Why don’t we learn from the field worker to deploy technology products?
Field service organizations deploy new technology in order to improve technician productivity, achieve higher work quality, increase worker safety and/or lower costs. In other words, technology should always take an existing process and make it even better.
So why don’t service companies consult field workers—the folks involved in the process each and every day—before deploying new technology? According to Frost & Sullivan, “only 9 percent of North American companies involve the end user in approving the deployment of major mobile workforce apps.”
For insights on this topic, I sat down with two experts: Mike Bellaman, President and CEO of Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) and George Nash, 2018 National Chairman of ABC and Director of Preconstruction at Branch & Associates— a 50+ year old Virginia-based general contractor operating in Virginia and the Carolinas. Together, they’ve spent more than 60 years in the construction industry, and they have seen it all. Here is what they shared with me:
Question 1: Companies neglect to get feedback from the field workers about tech projects 91% of the time. Does that surprise you?
[Mike Bellaman] “Really, what we’re doing in IT automation is automating a business process. How can you not include people in the technology decision that are involved in the process? One of the most frustrating things in any technology rollout is the resistance. People don’t resist the technology. They resist the process change that the technology is designed to do.
I’m shocked by that number. If you’re a leader of an organization, you need to think about it and reflect. That’s probably how you’ve done it, not intentionally, but business leaders usually look at technology as a financial decision rather than a business process redesign.”
Question 2: Can you think of an example of a technology where end-user feedback from the field was well-integrated and that really helped the technology gain momentum?
[Mike Bellaman] “Some of our members have transformed their business process and gone from a traditional model to a virtual design construction model and a prefabrication model. Everything’s got to be in a BIM model. To accomplish this, they’ve taken their senior, savvy field leader out of the field, and put him into their virtual design and construction center right next to a recent college grad with a construction science degree, who doesn’t have experience but has all of the technology knowledge. The synergy is happening there, and it’s happening early in the process where it has more of an impact on the cost, the design, the schedule, the performance of the overall asset. A lot of members are learning and taking advantage of this.”
[George Nash] “Five to ten years ago, you might have had a mid-size subcontractor, mechanical, plumbing, electrical, and as Mike just said, they took that skillset of the older, more experienced person into the office and started working with these BIM models. They started prefabbing everything. What started off as a small warehouse grew into a medium warehouse, and now it’s their biggest investment. They’ve got an entire workforce doing prefabrication in a controlled environment for a bunch of different reasons.”
Question 3: What competitive advantages do you think technology will deliver to the construction industry?
[George Nash] “Take an example of an organization utilizing BIM and prefabricating metal pipe. So, it’s already been designed for them in a model that the pipe should be 10 feet long and bend this way and that way on each end. This provides a number of advantages:
- Workers can be more efficient and productive.
- Less materials waste than you might have in the field. Contractors buy a mass amount of material and they’ve got it in the warehouse.
- It’s safer. You’re not up on a ladder or a lift. You’re in a platform where it’s much safer to make that 10 foot section of pipe.”
Question 4: Tell me about some newer field service technologies that most excite you.
[Mike Bellaman] “There’s an exoskeleton suit where you can lift lift three or four times your weight. This is just mechanical technology. But if you think about a drywall guy, working over his head, this technology is going to be unbelievable for back strains, for lifting, for productivity.
Falls and strikes are the number one cause of fatalities on construction sites. Eliminate those risks and there’s a huge impact on safety. If you have the sensor technology in your vest, and you go into an unsafe area, your vest could give a signal or alert some perimeter protection.
Drones are an excellent opportunity for improving safety. When inspecting welds, or inspecting anything at height, or checking out a problem, you could just fly a drone up there and hover around with a 4k camera. That’s like XOi’s technology in terms of having a technician talking to a worker while viewing a problem.
There is an additive manufacturing opportunity with 3D printing. You could 3D print concrete elevator shaft with nobody working at height. A drone flies around doing the x-rays. You have Wi-Fi and your own Internet of Things on the project, with operator-less equipment.”
[George Nash] “I have seen video of a robotic masonry piece of equipment operating at one of our job sites at Virginia Tech. It’s fairly new technology and you still need the labor to feed the block into it. It only fits with a certain type of building or wall, but that would be eight folks up on scaffolding. Instead the machine is going back and forth on the elevation. That’s safety and productivity all wrapped up into one.”
Question 5: Can technology help address the skills gap?
[George Nash] “In the construction industry we have done our jobs the same way for a very long time. Maybe that worked 10 years ago when there wasn’t a workforce shortage. One of the main reasons why we have a 500,000 person workforce shortage is because this next generation is just not excited about our industry. I think the technology aspect can get them excited to come into the career fields.”
[Mike Bellaman] “It creates a wow factor for a young person to say, ‘Wow, this isn’t just a hammer, a set of wrenches, and a hard hat. This is some cool technology that I get to use at work that makes it pretty exciting.’”
At the end of the day…
Nothing can torpedo a technology project faster than failing to seek the advice and buy-in of your guys (and gals) in the field. No matter the age of a technician, if they don’t believe that a new technology makes their job easier or more efficient, they won’t use it. It’s just that simple.
Get technician buy-in before you buy into new technology. This is why XOi requires technician buy-in for every company that pilots Vision™. Let your technicians be the unbiased judges of our technology. If you’re interested in trying the pilot, click here.