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.
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.
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.
Recently, Matt Gray, BuiltWorlds 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.
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Today’s Daily is sponsored by 6 Paths to the Automated Construction Site | @asmedotorg While automation has transformed the world of manufacturing, construction remains relatively untouched by self-sufficient machines. That is about to change. Artificial intelligence, 3D printing, and robotics are poised to bring automation to building construction. Why geometry is more important to offsite …
The construction industry has a technology problem..
A 2016 survey by strategic advisory firm, KPMG, shows that the industry is ambivalent about technology uptake. While 61% of construction companies are using Building Information Modeling (BIM), the survey also found that firms are not investing in single, fully integrated project management information systems. Instead they are using multiple software platforms that are manually monitored, an inefficient use of software at best. This can lead to a perception that they are not getting full value from BIM because information is lost as it moves from design processes and into construction.
The article Why your construction firm is really in the business of construction technology appeared first on Built Worlds
Great article highlight the BuiltTech opportunities.
Despite project scopes growing more ambitious, the construction sector’s productivity and adoption of the latest technologies continue to lag behind those of other sectors.
The post Disruption key focus for GCC’s construction tech suppliers appeared first on Construction Week Online.
Heavy equipment manufacturing giant Komatsu and positioning software maker Trimble are teaming up to enable the sharing of 3-D construction job site data.
The Post Komastu, Trimble partner for 3-D construction data sharing appeared first on Construction Dive.
While keynotes from industry stalwarts like Paul Doherty and Aaron T. Becker and plenary presentations by Greg Bentleyand Burkhard Boeckem were considered by many to be the highlights of the SPAR 3D Expo and Conference, the biggest news from the show had actually come a few weeks earlier. In March, SPAR 3D and AEC Science & Technology (AEC-ST) announced that they would co-locate in June of 2018 in Anaheim, California.