Learning From the Past While Looking to the Future

This article was written by Michael Boren, CTO at Beck Technology, and published in the May/June 2019 edition of DCD Magazine.

When the telephone first became available to the public, it was difficult to get people to adopt this new way of communication. Many people were suspicious of the telephone, and even believed that it could make a person go deaf or that others could eavesdrop on your private conversations. Telegraph companies helped perpetuate these rumors because they were afraid that telephones would soon make them irrelevant. Ultimately, it would take innovative, forward-thinking people to take a chance on a rapidly evolving technology in order for telephones to start becoming a more widely-accepted avenue of communication. Before long, other consumers and businesses began following in the wake of these trailblazers, as they witnessed the efficiencies and benefits of this new tool.

Whether you’re talking about telephones or construction, the success of a new product or software in any industry always depends on the same kinds of people who took a chance on the telephone: people who are excited about change, who look back on the past for wisdom but also look forward to the future for innovation, who are willing to try different approaches to challenging problems, even if that might not be the way they would usually do it. Today, the world of construction – and especially preconstruction – is at a similar crossroads. There are more tools and systems available than ever before, all meant to streamline workflows and reduce inefficiencies. But it can be difficult to leave behind what you know, and for good reason. Adopting a new estimating software often means months of training to understand the software’s ins and outs, overhauling existing processes to better reflect where the company is at, and setting aside time to develop a comprehensive implementation plan with the software vendor. At the end of the day, a lot of companies may not even have the bandwidth to take on this kind of project.

That’s why trailblazers are so critical to the industry – in order to make the burdens of change a little lighter, there needs to be companies who are willing to take the lead and try new approaches to old problems, so that their peers can learn from their experiences and have a reference point when they’re ready to start expanding their toolkit. Revolutionizing the construction industry requires companies to question the status quo, look for areas of improvement, and then put those ideas into action. Gilbane Building Company, whose brand is based on Building More Than Buildings®, is doing just that.
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Construction Industry is Capitalizing on Integrated Preconstruction Technology

Builders across the construction industry are adopting integrated preconstruction technology at increasingly rapid rates. The use of an integrated preconstruction platform significantly reduces the risk of errors that are inherent with the number of tools being used by preconstruction departments. Integrating both 2D and BIM-based takeoff while supporting unit-based and crew-based estimating with the ability to compare the projects with the company’s own cost history brings significant efficiency gains to the preconstruction workflow.

General contractors and construction management for-a-fee firms are being tasked with producing more estimating deliverables in less time, and in a piecemeal collaboration structure. This industry trend has led companies to search for technology that not only understands this dynamic shift in preconstruction but will also continue to grow as the built environment evolves and encourages collaboration within one platform across multiple disciplines. Since DESTINI Estimator became publicly available in 2015, over 30 companies on the ENR “Top 400 Contractors” list have made the shift to integrated preconstruction technology, including Balfour Beatty, The Korte Company, Gilbane, Layton Construction Company, and Cumming Corporation. Read more

AEC Firms Go Outside the Box

This article was written by John Caulfield, Senior Director for Building Team, and published on March 22, 2019 by Building Design + Construction

Who’d have thought that the file cabinet would make a comeback in the digital world?

Want evidence? Just listen to how two developers describe their recently released software products:

“It’s almost like a file cabinet in the cloud,” says George Pontikes, CEO of Satterfield & Pontikes Construction, about Assemble Systems, whose platform helps users manage bids, estimate costs, and plan and run projects and BIM across a project’s network of people and work.

“It becomes a file cabinet,” says Todd Wynne, VP of Business Development and Partnerships with Bluebeam, who with his colleague Joe Williams, while both were at Rogers-O’Brien Construction, developed Atlas, a digital mapping tool that uses geo-location software to bridge the gap between 3D models and 2D drawings.

Aside from their functionality, what distinguishes these tools is that both were incubated by AEC firms with an eye toward commercialization.

While it’s common for firms to develop tools for internal use, the leap to marketing new products to the industry at large is still the exception. Thornton Tomasetti’s CORE studio is one of the more robust examples of an AEC firm that has set up an entity specifically to nurture ideas and evaluate their marketability.

