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5 Questions with Construction Scheduling Expert James Norris

BuiltTech Labs advisor James Norris

James Norris is the Director of Virtual Building at The Beck Group, an integrated architecture and construction firm that designs and constructs buildings by creating cross-discipline teams to achieve a more holistic building process. He’s also an advisor for BuiltTech Labs, founder of two startups, and an advocate for intuitive building design.

He has experience with nearly every aspect of the construction space. He migrated from construction management to launch the scheduling department. Now, he runs the Virtual Building Group, comprised of 4 departments: 3D Coordination, BIM Support, VBG Services and Operational Technology.

Read on for more from this design/build innovator and scheduling expert, who sees technology as a powerful opportunity to combat waste in the industry.

How long have you been part of this industry?

Twelve years total. It’s in my DNA. My dad started a real estate development company back in the 90s. There was no Google and my dad was frustrated that he couldn’t plan projects in a more intuitive way or at least see project impact relative to its surroundings. So, he and a Russian nuclear engineer developed their own version of 3D Google Earth to figure out how to properly plan, develop and build their buildings. That’s where I get the itch to figure out new methodologies and ways of creating projects. I love our industry because so many of our problems are complex and those are always the most fun to solve!

What changes in our industry have you seen for the positive?

The best change is the culture. There’s plenty of money to be spent in our industry–it’s a trillion-dollar industry across the world. In the beginning, people were unwilling to try new tools, which was probably a constraint of the hardware and software available at the time. Now everyone has a mobile device and they want things to be easy and efficient.

When I worked on job sites, I realized there were so many better ways to perform this work… I knew we could solve the problems of waste.

What changes have you seen for the negative?

The negative change is that there’s an overwhelming amount of software that now exists and many of these tools don’t talk to each other. Our people get worn out having to use 20 tools to do their jobs. They want to live inside of an integrated ecosystem. That’s why Autodesk’s proprietary ecosystem, which works like the Apple market, is a great idea.

What draws you to the technology side of things?

The amount of waste. When I worked on job sites, I realized there were so many better ways to perform this work. That’s why I jumped into scheduling and planning and from there, technology. I knew we could solve the problems of waste and allow for more transparency to be better at how we operate. In operations, the margins are so small that you have to be efficient.

I want better design as well. I want to be proud of what we’re building and installing and make sure that it’s meaningful. That is why the Katerra business model is also so exciting to many of us in the industry. Owning the entire supply chain, the land and delivering a much better product at a lower cost is ideal. Since high-end design usually comes with a steep price tag, the idea of this model allows for really great design to take shape and be built in a much more feasible and scalable way.

In AEC, do you want to be a commodity or have true value? … There aren’t a lot of people out there solving true pains, and that’s where the value is.

What advice would you give to someone starting out in the industry?

In AEC, do you want to be a commodity or have true value? Find your niche: find a gaping hole, solve that one thing, and try to scale it within your firm. We have a ton of project managers, superintendents, and architects willing to accept the pains of our industry daily and somewhat unwilling to test out a “better way.” There aren’t a lot of people out there solving true pains, and that’s where the value is.

Bonus: What’s the worst advice you’ve ever gotten?

Play it safe.

5 Questions with Growth Strategy Expert Hans Ehrnrooth

built tech labs advisor hans ehrnrooth

With an architect mother and mechanical engineer father, BuiltTech Lab‘s advisor Hans Ehrnrooth was born into the world of design and construction — although it took him a little while to find his way back to the field.

Raised in Finland, Hans began his career in business development with a paper machinery supplier. Next, he spent a decade at telecommunications giant Nokia helping them restructure and expand into Chinese markets.

It wasn’t until 2003 that Hans immersed himself in the world of construction. Finnish-based structural engineering software company Tekla hired him to grow their business in the US, and Hans quickly became fascinated by the untapped potential for collaboration he saw in the space.

These days, Hans is a highly sought-after growth strategy consultant. Hear his thoughts on the merits of big data, the impact tablets are having on construction sites, and why “real techies” use Android.

