Drones, Deliverables and Disciplined Innovation

Talking tech trends with Rogers O’Brien’s Italo Cruz and Sundt Construction’s Dominic Daughtrey
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“The world ain’t gonna change itself,” says Sundt Construction Continuous Improvement Program Manager Dominic Daughtrey with a laugh. Daughtrey, here in conversation with Rogers O’Brien Sr. Applied Technology Specialist Italo Cruz, has good reason to say that. Both Daughtrey and Cruz represent the side of the construction industry that really is working to change the world—one jobsite innovation at a time. But change for change’s sake does not a smart man make, so how do you assess and judge successful change when so much available technology seems to cloud the bigger picture? “Every time we try to implement a new technology, the first question that we should ask is, ‘Will this make workers’ lives easier?’” Cruz means it; both he and Daughtrey come from the field and understand that if technology isn’t good for the front line, then it isn’t going to be good for the bottom line.

In an industry with no time for R&D, upgrading processes, and focusing on continuous improvement can be easier said than done. Having the right approach might mean the difference between following another industry fad and changing the jobsite forever.

Fresh off a joint presentation at 2018’s Bluebeam Extreme Conference in Austin, Texas, Daughtrey and Cruz sat down with the Bluebeam Blog to discuss their experiences, approaches, and insights on new technology and where the construction industry is headed.

Built Blog: For people like you two, who are willing to take the risk and initiative to find better ways of working, how do you approach problem solving?

Daughtrey: It means transforming your mentality. Before, it was just needs-based and crisis-based. “We have this specific problem, and whatever is out there to solve it, we’re going to do it and move on. Just solve the problem and move on.” We weren’t being disciplined about anything. My big thing is transforming the way we look at the technology solutions that we put in place. So I’m rolling out what we’re calling “disciplined innovation.” I think a lot of contractors lack it; I think the industry lacks it.

Built Blog: So what exactly is “disciplined innovation”?

Daughtrey: It starts with detailed metrics, recording, and a reporting plan. And that’s not just, “Oh we’re going to do a bunch of Lean Six Sigma.” You know, not all these problems are just math problems. We’re looking at qualitative and quantitative metrics; we’re rolling out planning templates, which are basically plans for metrics recording and reporting through a pilot program. Because the big thing was doing all sorts of really cool things, but nobody was capturing the data in the metrics. Did this allow the team to focus on the real value of their work? Did we give them the capabilities to perform 12 hours’ worth of work in eight hours, and actually have a better quality of life? Those things matter. You might not be able to put a dollar amount on it; I’m sure some insurance actuary would be able to. But happiness? That’s priceless.

Built Blog: But how do you approach measuring things and assessing needs prior to implementing a tech solution?

Cruz: We have a whole department of applied technology, which is where we literally evaluate the processes and try technologies throughout the company. We meet every month about “How can we make the life of the construction worker easier?” So, anything that comes up, the first question that is asked is “Does it make life easier?” And so that being the first step, from there we start on alpha testing for software. Then we work on the issues throughout that and we bring it to beta. Then we test on one or two job sites, before we even push to the whole company, you know? But, at the end of the day, I think it comes from above. The executive team really believes in us.

Daughtrey:  We do a lot of workflow mapping and value stream mapping. And our big thing is focusing on the field. Like if there’s a consistent problem or pain point or workflow; the feedback loop is the thing that most people don’t have or they ignore it. But our big thing is focusing on the front lines. And that’s literally how this whole drone thing came up. It was like, Okay, well, are site logistics up to date? You know nothing’s up to date. Well, how do we capture that? How do we communicate that? Well, if a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth a million words.

Built Blog: It seems like drones are the hot topic for the industry right now. Let’s talk drones! What are you seeing in terms of drones and the industry?

Daughtrey: The one thing that’s coming up that I’m excited about is the fact that drones aren’t just going to be for taking pictures. They’re going to have actual functions. In the next five to 10 years, drones are going to be carriers. They’re going to be payload carriers, and we’re going to have high-rises that are going to have 200-foot hoses. And it’s going to be hooked to a pump with paint, and we’re going to be painting the exterior of high rises and houses and all that stuff. It’s like we’re going to be doing all sorts of amazing stuff with drones, and they’re all going to be custom. They’re going to be custom payload carriers, and so me getting into the drone racing stuff, that’s a side thing of somebody who is going to have to build these things, and I want to be that guy.

Built Blog: On that level, what are you both seeing in terms of what are some of the most useful or more useful innovations and trends that you guys are seeing right now, that you think have really impacted the industry or are really going to be changing it?

