The construction industry has taken much longer than most sectors in technology adoption, but a significant change has recently taken place. The pandemic opened the eyes of many, including stakeholders in the construction industry, and accelerated digital transformation by a few decades.
Where it was thought impossible to work from home, professionals in the construction space now embrace technology such as Building Information Modeling (BIM), 360° cameras, drones, AI, augmented reality (AR) technology, and virtual reality, among others.
Although construction is primarily on-site, these innovations have made remotely monitoring projects through collaborative cloud platforms a reality. These changes have simplified how we track progress on job sites, enabling all parties involved in the construction process to do their jobs with ease and speed.
In this episode of Built Different, Matt and Chris are joined by Ben Stocker, Construction Technologist at Skender.
If you’re interested in the evolution of the construction industry in the 21st century, the amalgamation of physical and digital methods using sophisticated technology like AI, 360° cameras, or the automation and tracking of the construction process, tune in to this episode of Built Different a Podcast by StructionSite.
Want to connect with Ben and learn more about the work he is doing at Skender? Connect with him on LinkedIn or head over to the Skender website to learn more. Keep scrolling for the full episode transcript and show notes.
Chris Jervey: Welcome to Built Different, a podcast by boots on the ground workers who are built different and like to get site done.
Matt Daly: We're here to listen, question the status quo, and continue to find better ways to build the world. Hey guys, welcome to the Built Different Podcast. I am Matt Daly. This is a podcast that is really for boots on the ground hard workers who are built different and like to get the job done. I am joined today by my co-host Chris Jervey, and our special guest Ben Stocker of Skender.
Chris: I was hoping you were going to say, esteemed colleague, Chris Jervey, but I'll take co-host.
Matt: Co-host is where we're going to land today.
Chris: That's fine.
Matt: We'll get to esteemed colleague.
Chris: We've decided that two hosts are better than one for this.
Matt: That's right.
Chris: I'm Chris Jervery. I head up the customer success team. I've known Ben for-- We've actually all known Ben for a little while. One of our favorite customers. Ben, you want to intro yourself?
Ben Stocker: Sure. Thanks for having me, guys. I'm Ben Stocker. I'm with Skender. I'm a construction technologist at Skender. It's really cool to be here for the inaugural podcast of Built Different.
Matt: Thanks for joining us. Again, before we got started here, we're just talking about I can't believe it's been since 2017 that I was in your office here in Chicago.
Ben: That was a while ago. It feels like a really long ago. It's only four, well, almost five years.
Matt: You said you were a project engineer in 2017.
Ben: Correct. At that point, I was a project engineer still, construction technologist now. Just project engineer on my own jobs then.
Matt: I think where we want to start today was really just getting a sense from you of like, tell us about your journey to construction as far back as you want to go. Really give us a sense of how did you get into the industry? What drove you to it? What was exciting to you about it? Anything you want to share about your journey to construction?
Ben: Sure. It started back when I got my first Lego set at five-years-old. No, I'm not going to go that far back. Really, I've just always-- You hear this response a lot I feel like with people or engineers or whatnot, but you start you're good at math and science. People tell you, "Oh, you should just be an engineer then." It just fits. I think when I was younger, too, my mom even always told me, "You should be an engineer." I didn't even know what that really meant.
Chris: You mean the guy that drives the trains?
Ben: Yes, exactly. That's what everyone thinks at first. Then after looking more into it, I was like, "Okay, this does make sense." I almost went on a completely different path. A little unknown fact, actually. I almost went into video editing, video production kind of stuff.
Matt: Why video editing? Why video production? What brought you to that?
Ben: I just liked that a lot when I was younger. In middle-high school I made a lot of like skating videos with my friends and stuff. I just thought I'd go bigger with that, but then realize that no, engineering is going to be a much better career path.
Matt: You realized you wanted to build the halfpipe and not just record the skating video.