BuiltTech Labs advisor Hans Ehrnrooth spent much of his career at Nokia

Hans has been advising on mobile strategy since the mid-90s when Nokia called these smartphones communicators.

What changes have you seen for the positive in AEC?

I have seen the players showing more willingness to collaborate with one another. In the past, one of the big challenges was that there are so many different contributors to one project, and getting these contributors aligned has been a problem. Technology has helped these different areas understand one another and be willing to collaborate. We’re a long way from getting there, but that’s what BIM is about. The focus on big data, in general, is healthy. Everyone can use one collection point for the data so the coordination between the different parties and the project can actually happen.

What changes have you seen for the negative?

The slow adoption of technology. It’s hard to get someone to change… that’s what I’m experiencing in the business I’m involved in now. We’re talking about scaling up and our biggest challenge is to get people to embrace the new technology and reap the benefits of it. One reason maybe is that the technology hasn’t been prevalent in the construction business. We have a lot of people involved who have no tech education and don’t necessarily want to play with technology.

That has changed with the iPad and tablet — people have started using them in their homes, so they’re more at ease with technology when the user interfaces are so simple. It’s been easier for them to embrace it in the work environment. But still, when you go onto a construction site, you see a lot of people who are technology-adverse.

It’s worthwhile remembering that Apple hasn’t really been inventing new technologies. They’ve been perfecting the use of technologies.

What draws you to the technology side of things?

I’ve always been interested in technology. I worked for a long time with technology especially when I was working with Nokia and building telecommunications strategy for the future. That’s something that I was living every day at the time. Imagining how everything would be in the future of mobile phones. In 1995 we called it a communicator. We had emails coming into mobile phones already at that time.

I’m technically inclined when it comes to motor technology, tinkering with cars, boats etc.. When I was choosing a profession, I had to make a choice between medicine and technology. The entrance exams were on the same day. And I picked the technology side. I have never looked back.

If you could wave a magic wand and create a new technology, what would it be?

Get rid of lawyers! Jokes aside, the issue about technology is that it’s worthwhile always remembering that Apple hasn’t really been inventing new technologies. They’ve been perfecting the use of technologies and building them into personal and business applications. The issue is how do you combine the technologies to create something that’s worthwhile to use and scale it. That is how you become successful.

I would also love to see people be more responsible for their own health and taking care of themselves in a better way. If there was a way to get people to manage their own health in a simple way, that’s one thing I would love to see.

Our biggest challenge is to get people to embrace the new technology and reap the benefits of it.

iOS or Android, and why?

My background was mobile phones so we used to have our own proprietary systems within Nokia. Then came Android and iOS and for the longest time, I still was stuck with the Nokia because of being related to them on the business side. But the business system Apple built was the one that swayed everyone over with ease of use. Real techies use Android because it’s “easier” to build apps on and it’s a more flexible environment for the developer, they claim.

Want to hear more from BuiltTech Labs advisors? Check out our other innovator interviews or join the community

5 Questions with BIM Expert Luther Lampkin

Luther Lampkin, BuiltTech Labs’ BIM advisor, entered the AEC industry as a drafter in 2006.

Late one night, he was stuck at the office working on a set of plans.

A janitor, who had been cleaning up piles of discarded paper, walked over to Luther’s desk.

“Hey,” he said, “have you heard about this new technology? It’s going to take over the industry pretty soon.” The janitor showed Luther printouts of Revit-generated documents which immediately caught his attention.

A lifelong technology enthusiast, Luther was excited about the potential he saw for innovation in AEC. Hungry to get ahead, Luther studied on his off hours. His competitive nature motivated him to carve a space for himself on the forefront of BIM.

Little did Luther know his big break was right around the corner. Soon, he had the opportunity to implement Revit on a few projects in Dubai. Not long after, he got brought on to build BIM models to scale for a pretty major client: Panama Canal Authority. Luther served as BIM Manager for AS+GG on the Astana World Expo 2017 project, which won the firm a 2016 AIA TAP award.

