In our latest Trailblazers interview, we speak with Matt Abeles, vice president of construction technology and innovation, Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC). Abeles shares his career background, the various hurdles small versus large contractors face, and efforts to help the smaller, midsize contractors embrace digital transformation.
Burcin Kaplanoglu, executive director, innovation officer for Oracle Global Business Units, leads the discussion.
MA: I am the vice president of construction technology and innovation for Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC). We have more than 21,000 members across the country and 69 chapters. At the 10,000-foot view, my role is to help educate and create awareness about what's going on in technology and innovation with our members.
I also help collaborate with the tech community. Our mix of contractor members is diverse in both size and trade and includes small and midsize firms ranging from general contractors and electrical contractors to mechanical contractors.
There’s a lot I'm doing to help create impact, including providing a bigger focus on construction technology and innovation. My work is a little different than what I've done in the past because I’m focusing more on smaller, midsize contractors. Helping the smaller, midsize contractors not just choose their technologies, but also the ways they innovate as companies, is a part of my role.
I’ve been in real estate and construction for most of my career as a co-founder of BuiltWorlds. I had the pleasure of working with many contractors, technology companies, and stakeholders in the built environment, including the venture capital companies.
I have a unique perspective into seeing how the small tech companies grow, how the big tech companies collaborate with the small tech companies, and how the small contractors are starting to embrace technology. What are the hurdles that small contractors have versus some of the larger contractors’ hurdles?
In 2014, the venture capitalist community in the building industry was almost nonexistent, and today it’s a large ecosystem. It’s been awesome to see it grow. As my career has evolved, so has the industry.
MA: We’ve made a lot of progress, but there's still a lot of work to do. Prior to ABC, my focus was really on the larger contractors.
I've seen a lot of the larger contractors embrace that futuristic technology, ranging from how we use virtual reality on job sites to how we embrace robotics. However, the small contractors that make up most of the industry are just now embracing digital transformation to become a little more paperless.
But there's more work to be done. You have a lot of the small contractors, including some of the CEOs and owners, making a small step to implement a customer relationship management (CRM) system, which seems basic.
There’s been progress, especially given the state of the world right now due to COVID-19, which has forced the use of technology. Now, whether using digital meeting platforms or offsite collaboration tools, multiple stakeholders can communicate in different parts of the country. We are seeing these changes by necessity, not by a proactive desire to change. But it’s still progress.
That’s my 10,000 foot view. But again, when I look at overall impact, the smaller segment—contractors with fewer than 100 employees or contractors whose revenue is $15 million or less—is a very crowded space. In 2015, this was not a crowded space.
You can't just go on Google and type, “What is the best technology solution for drones or project management?” You need to go deeper to understand what matters to you and to your business. The need to help people understand the landscape is more important now than it's ever been.
MA: The biggest challenge is still the small and midsize contractors taking step number one, whether this is embracing a project management tool or getting the team to digitize their timing in and timing out. Taking that first step—and getting the company behind that growing effort—is the biggest hurdle.
We need more young professionals coming to the industry. That’s one thing that hasn't really changed since I've been around. Innovative technology will help young professionals get excited.
Stay tuned for part II, in which Abeles will share his views on fostering innovation within the workplace, which technologies can make the most impact in the short and long term, and how gathering and extracting data will be instrumental to the growth of AI and machine learning
See innovation in action at the Oracle Industries Innovation Lab.
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