Ben: I almost did in my backyard at one point, I'm not going to lie.
Matt: That's awesome.
Ben: It didn't happen. I don't think my parents would have liked it very much.
Matt: What did you study in college?
Ben: I did civil engineering with a structural emphasis in college. Not doing proper, proper engineering like that anymore but that's definitely like the building blocks, stepping stone to get into construction. You can do anything construction if you have an engineering background. With the engineering degree, I went off to college and worked for an electrical contractor for a little while, like four years or so. Then I just realized I wanted to get more higher up on the construction food chain, or whatever, and move up to a GC so you can actually get involved with more trades.
So that's when I started working for Skender. I started with them as a project engineer. Was a project engineer for a handful of years working on my own projects and stuff, and that's when I met you guys while I was still a project engineer. Then I've always just been the person even while I was a PE that was just interested in technology, trying out new things. Something as simple as a new task management software like Wunderlist, I loved Wunderlist one that still existed.
I would try to get any team I was on to use Wunderlist so we could collaboratively do task management together. Even just little things like that, I was always the person looking into new tech, and then eventually talking with other people at Skender, we were just like, "Why don't we make this a full-time position?" Companies are starting to do this, but it's still a relatively early type of role. We added a construction technologist role and that's where I'm at now.
Chris: Tell us more about how as a field engineer out there, where were you getting intel about different types of technologies? What was the discovery process like for you? Were you just looking on different websites?
Ben: Yes, that was just me on my own time pretty much and sometimes on work time just seeing what other softwares are out there, what new hardware was out there. We were first just starting to get into laser scanning stuff even while I was a PE, but I was getting more invested in that. As I got more invested into the different technologies and was trying to heavily influence people at Skender, "Oh, we should be using this, we should be looking into this."
At that point too, I was like, "Okay, we got this project engineer who's giving us all this tech advice." Then some people told me, "Oh, this taking away time from your actual job where you should be managing projects." I'm like, "Yes." They could tell that that's what I really liked doing. I still like managing projects, too, but I really liked the technology aspect, too. I always just saw flaws in systems and I like to make things more efficient and streamlined and stuff like that. That's still what I'm doing to this day by adding new tech to job sites.
Chris: Do you think at the time you were trying to actually address pain points? Or was it more just curiosity about what was out there? Were you really trying to solve problems that you were running into in the field?
Ben: Oh, definitely. That's exactly what I was doing. I purchased my own single 360 camera. Before we even met Matt, and you showed me StructionSite, I was taking those 360 photos and manually making my own little plan in Bluebeam. Where I had to add each photo to like a hyperlinked pin, and I was hosting the photos up on like a 360 web-hosting service, just individual photos, they weren't organized in any way. It was a very manual process. That was painful way to solve that problem. Then introduced to you guys and life became easier. Definitely solving problems on my own there.
Chris: It wasn't just tech interest only. It was problem-solving.
Ben: No, I was actually trying to use it and implement it.
Chris: How did you guys meet?
Matt: Oh, man, was it through that first visit with Kevin at your office?
Ben: It was through the first visit, yes. We met through Kevin. He's the one who brought you guys to our office, I believe. Then he brought me in on that meeting, because like I said, even though I was just a project engineer at the time, I was trying to--
Chris: You're his guy.
Ben: I was trying to-- He's my guy.
Matt: I know who I need to bring to this meeting, because we're bringing a tech vendor in here. You are clearly the guy that he wanted to be like, "All Right. You gotta check this out."
Ben: I think he might have known that I was trying to-- The method I just was talking about where I was manually adding everything into Bluebeam. I think you knew that I was doing that. He was like, "I think I have a better solution for you."
Chris: That is awesome.
Matt: Even just going back rewinding a minute there for two, in this piece we wanted to really the path to becoming a builder. Talk about that moment from you got out of college, you got your civil engineering degree. You don't have to go into construction. You went to go work for an electrical contractor. Why?
