Is it a serpent or an elephant? The parable of the six blind men and the elephant is one of the world’s most widely-known parables. It illustrates that we should not mistake a part for the whole and importance of keeping an open mind to different points of view. It also conveys the importance of perspective and the value of closely examining complex ideas and issues.
And, while it may seem as though I’m going out on a limb -- this parable also makes for a teaching moment in the construction industry.
More than ever before, the construction industry is learning to use Business Intelligence tools to extract data from construction projects for real-time decision making. The challenge: the construction industry needs to draw accurate conclusions from the huge datasets that are being generated and avoid the conclusions of the blind man feeling the elephant’s trunk and declaring it a serpent.
To help construction companies extract and leverage accurate data from all its data sources, B4 Consulting is building Integrated Frameworks for Construction. We call it -- IF4C – and it allows applications to become interoperable (see http://blog.b4-consulting.com/blog/how-to-achieve-interoperability-in-construction). We believe that this interoperability has a positive effect as well on Business Intelligence. Consider this real-life case: I want a report on the health of one of my self-perform projects, and I want a report on the trend line of the labor productivity of one of the major work packages being performed.
In our experience, this is a typical scenario and here are just a few of the questions and issues that prevent the quick, efficeint and accurate generation of such reports in a lot of construction companies:
B4 Consulting believes that Business Intelligence is architected correctly when it goes beyond the esthetically pleasing or even intellectually stimulating. Business Intelligence must be actionable and create the opportunity for increasing productivity. See http://blog.b4-consulting.com/blog/outsidein-and-the-ooda-loop-–-transforming-construction
The architecture’s defining characteristics include:
The well-architected Business Intelligence framework gives the construction industry the proper information to make the OODA loop work and inform them for competitive advantage.
One of my favorite episodes of the iconic TV series M*A*S*H, was when Colonel Potter ordered a Bug Out because the enemy was coming and Radar said, “you mean Supply sir?” It serves to remind us that sometimes we may need to take a step back and asses who is the real enemy - or what keeps us from meeting our objectives.
Colonel John Boyd, a fascinating military strategist and the father of modern day dog-fighting, faced the enemy time and again and through those experiences posited a set of theories based on time. Boyd believed that decision-making is a recurring cycle of observe-orient-decide-act (OODA). He developed a theory for achieving success in air-to-air combat in which the pilot who goes through the OODA cycle in the shortest time prevails because his opponent is responding to situations that have already changed. Today, his OODA loop has become an important concept in litigation, business, and military strategy.
In the construction industry, time is the determining parameter as well. Time is the real enemy -- not owners, sub-contractors, unions, lawyers, or the weather – it’s time. And, that's why Boyd's OODA Loop is so compelling. The OODA Loop is comprised of four interrelated and overlapping processes through which one continuously cycles:
Boyd theorized that large organizations such as corporations, governments, or militaries possessed a hierarchy of OODA loops at tactical, grand-tactical (operational art), and strategic levels. In addition, he stated that most effective organizations have a highly decentralized chain of command, which utilizes objective-driven orders rather than method-driven orders to harness the mental capacity and creative abilities of individual commanders at each level.
I would like to view two construction processes through Boyd’s OODA loop, one existing inside the other.
So now, we have related the two of the most important aspects of Boyd’s OODA Loop to the construction industry: (1) Design-Estimate-Build-Re-Estimate; and (2) daily progression to the parent process.
B4 Consulting has developed tools to not only integrate Design-Estimate-Build-Re-Estimate, but also mobile devices for the field to measure on a daily basis how we are performing to the plan.
The B4 Consulting OutsideIn approach enables field activities to be fed into an OODA Loop of decision making based on a foundation of Design-Estimate-Build-Re-Estimate. This approach is a transformational way to structure processes and technology for the construction industry.
When the construction industry recognizes that time is the real enemy, it can capitalize on an OutsideIn approach and use OODA Loop decision making to fully exlpoit the mobility revolution, optimize construction management, and successfully prevail against the competition in the shortest amount of time.
I will never forget the look on my son Tyler’s face as we backed out of his grandparent’s home late one Christmas day. At nine-years-old, he had received his first computer for Christmas, a small netbook -- the perfect starter. He said in an ever-so sad voice, “Dad, my computer is not working.” I looked over and replied, “Son, we are not connected to the Internet anymore. You can still use your computer, you just can’t connect it to the Internet while we are driving.” In a tone of voice increasingly glum-sounding, he said “If it can’t connect to the Internet what good is it?” Then came the obligatory speech about the old days and how the Internet came after computers. All of this was met, of course, with the usual eye-rolling and the deepening of my dinosaur-experience hole.
