Construction technology leader on making the most of AI and machine learning

September 1, 2020 | 5 minute read
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In Part I of our Trailblazers article, Meirav Oren, co-founder and CEO of technology company Versatile, shares her thoughts on innovation in E&C and why it’s important to focus on the problems that need to be solved, not the technology.

In Part II, Oren discusses the most promising technology trends and how AI and machine learning help drive informed decision-making.

Burcin Kaplanoglu, vice president, Oracle Industries Innovation Lab, led the discussion.

BK: How can an organization foster a culture of innovation? What works and what doesn’t work?

MO: I am such a fan of our customers. I’ve seen different company cultures with various approaches to how you foster innovation. Startups are inherently innovative. It’s in our DNA, our culture, and in everything we do.

If you’re a bigger organization, and you’re wise enough to interact with those innovative people out there, this collaboration inspires and creates leadership within your organization that drives exactly what you are looking for.

It’s hard to do this on your own and takes leadership. One great champion who is also a leader can accomplish so much.

I have a plan on how to bring the different approaches that we have encountered into a playbook for the industry on how to do this. I’ve seen many different approaches, and they’re all proven right.

Scaling innovation

One of our customers’ challenges is: How do you take what’s already proven and scale it within an organization? Scaling innovation is the next level to fostering innovation—making it widespread enough so that it’s a tool set everyone is using. Our industry is very hung up on pilots.

For example, let’s do an 18-month long project, and only then we’ll judge. You could probably prove your concept in three months. We’ve proven concepts in three months and started growing, taking on more projects in parallel.

Proving value

We kept serving the projects for 18 months, or even longer, but also expanded to more projects and started discussing the advantages of multiple sites as soon as the value was evident. If you can quickly prove your concept’s value, you gain the ability to grow with that technology.

"That’s a huge key for everyone. Have a plan, not just for how you bring in new and exciting technology, but also how you will scale the technology that you’ve proven."

-Meirav Oren, Co-founder and CEO, Versatile

Understand how fast you can prove your technology. Start-ups have a very different life span because they’re dependent on funding.

A startup conducting an 18-month pilot might not actually survive the 18 months, and its customers who are seeing benefits might never gain the ROI as a result.

BK: What emerging technologies do you see presenting the best opportunity for the industry?

MO: The ability to understand our own production rights. This goes back to my manufacturing analogy.

No matter what type of construction technology you’re using, at the end of the day, it’s a factory. Our industry has been using estimates and averages for so long, it’s entrenched in the way we build bids and do the schedules.

So much of this can be changed now that we’ve learned how long things really take. Versatile is a great example of where you could get data from the field and say: “This specific task takes longer than we thought."

Why is that? How can we drive the benchmark to a different place? Can we push the bar on the industry, on ourselves, and on the organization to perform even better?

If you empower the professionals that we serve, these professionals are going to drive it. You don’t need anyone else.

Versatile is not smarter than anyone else out there. It’s our users that are super smart. The sky is the limit for what you can do with imagery, AI, and machine learning, including the way you do bids and estimates—even the way you run your financials. There’s nothing that technology can’t help improve.

BK: If it’s not measured, how can it improve?

MO: Yes. Once you know what your true metrics are, where your potential hazards are to both productivity and safety, you will see changes that are inherent and beautiful to watch. I’m excited about what people in the field are doing with technology. Not what technology does, but what the people do with it.

BK: You understand what customers’ challenges are and how to collect that information from the field. In your case, it’s by using cranes to capture that production information. How do you use machine learning and AI to make sense of it?

MO: That’s the beauty of machine learning and AI. Don’t assume that technology can be smarter than the people, it’s just about the way you decipher the code. AI, machine learning, and the data that you produce are only as good as the resulting actions.

You could make it as complicated as you want on the back end, but be as simple as humanly possible in the front end, because people are too busy. For example, superintendents are probably the busiest of them all. They won’t read vast amounts of dashboard data.

"When Versatile was emerging two years ago, I said: 'Don’t use dashboards. Communicate simply on tools that everyone is already using. Don’t try to force more. Less is actually far more effective. Ideally, it’s a single button that does it all.'"

-Meirav Oren, Co-founder and CEO, Versatile

Simple communication using “data-driven nuggets” is how you utilize AI and machine learning the best. On the back end, it’s how you influence schedules, bidding, estimations, etc. But in the field, keep it super simple.

BK: It’s about how you communicate to the end user. You need to have clean data, and then you can do a lot with it. But we only have a short attention span and can only consume so much information.

MO: Yes, it’s that credibility. If no one trusts your data because it’s a black box that no one understands, users won’t follow even the simplest data points that you produce.

I have my own vision of what that manufacturing floor should look like as a controllable and precise manufacturing process.

This vision includes capturing data and communicating this knowledge to empower our unbelievable professionals in the field to do even more. We should harness AI and machine learning to drive decision making and keep it simple.

See construction 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.

Read more Trailblazers articles here.

Corie Cheeseman

Corie Cheeseman is a senior content marketing manager for Oracle Construction and Engineering.

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