Ben: I realized, I think, in my mind at the time, if I went into just proper bridge engineering, which is what my degree was specifically for, it would just be sitting at a desk just doing calculations all day, and like, yes, I like that stuff. I still love bridges and everything, but I realized I wanted to be more involved in the actual building process. Then I'll be working with different trades and more people instead of just sitting at a desk doing calculations, which I know there's more to engineering than just that, but in my mind at the time, as a 21, 22-year-old, or whatever, that's what I thought it was.
I remember interviewing with some engineering companies. I'd go into their office and that idea was what it looked like there. Just very dry atmosphere of everyone doing analysis on their computer, and I was like, " Maybe this isn't for me."
Matt: To be honest, I have like a new story for you, I guess. I don't if this is funny. My experience straight out of college was working for a mechanical engineer in San Diego. I lasted four weeks, because it was--
Christ: Which was two weeks too long.
Matt: It was exactly actually I think what you were imagining, which is I was doing a lot of stuff in Excel and AutoCAD, and that was it. It was just punching numbers into Excel. It was not exactly what I had imagined. Again, I think starting at the very bottom there doing the grunt work at an engineering firm was certainly enough. Who knows? I don't know what my path would have been if I had actually taken the builder path like you did. Tell us more maybe just about what do you love the most about doing what you do as a builder?
Ben: Doing as I do, specifically as a construction technologist now, I just love all technology even if it's not related to construction at all. I just love being able to play with, I'm going to say toys, even though you're not supposed to say toys. They're tools, not toys.
Chris: You offered to bring your own podcast equipment to this podcast.
Ben: That is true. I have it ready, I got it. I have my mic in my backpack over there. I've always just liked tech, but then, as far as what I'm doing now in the builder sense too, construction has been around forever, and really hasn't changed for the longest time. Technology has really boomed in the past. I don't know what? Say 20 years or so. Especially with everything going online now, you don't have nearly as many programs that you actually install on your computer. Everything is web-based now.
Just all of those different types of technologies are just making everything so much more efficient for people too, and that's what I really love. No one wants to work harder. I love creating new processes or finding new softwares that are going to make people's jobs easier. That's what I try to do in a nutshell. That's what I like about being in this environment, I guess.
Chris: How often do you find that the technology that you are trying to implement, or that you discover you're like, "Oh, this is going to make people's lives easier," actually ends up making lives easier? And how long is that--? I think what we find as a technology vendor is that you've got to tiered into the process and there's some learning, there's a learning curve. There's maybe some hardware or some other technology learning there that needs to happen, then there's training and enablement across the-- Starts with a really good idea. Like I think this is going to work really well. Even after you've vetted it personally. Tell me a little bit more about just what that process looks like and when do you get to the point where you're like, this technology is actually working just like I wanted it to and it's actually making that difference that I wanted it to make.
Ben: Answer to that varies by what technology, what software we're talking about. If we're talking about something like StructionSite for example. That I started using it myself and then I think I mentioned that it organically grew in Skender, because other people saw what I was doing with it and they just instantly were like, this looks extremely useful and cool, I want to start using this too.
There are certain softwares like that where it's just easy to get that instant feedback where people just know right away, this is good, I want to use this. There are definitely other things like that too. Moving away from 360 camera stuff. Even just when we start using drones back in 2015. I don't know, I started with a Phantom 3. I remember the first time, I had just learned how to fly the thing, part 107 licenses weren't even a thing yet. I went out to the job I was on, it was an outdoor project that had like 12 buildings all within a couple block and I was like "Okay, this would be cool to get progress photos from the air."
I took our drone, I just took some photos, hosted them up on like OneDrive or something like that, shared it with the owner, and they just said, "This is amazing, I want this every week." That's all the email said back. I was like, "Okay," so that's the instant feedback and reward where you just know okay, this is going to be great. Then our drone program has evolved since then and we're using actual software for it now, and yes it's great.
