What a week in New Orleans celebrating the construction industry’s past, present, and future at the 99th Annual AGC Convention. As the opening reception made clear – and the following days affirmed – it’s an incredibly exciting time to be involved in the construction industry. We left the city inspired by the questions being asked, the conversations we are having, the collaboration we are fostering, and the industry’s overall commitment to continuous improvement.
Here’s what we learned and what we hope those who visited our booth or attended sessions – including Triax CEO Chad Hollingsworth’s presentation with Suffolk’s VP of Risk Management – gained.
Building the Future
Construction is a vital industry that is responsible for the buildings that define us, the skylines that inspire us, and the roads that connect us. Construction is also an ever-changing industry facing tight margins and an even tighter labor market. As such, contractors need to recognize that the way things have always been done isn’t necessarily the way they should be done – or can be done moving forward. Each session we attended sought to discuss innovative ways to remove obstacles that needlessly slow the construction process, and speakers challenged attendees to ask how things can be done better, safer, cleaner, or more efficiently.
There was also great attention paid to the industry’s next generation, and we were energized to meet so many educators, construction management students, and AGC student members throughout the week. As we’ve discussed before, this is a generation that has grown up with smart devices, instant communication, and integrated, digital experiences, which is something they also expect from their jobs. There was an expectation amongst students we met with that automatic, real-time data – such as which equipment is on site, who is using it and for how long – is the only way forward. Across the board, we noticed a shift from “what” to “how” and “what can we do with the data?”
Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained
As Isaac Lidsky’s opening keynote made clear, fear can paralyze an individual or organization, leading to the belief that the most negative outcome is the only outcome and preventing true vision and growth in the process. For a storied industry like construction, which is embracing jobsite technology like never before, talk of predictive data analytics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence can feel daunting or overwhelming. The fear of the unknown – how a new system or process will affect one’s day-to-day, for example – can prevent contractors from leveraging emerging solutions. As the conference demonstrated, however, change is inevitable – and underway – so waiting for things to slow down or stabilize only means falling further behind. As Suffolk’s VP of Risk Management discussed, and James Benham has long preached, you need to find a balance of experimental, moonshot solutions and practical, proven solutions. Be prepared to fail, but make a point to fail fast. Give your organization 90 days to try a solution, and if you’re in a better position than when you started, keep going. Nothing starts – or ever will be – perfect, but focusing on small, digestible steps leads to big changes.
While we believe every organization wants their workers to return home safely at the end of the day, it was validating to see contractors so focused on sharing – and learning from one another’s – safety and risk management best practices. Just as a project will never be successful if it’s not safe, the construction industry will never be as successful if it does not work together to prioritize safety and drive towards zero incidents. The most successful teams take a proactive approach to safety training, hazard reporting, incident documentation, and risk intervention, and are constantly focused on innovating and improving when it comes to safety. An investment in safety is an investment in your workforce, business, and the industry’s future.
Project teams have been collecting data since the beginning of the industry; the problem is that this data has been locked in paper records, physical filing cabinets or other on-premise solutions that prevent collaboration, analysis, and implementation.
As we heard time and again this week, interoperability between systems is key. When contractors have to switch between 8 different systems because their modeling software doesn’t communicate with their schedule software or payroll system, the move to digitize becomes that much more daunting. In order to drive the industry to a safer, more productive, profitable future, everyone must work together. We enjoyed spending time at Autodesk’s partner booth, learning from other exhibitors, and learning customers’ preferred solutions so we can develop connections that make user set-up, data access, and analysis as streamlined as possible.