From Architecture to Construction Tech

Forging a digital path to project success and innovation with Walsh Construction

“Walsh does a great job seeking out, recognizing and rewarding those who lead with technology and innovation,” explains John McGlennon. “We’re trying to break down barriers.” The former architect is now a Senior Construction Technologies Manager for the firm and leads multiple groups within the company for technology innovation and implementation. “I’m just kind of slowly growing here at Walsh, assuming more and more responsibilities and for technology implementation. As our business continues to grow into more market sectors, we are there right along with them helping to grow by leveraging technology to facilitate communication between them all.” A far cry from his decade behind design, McGlennon is thriving within Walsh’s culture, having won numerous internal awards for project excellence and innovation, and he continues to spread the gospel of technology through a variety of projects.

Built Blog: What made you go into construction initially and then VDC especially?

McGlennon: My background is in architecture, I practiced for an architectural firm for about 10 years. Prior to that, my father was a foreman for a pipefitting outfit, so I was kind of around construction. He was really good at hand drafting and taught me how to draw as well. I joined an architecture firm in the early 2000s, and right away took a leadership role with the implantation of BIM; all while continuing to excel with the graphical side, like putting what I call “pretty pictures together.”

Built Blog: What made you switch from architecture to construction?

McGlennon: I was working on a project as an Architect with another General Contractor here in Chicago, and I noticed all of the technology they were using and it became apparent that the exciting stuff was developing faster on the construction side. So about seven years ago, I took a BIM Coordinator position here at Walsh for our National Buildings Group, which does mostly Government projects, and had the opportunity to work on a bunch of cool airplane hangars and stuff like that. Now, I oversee technology implementation for several different groups (Higher Education, Hospitality, Office, Corporate, Chicago Public/ Private and the Michigan Region) here at Walsh, and I have a handful of people helping me. And while we still get to do pretty pictures, we obviously lead a lot of the other technological innovations and implementations.

“It’s one thing to learn about a problem and throw a piece of software at it, it’s another thing to dive in and understand the root causes of the problem and follow that with a strategic plan to resolve them.” – John McGlennon, Senior Manager of Construction Technologies, The Walsh Group

Built Blog: How does Walsh empower your role and facilitate a culture of innovation?

McGlennon: Sean Walsh hosts a Monthly Construction Technology Forum for anyone in the company to tap into, listen in, and ask questions or provide insight. Additionally, our VDC leaders meet regularly to discuss and develop ways to adopt technologies though all facets of our Company.

Built Blog: How do you measure the implementation of new technology? What key performance indicators do you use to track value?

McGlennon: Like everyone else in the industry, we do the surveys and the polls to try to get as much feedback as possible. We create cost scenarios of old ways versus new ways, or cost models of the amount of time saved in the future of doing x versus y, etc. But really, the only way to truly know and see the value first hand, is communicating with the end users and letting them communicate about the value of the tools they’ve used as they go from job to job. The tools and practices ultimately must speak for themselves.

Built Blog: Tell me a bit about the Walsh Innovator gatherings.

McGlennon: What started as just a group of Construction Technology Managers called the VDC Group, evolved into a forum, at the request of Sean, to engage the rest of the Company which we initially coined the “Walsh Technology Forum.” It wasn’t long before we realized the group name wanted to be an acronym and, while often it was fitting, the name “WTF” just didn’t have a nice ring to it. So, we switched it to the Walsh “Construction Technology Forum” (or the “CTF”) where it allowed anyone in the company to come forward and learn, or educate the rest of the company, about technologies in construction.  We have since created a spin-off of the group to promote best practices to each region across the company by appointing Regional Technology Champions. This first year, their primary focus is to be solely on document management tools. And lastly, we host an annual Innovation Awards Competition where we have had hundreds of submissions from people excited about how they are being innovative and how their innovations can possibly better the rest of the company.

Built Blog: What is your favorite aspect of your job?

McGlennon: Unlike most of the other ENR top contractors, Walsh is a family run company. And it truly acts and feels like one. Everyone is extremely approachable and eager to assist with whatever anyone needs. We have some of the brightest and most talented individuals in the industry and it’s an honor to work beside them to solve problems and get real results. Working here, I don’t miss architecture at all. All this stuff I was doing in architecture that I enjoyed, I’m still doing here. Working in construction management, seeing how jobs go up, and all the workflows it takes; I’m still a part of that. It’s just from a different angle. It’s nice.