Then there are other things, like let's talk about laser scanning for a second. That is definitely like a slower tail. Yes, some people see the benefits right away. There's so many things you can do with it, then there are people still now who are like, "Well okay, you have this what I think is pixelated looking model or point cloud, what do I do with this?" There's some people that still don't get it, that's one that's not as instant but the people who understand how to use laser scanning and point cloud, they can get it. Yes, that one is less quick to get that instant feedback.
Chris: What do you think the delta is between tools and technologies that get that very quick light bulb moment in adoption and once that don't?
Ben: The delta there, one, just your own satisfaction of knowing you've implemented something that works well. For me going back to the laser scanning that is slower, I'll say. We still use it on most jobs, but it took a while to kick off and figure out how to use it and stuff, so you have to think like, "Oh is this really going to work?" I knew myself that it was going to work but it's really convincing the other people that it's good. That would be a delta. It's just like that time of uncertainty. Especially higher ups and c-suites and stuff, they're the ones who really need to be convinced that it's working. There's that delta.
If something takes longer to actually see success, there's just the delta of that trial cost as well. Some companies have maybe gigantic R&D budgets and we have a dedicated R&D budget but it's not unlimited or anything. If you try something out for a while and it doesn't work out that cost is gone, that's your time that you spent on it, and yes that's my time of trying it out. Then there's, if I work with the project team as well, that's their time. Taking away from actually managing their projects and then their time that they helped try out the new software, hardware, whatever it was.
That could be a downside, but that's inevitable, you are always going to get trials that are going to turn out like that. There's that saying, "If you're going to fail, fail fast." I've heard that before. Yes, that's definitely true. There are certain type of softwares that we try where we realized, "I think it's going to be great." Then we'll buy a trial or a small period of it and I try it out with the project team and then they're like, "I don't know if I really liked it so much." Then sometimes they'll be like, "No, no, no we got to just push forward, growing pains. We'll get to it." Then other times though, it's like, "Yes I agree with you. Okay, let's just stop this. Don't waste any more of your time."
Matt: Let's pull on that that for a minute because I think we never talked about the technologies that didn't make it. The ones that you tried to get adoption in the field, or probably very valid reasons assumed that it was going to have the impact we wanted on the folks on the project team but it didn’t. What's an example of something that you're pretty sure that it might get adoption and work but just ultimately didn't get the legs in the field that it needed to?
Ben: I'm not going to call out specific softwares or anything.
Matt: That's probably a good idea.
Ben: A more general one, I can say-- I don't want to say it has failed, I just want to say I don't feel like it's fully there yet, that's going to be mixed reality like the HoloLens. That's the one I was super excited, especially when the HoloLens 2 came out. It was big promises of improvements from the HoloLens 1, that was two years ago now. We did some trials with it and it really is an amazing technology. We came across issues where we bring up the model in the field and there would be drift problems where a pipe is, whether it's six inches off, or six feet off of where it's supposed to be. It's like, you give something like that to a superintendent who's trying to coordinate where the sprinkler pipe is going to go and the model in the HoloLens is showing six feet off of where it's supposed to be. They're going to say, this is a piece of garbage, that I never want to touch this again.
Matt: It's a timing thing, right? So much of it comes down to timing right? This isn't a bad or useless technology.
Ben: No, it's absolutely amazing. I love it. They're just some shortcoming still, and it needs a little more time to mature. Yes, you can get around all the drift problems. You can set up more alignment points and stuff, and re-align it every 50 feet as you walk or something. There are ways around it, but it's just not that incredibly simple where you can just hand it off to anyone and it's intuitive and easy to use without problems.
Without calling out specific softwares, that's my biggest annoyance for the past couple of years at least. I want it to work. It's going to get there. There's also just the accessibility of the headsets too. It's not like 360 Camerawork with StructionSite, you can buy those cheap 360 cameras and give them to everybody on every project, but you're not going to buy hundreds of HoloLens headsets and have them all over the place. You could if you just have deep pockets.
