How to make innovation relevant for construction

October 18, 2021 | 6 minute read
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In Part I of our latest Trailblazers discussion, we speak with Robert Shear, vice president of marketing and strategy, at OpenSpace.

Shear shares how he’s always been at the intersection of digital workflows and the real world, ranging from developing sensors, to sensor networking, to establishing a reality capture group for a tech company.

He also shares how to foster a culture of innovation in the workplace: “Make it relevant, take a portfolio view, and don’t get caught in the trap of just talking about the future.”

In Part II, Shear shares why he’s most excited about technologies that will help us track and quantify field activity and progress. “AI and machine learning help us connect patterns to the results,” Shear says. “And then our next job gets better than our previous job.”

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

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

RS: I'm currently the VP of marketing strategy for OpenSpace. OpenSpace is a leader in 360 job site capture and analysis. We let you put a 360 camera on your hard hat, just like a Go Pro camera, and simply walk the job site like you normally would.

We automatically capture a few frames a second, stitch it all together, and deliver it back to you like an up-to-the-minute Google Street View for your project. We call that the OpenSpace core product.

By using computer vision and machine learning, we also have a product called ClearSight that analyzes those images to help you quantify progress or track work in place across the job site. We'll track progress on things like framing, drywall, MEP, etc., so it's really an image-based reality capture platform.

I'm the son of a contractor, so starting at ten years old I was in the truck with him going to job sites, but I was always more of a math/science kid. I got my degree in physics and did some engineering before I got my MBA.

Since then, I've been at the intersection of digital workflows and the real world; everything from developing sensors, to sensor networking, to establishing a reality capture group at Autodesk.

What is your view of the state of innovation in the industry generally?

There are a lot of important changes happening in the industry. I see a lot of people excited about those changes that are willing to champion implementing those changes within an organization.

There is a generational shift, including a lot of new folks coming in who are really excited by technology.

However, part of this shift is just a necessity of things, like COVID-19, the challenge of finding people, and new regulations and requirements. These changes are forcing companies to innovate and work smarter using technology.

When you look at the industry, what are the biggest challenges you see to innovation?

Innovation somehow becomes separated from business results, and it's doomed at that point. The biggest challenge for innovation is losing track of why you're doing it in the first place. Talking about the future is not innovation.

Innovation doesn't have to be technologies; it could be any number of things, including helping the business evolve to take advantage of those new technologies or capabilities. That's the main thing.


"The biggest challenge for innovation is losing track of why you're doing it in the first place. Talking about the future is not innovation." Robert Shear, Vice President, Marketing and Strategy, OpenSpace


What I see happen, especially in construction, is a mismatch of timescale. For innovation to take root it must match the cadence of the business.

The construction happens on a cadence of projects, and innovation must happen on that same cadence.  Innovation teams need to think 5 years out but act today in a way the business can consume.

And not to say that you need a 100% payback on the first project, but people who are driving innovation must recognize the nature of construction isn’t going to have infinite patience for shiny things in the future.

Innovation must land today and deliver value in a project context. That's the biggest challenge.

It's also the biggest opportunity. If you can show value and adoption quickly, then innovation can spread like wildfire across that company and industry. But innovation must be matched to the needs of the business.


"People who are driving innovation must recognize the nature of construction isn’t going to have infinite patience for shiny things in the future. Innovation must land today and deliver value in a project context."

-Robert Shear, Vice President, Marketing and Strategy, OpenSpace


How do you think organizations can foster a culture of innovation?

I worked for Autodesk when Carl Bass was the CEO. He famously said, "Any company that has a chief innovation officer is not innovative." I'm not sure I believe that completely, but the sentiment is interesting.

If you're compelled to name innovation as something other than a core part of your business, then I think that should be a red flag. A culture of innovation must be a culture of results and openness.

Like I said, I'm optimistic about what we're seeing out there right now. That’s number one; making sure innovation is part of how the company does business ideally.

One trick is to take a portfolio view. Maybe 20 percent should be focused on ideas that show immediate results to help build confidence and buy-in.

Then 70 percent on things that will show results within a year and finally 10 percent on robots and anti-gravity boots, or whatever else you want to talk about to spark ideas and discussion.

Innovation must take a portfolio view so that the business line leaders, operational leaders, and executives in the company understand that you're attempting to tie your innovation to the business. That would be my suggestion for anyone trying to foster a culture of innovation; make it relevant, take a portfolio view, and don't get caught in the trap of just talking about the future.


"Innovation must take a portfolio view so that the business line leaders, operational leaders, and executives in the company understand that you're attempting to tie your innovation to the business."

-Robert Shear, Vice President, Marketing and Strategy, OpenSpace


So, it's a balance between what's applicable to the day and what's coming down the line. You mentioned people focusing on distant shiny objects, but the reality is everybody's looking for return on what is coming down.

Yes, we get caught in thinking that technology equals innovation and innovation equals technology. That's not the case.

I'm thinking of a company that we now subscribe to called Cynch that fills up our barbecue propane bottles.

Cynch’s product idea is innovative. It’s made our life better because we don't have to go and find some place to fill up our bottles and all that.

There's nothing technological about that, it was more of a service-based innovation.

The tendency and inclination when someone says, "Go be innovative," is to do a presentation on drones, VR, AR, etc. But the rubber meets the road on potentially more mundane and more interesting (in my mind) things that are smaller and more doable.

Being a futurist is not the full picture of how to drive innovation in the company.

Stay tuned for Part II of this interview.

Read more Trailblazers articles here.

Oracle Construction and Engineering, the global leader in construction management software and project portfolio management solutions, helps you connect your teams, processes, and data; empower better decision-making; and synchronize activities 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.

 

 

Corie Cheeseman

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


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