Other firms also want their creations to make a bigger splash. “Kieran Timberlake does only 10 to 15 projects a year, so internal use wouldn’t have the same impact of expanding a product as marketing it to the industry,” says Roderick Bates, LEED AP, Principal and Researcher, Environmental Management and Commercialization with Kieran Timberlake. The ideas that its KT Innovations incubation group has helped shepherd include Tally, a lifecycle analysis app.

When Beck Group set up Beck Technology 23 years ago, its goal was to find ways for contractors and their clients to make decisions and outcomes more predictable. What emerged was Beck’s still-popular Destini suite of products that includes Profiler and Estimator.

Here’s a roundup of six AEC firms who have incubated startups and spinoff companies aimed at commercializing tech tools for the industry. READ MORE

Peeling Back the Paper: How Marketing Reveals the Bedrock of Estimating

This article was written by Lucy Zeiger, Marketing and Creative Manager at Harper General Contractors, and published in the March/April 2019 edition of DCD Magazine.

If you were to ask someone what makes a building beautiful, most people would doubtless answer with something like this: gorgeous hardwood flooring, eye-catching wallpaper, beautiful light fixtures. You probably wouldn’t hear anyone talking about an incredibly well-designed foundation or a beautifully executed frame. But without the foundation or the frame, all of that visually appealing interior design would have nowhere to go -and without the wallpaper and the flooring to transform the insulation and the concrete, not many people would want to purchase the building.

Marketing and estimating are often viewed in a similar light. At first glance, the two jobs seem like the most unusual pairing in the world. Marketing usually brings to mind fun and creativity – a job where the focus is on artistic pursuits like designing graphics, developing strong branding, and writing interesting articles and press releases. Estimating, on the other hand, conjures up images of long hours, stuffy cubicles, and rows upon rows of numbers and charts full of data that can often look meaningless to the casual observer.

It’s also true that in the A/E/C industry, marketing and estimating may not cross paths that frequently. Marketing often gets tied up in business development, while estimators – as anyone who’s ever worked for a general contractor will know – are constantly slammed with deadlines. But just as a well-executed interior can point to the equally beautiful foundation beneath it, building a partnership between marketing and estimating can bring huge value to a general contractor, in addition to strengthening project proposals. How? Just take a look at Harper General Contractors, and some of the ways their company has benefited from the collaboration between marketing and estimating. Read more

Getting Technology to Work For You

This article was written by Stewart Carroll, President of Beck Technology, and published in the January/February 2019 edition of DCD Magazine.

In the last few decades, all industries have benefited from and been altered by the adoption of technology. Despite the A/E/C industry historically being slow to onboard new technology, the impact of technological developments have still been experienced across the industry, as well as in our daily lives. Sketches have turned into 3D models, drones have started taking over site surveys, and GPS sensors are increasing safety in the field. Everywhere you look, technology is completely transforming the way construction is being done.

It’s no surprise, then, that one of the biggest challenges for construction companies across the country is integrating technology into their workflows and learning how to adapt technology to fit their specific needs. You only need to glance at the nearest pre-construction department to see how difficult this kind of integration can be. Currently, most construction companies rely on Excel for their estimating needs. But with the advent of technology, Excel is not quite as dependable as it once was.

In Excel, cost predictions are made by people, who can often be exhausted or distracted, and may input incorrect data. Estimating tools largely eliminate such errors, saving companies millions of dollars and winning customers. These tools also save time – work that may have taken upwards of hours or even days can be reduced significantly by introducing an estimating tool to a department’s workflow.

Although more and more pre-construction departments have begun utilizing these proper estimating platforms in their day-to-day work, many still struggle with implementation and figuring out how to make estimating technology work for them.

This is a situation in which general contractors all across the country find themselves every year. Often, it looks something like this: they have been using several different tools to streamline their processes, but after many years of use, the tools are no longer where the company needs them to be. Additionally, they often need a more consolidated approach to their workflows. This is the point where a lot of companies meet a technology, such as DESTINI Estimator, that could improve their current processes.

Before finalizing the change, however, it is critical for teams to sit down and discuss how they could fully maximize the potential of a new tool, and the ways in which they could bring the technology onboard without completely throwing away decades’ worth of work. As they worked through various issues and how to approach them, they ultimately ended up with four important takeaways.

