E&C technology pioneer on why every construction job site is a factory

August 25, 2020 | 5 minute read
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In our latest Trailblazers article, we speak with Meirav Oren, co-founder and chief executive officer of technology company Versatile. Oren discusses her career history, why she believes every job site is a factory, and her thoughts on the industry’s approach to construction innovation—including the challenges.

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

BK: What’s your current role, and how has your career evolved since you started in the industry?

MO: My current role is CEO and co-founder of Versatile. Our CraneView device helps manage jobsites by giving construction professionals visibility into jobsite challenges and opportunities.

Our device measures thousands of data points—load, weight, motion, rigging, unrigging, material, location, tasks, and idle times—which instantly display in our mobile app.

I grew up in this industry, so to me, I was always a part of it. I worked at Intel for 10 years, and I’m now back where I belong in construction. My dad was a general contractor and my brother is a project manager. I was the only one straying into technology.

“Every job site is a factory”

This journey officially started about four years ago, sadly due to a fatality on my brother’s job site. Those days totally impacted our construction-driven, Friday night conversations around the house.

I had one clear conclusion from these conversations: We’re looking at a manufacturing industry. Technically, every job site is a factory, yet these job sites are lacking process controls that most manufacturing industries already have.

I wondered why it’s so hard to implement those basic, Lean Six Sigma, or advanced process control methodologies in construction. It came down to the way data is either collected or not collected, and why. Versatile had the algorithm to control what we call non-linear manufacturing processes.

Control starts with the right data

Granted, construction is the most fragmented and non-structured manufacturing process, but we can control this given the right data. Versatile developed in the field alongside the people we aimed to serve.

That proved to be one of the best things we ever did. During these early conversations we realized: Whatever we do, keep it non-intrusive.

We proved our concept in the field, which is something I’m proud of as a startup. We created something that is so simple to implement, and so non-intrusive, that you have no reasons to say no. Our industry is interesting in terms of technology adoption.

"My job was to make sure that we’re not trying to do too much—that we were focused on the things that add value rather than gadgets."

-Meirav Oren, Co-founder and CEO, Versatile

BK: What’s your view of the state of innovation in the industry generally?

MO: I see different signs, unlike the common approach that says our industry is lagging or hard to adapt. Last year, Versatile launched an early adopters program. The original plan was for six projects and about three partners into the program.

All our customers were paying from day one, so we never did any free pilots. We ended up with roughly 10 partners, more than triple the number of projects that we set out to do. We had to stop because we were so heavily over-subscribed.

"Our industry can—and is extremely willing to—adopt. The question is: What is the technology you’re asking the industry to adopt and how?"

-Meirav Oren, Co-founder and CEO, Versatile

Bulking technology into one big lump is a huge mistake. Different technologies are aimed to solve very different problems for the industry.

Versatile offers ease of adoption and non-intrusiveness on one end, and the ability to prove that it works and adds value to the people we’re committed to on the other end. If you’re there to serve, add value and quality, and you do this in a way that doesn’t require anyone to work hard for you, the industry is very willing to adopt.

BK: What are the biggest challenges to innovation?

MO: It really depends on what you’re asking your users to do and who those users are. One of the challenges for innovators is to make sure they understand their audience and their challenges.

Never assume you know best. Be humble enough to assume your users are the real experts and not your technology.

Another challenge is to not fall in love with your technology and your solution. It’s a bit cliché, but falling in love with the problem is a better way to go about it.

BK: So, fall in love with the problem, not the technology.

MO: Yes, absolutely. And especially in construction. Understanding the problem that needs to be solved, and the people behind that problem, gives you a better chance of succeeding and getting adoption.

And you can’t solve anything if you don’t get adoption. You could have the best solution in the world, but if no one wants to use it, it’s never going to add value to anyone.

As for these days and times, the industry has never needed technology like it does right now. However, you’re going to see innovation budgets cut and shorter attention spans from people in the field.

They have so much to deal with right now. The brand new solutions that are looking for pilots will struggle, while the solutions that have proven value will flourish despite the cuts and budgets, assuming you can prove ROI positive.

I could say a lot about ROI and why the way it’s calculated is wrong in so many ways. It’s about simpler things than the Excel ROI calculation.

But if you’re net positive, you’re probably in a good spot. If you haven’t proved your solution yet, there are bigger hurdles to cross. But I would not discourage anyone from trying to cross those hurdles.

Stay tuned for Part II of this interview, "Construction technology leader on making the most of AI and machine learning".

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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