s probably more my background than anything else, but if you’re looking to dive into a digital transformation and do it more quickly, to focus on the round-trip path of costs, right? One of the most important things on construction projects is knowing your costs and knowing your production rate. And so, if you focus on that journey of a cost from estimating out to the field, and then capture in the field back into cost control, billing the client, and then to the next estimate, right? Leveraging the historical data, that path of costs is one of the best parts you can look at as a place to get started.

Kathy Wells:

Great, thanks. We just had a question come through, and I want to push it to the front: ‘Do you see COVID-19 accelerating the need for digital transformation in our industry?’

AJ Waters:

Yeah. That’s a really good question, and I think we’re all kind of seeing it. This change, this pandemic that’s forced a lot of people indoors, is just another reason why the cloud is so prevalent in non-construction-related instances. When you think of just being away from the jobsite but still being able to see the cost and see the productivity and be able to make decisions remotely, yes, I do see this impacting in a way. Obviously, it’s not going to solve every problem, as skilled labor is still very much important to a construction project, but it will allow more people the opportunity to get away from the jobsite as far as being able to still see into what’s happening thanks to the ability to leverage project data from any location in the cloud.

Kathy Wells:

Great question. That was from Daniel. Thanks, Daniel. Our next question: ‘Our company has unique needs. Should I be looking for customizable or modular software, and does that even exist?’

AJ Waters:

That’s a really good question, and we get this a lot. Every company is unique, and has some processes that are their secret sauce, right? And so, what do you want to look for in a solution to make sure that you don’t lose that? While there are some modular and customizable solutions out there, I would be cautious with those to truly understand if you need to go to that level or can you adopt or change or somehow adapt a more best-practice processing approach in the way that you do work.

AJ Waters:

And the reason I say that is, when you start talking about customization and you start talking about making those modular adaptations, that is where you start to see the ramp-up in time and cost for that digital transformation. So, there’s a fine line there and a delicate balance that you’re going to want to play and just make sure – going back to knowing what’s important to you – make sure you know what pains you’re trying to solve and where you maybe have some wiggle room to thin or adjust or make modifications to the processes you use today.

Kathy Wells:

Okay. Let’s get to our next question then. Amelia is asking, ‘When you say, “Is change management accounted for?” where do you look for the answer to that question?’

AJ Waters:

Good question. So, change management often gets overlooked, and the reason is that it’s difficult to know what that means. And so, when we say, ‘Is change management accounted for?’ the main thing that I want people to know, whether it’s an executive or a stakeholder, is they need to understand that with any change in process and any big transformation like this, there will be a dip in productivity. You’re not immediately going to be as productive as you were right out of the gate. You’re going to have to allow for a learning curve, and it’s going to happen.

AJ Waters:

And so, when I say, ‘Is change management accounted for?’ that’s the first thing I want everybody to know. Do you recognize, realize, and have you accepted that there will be a little bit of a dip in the learning curve?

AJ Waters:

Past that, the question is, ‘Okay, how do we learn?’ And change management is very much wrapped around, ‘How do we learn and how do we get buy-in?’ So, there are two key things we typically recommend – some sort of internal group of users, whether you want to call them champions or super-users or whatever phraseology you might want to use – look for a key group of somewhat vocal, passionate and positive folks who are looking to help drive that change. Having those voices in and amongst the people will be helpful. And then, look for how the change is going to be driven through training. What does the provider you’re looking at offer as far as training and flexibility with learning, and what are you planning to do to customize, minimize or strengthen that learning to your individual processes?

Kathy Wells:

Yeah. And AJ, you’ve led us kind of straight into the next question: ‘Do you have any tips and tricks for making going digital attractive to resistant employees?’

AJ Waters:

Oh, that’s a good question. So, there still are a few employees who are resistant, I’ll give you that. But what we’re finding more often than not is, again, these people are using the technology every day and in other things that they do, so it’s really not that much of a leap for them to jump into it on the jobsite.