The winning design from AS+GG for the 2017 World Expo

Suffice it to say, in the past decade, this BIM expert has seen the gamut of where AEC firms are using technology well and where they’re lagging behind. He now owns a consulting firm focused on bringing technology to the world of architecture.

Here’s what he had to say about the future of AEC, including how his first job ever turned out to be the perfect training for the career of his dreams.

What changes have you seen for the positive in AEC?

Recent technology advances mean you can go to Best Buy and get an AR/VR kit. These days, you can experience the built environment before it’s even being built. We may get to the point where documentation may only exist in a model and not on physical pieces of paper. It’s a positive disruption that the industry needs to push forward.

What changes have you seen for the negative?

What I see more than anything else is a big divide between the baby boomers and the millennials. Millennials love technology; we grew up in it. The baby boomers are the ones who cut the checks. Millennials have the technology and programming savvy to drive the industry forward. If you’re an architecture major, you’re almost required to have a minor in computer science. The industry has slowed the progress it could have made because we’re used to doing things the way we’ve always done it.

Any job I get into, no matter what it is, no one would work harder than me. If I saw them come into work at 7 am, I would come into work at 6 am.

What advice would you give to someone starting out in the industry?

Be prepared to not make a lot of money. When I was a drafter, I was making the same I could have working at Target. Be prepared for long hours and not a lot of compensation. It sounds crazy but that’s the name of the game until you can set yourself apart. Which you can do through technology; hard work and effort; networking with the right people. Definitely find a mentor. That person can lead you and help you navigate you from where you are now to where you go moving forward. You’ve got to love it. You’ll blossom.

What was your first job ever?

I was a dishwasher at a really, really nice boutique restaurant. I remember that’s what set me apart at establishing a work effort. My mom was like, “You wanna be a dishwasher?!” I was 15-16 years old and I just wanted a job.

My friend worked there and we would see who could keep the dishwasher cleaner — that’s my sports background, being competitive. They made 35 different cheesecakes so it was pretty cool and it was decent money. It got me to understand that you know what — any job I get into, no matter what it is, no one would work harder than me. And I took that with me into school, industry. If I saw them come into work at 7 am, I would come into work at 6 am.

If you could wave a magic wand and create a new technology, what would it be?

A predictive analytics tool that could seamlessly blend all the different tech tools that we use in a more cohesive fashion to get a more integrated, predictable outcome. Right now in our industry, most of all the tools we use aren’t universal-based. Not every software plays well with another. I would create a web-based, interoperable tool that isn’t something only a very intellectual person could use. If my mom can use an iPhone… that’s what I want to create in our field, with the same mantra: simplistic enough that anyone could use it.

Want to hear more from BuiltTech Labs advisors? Check out our other innovator interviews or join the community

5 Questions with Architect and Author Randy Deutsch

Randy Deutsch, LEED-AP is head of the grad department at the Illinois School of Architecture, one of the largest architecture colleges in the country. In addition to research and teaching classes, he has been writing a series of books over the last decade that help to advance AEC, addressing where architecture and construction is leading in the next 10 years.

One of BuiltTech Labs’ architecture advisors, Randy is also an international keynote speaker, a BIM authority who has led an executive education program at Harvard GSD, and an architect responsible for the design of over 100 large, complex sustainable projects.

Thanks to his position as a professor and researcher, Randy has valuable insight on the future of AEC–including the next generation of young professionals who are going to shape the industry for the better.

Colorful book cover against wood background

The third book in Randy Deutsch’s series on advancing AEC

What changes have you seen for the positive in AEC?

Many people bemoan the fact that AEC is very slow to change, but it’s become much more collaborative. There have been advances in recent years in project delivery methods, leveraging parametric tools like BIM, computation tools like Grasshopper or Dynamo, as well as an increased use of algorithms, access to data, and leveraging the cloud … everything from photogrammetry and other reality-capturing tools to ways to speed up scheduling and other parts of the construction process.

