Innovation—The Future of Construction

Transcript

Narrator

The future of project management is changing fast. On Projectified™ with PMI, we’ll help you stay on top of the trends and see what’s really ahead for the profession—and your career.
 For an easy way to stay up to date on Projectified™ with PMI, go to iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play music or PMI.org/podcast.

Stephen W. Maye 

Hello. I’m Stephen Maye, and this is Projectified™ with PMI. I’m here with my co-host, Tegan Jones, and today we’re discussing the future of the construction sector. 
In a lot of ways, engineering and construction were slow to digitize—but that is changing. Organizations are using artificial intelligence to identify risk on job sites, laser scanning to create 3D models and analyzing big data to predict project outcomes. And this shift is helping companies create safer job sites and make smarter business decisions. 

Tegan Jones

So to quantify this trend a little bit, McKinsey recently did some research on investment in the construction tech sector. And they found that between 2008 and 2012, 9 billion U.S. dollars were invested in construction technology. 
But between 2013 and 2018, that investment doubled to 18 billion U.S. dollars. So, with this kind of growth, project leaders really need to keep up on innovations in construction tech if they want to stay competitive and improve the performance of their projects. 

Stephen W. Maye

That’s absolutely right. You have to understand how technology is going to save time or money, or increase quality or safety, to make the right investment decisions for your organization.
Digitization can deliver all sorts of benefits. It can boost productivity, shorten timelines or improve quality control. But every tool isn’t going to do everything. So you have to apply the right technology to get the outcomes that are most important for your organization. 

Tegan Jones

And organizations that do this effectively will likely be in a better position as more companies race to adopt these innovations. According to a recent KPMG survey of industry executives, incorporating a few key technologies is going to be especially important in the near future. 
In terms of technologies, predictive modeling is at the top of the list. So 83 percent of executives said that organizations will be highly data-driven, routinely using data analytics and predictive modeling on projects over the next five years. 
And in that same time frame, 3 in 5 executives say augmented and virtual reality will become commonly used on most projects.

Stephen W. Maye
 It’s always cool to see how different types of projects are using AR and VR—and construction companies have found some really interesting ways to simply do better work with this technology.

Personally, I’m always interested in the customer implications. The people who are paying for the construction project or have to live with the building once it’s created often don’t have the experience or expertise to visualize what they’re getting or to fully appreciate their choices or the options that are put in front of them. VR is helping to bridge that gap—both in terms of understanding how the interior of a structure will work or look, but also how a structure will occupy a site—both initially and over its life span. I think this can be huge for accelerating decisions, for catching misunderstandings or misalignment of expectations early and really ensuring greater satisfaction with the end product.

Tegan Jones

That is a really great benefit of using augmented reality, and it’s just one of many potential benefits depending on how this technology is rolled out. 
And in a few minutes we’ll hear specifically how augmented reality is being used on a project to add a new concourse to Los Angeles International Airport. Monica Sosa is a senior associate and project manager with Corgan, an architecture and design firm in Culver City, California in the U.S. And she helped lead a team that used 3D cameras and augmented reality glasses to spot potential design issues on the airport project. And since this was the first time Corgan had used this technology, it provided a lot of lessons learned the company can now take into the future. And we’ll hear more about that a little later in the episode. 

Stephen W. Maye

We’re also going to talk about what it takes to get teams to adopt this type of new tech, especially when it requires them to significantly change their daily work. That’s something I talked about with Arsen Safaryan, head of building information modeling and digital construction at ALEC in Dubai in the UAE. He discussed what it takes to get new technology adopted across an organization and how software and robotics are driving and reshaping the construction sector. And we’ll get to that discussion in a few minutes.

Tegan Jones

But first we’ll hear from Colin Cagney, director in KPMG’s Major Projects Advisory practice in Phoenix, Arizona in the U.S. Colin offered some great insights on how data analytics can help organizations make better project decisions. Let’s go to him now. 