Every time I think about the construction industry and Cloud applications, I think of my son. His connectivity issues are not unlike those experienced by the construction industry when it comes to Cloud applications: If you can’t get to them – what good are they? And, the issue is actually bigger than that. A lot of important business takes place at a construction site and sharing and using field information in real time can pose a business-critical challenge. The construction site is where risk is heightened and where quick, fact-based decisions need to be made in the battle for margins. For a long time, it’s also been the place that’s been disconnected from all the tools that can improve productivity, manage risk, and enable effective decision making. But – that was then. Today, portable Internet access is available from B4 Consulting's valued partner OpenRoute.
OpenRoute was born out of CoCo Communications, which was established post-911 to build software-defined, tactical communications solutions that enable people in mobile- and zero-infrastructure environments to share information securely and reliably. OpenRoute was formed to commercialize aspects of CoCo technology in support of the construction industry. The result: OpenRoute™ OnSite Wi-Fi - a truly state-of-the-art, construction-rugged device, which extends Internet connectivity past the trailer and out into the field. OpenRoute OnSite Wi-Fi is easy to set up. It starts with connecting a small, self-contained yellow box to your existing Internet and power sources. That's it. When you need even more coverage as the job site expands and structures are built, add another yellow box or two, or more. The yellow boxes connect wirelessly and automatically, forming their own mesh network.
OpenRoute On-Site Wi-Fi - A briefcase-sized yellow box that's easy to deploy and use.
To assist in deploying additional yellow boxes, you get a free OpenRoute™ NetMeter mobile application, which quickly identifies where to place units for optimal coverage across the site. You can even pick up a yellow box and move it for the day. No professional site survey or calling the wireless carrier. No need to add expensive controllers or computer-based software programs to manage the network.
OpenRoute Wi-Fi is a fully enclosed “simple-to-deploy” piece of communications hardware that’s built to withstand the harshest weather elements. A single weatherproof connection point substantially reduces installation time, moves and re-configurations.
I’ll let the facts speak for themselves:
Sample Deployment of OpenRoute On-Site Wi-Fi
OpenRoute's rock-solid technology has been extensively field testing with several contractors and in different construction environments: vertical and horizontal construction; high-rise commercial construction; industrial construction; and in multiple infrastructure sites. Contractors such as Bayley Construction and Lease Cruther Lewis are among contractors who have deployed their yellow boxes. And, here are just a few of the benefits they are realizing:
At B4 Consulting, we design solutions that give our customers end-to-end functionality utilizing the best technologies available. Many of the emerging solutions are Cloud based, which gives customers quick and easy implementations, rapid time to value, and the lowest total cost of ownership. Our Cloud solutions enabled by partners such as Ariba, Corecon and MobileLogix provide rich functionality. With OpenRoute we solve the connectivity problems of the past and provide reliable access to applications and data that are needed at your jobsite. We have partnered with OpenRoute to help solve construction site connectivity issues regardless of the applications you are using.
And to my son, Tyler, you are spot-on – applications aren’t worth much if you can’t connect to the Internet.
Let’s talk if you are ready to see how OpenRoute’s innovative technology can improve your field operations. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Phillip Schell is vice president of Industry Solutions at B4 Consulting.
While there are plenty of construction-industry researchers and pundits with varying opinions on the state of the construction industry and its projected growth in the coming years, they all seem to agree on one undeniable fact -- labor productivity has been on the decline for over 40 years.
This fact has been well-researched and documented by Paul Teicholtz, Professor (Research) Emeritus with the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Stanford University. His research in the area of construction labor productivity from 1964-2012 was published in AECbytes Viewpoint (March 14, 2013), and the findings are sobering as illustrated in the following chart:
The Teicholtz research underscores three key areas that contribute to the drag on labor productivity:
Moreover, industry research from the venerable Gartner suggests there may be a link between construction labor productivity and IT investments. In 2012, Gartner IT Metrics ranked IT spend as a percentage of revenue across all major industries from banking to insurance to transportation and utililities. The construction industry came in dead last ranking 1.6% for companies with annual revenues of approximately $250M, and 1.2% for companies with annual revenue of approximately $10B.
B4 Consulting has solutions to address the pain points noted by Teicholz. Consider this:
There are, however, a number of construction companies who taking the lead in IT investments to increase productivity. Gartner notes, "...plenty of firms are pursuing new technology and realizing its benefits. For example, Bechtel CIO Geir Ramleth says Bechtel has developed application programming interfaces for construction project teams; APIs interface with the firm's core enterprise data, enabling use of tablets and web-based interfaces. At McGraw-Hill's FutureTech conference Turner Construction SVP Richard Bach said a key investment is to consolidate enterprise-resource-planning systems in order to improve the accuracy and timeliness of a company's data and profits."
I believe the construction industry is on the verge of reversing the decades-old trend in declining labor productivity. At B4 Consulting, we see many forward-thinking companies -- from small- and medium-sized to large construction companies -- embracing new technologies. Regardless of their size, they recognize the need for a full ERP platform that integrates business solutions and lays the foundation for mobile apps and a range of collaborative and productivity tools.
Learn how to increase labor productivity construction-industry specific business solutions from B4 Consulting -- contact Phillip Schell, vice president of Industry Solutions: email@example.com