1). Technology is more than just software – it’s also about the people behind it.
Companies change for a lot of reasons – sometimes because of a software need, sometimes because of workflow. Other times, they change because they want to be prepared for the future, and feel like the tools or processes they currently employ are too rooted in the past, making it difficult to embrace newer ideas and ways of doing things.

Construction companies need a partner who will grow and innovate alongside them rather than fall behind and stagnate. It does not matter if software has the latest features or the most impressive design – if the team behind it is not bringing in feedback from clients and adjusting their software according to the shifting needs of the industry, then that software is essentially useless.

2). Make sure the technology can adapt itself to your company’s unique needs.
Buying a one-size-fits-all technology doesn’t work in commercial construction because every company approaches processes differently, especially pre-construction. For example, adapting estimating software that will allow
estimating professionals to get granular with the data, review cost trends between projects and over time, and respond quickly to project changes. If a company is using technology that is status quo, then that tool may not be the right fit for a company looking to expand its offerings or better serve their clients.

Additionally, it is vital for companies to have people on their team who are willing to experiment with technology and be coached by the vendor’s team so that the company can fully understand how to maximize the tool. Even the best technology in the world will not be of any use to a company if they don’t first understand how to use it to its full potential.

Construction companies should be implementing technology that will help their teams to be better than they are today. This requires firms to look ahead as well as dive deep into what it is going to take for them to accomplish those goals.

3). Change requires effort and alignment from the top down and the bottom up.
Change has to start somewhere, and whether it begins with the CEO or one of many estimators, it’s critical that there are members from both the reconstruction department and the company’s leadership involved in the process. Change that will truly last requires buy-in from both parties, and you need champions who understand the day-to-day challenges as well as leadership who will support the change and hold everyone accountable.

Additionally, alignment between the team and the team’s leadership is absolutely vital. Acknowledging the need for change is a great first step, but if the company can’t agree on exactly what that change will look like, the results can be poor. A software may be implemented that the team does not think will be an improvement, delaying the implementation process; alternatively, leadership that will not listen to the team’s desires can cause frustration and dissatisfaction. No software will be perfect, of course, but being able to agree on what is essential and what is not will maximize a company’s success with new technology.

4). Have a strong support system in place.
Support is absolutely crucial to successfully implementing any kind of technology. Not only is there a general learning curve for everyone involved, but there can oftentimes be an even steeper learning curve for team members who may not be technologically savvy and need extra time and training to get the most out of the new tool. Obviously, it is important for the company’s leadership to work with their team on overcoming any obstacles brought by implementing a new technology. It’s also critical for them to show support for the tech itself, to display unity, and to inspire confidence in the rest of the team.

But it’s just as important for the vendor to provide the company with the support that it needs. Technology is truly only as good as its support team, because they are the ones who will help develop a plan of attack with the purchasing company, guide them through the ins and outs of the technology, and provide them with ongoing updates and assistance. A great support team is particularly critical when it comes to implementation. No two companies are going to face the exact same problems, so it’s essential for the support team to get to know their clients’ challenges intimately, in order to create the most effective implementation plan for them.

The technological advancements moving into the construction industry are definitely exciting; many are already making massive changes to the way construction is done, and many others have the potential to cause even bigger transformations. Before purchasing new technology make sure the four takeaways have been vetted and there is a cohesive plan to move forward.

Compiling a Cost History Initiative for Estimating

This article was written by Greg O’Bryan, Senior Project Engineer of The Beck Group, and published in the July/August 2018 edition of DCD Magazine.

Construction estimating is a balance of art and science. When construction firms engage in the very beginning of a project, the scale seems to tip more toward the art component than the science. However, since project schedules and design fees have less room than ever for course corrections, the necessity of well-informed cost certainty at these early stages requires a scientific approach. These early efforts depend upon project cost history or robust cost models (or even both).

From my own experience and from others I’ve spoken to, curating reliable project cost history to use for conceptual estimating is a big task. As a company moves to start or improve upon a cost history initiative, there are five recommended steps to follow. Read more

Honesty Pays

This article was written by Michael Boren, CTO of Beck Technology, and published April 2018 on Construction Today.

Time and time again, companies start their relationships with new clients by lying, or at least that is how it can feel. Once that first meeting is over and a company is selected for the job, the real work starts and the wizard behind the curtain is revealed. Too often, project owners realize that all of that sexy tech talk and those amazing videos that won them over were a flashy diversion from reality.