[musical transition]

Colin Cagney 

So big data is playing a very big role. And I kind of think of it a little bit as the tip of the spear. And the reason for that is that a lot of it is leveraging what these contractors already have. A lot of them already have a wealth of data, whether that’s schedule data, cost data, safety data, quality data.
The challenge, though, is that they haven’t really pulled it together. They aren’t using it for anything. 
With increased data analytics and all those things, these teams will be able to benefit from the experiences of the company as a whole and historically, and they’ll be able to know when in the past most projects have gone over schedule, what tasks have been delayed, where are the cost increases and be able to better mitigate those going forward.     

One of the things that we did here recently is we worked with a top 40 contractor here in the U.S. to develop a safety predictive. And so what we did was we linked all their data together—their safety data, their cost data, their schedule data, the weather data, some external data—and we used all of that information to help them predict whether or not there was a higher risk of a safety incident occurring on a given project within three days.
So we built the model on two to three years of data, and then we tested it on the remaining two years of data, so we had a total of about five years of data available to us. And the results were that we could predict safety incidents with 89 percent accuracy. 

You know, it’s great to have a new technology. It’s great to have a data analytic that gives you an insight, but if you don’t communicate the importance of it to people, if you don’t understand why they would benefit from it—and if you don’t walk them through the process of being able to use it on a day-to-day basis—there’s a good chance that that implementation won’t work very well. 

Construction has a lot of folks across a wide different array of ages and backgrounds. We’ve got very young millennials, and we’ve got older generations as well. And so making sure that everyone understands these new technologies and can use them is absolutely critical.
So I think there’s a number of different approaches that companies can integrate in order to manage risk while adopting new technologies. Number one is taking a pilot approach.

So whether it’s on a specific project or in a specific area or a specific product line within their companies, a pilot approach works pretty well in terms of just getting the kinks out, eliminating the risk of failure and also making sure that that specific technology or solution will add value to the business. 
We’ve been doing things very similarly for a very long time, and so there’s a good bit of a barrier in terms of kind of moving forward. So if you as a project and program manager can develop an understanding of these new technologies and how they’re gonna benefit people, and then really develop the skills to champion them within your organization, I think that will, number one, help your organization evolve, and number two, I think it will help your career quite as well in doing so.
[musical transition]

Tegan Jones

I think it’s really interesting how Colin and his team were able to use data to predict safety incidents. It seems like this approach has the potential to stop a lot of accidents and prevent a lot of injuries in the future.

Stephen W. Maye

I like that Colin also pointed out that any new technology needs to be tested and vetted before an organization makes big changes to the way projects are actually run. 
If a company rushes into a new technology investment and tries to force innovation where it doesn’t quite fit or people just aren’t ready to make a change, it can actually hurt productivity rather than make work more efficient. So you really need to communicate how—and particularly why—new technology should be used before you start rolling it out.

Tegan Jones

That’s something we also heard from Monica Sosa. She’s a senior associate and project manager with Corgan in Culver City, California.
And her team recently rolled out 3D cameras and augmented reality as part of a pilot research project. They used the new tech on a recent project to upgrade Los Angeles International Airport and then shared feedback with company leaders to help them decide if they should roll out that technology across project teams.  

Stephen W. Maye

I think this is smart. In addition to building in-house expertise and simply proving the concept, you mitigate against the credibility risk that comes along with deploying on a large scale—and potentially having it go poorly. 
Our contributing editor Hannah Schmidt has the full story. Let’s go to her now. 
[musical transition]

Hannah Schmidt

Tech innovation is reshaping the way projects are designed and built. When Monica Sosa saw how 3D cameras and augmented reality glasses were transforming the construction sector, she didn’t want her company to be left behind. She had big ideas about how this technology could improve Corgan’s projects—and how it could help differentiate them from other firms. 

Monica Sosa 

We wanted to do something different than other architecture firms. How could we be more efficient during construction? 

