As standardization has become an industry buzzword, the best measure of tech value can still be found in the hands of the end user. Steffanie Schrader believes this first hand, and it defines her approach to discovering and implementing digital solutions for Barton Malow. “If we deploy something and the project teams don’t use it because it’s a pain to use, or it doesn’t achieve what they need, then it’s an obvious waste of money and time,” says the senior VDC engineer. Schrader has been in the industry since 2000, and a chance interaction at Bluebeam’s Extreme Conference connected her with Barton Malow, general contractor and construction manager. “I went to the Bluebeam Extreme Conference and I just happened to sit next to Lindsey Rem, VP of systems for Barton Malow at lunch. She and I got to talking and one thing led to another and she said, ‘You know we’re actually looking for a VDC person down in Southeast Region.’ And I think, ‘Please let it be me.’”
It was, indeed, her and since 2014, Schrader has become a key contributor and part of the firm’s team of experts that assist project delivery teams in the planning and successful execution of their document control strategies. In her current role, Schrader instructs project delivery personnel throughout Barton Malow in the use of Box, Bluebeam and mobile technologies to maintain project documents in a consistent and highly organized manner. Schrader and the Barton Malow team strive to enable every employee to work efficiently and collaboratively through the use of constantly improving techniques and technologies.
Built Blog: What drew you to the industry initially? How did you get started in AEC?
Schrader: When I was younger, I thought I wanted to be an architect. I didn’t go to college, but I decided to dip my toes in the water, so to speak. I got a CAD degree, which got me a job at an architecture firm. I figured out that I did not want to be an architect. But, I did use that CAD degree to stay in the construction industry. I went to fire protection after that and was in it for 14 years. The fire protection industry is still very much a male-driven industry. The guys that started as young men back in the ‘60s or ‘70s might still be in it. I had gotten into sales and estimating, and I just did not see the sales position going as far as I would have wanted it to. And then a contact that I had made offered me a job at Barton Malow, so I decided to make the switch from subcontractor to general contractor.
Built Blog: What was that transition like?
Schrader: Going from a company that spanned the state of Florida to a company that spans all over the southeast, eastern and central regions was a difference, but it was a good difference. Coming over to Barton Malow, I was really impressed right off the bat at how many women were in project management and director positions. So it was a good change. I’m really glad I made it.
Built Blog: How did that inspire you?
Schrader: I didn’t understand the scope of it until I actually started working for Barton Malow. I was just not prepared for as many women as I met that were in positions of power.
Built Blog: What made you get involved with VDC?
Schrader: My natural aptitude and interest in technology, organization and standardization led me to the VDC department. I’ve been with the VDC group about two and a half years, after spending the first two years as a project engineer.
Built Blog: What was VDC like when you started in the role with Barton? And what do you do as a senior VDC engineer for the company?
Schrader: When I started with my team, we were called the VDC collaboration team and we focused a lot on software testing and document control. We worked on lots of 2D things because we had a whole other team that took care of 3D coordination and 4D and all that other stuff. There were only three of us and we were trying to establish standards and get the right training pushed out to everybody in the company from the source—instead of the process being more like photocopying, where this person teaches this person and there’s always some loss of something. We’re still trying to do that. The group got re-structured to try and remove those silos. The guys who did 3D and self-perform modeling are learning about 2D stuff. We don’t expect them to be experts, but it’s a level of awareness and the kind of collaboration we didn’t have before, and the same with me. I am getting familiar with those other systems that I don’t work with all the time but which still fall under VDC.
Built Blog: How do you go about evaluating and measuring technology to know that it’s working or creating value? How do you know what you need?
Schrader: I approach it from the end user level. In the VDC department, we can take a look at a piece of software and say, “Oh this looks like it would be great, it checks a bunch of boxes.” But it turns out, we have to go to the end users and say, “Does this save you time or is it more of a pain?” And in some cases there are things out there that project teams will be all about, but it’s cost prohibitive.
Built Blog: So you consult with project teams, as opposed to a more top-down approach to implementation?
Schrader: Yes. For example, during our project management software testing, we had a week where we had some different software solutions that we wanted to try and we brought in people from our 3D coordination team, the VDC department, project engineers, superintendents, project managers. We brought in people from project delivery to come sit in a room with us and test it out from their perspectives. We came up with all the criteria for testing as a team and got the real-world feedback.
Built Blog: What kinds of specific feedback were you looking for?
Schrader: If we deploy this and you were using it, what would you love? What would you hate? Would you want to use this? Would you want to do this one over that? That’s what it all comes down to.
‘If we deploy something and the project teams don’t use it because it’s a pain to use, or it doesn’t achieve what they need, then it’s an obvious waste of money and time.’Steffanie Schrader, Sr. VDC Engineer, Barton Malow
Built Blog: What is the biggest key to buy-in, in your opinion?
Schrader: The whole way to get buy-in is, can you prove that you’re going to make people’s lives easier with this solution? That’s what it comes down to. Ted, my manager, has said on numerous occasions that even if you’re saving overall time, if you add one step to a process then people are going reject it. You have to take steps out of a process to make it a successful workflow, so that’s the way I’ve approached it since I started doing training. If I go into a job trailer and there are some people there who are really averse to technology, usually as soon as I show them that it’s simpler and it’s going to make their personal life easier, they’re like “Oh, okay.”
Built Blog: How would you approach the subject if you were giving a guest talk on technology’s value to the industry?
Schrader: I know there are a lot of old school people who still want a piece of paper to scribble on, they don’t want to just look at things on digital solutions. But, I always bring it down to, what can be avoided by using digital workflows and technology. Can it reduce risk? Can it make your life easier? Can it remove what’s essentially busy work before you get to the actual work? You just have to reframe it a little bit. For instance, I’ve had some discussions with guys who didn’t trust the cloud, but they trusted a server. I’ll frame the conversations like, “Hey, we’re all carrying around cell phones, right? 10, 15 years ago, were you carrying around this magnificent little computer in your pocket? No. Has it made your life insanely better? Yes.” Technology is not there to take your job; It’s there to make your job easier.
Built Blog: Your passion for innovation seems to be a huge motivator for you. How else do you promote change?
Schrader: I just recently got involved with the National Association of Women in Construction, or NAWIC. One of our business development colleagues up in Baltimore asked me to be a part of an event last year. I went and I talked about VDC and technology, and she invited me to be involved in a technology panel at the national NAWIC conference, which is a huge meeting. I did, and now I’ve volunteered my services to be the technology chair for my Orlando chapter. I’m just applying all my VDC knowledge to another group so that they can go about carrying out their mission better. And to spread awareness that construction holds a lot of opportunity for many different kinds of people.