Cruz: From the past 10 years, I think the iPad changed the whole industry. It really allowed the guys to have a computer in their hands. From that, other things came up, from drones to retesting. We have been using augmented reality, so now we have all this stuff—and out of it, new uses and processes. The iPad has been the first one, but drones came right behind it. That’s a big change now. And I think what’s coming up next is augmented reality. I think that’s the next step; that marriage between the 3D model and the field.

Built Blog: That’s true. That’s definitely a big chapter to see. What about you, Dominic? What are you seeing out there that you are excited about?

Daughtrey: I am excited about augmented reality: the automation side that’s coming now with all the manual workflows, especially on the management side, and they’re all being automated with amazing algorithms. And like I said, we’re doing a lot of VSM, a lot of value-stream mapping. And the other thing that we’re starting to pilot is the new AI technology, which is basically just extremely powerful and amazing, self-learning algorithms. Some of the new reality capture type stuff; they’ve already got people doing reality capture with LIDAR-mounted drones. We’re looking at doing ground-penetrating radar from a drone. That’s amazing, being able to map out your utilities 30 feet down in the ground with a drone. So there’s some amazing stuff coming up that I’m excited about. It keeps me up at night.

Cruz: Yeah, now what’s next? We saw the example also in Puerto Rico, right? After the hurricane, that they got the AT&T Flying COW drones over there, right? For cell-phone service! Basically, they have their drones giving data.

Built Blog: Technology and innovation is such a culture change. I guess you could both answer this, but how do you guys work within your companies to nurture the culture of innovation and keep people optimistic and keep it pushing?

Daughtrey: I just pull a 100% Tony Robbins on them, man. It’s like you’ve just got to keep people amped up. You can’t be terrible about celebrating the successes. With those things, when I first came on in my new position, I started showing people in different divisions. And so it’s like the cross-functional teams and the cross-functional learning and the breaking down of silos, whether invisible or not, are a major part of what I think guys like Italo and me have to do. And the internal marketing and celebration and sharing, that’s what gets people going. Showing people, “Hey, this is a problem that we have struggled with, and we cared enough to do something, because you guys out in the field matter.” I come from the field, so it’s like we care. We want things to be better for you, and we came up with a solution, and look at this. Let’s celebrate it. Let’s implement it, and let’s scale it out. Let’s maximize the success.

Cruz: Yeah, we celebrate whatever goes right and we try to make it spread company-wide. And also, we try to provide resources, to make their life easier. Whenever they need an iPad, or they need a drone, or they need anything, we are the facilities for that, right? We are trying to move everything towards that and try to make sure that they’re successful. And we build the relationship with the guys. We go out there, see what they need and always try to keep looking ahead. At the end of the day, we don’t have our job if they don’t have a job.

Built Blog: Let’s talk about collaboration, and those who know the industry know construction has been collaborating from the beginning. It takes several project partners to build something, but the technology seems to be improving the collaboration. Talk about the impact you see on some of these technology innovations and how they’re making collaboration better.

Daughtrey: They’re allowing people to communicate on a higher level. We talked about the different value within certain things like a narrative, a text-based narrative and then a photo. If a photo is worth 1,000 words, a video is worth a million words. And what is a 4K or an 8K drone video worth? I don’t know, maybe half a billion? So it’s all these things like Italo was just sharing. You’ve got text-based communication. Then you’ve got photo-based communication. We’re getting to the point where we’re allowing people to communicate on a higher plane than they’ve been able to before.

Built Blog: I think you guys really touched on the importance of the applicable human value as the thing to look for when you’re looking for innovation. It’s not about just the money or the potential of what something can do, but it’s like, well how does it really help people?

Cruz: The more that you see, regarding the stuff, even like stuff for trackers and then your workers, like everybody has smartphones, right? That’s what I’m saying. They are in power now that they can make a difference. They can really change the way that they feel and affect how much time they spend doing a task. That’s something that’s growing more and more, is the democratization of the technology. So, I think moving forward, that’s going to increase. And we’re allowing the guys themselves to evaluate it; we just enable it. We empower them to change this industry and make it better.

Daughtrey:  I always tell people that I’m not helping to build a business; I’m helping to build a culture. And culture will eat strategy and metrics for breakfast any day of the week. I’m telling you right now. And that’s what I want to build. I want to build a unique culture and I feel like everything we’re doing is helping do that. So as far as the quantitative versus qualitative, if you can focus on the qualitative part, like you said, the most important part when you really look at it, the empathy side. The money’s going to come. That’s just a byproduct of the culture. The money and the profits and everything, all the accolades and stuff. That’s just going to be a byproduct of the culture. It’s going to take empathy, and caring, and focusing on the qualitative metrics, and the human side of it. All the math problems will just solve themselves.