The ultimate goal that we’re working towards is to find a way where the entire project pipeline, from first identifying a site all the way to project completion, and even further into facilities management, ops, finances; is addressed leveraging these tools. No question, in the past 25-30 years, that is something that has absolutely advanced. It’s a positive thing because it’s spurring us on in the industry to do better and do more and not rely on the old way of doing things.

I think there is no better career to go into these days then the AEC field, especially a version of the field where a couple of those letters (A, E, and C) are connected.

What changes have you seen for the negative?

Something I interpret as negative that I address in my research is this tendency for really smart people working in the AEC industry to leave our field for what they see as greener pastures to work for startups or spinoffs. I see it as a negative that people can’t find a way in architecture, engineering, or construction to do what they need to do to move our field forward. I feel like we’ve failed them. There are certain things that are very exciting about working in a startup, so it’s a wake-upcall to firm leaders in the AEC to offer more possibilities and opportunities for growth.

Imagine you’re talking to a high school senior. What would you tell her to major in, and why?

One of the things I’m very interested in is demographics. Our current masters’ students and later are all millennials. Our undergrads through senior year are Gen Zs: they’re radically different than Gen Y or millennials. They don’t want to sit in a cubicle, be only an architect or engineer; they want to own the entire project. They’re not entitled; they’re willing to put in the time and effort. They’re entrepreneurial. They love vertical integration; exploring how things are connected.

We’re very lucky to have them coming up. They are not afraid of putting in the hours, sticking with one organization; they want to pay their dues–for that reason, there is no better career to go into these days then the AEC field. Especially a version of the field where a couple of those letters (A, E, and C) are connected. You can major in architecture and minor in computer science or construction management. You’ll be a maker, going directly to fabrication from the tools you’ll be working with. Everything today is interconnected and it’s a thrilling opportunity to be part of AEC. I wish I was graduating now.

Make a deep commitment to a project or piece of the industry — but keep your horizontal bandwidth, your social and multidisciplinary wingspan, open.

What advice would you give to someone starting out in the industry?

At the beginning of your career, it’s a good thing to dig in and work deep. One of the hardest things, when you’re first starting out, is that building projects can take three to six years, or even longer. At the same time, think of yourself as T-shaped. Make a deep commitment to a project or piece of the industry — but keep your horizontal bandwidth, your social and multidisciplinary wingspan, the top of the T, open. Whether it has to do with technology, social causes… Your current project is going to end. And you’re going to want to leverage that wingspan to work on other project types or different phases of a project. Be open, but create a model of yourself early in your career as a T-shaped individual.

Black Moleskine notebook with two stickers on it and a pen on a silver desk against a beige background

Sometimes the simplest design tools are the most effective.

What are your 3 favorite technology tools you use throughout your day?

That’s one of the great ironies. My family members snicker that I found a way to pay my mortgage by becoming one of the world’s foremost experts in digital technologies without actually using them very frequently. I’d love to be able to tell you it’s a visual programming tool like Grasshopper, but it isn’t.

I am literally using a yellow legal pad and a pen. Seriously, I can do anything with those two things. The third would be a Moleskin because I can come up with anything using it. Maybe it’s the imagination – and relying on oneself – that’s the actual tool, as opposed to the paper. Paper, pen, and my imagination.

 

Want to hear more from BuiltTech Labs advisors? Check out our other innovator interviews or go ahead and join the community

Your building is talking. Are you listening?

Your building is talking. Eric Hall asks, “Are you listening?”

Eric is Founder and Chief Innovation Officer at Site 1001, a smart building performance and operations platform that uses the Internet of Things and data from various sensors as well as the building’s original information (like construction documents) to solve simple and complex problems with potentially expensive repercussions, such as mold detection and air quality monitoring.

Thanks to early travel opportunities which exposed him to both the developed and developing world, one of Eric’s top priorities is the sustainability and longevity of buildings. His motto? It’s more efficient to build it right the first time. And every ounce of waste results in architectural disintegrity.

