Triax is committed to growing the construction tech ecosystem, partnering with dedicated industry leaders, solutions, experts and change agents to enable real-time, data-driven project, workforce and safety management. Today we’re speaking to Blue Collar Labs’ Karl Sorensen (who we connected with on Instagram!) about his experience in the industry, the importance of innovation, and what he expects to see in the future.
Thanks for the time, Karl. Can you tell me a little bit more about yourself and Blue Collar Labs?
Thanks for having me.
Honestly, I’m just a construction guy. That’s always who I’ve been, that’s who I am now, and I really don’t want to be anything else. I grew up in North Chicago where my dad ran his small residential general contracting business. I worked as a field laborer for him throughout high school, and during that time, my dad instilled in me important qualities, such as a strong work ethic and a pride in my craft. After college, I joined a DoD contractor on the West Coast where I learned how to manage construction projects and the importance of establishing efficient construction systems. As you know, construction can be a high-stakes game. I learned very quickly that without proper project controls, bad decisions can lead to bad projects, and bad projects can sink even the strongest companies. So with that in my mind, I believed it was within my professional purview to establish processes and systems that would protect my employers and project stakeholders from construction risk.
It was with this same conviction that I founded Blue Collar Labs in 2015. I wanted to show construction professionals that by leveraging the right technology, companies could not only mitigate (if not altogether eliminate) risk, but flourish under streamlined processes. In fact, with the right technology products, builders could bolster their quality and safety programs without sacrificing construction schedules and profit margins.
How did the idea come about and what industry problem is Blue Collar Labs trying to tackle?
For a little bit, I worked as a technology consultant for construction companies. I was hired by contractors to find, recommend, and integrate technology into their construction workflows; from project management software to daily reporting mobile apps. After awhile, I noticed that every contractor wrestled with the same types of questions regarding technology. And since there weren’t any resources available to them to investigate construction technology on their own, I built Blue Collar Labs to become that resource. Blue Collar Labs was originally designed to answer the first 5 questions every builder asked when considering a construction technology product: 1) What technology is currently available? 2) How can this technology solve my specific problem? 3) What operating system does it use? 4) What other features does it have? 5) How is it different from its competitors? [Editor’s Note: Check out our 5 Things to Consider Before Investing in Construction Technology E-Book for a step-by-step guide to selecting a tech system for your organization!]
Today, we’re capturing the construction technology landscape and providing information on these in an objective manner. Our staff comprises of experienced construction personnel that can speak specifically to how technology is helping jobsites become more efficient. Additionally, we are not paid by any tech companies to showcase or sell their products. We care more about developing trust and providing a reliable resource than making money. So if Blue Collar Labs can help facilitate a technology purchase, no matter the product, we’re not receiving any monetary kickbacks. It is our desire that builders start using technology. And it is our fundamental belief that a rising tide raises all ships, and by us providing this resource, the industry as a whole will evolve and grow.
How has the industry changed since you first entered it?
Generally speaking, the perception of technology has greatly improved since I first began construction. I think the most exciting technology on my first project was maybe the plotter. And at that time, introducing new software to my project team would’ve been controversial. But now, we’re seeing all sorts of exciting new technology on jobsites. Whether it’s BIM modeling and drones, or merely the proliferation of mobile devices, jobsites and field teams are functioning much smarter today. And I strongly believe that in the not-so-distant future, technology will becomes so engrained with construction workflows that projects will be completed faster, cheaper, safer and with higher quality than ever before.
What’s the most exciting technological change/development you’ve seen in the industry over the last 12-18 months?
To be honest, I really don’t pay attention to the new and flashy tech toys; drones, augmented reality, 3D printers, etc. I’m more of a Larry Bird type; I care more about mastering the fundamentals. Don’t get me wrong, there have been some really exciting technological advancements in construction over the last few years, however, a lot of contractors have been misled to believe that they are one drone away from being a great company, when in reality, they just need to focus on the basics. I would never recommend VR Goggles when all a contractor really needs is a better punchlist procedure. Or better safety protocols. Or better project controls. Let’s first minimize inefficiencies and eliminate the waste from our most foundational workflows – laying the groundwork of efficient construction systems – before we start talking about the sexy tech.
What is the biggest challenge when it comes to bring new technologies to the industry – both for construction companies who have been doing things the same way for decades and tech providers?
First off, construction companies must invest AND engage with technology. An iPad is nothing more than a paperweight to a superintendent. But if you teach your superintendent how an iPad can save them time, they’ll use it everyday like any other tool. Also, construction companies need to do a better job identifying a point-of-contact for tech companies to engage. I’m not saying that you must hire a Chief Technology Officer, but every construction company should have a point-person who champions and handles all company technology.
For technology companies, communication is essential. Just because you found a construction solution doesn’t necessarily mean construction companies are going to want it. Superintendents will be your biggest obstacle and your biggest opportunity. If you can find a solution that makes their lives easier, they’ll not only demand your product moving forward, they’ll become an outspoken advocate for your product on every project they run.
Based on your experiences working with both contractors and tech providers, what would your advice be for construction companies looking to foster an internal culture of innovation?
Develop an internal innovation team comprised of representatives of various departments who have the curiosity and bandwidth to explore available technology. Arm them with the freedom and resources to find, test and deploy new technology on project sites. Just by experimenting with new tech, I think contractors will be pleasantly surprised by how cheap and effective technology can be to catalyze growth and success.
What industry trends are you following in 2019?
The current Millennial generation of renters/buyers are forcing designers and builders to re-think construction. With a greater focus on innovation, connectivity, low-impact footprints and non-traditional living environments, there are some fun, new trends revolving around smart homes, unique building materials, pre-fabrication, modular and low-waste construction, to name a few.
What can we expect from Blue Collar Labs in the future and how can people get involved/follow along?
We’re working on several new initiatives, but the biggest one is our website re-launch. We’re making our site more user-friendly so builders can more quickly and easily find the technology they need. Stay tuned on this front, as well as our forthcoming publication called The Builder’s Almanac. If you want to follow us, find us at our website, or on Twitter (@bluecollarlabs) or Instagram (@bluecollarlabs). Or feel free to reach out to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also, if you’re a technology company and want to list your product in our resource for free, visit us at https://www.bluecollarlabs.com/tech-landscape and complete our brief intake form!