Last week, I diligently stood in line at my local Apple store to get my hands on the new iPhone 4. An amazing little device, and definitely a big jump up from my previous 3G model.
One of the new features that comes with this version is called "Face Time". It's essentially video calling in the palm of your hand. You're able to dial up a friend (who also needs to have the iPhone 4) and during your regular conversation, you can initiate a video call and you will switch seamlessly to talking to that person, face to face. Once I got it up and running, I immediately called my brother in Las Vegas to test out this new service. I was unsure at first what I would think about communicating this way on a regular basis.
After spending a few minutes getting over the awe of what we were doing (and making some obligatory Star Trek references) I really found video to be a great way to communicate. Our conversation took on a different level of depth. We could see each other's facial expressions, hand movements used to illustrate points and were overall experienced, I thought, richer communication.
Not only that, but at one point, my brother utilized the rear camera on his iPhone and took me on a tour of his office, pointing out the exam rooms, the receptionist, even the weather outside. To me, that was the most powerful part of Face Time. I was able to be there, in Las Vegas, in my brother's office in real time without leaving my chair.
Get to the point already...
So this got me thinking about the value of live video tours of far off locations, and of course I thought of construction and the power of Face Time on a jobsite.
Construction is really all about time management. You have a lot to do, and only so many hours to do it in, so the more efficient you are, the faster you get the building up and the happier the developer is. Delays upset everyone.
Along with that certainty, it is certain that the project will never go as planned. There will always be new information, weather delays, unexpected conditions and mistakes that delay the project. Many of these delays necessitate a lengthy process to re-plan some part of the construction based on found conditions. However, what if we could drastically shorten the time from problem to solution? Imagine this:
A Superintendent walking the jobsite comes across a problem where some installed components will clash with other existing installed building components. Instead of stopping the job and getting the Project Manager and/or Architect to come down to the site to review the problem, develop a solution, get approval from the Owner and then issue the instructions, the Superintendent could initiate a call to the Project Manager, describe the situation, then turn on his camera to show the PM the on-site conditions. He could then conference in the Architect, Engineer and Owner (wherever they are) immediately and get it resolved and approved in a drastically shortened period from the normal process.
Also, think of a Developer located in another site that wants to be kept up to date on his project. The General Contractor could literally walk his client through the project on a weekly basis and discuss any needed changes or concerns; instantly.
It's about communication
For construction to be successful, there has to be great communication. The world of email is fast and convenient, but you lose so much information in the process. In person communication is rich and satisfying but can take a lot of time and money depending on where the parties are. I think Apple could really revolutionize industries (like construction) by making in-person communication as fast, easy and convenient as an email or a phone call.
It's definitely yet to be seen whether this will catch on or not, and there are definitely some technology and wireless network hurdles to get over before it becomes commonplace, but I believe that a forward thinking developer or contractor should start to seriously look at the impact that handheld video calling could have on their projects.
What do you think about the future of this kind of technology in Construction? Stud or dud? Please leave comments to continue the discussion. Thanks.
After my post yesterday, a reader brought up a really good point.
In order to fill the news void that has been vacated by actual reporters, many outlets now rely on public reporting or the "man on the street" perspective.
This is especially rampant on local news, but it always amazes me when a news institution like CNN starts reading Twitter posts and reader emails as their way of reporting the news. Now I know there are some really educated people out there that CNN may be talking to, but I just don't feel that I'm going to get great investigative journalism from someone whose Twitter name is "@Nooz_Junkie69".
Sure this way is much cheaper than paying actual reporters, but are we, the audience, actually benefiting from this style of "reporting"?
Again, I submit to you, that free or cheap is not always better and that one of the few constants I've found in life is that you get what you pay for.
Listening to talk radio this afternoon, I heard Charles Osgood (of the Osgood Files) talk about some of the financial issues facing radio (and specifically talk radio) these days. He spoke about how radio was struggling with an issue that faces traditional news outlets: the reduction in staff due to budgetary constraints.
As part of the reasoning for these constraints, he listed the inability for traditional media outlet sources to make money over the internet for their content. As I've written about many times in the past, there have been very few traditional industries that have figured out how to maintain revenue levels once content goes digital. This has been a large part of the death knell that has sounded for newspapers.
Osgood was not necessarily lamenting a drop in staff in the printing department or ad sales, he was mostly talking about the loss of journalistic talent which drives the papers and talk radio stations.
This got me thinking about a seemingly unavoidable scenario: what happens if no paper/radio news source can figure out a way to remain a profitable business? What if all the great content that we expect from people like the New York Times is no longer available because the business model just doesn't work anymore? What price might we be paying long term, by refusing to pay short term?
My guess is that many people won't know what a good thing they have now until it's gone. I would bet that, should traditional media sources like major newspapers disappear, people would be in support (in hindsight) of paying $0.50 for their daily digital version of the paper.
The internet has done a great disservice to society in the sense that it has made everyone believe that if you get it on the internet, there was no cost to get it up there and therefore should be no cost to get it out. I fear that all digital content providers (newspapers, music publishers, reprographers) will get so beat down by people demanding something for nothing, that we will all wake up one day and realize there was indeed a very high price to be paid for that content.
I was talking with a Subcontractor yesterday who happens to work on the same project as we are in San Mateo.
We were discussing our online site for managing the project and she said that, although our site was great, her problem was that she had 4 other online sites she had to work with on this project.