Eric is a regular speaker about the future of the construction industry, IoT, AI, smart buildings, and smart cities.

Read on to hear Eric’s take on overcoming the silos confronting the construction industry — and that one time he got busted for selling tacos underage.

[Editor’s note: this interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity]

Tell us about what projects you’re currently working on.

I’m working on extending the platform of hardware technologies, including IoT devices. We’re adding more sensors in buildings to get more data. IoT allows us to have data that was 100 times more expensive ten years ago. It allows a broad set of device manufacturers to solve very specific problems at a low cost–everything from mundane to highly sophisticated issues.

The solution can be something as simple as detecting a leak inside of a wall before it collapses. With IoT, once I’ve detected the leak, I can depressurize the water system through an automated valve. We can use thermometers and automated water valves to remove contagens and pathogens from drinking water supplies or use the sensors for indoor air quality monitoring. It’s able to detect mold in the wall cavity. All simple fixes that, at the end of the day, allow people to be more proactive and live in a healthier environment.

How long have you been part of this industry?

I’ve been in the AEC space for almost 25 years. I received an undergrad in architecture and immediately joined the carpenters union. I’ve been in every stage of construction, from swinging a hammer, to national building information model director, to founder and inventor of Site 1001.


What changes have you seen for the positive?

The industry has been criticized for how it’s lacked productive improvement over the past 100 years. People are quick to blame a lack of technology for lack of productivity. I disagree with that. Since I came into the marketplace with a post-grad degree, there has been a huge application of technology in the construction industry. The real problem in buildings is the archaic communication structure under which we build buildings.

We have a historical methodology that creates an adversarial relationship between contractor and owner, between change orders and cost reduction.

What I’ve seen is the application of BIM allows for collaboration between these parties that has never been possible before. BIM allows us to engage people who can’t read these details to see it, understand it, and discuss it. We’re freed up to make more sophisticated design decisions as a result. It allows visual communication. It’s going to change expectations–the days of 30 percent waste and massive change orders are over. Owners are no longer going to accept that.

What changes have you seen for the negative?

Not that we have control over it, but we have a much greater lack of skilled labor than we did before.

When I joined the union, I was surrounded by skilled tradesman. Today, because the unions aren’t able to provide that skilled labor, general contractors have become construction managers. Of course, there were specialized trades, but the general carpentry, the labor, the site conditions, safety, iron working, and masonry were all handled by a single entity–a brotherhood of skilled labor. If we were up against the schedule, and one of the trades wasn’t getting it done, I had dozens of tradesmen on the job to rally around and get the job done because it was in everyone’s best interest.

The market in construction and design is becoming more siloed because we don’t have access to skilled labor. Specialization is starting to push us back towards the problem in communication we had pre-BIM.

 

What draws you to the technology side of things?

My goal in this is to get us back on track to get rid of this abusive triad relationship. What suffers is the architecture, the built environment we deliver. People deserve good architecture.

As a student who’s traveled all over the world, I’ve seen how different cultures and governments place emphasis on good architecture. Here in the States, architecture is driven by capitalism. If you’re building a warehouse for shoes, you’re building the squarest, non-air-conditioning-est building you can build. We compound that issue when we have poor communication. We don’t allow good design to occur.

I want to see more farsighted design than the two-year construction process. It takes two years for buildings to go from hole in the mud to having the keys handed to the owner. Every ounce of waste results in architectural disintegrity.

 

Imagine you’re talking to a high school senior. What would you tell her to major in, and why?

The first bit of advice I would give is: you don’t have to decide today. The longer we have to decide what it is we want to do, compared to the amount of information we receive in that time, is the connection of how we finally get there. I’m fortunate–I don’t work. I do what I love. If you want to achieve that, you’re not going to already know what that is as an 18-year-old. Stay in a general studies program for the first couple years. Don’t close your mind.

 

What advice would you give to someone starting out in the industry?

Travel while you’re young. Travel gives you the widest breadth of experience because everything is done a little differently all over the place. We all learned to pour concrete from the Romans. Get as much project experience as you can. Be willing to move around the country and keep your eyes and ears open.

