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Insights and best practices for construction management technology and project delivery

ABC leader on why data is key to the future of small and midsize contractors

In Part I of our latest Trailblazers interview with Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) Vice President of Construction Technology and Innovation Matt Abeles, he reviews his career background and his work to help small and midsize contractors digitally transform their companies.

In Part II, Abeles shares 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.

Burcin Kaplanoglu, executive director, innovation officer for Oracle Global Business Units, leads the discussion.

BK: How can organizations foster a culture of innovation?

MA: The biggest thing is having someone champion innovation. The larger companies may have chief information officers and chief technology officers, whereas the small and midsize contractors may not.

With some of the contractors, the CEO has sometimes chosen a technology without receiving the buy-in from the company. This lack of support creates problems if the company goes a little rogue and employees use what they like instead of what the CEO likes. There’s no collaboration.  

The second piece is finding a champion. If you're a small or midsize contractor, it may be that a project manager needs to step up and say, "Hey, I'd like to lead this technology effort and present it to everyone to make a business case on why we need this on board."

It sounds like basic business principles, but it's not happening—and it needs to happen for small and midsize contractors.

There’s another frequent mistake. The midsize contractors are taking the guy who ran IT and saying, “You've done a great job with this. Now you should run construction technology and innovation for the company.”

They are two very different roles. But I've seen that happen a lot of times, and it doesn't make the company or individual successful in that capacity.

BK: What will be your recommendation then for that?

MA:  A company’s leadership should understand what some of the problems need to be solved for guys in the field. The company should appoint someone, or a committee, to find solutions and understand what the hurdles are going to be.

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"How intuitive are these technologies, and how much time can you expand learning something new? Because some technologies are more intuitive than others, but everyone's learning curve will be different."

-Matt Abeles, VP of Construction Technology and Innovation, ABC

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You must get the company on board to lead that effort—something that I don’t frequently see. Sometimes it’s just one rogue person that’s doing it, and other times it’s the CEO. It doesn't happen overnight, but that's going to give you the most long-term impact.

BK: What emerging technologies do you see having the biggest impact in the short and medium term for construction and engineering?

MA: Now that some of the big and expensive construction technology conferences are virtual, they're less expensive, providing small and midsize contractors the opportunity to embrace some of those virtual events that they couldn't before.

Digitizing processes and collecting more data also plays a big role. For example, on the safety side, you’re going to see a lot more digitization of those safety efforts. You’re going to also see a lot of impact in processes that make job sites paperless.

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"You’re also seeing the big companies embracing data collection in a big way, including a lot more data companies entering construction to help engineering and construction organizations understand their data."

-Matt Abeles, VP of Construction Technology and Innovation, ABC

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Data collection can also help organizations understand what certifications employees have on the worksite. In addition, people are getting a better lens on who is on their job site and how many hours they are working. This level of insight extends beyond productivity; it’s a lens into your business in a way that we haven’t seen before.

To summarize, the biggest impacts to the industry include digitizing multiple processes, especially on the safety side, but also collecting more data on the workforce itself.

BK: Where you see the biggest impact of machine learning and AI when it comes to construction engineering?

MA: We’re farther along with machine learning and AI, but we have some work to do. There are great artificial intelligence solutions because they've taken AI and focused solely on safety. For example, you can monitor not only what safety gear people on the job site are wearing, but also track social distancing.

Going back to what I mentioned before on data; you’re seeing data as one of the solutions that’s implemented not just by large companies, but by midsize contractors, too. We’re not at a place where I could say that the small and midsize contractors are implementing this in a big way.

But their eyes are on it, they're looking at it, the big contractors are looking at it, and it’s the future. The next part of data is machine learning.

Now that companies are gathering data, machine learning is the next place to provide real input into how you can make your company better. We’re getting there. The actual gathering and extracting of that data is the first step into more people utilizing AI and machine learning.

See innovation in action at the Oracle Industries Innovation Lab.

Oracle Construction and Engineering, the global leader in construction management software and project portfolio management solutions, helps you connect your teams, processes, and data across the project and asset lifecycle. Drive efficiency and control in project delivery with proven solutions for project controls, construction scheduling, portfolio management, BIM/CDE, construction payment management, and more.

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