Companies don’t do this to be malicious. They don’t intend to portray themselves as fake, or attempt to deceive a potential client. They need to win that job and are doing everything they can to get it. As far as they are concerned, they are simply putting their best foot forward in an effort to meet the expectations set by the project owner.

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Come Together

This article was written by Michael Boren, CTO of Beck Technology, and published February 2018 on Construction Today.

Problem solving is one of my favorite activities. Recently, I’ve gotten into creating custom cabinetry as a weekend hobby. Sketching designs, calculating the amount of material needed, and making sure all the tools are nearby is a regular occurrence around my house. However, I’m a hobbyist at this art form. Often, I ask other people on how to best approach a specific nook or cranny detail.

When I first started out, my projects were pretty basic but as I learned from others and shared ideas about designs and tactics, my weekend hobby has turned out some great work. I’ve come to realize when people are really passionate about something they are willing to help others regardless of whose name is on the final product. Why do we collaborate on hobbies but not in our professions? Competition is fierce within the AEC industry, so it’s easy to make the people who work for your competitor into the bad guys. Maybe you think their approach isn’t as good as yours, or they’d steal your clients or trade secrets in a heartbeat. But if we spend our entire careers keeping ideas bottled up and kept for ourselves then who are we benefiting? We would both be missing out on a chance to make our industry better for each of us, both of our companies, and the communities we serve. Read more

Implementing Estimating Software? Don’t Do These Five Things

This article was written by Brian Marks, Senior Estimator of The Korte Company, and published in the January/February 2018 edition of DCD Magazine.

Last year, The Korte Company undertook a major software implementation: We upgraded to a new estimating platform across all of our nationwide offices. The transition was kicked off in April 2017, and by November, all 20 of our estimators across the country were trained and ready to use our new software, DESTINI Estimator by Beck Technology, on every project. During the eight months of hands-on work in between, we learned just how much a solid implementation plan matters.

We knew before we started that a nationwide software transition would require extraordinary effort, and it did. We even mapped out ahead of time a list of top things to avoid as we built our implementation approach. At the end of a seamless roll out, it was clear that we apparently had done a lot of things right. To help you learn from our experience, I’ll share how we carefully avoided five major pitfalls along the way.

1. Don’t start implementing new software without a plan, ideally a phased plan
There’s no sense in investing in technology if you’re not 100 percent committed to maximizing every penny of your investment, and it’s important to be realistic about exactly what is needed to achieve that. At Korte, we locked down every step of our phased implementation approach before we even bought the software. We decided to move forward only when we were confident that we would be able to follow through on the next phase of our plan. Note here as well that I say “phased implementation” as our approach; we were very methodical on how, when, who was involved, and at what stage. Read more

The Right Match

This article was written by Michael Boren, CTO of Beck Technology, and published November 2017 on Construction Today.

In a lot of ways, business relationships are like your personal relationships. Whether you’re evaluating business partners, hiring new team members or trying to win work, both parties are looking for that special spark. When the chemistry is right, great things can happen. But without it, you eventually find that the passion and caring just aren’t there, and a breakup is inevitable.

It’s easy to overlook a potential business partner’s negative qualities when that person has something that you need, whether it’s a supply of steel beams, skilled labor or your next big project. But think about it: How many times have you had a bad feeling about someone, then later wish you’d listened to that quiet voice that was telling you something was off all along?

During the “getting to know you” phase of the relationship, these kinds of perceptions matter. You can’t control whether a potential business partner lives up to their own marketing hype, but you can control the way your own company and people are perceived. Although there’s no AEC matchmaking website to help you find honest, dependable people to work with, when you define your own core values and then truly live up to them, you’ll earn a reputation that will help good business partners find you.

Matchmaking Rule #1: Know Yourself

Your construction business’s success depends on finding and choosing to work with people who share your core values and are committed to helping you succeed. In dating and in business, fruitful relationships start with knowing who you really are and living authentically.

Some companies never take the time to define their core values, and that’s like going into the dating world with no idea of who you are and what you really want. People who don’t understand their own values end up in a lot of dead-end relationships, and tend to be taken advantage of along the way. Read more