 

Was there a specific trip that impacted you?

Shock therapy. In college, I had an open year so I decided to take a job in Paris which allowed me to travel Europe on a Euro Pass. I was traveling all over, sketching buildings from the Trevi fountain to canals in Amsterdam and everything in between. I was seeing some of the world’s greatest architecture.

When I flew back stateside. I had a month to kill before classes started. My stepdad was involved in a church program going to Haiti for 14 days. So I flew from Europe to the U.S. to the poorest country in the western hemisphere. There were so few resources that if I had a Bobcat Skid-steer down here, I could have changed the country.

That was the opportunity that drove me to care about society’s impact on architecture, the desire to want what we build to provide residual value. It’s the responsibility of architects to not cut corners and sacrifice quality in order to deliver something in the short term.

What was your first job ever?

I lied about my age so I could make tacos at a fast food restaurant. It only took a month for them to catch me and fire me–I was 11 and you had to be 14.

 

Tech Takes

What is your must-have smartphone app?

I only use eight pages on the entire internet. I’ve been a full iOS ecosystems user for the last 10 years since the iPhone first came out. But I’ve realized that all of this fear and dependency I had on my Apple ecosystems was not true at all. The whole Android OS is my new favorite app. I didn’t have the courage on my own to transition, but now I am a changed person.

 

What are your favorite technology tools you use throughout your day?

Nest cameras are ultra sweet. I carry a Flir infrared camera on my body all the time to go into spaces and look at air infiltration as well as electrical–you can see shorted wires glow in infrared. You can look at a wall panel and see what’s loaded based on what color they are. It fits in a shirt pocket.

 

If you could wave a magic wand and create a new technology, what would it be?

Instant travel. As a guy who flies all the time, I need instant travel.

Thornton Tomasetti President Asks, “Innovation: Theatre or Action?”

This post is written by Ray Daddazio, President of Thornton Tomasetti, from his notes that he took down during a lecture in January of this year. The event was sponsored jointly by Columbia University’s Business School in conjunction with Columbia Entrepreneurship, and was hosted by Chris McGarry, Director for Entrepreneurship in the University Office of Alumni and Development. Rita McGrath, a professor of management at the Business School known for her work on strategy, innovation and entrepreneurship, moderated the discussion. She is also teaching an online course called  “Mastering Corporate Entrepreneurship.” On the panel were Steve Blank, a Senior Fellow for Entrepreneurship at Columbia and serial entrepreneur and Brian Murray, President & CEO of HarperCollins Publishers.

Thornton Tomasetti Project - McCormick Place

Innovation: Theatre or Action?

The motivation of the lecture is focused on the fact that corporate entrepreneurship is a very hot topic these days. However, despite all the talk, actual innovation performance comes nowhere near to delivering on its promise. We are perhaps five years into the latest flurry of excitement about the prospects for innovation-fueled growth. Companies have traveled to Silicon Valley in droves, sponsored innovation boot camps, trained innovation ninjas, and otherwise promised their stakeholders that innovation is front and center on their agendas.

And yet, evidence suggests much of this activity is just ‘Innovation Theater.’ Indeed, how many corporations focus their cultures around an innovation playbook, and train all staff in innovation practices? In a recent McKinsey study, approximately 65% of executives surveyed reported that they were unhappy with their organization’s inability to innovate. That said, McKinsey also discovered that, “On the contrary, senior executives almost unanimously—94 percent—say that people and corporate culture are the most important drivers of innovation.”

What’s Next for Corporate Innovation?