She had to use an FTP site with one Architect, e-Builder with the other Architect, our online site, the GC's project management program and another one required by the Owner.
She loved the fact that the project was going more digital, but was frustrated about where to turn to for correct, up-to-date information. Normally, she would always get a paper copy of changes and that would be her notification that something was different. Now she has to go online to see if there are any changes and on top of that, she is being held increasingly responsible to be aware of the changes to the project websites, plural.
I believe the days of the "online planroom" are dead or dying. Simply having information digitally just doesn't cut it anymore. Successful software will integrate multiple products and allow for all these different solutions to work together, in one single place. It will HAVE to be the central repository for information, but it will also need to feed and share information to the other programs on the project.
The amount of information is increasing at an incredible pace and it will be impossible to keep up without a focus on interoperability.
Want to see a great study on Construction Interoperability from McGraw-Hill? Leave me a comment or send me an email with your contact information and email address and I'll send you a copy.
In today's San Francisco Business Journal, there's a piece about the rise in litigation connected with the Financial Market downturn. This particular article profiles "electronic discovery" firms and the subsequent business growth they are seeing from companies hoping to protect themselves from lawsuits.
Here's a sobering quote:
"new companies are coming out of the woodwork in response to a 50 percent increase in the filing of class-action lawsuits this year, half of them related to the financial crisis."
Now, granted, these are lawsuits in the Financial sector, but anyone in Construction knows how incredibly litigious Development can be and should take heed and think about protecting, archiving and organizing important documentation that will save you hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees, judgements and lost work hours.
Documents can no longer be looked down upon as simply paper. The entire Construction/Development community needs to take a closer look at the importance of information, and by extension, the people that you trust to manage your information.
Be prepared to pay more for good document/information management but look at is as pennies on the dollar that you'd be forced to pay lawyers later on.
A new trend that we've seen with some of our larger General Contractors is the attempt to purchase sophisticated Project Management software which purportedly offers robust Document Management tools.
We've seen this with programs like Prolog, Buzzsaw, Timberline and now CMiC. GCs are under the impression that these programs will allow them to simply and easily store ALL project documentation, provide access to team members and essentially use reprographers as simple output nodes.
The previously mentioned programs are great, and do have incredible value for many parts of the Construction process, but I believe that GCs are a bit deluded in thinking software alone will solve the issue of rampant documentation.
Value of Experience
What I think most in the Construction Industry fail to realize about Reprographers is the inordinate amount of time and work put into coordinating, categorizing, and checking. It requires many smart people to be able to handle the growing amount of documents on construction projects and I would bet that all GCs do not have the required staff or time to fulfill this need. On top of that, Reprographers have the benefit of experience and knowledge around the Construction document process that it will take most GCs years to figure out.
This reminds me of the last push by the General Contracting community to cut out those pesky reprographers. Years ago, Architecture firms and GCs went to great lengths to buy production-level printers for their offices to save costs by removing the "markup" by having a Reprographer print the drawings. What most found out what that even basic reproduction is not as easy as simply pressing the 'Print' button. That there was much more detail and expertise needed to ensure an efficient process. Those same firms went back to their Reprographers and sold off their machines, understanding that some things are better when they are outsourced.
This circles back to when I wrote about "Business Process Outsourcing". Even if GCs decide to centralize on a product to manage their documents internally, they will still likely require the expertise and experience of a reprographic firm. The Reprographers value proposition may change, but they will remain valuable.
Those in the Construction Industry should keep this in mind when making decisions about company processes. Do you have the human power to manage this process? Can it be done externally for less money? What's the true cost of your employee's time?
I imagine that if you asked those questions about construction document management, you would come back to your trusted local Reprographer as the solution, not the problem.
In conversation with a friend last night, he told me about a new company he's working for called Heartwood Studios in San Ramon, CA.
In short, this company produces really high-quality 3D models for clients that allows for videogame-like interaction with the built, digital model.
They've used their expertise in many different areas, including creatin realistic looking simulations for the Defense Department, High Tech companies and major retailers. I think their tag line really sums it up; "Digital Storytelling through Visual Extravaganza!". Essentially, they are digitally creating the end use product or experience in the virtual world. They are giving clients the ability to see their designs come to life and move in a way that prototyping never could.
What struck me though, was their work with Real Estate Developers. They've worked with everyone from the Dallas Cowboys in digitally creating the ENTIRE new stadium down to apartment building developers who want to show clients what the view will look like from their new 30th floor condo.
And if that wasn't cool enough, they are taking BIM to the next level by using CAD/BIM created building information, and essentially wrapping a digital skin around it, turning it into a rich-environment experience. You can walk through the buildings, sit in any of the seats, look out the windows, even watch promotional videos on tiny, digital flat screens inside the 3D model.
This has tremendous value for developers for many reasons:
1. Allows them to showcase their property, in full built form, to investors, possible tenants and even City organizations in charge of providing permits
2. Once the real life building is complete, the 3D model could be used for efficient commissioning or training of building maintenance staff at fractions of the cost
3. The model can even help with decommissioning down the road or could be used to digitally evaluate additions, changes or remodels to the structure; spending far less than you would in traditional construction
Visit the site and check out some of the videos they have under the 'Developers & Real Estate' section. Blow your mind, especially if your'e a developer.