Hannah Schmidt 

So in 2018, Monica pitched a plan to try out new tech on a 1.6 billion U.S. dollar project to add a new concourse to Los Angeles International Airport. 
Corgan signed off on the pilot, and Monica’s team launched its test during the construction phase. They bought a 3D camera, created a step-by-step user guide and trained team members to use the new tech. The camera helped the team increase efficiency in several ways, including capturing existing conditions on the construction site. 

Monica Sosa 

It was new construction, but we also had to tie into the existing international terminal. So a lot of these spaces, we don’t always have access to them. So many times in the past, before technology, we would go out to the site, we would take photos, we would take field measurements, and we get back to the office and guess what? We forgot a picture. We forgot a measurement. So we were looking at ways to capture it one time where someone gives us access to the space; we don’t have to ask them again to get us back to the space.

Hannah Schmidt 

Corgan also used the camera to fix a big problem fast. 

Monica Sosa 

So being that this is an airport and it was tying into the existing terminal, we had a lot of underground tunnels.
So we were able to take the 4K camera and scan the tunnels. And for an example, we had an issue where the tunnel started to crack. And the structural engineer, who’s not local, he provided a fix, an epoxy injection fix. So we were able to go and scan it after the contractor injected that crack, send him that link where he was able to view that virtually. He did not have to leave his office. We saved him so much time, and it was so efficient, because the quality of that 4K, it was like he was there in person.

Hannah Schmidt 

The research team also experimented with augmented reality glasses. 

Monica Sosa 

Being that it’s such a new technology, we looked at bringing the 3D models into the field, walking that construction site with it overlaid. 
When we went on the site, we noticed that the plumbing pipes were installed higher than what our design model shows. Now, for our project, that wasn’t an issue. But you know, maybe for the next project when they see this, it might be an issue. So we were trying to capture these issues before they were a bigger deal out at the site.

Hannah Schmidt 

That record will allow Los Angeles International Airport to easily and accurately make changes to the concourse in the future—and position Corgan as the best partner for the job.

Monica Sosa 

Being able to go every month and scan the process and look at, you know, in-wall documentation before that wall got closed up. Corgan has a lot of repeat client business, so if, you know, they come back five, ten years from now and they want to renovate this airport, we’ll have that information. 
[musical transition]

Tegan Jones

It’s really cool to hear how this technology can help transfer knowledge not just across the organization but also over time. You know, so much information about projects and clients walks out the door when someone leaves the team and moves on to their next role. So this sounds like a great way to stop some of that brain drain.

Stephen W. Maye

It’s great that Monica’s team was able to see these benefits right away and really drive home the business case for investing in this technology. Because that is really what leaders want to see before they spend a lot of money on something new.
That’s something I recently discussed with Arsen Safaryan, head of building information modeling and digital construction at ALEC in Dubai. He also outlined some of the skills people need to develop if they want to run some of these more innovative construction projects.

Tegan Jones

I know Arsen has been working with digital modeling for quite a few years at this point, so I’ll be interested to hear his perspective on how the evolution of this technology is changing the sector. Let’s go to that conversation now. 
[musical transition]

Stephen W. Maye

Arsen, as a construction outsider, it seems to me that the construction industry is one that went relatively unchanged for a long period of time and that is now in this fit of change, over the last 10 or 20 years, or perhaps more, and then accelerating even as we talk. I may be wrong on that; I’d love to hear your perspective. What are the major trends driving and reshaping the construction sector?

Arsen Safaryan

I would agree with you in terms of the change in the construction industry happening very late compared to the other industries we know, like technology, manufacturing. But at the same time, I cannot not acknowledge that in the last, I would say, five to 10 years, software, information management, robotics, some of the useful areas of innovation have influenced changing construction rapidly. 

Stephen W. Maye

I think that when we talk about information management, in the construction sector and particularly some of the things that you’ve been involved in, we’re really talking about something that’s quite different from information management in some other industries. So just give us a little background on information management in construction. Give us just a quick background on what that is, for those that are not familiar with BIM and with digital construction. 