Similar research shows that corporations are spending a lot more of their profits on things like share buybacks and dividends than they are on innovation. So, what’s next for corporate innovation? The speakers identified five major categories of executive movement:

  • Large corporations are world-class executions engines, and they now need to move at the speed of a start-up and don’t have the talent to do so. For example, Macy’s/Sears versus Amazon.
  • McKinsey’s three horizons of innovation:
    1. Incremental innovation around core business – 60%-70% of resources
    2. Adjacent business (extend and tweak portfolio) – 15%-20%
    3. Transformational (disruptive: Kindle, iPhone, long term bets) 10%-25%
  • Most CEOs come from the first horizon:
    • Leaders align budgets, promotions, other incentives for execution not innovation
    • Going from idea to good idea to acceleration of good idea is difficult
  • Providing an incentive for innovation:
    • Finance and HR are usually out of sync
    • We cannot shoot the core business, because it pays the bills
    • Balance (between sustaining core vs. disruptive innovation) is tricky and difficult to achieve
    • Need a “re-factoring group” or process that sits between innovation and execution to help work proceed seamlessly understanding limitation of each side.
  • Executives must know the difference between “innovation” and “entrepreneurship”:
    • Anyone can be innovative; the CEO just needs to get rid of the obstacles
    • McKinsey’s Horizons 1 and 2 just need innovation and continuous improvement
    • The CEO sets and ingrains a culture of quality as a mindset of the organization

Best Chance for Success at Thornton Tomasetti

The information shared in this excellent lecture reaffirms Thornton Tomasetti’s approach. These are the driving issues that lead to success or failure of most corporate innovation attempts. Setting up the TTWiiN incubator and hiring The Combine addresses the main issues identified by panel.  And, this model offers us the very best chance for success.

 

In Service Companies, There Is No Line Item for R&D

Originally posted on The Combine.

K.P. Reddy: "No line item for R&D in service companies"

Recently, Matt GrayBuiltWorlds founder and co-chairman of Graycor, a 90-year-old, Chicago-area general contractor, interviewed The Combine Co-founder and Partner, K.P. Reddy. We captured the interview on video, which is important, because this interview is one of the very few times you’ll ever see K.P. Reddy in a collared shirt and a coat. Here’s the video.

Notable Quotes from K.P.

The capital requirements to start an architectural firm are nothing. All you need is a customer.

The Combine works with large companies to spin out new tech companies.  Especially in service companies, they are so close to the customer’s problem. They understand the problem. They’ve studied the problem. Then they start trying to solve that problem, by launching a new service unit to focus on that problem. Or, these days, everyone wants to build a new piece of hardware or software.

There is no line item for R&D

But in these companies it’s about billable hours, project revenue, project margin. There is no line item for R&D. So we’re able to go into these companies and mine these really cool innovative ideas and spin them out as tech startups.

Higher ROI outside of their core business

The large companies also retain ownership in the startup. Startup valuations are very different than services firm valuations, and particularly engineering and architectural firms. So we’re able to in many ways generate higher ROI outside of their core business than within their core business.

Civil Engineers Rule The Future!

When you hear the term “civil engineering”, your eyes and ears usually don’t perk up in anticipation like they do when you hear “new iPhone” or “driverless cars” or “Artificial Intelligence.” Instead, you think bridges, roads, dams, airports, traffic patterns…buildings. Civil engineers are boring, right? [Read more..]

Coming Soon to Hotels: AI for Building Maintenance

August 21, 2017 – The hospitality industry is trying to find the X factor to get back on top. With competitors like Airbnb entering the scene as unique places for travelers to stay and brand loyalty becoming less important to guests, hotels should tap pause and look back to the basics.[Read More…]

Look to the Past for a Better Future

head shot of Cliff Moser

The AEC workflow looks nothing like it did thirty years ago.

From paper and pencil to CAD and now BIM, Cliff Moser is a prime example of how to adapt and evolve in an industry that isn’t always receptive to change.

Based in Oakland, California, Cliff is an architect currently using BIM to facilitate the design and construction of 500P, the new Stanford University Hospital for Stanford Healthcare. This $2B project for an 824,000-square-foot facility features advanced diagnostic, therapeutic and surgical technologies, and will provide an additional 368 beds, as well as a new Emergency Department with twice the floor space of the current facility.