AJ Waters:

But if you do have a few of those, one of the things that we noticed, and I’ll just use one of my ‘quick win’ examples going forward, is the performance timecard, making the timecard digital. There are a lot of people who tend to fight that, and so one tip that we had is, we gave it to him for a week and said, ‘Just try it and document all the reasons why you hate it. And then, we’ll go back and we’ll talk, and you can explain it to us.’ And what inevitably ends up happening, right, is they fall in love with it, and you can’t take it from them at the end of that week. And so, that’s one tip is to go in there with a trial or some sort of ‘prove it’ mindset that we’re going to let you try it, and you tell us all the reasons it won’t work. And nine times out of 10, you come out of that, and everything’s better.

AJ Waters:

The other thing that you struggle with, though, and it’s more going back to the customizable question, is that people are worried about going digital because it’s going to change the process a little bit or streamline it or do something that they think is valuable to the process is now being taken away from it. And so again, you’ve got to show them what’s in it for them and really focus in on what they’re getting out of the process, how it’s going to make their life better or get them home more quickly at the end of the day, or whatever you’re trying to solve with that. Always remember the ‘what’s in it for me?’ when it comes to your people, and that’ll go a long way.

Kathy Wells:

Okay. We’ve got time for a couple more questions here, and this is, again, along the same lines: ‘Persuading our people to embrace technology has been tough. If we go digital with our project management, what kind of learning curve can we look forward to? A best-case scenario if you can offer one.’

AJ Waters:

Yeah. So, kind of going back to the ‘every company is unique’ angle, each company is unique when it comes to the learning curve as well. But what we tend to see, again, if you’re focusing really hard on solving a pain point, so it’s something that people already struggle with and they want the change, and you’re doing it with an intuitive solution that’s delivered via the cloud on either a mobile or a browser-based device, that really speeds up the timeframe and the process. And so, you could see people making the shift.

AJ Waters:

We talked about the timecards. Typically, when we help companies roll out the timecards, it’s less than a week for the crap to be spun up on that, but some of the other systems, it could take a little bit more time to start understanding – like cost and forecasting and your really intense processes – those could take a month to really dissect and figure out the new steps, so it’s shorter than it used to be. It’s not years anymore, let’s say that. It’s not what we used to see with like a major ERP implementation, where it took two to three to four years. I’d say it’s not even a year any longer. You’re looking at these digital transformations as something that can be consumed in a month to a few months with these newer technologies.

Kathy Wells:

And on the topic of newer technologies, we’ll close with this question: ‘You’ve mentioned a couple of technologies over the last decade that have changed the game for construction. What are some others where you’ve seen make a major impact?’

AJ Waters:

So, outside of things like mobility and the cloud, I think just some of it, in general, some of the things around mobility. Location-based technology, knowing where you’re at and when you’re there, has made a major leap forward. Again, the camera in everybody’s pocket has made for some drastic changes to the way things are tracked and what you can do with change management. The boost in cellular data networks that can handle all of this so that you can be in kind of that constant connected state, which doesn’t always work for remote projects, but for a lot of the bigger projects around cities, you’re seeing that boost in the cellular technology really helping as well.

AJ Waters:

So, those are all different parts and pieces that have made for some big changes that are things you could look for in a solution that you might be chasing, but there’s a number of things coming like drones, which we poked a little fun at, and in robotic technology that is definitely something to keep an eye on.

Kathy Wells:

Okay, everybody. Thank you, AJ. That does it for our time, which brings our webinar to a close. Thank you, all, for your questions today and joining us this afternoon. I’d like to thank AJ for a great presentation, and we’ll be sending out an email shortly to share access to the playback for today’s event but please feel free, also, to visit constructionbusinessowner.com to check out more on this topic and for even more educational webinars.

Kathy Wells:

Thanks again for taking the time to join us today, everyone. Have a great afternoon.

Automated:

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