Arsen Safaryan

Building information modeling and digital construction are digital prototyping methodologies, sets of processes that are not necessarily functioning independently, but are tightly integrated into the legacy processes. And they are converting literally, the legacy processes and improving the legacy processes to function better, allow more smoother, more consistent information exchange between trades, between departments, between stakeholders. The biggest value that it adds up is basically building the building in the virtual space, experiencing all the issues in the virtual space, before you can go ahead and execute in the field. 

Stephen W. Maye

You’ve written that construction technology is changing hourly. So when you think about the kind of change that’s happening in your space, in your industry, what does it take to get new technology adopted across an organization?

Arsen Safaryan

It is very difficult and very easy at the same time. It depends on how emotionally connected that technology is to the daily work that people do. So the difficulty lies in that it’s a technology fighting a legacy technology. It’s no more pencil fighting digital drawings. It’s digital drawings against digital modeling, for example. So it’s difficult in that light. But at the same time, it’s becoming relatively easy, because it’s very digital nowadays. It’s very informative. People who actually tend to get their heads around this change and this new trend, they realize that it’s helpful for them, in the first place, in their day-to-day work. And then it adds to the good of the business and the overall process. 

Stephen W. Maye

Okay, great. So Arsen, you’ve been in this field for a number of years; you’ve even worked with your current company, ALEC, for a number of years. Tell me about the most interesting project overall or the most interesting application of digital construction technology that you’ve been a part of.

Arsen Safaryan

Yeah, so we had this massive infrastructure project where we had a challenge of field verification. We had to implement laser scanning to make sure that our digital twins, or the models of the building that we have to hand over to the client, are 100 percent aligned with the physical state of the building. And the interesting or the most challenging part of that was whether we go outsource the service and pay someone else to do it for us, or do we make the call and become mature ourselves by using this as an opportunity. And I adore the fact that our leadership, our management, we made a collective call that we need to do it ourselves, to learn from it. And we’ve purchased a few equipments, we’ve trained our surveying team, and we started doing it ourselves on that massive scale of a huge infrastructure project.

Stephen W. Maye

And just to make sure that we are clear for anyone listening, give me the quick explanation of a digital twin. You talked a moment ago about ensuring that our digital twin was accurate. Describe what a digital twin is. 

Arsen Safaryan

Yeah. For some projects where there is a requirement to hand over the digital twin of the building, which is effectively the 3D model of the facility, combined with facility management information, or operations and maintenance information attached to the model elements. Which is field verified at the same time, so it’s accurate, field accurate. That can be represented in a software or in a web browser and be accessible to the client. That’s what the notion of digital twin is in the construction industry.

Stephen W. Maye

So tell me about the skills that a project or program manager should develop if they want to take advantage of these opportunities that you’re describing in this industry and in your sector.

Arsen Safaryan

In terms of skills, we are probably converging more nowadays. So no matter what is your main trade, you have to be a multitasker. Project managers these days need to, for example have some—it may sound weird—but have some coding skills. We’re living in an era now that automation plays a big part, and if you know a few lines of code, you could automate your work, or you could understand what your employees or your supply chain is doing and help them optimize. So multitaskers, multifaceted roles, with a particular focus on their own trade, is what’s trending probably now. 

Stephen W. Maye

Let me ask you this question. When you think about the single most important piece of advice, so if we kind of forced you down to one thing, what’s the single most important piece of advice that you would give someone that is hoping to lead major construction projects in the future?

Arsen Safaryan

It’s super simple for me: Never stop learning.

Stephen W. Maye

Never stop learning. And with that, Arsen Safaryan, head of BIM and digital construction at ALEC in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, has the last word. Arsen, it has been a pleasure talking with you. Thank you for making yourself available and sharing your experience with us. This is a fascinating space, this whole area that you’re involved in of building information modeling and digital construction. Amazing today, and of course changing all the time. Thank you for sharing your insights. 

Arsen Safaryan

Pleasure is all mine, Stephen. Thanks for having me.

Narrator

Thank you for listening to Projectified™ with PMI™. If you liked this episode, you can subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Google Play Music. We’d love your feedback, so please leave a rating or review.