A leading voice in Design Solving methodology, Moser is the author of Architecture 3.0: The Disruptive Design Practice Handbook; outlining innovation and disruption in the practice of architecture. His other works include BIM Disruption 2016: The Disruption of Interoperability and the AIA Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice (14th and 15th editions), where he authored the chapters on Quality Management.

He also authors a bi-monthly column for Constructech Magazine on the travails of the owner requirements for design and construction deliverables.

How long have you been part of this industry?

Cliff Moser: Over thirty-five years. I studied architecture, and also got a Master’s in quality assurance. That combination has made me very focused on using the lean approach and Toyota method on the job. My motto has become quality has to be embedded during the entire process, not just checked at the end.

What changes have you seen in the industry since you started out?

Cliff Moser: The apprentice/mentor model has disappeared, and we have no good replacement for oversight. We’ve lost that opportunity for managers to be engaged with what new hires were drawing and how they were drawing it. When I first started, you’d be drawing on a desk and leave your drawings out overnight when you went home. That gave the managing principles a chance to look at your stuff at the end of the day or in the morning, leave notes on it, and work through it with you the next day, guiding you.

Now, with everyone’s models locked into a computer, we’ve lost the opportunity for that feedback loop. The people who model and draw work in isolation until it’s time to hand the designs off. That means instead of catching mistakes internally under mentor review, firms transfer those mistakes to the customer. The customer becomes QA, rejecting what they receive, changing the schedule, adding additional costs, even pursuing lawsuits. We need a better way.

Why do you think this industry lags behind in tech?

Cliff Moser: Without the mentor/apprentice model, everyone learns by doing. So we have to do things wrong 3, 4, 5, 6 times. Some believe there’s no better way than the old way. I’ve seen 24-year-olds say there’s no better way than the old way. That to me signals a complete process breakdown: they’re frustrated with trying to improve things, so they give up. But in Kanban I learned the issue is never the person; it’s the process. The problem is never the tool; it’s the culture. Unfortunately, the way we’ve always done things is: if you have a new idea, we’ll wait you out and make you miserable until you come back to our way of doing things.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out in AEC?

Cliff Moser: Study the classics. Read old books, watch old movies. Travel. I’ve noticed with this current generation, there’s a sense of non-understanding or non-awareness of the past. 20-29-year-olds: When they discover Andy Griffith on TV they wonder, “what the heck is this?” But if you’re supposed to be building something that lasts for 30, 60 years, connected to a world that started before cars and will continue way after, it’s important for people to see how things were back in those days.

Go out and build. One of the ways I really learned how to do things was by gardening – building garden sheds and systems like that. That gives you an opportunity to learn how to nail things together and learn how when you draw something it doesn’t really work that way in reality.

What was your first job ever?

Cliff Moser: Newspaper boy – that’s how I got my early morning chops in! By waking up 4 am to deliver newspapers at nine years old. In my house, you had to toe the line for an allowance so I earned my own cash.

5 Tech Takes

What is your must-have smartphone app?

Cliff Moser: Feedly – I use that all the time. It’s like browsing the library. If you only go after your own interests you never see anything new.

What are your 3 favorite technology tools you use throughout your day?

Cliff Moser: Smart phone camera for photographing and sharing everything on the job-site, especially as-built conditions. Bluebeam for grabbing information from files and turning photos PDFs. Google Maps.

If you could wave a magic wand and create a new technology, what would it be?

Cliff Moser: Self-updating models. Walk into a room with a tablet or phone, and the model updates itself based on IoT sensors and photogrammetry. However, now, I’m going to be taking a Revit model that we paid millions for, hand it over to a facilities team who has to find someone who knows Revit, in order to see what’s in there. All that knowledge trapped in one person and one platform just doesn’t make sense.

Windows/MAC/Linux?

Cliff Moser: Windows — it’s the most written-to platform.

iOS or Android?

Cliff Moser: I tend to go with iOS – I have nothing but iPhones that companies have given me. Plus, Instagram on iPhone changed my wife’s life by helping her run a small business.