Chris: Tell us a little bit more. Before we got started on the podcast you were talking a little bit about technology and practice and some of the things that you do to try to quickly enable and get people to get over those initial humps. You were talking about accessibility being a big thing for you. You want to dive into what that means for you and how you put that into practice?
Ben: Yes. It's one thing to have the technology and use it on a trial project, maybe show off in a marketing video, oh we use this on this project. It's cool, but 99% of your other projects don't use that, you don't use that as a full company. What we try to do, is, like when we implement a new software, whatever, like StructionSite for example. It's not a "Hey, we have this option of using this, or you could use a different software if you want." It's like "No, no, this is what we're using now. This is what Skender is using and everyone is going to get cameras, everyone is signed up on this. This is what we're using on every project going forward." Making it easily accessible like that is just super important.
Going back to the cameras too, like I said, everyone has access to them, we have a camera on every project. Sometimes just from people moving around. There's multiple cameras on one project, but we never want to make it hard to get camera to be able to take your progress photos. I've talked with some people who come from other companies and their company might have 5, 10 cameras that IT owns and you have to check them out from IT. Then you have to get back to the office, get it from IT, or have it shipped out or whatever and then check it back in. That's just a pain in the butt.
If it's not accessible and easy to get, they're not going to do it at all. They're not going to do those weekly or more often captures. That's important. Just to make sure it's easy for people to use the tech that we implement. Then like the drone stuff that I was talking about, I try and make it so that we can go to any job that we need to without limitations like the-- I tried to get to as many jobs as possible. I'm a pilot as well. I try to make it so that you don't have to-- I don’t know what I'm trying to say. I make it so that I can get to all the outdoor project the drone documentation they need. Then laser scanning as well.
I'm able to get to all of our jobs to scan that need. It's not too often enough where I'm going crazy getting out to all the jobs, but yes that works out well. They can call me at any time and we can schedule time for me to come in and scan. Right after this podcast I'm going to scan a job actually and they told me about it yesterday.
Chris: It's interesting. When I was thinking about accessibility when we were talking about it, I felt very much like yes we're going to make the tools accessible to our field team, but it's also a lot about you being accessible to your field team.
Ben: That's very true, yes it depends. Because there are some tools where you implement and everybody on the team can use StructionSite, for example. Then something like laser scanning, you're not going to buy 80 laser scanners and have them on every job, you might have a small fleet of them or something. If you have a more specialist needed tech like that, then yes, you have to be accessible to get to everyone. Good point.
Chris: As the representative of our customer success team, obviously, a big part of what we want to be able to do is sort of relieve you of some of that burden. We are the subject matter experts for interior capture for site documentation. What do the best vendors do to help you with that? What are the ways that we can kind of relieve you of having to be the support specialist for every single technology that you're using?
Ben: That's a great question actually. Depending on the tech or software, onboarding is always a big deal, because onboarding can take a lot of time and it can cost a lot of money from the people who are buying the software. They have to update their processes and update training schedules, and if there's training manuals and whatnot, they need to update everything in there. That can take a lot of time. Anytime our software or the vendor can help with onboarding, that's huge.
Just recently, we actually got a new close-out document software and almost-- No, I won't say the specific name, I don't want to play favorites but they've been really great to work with on onboarding processes and they have a great training system online. We didn't even have to do any of our own training. We can just direct everybody, "Hey, watch these few videos." So yes, onboarding definitely helps. Another thing is just, almost every software has this now I feel, but the little live chat buttons on your website.
Anytime it's a web software like StructionSite, having a little live chat is always a huge help, because then people don't have to reach out to me all the time. They still can, I'll always help them out or respond. They still can and they definitely do, and I'm fine with that, I love helping people, but it's also nice to have that live chat that quickly respond and can always help with answers.
Chris: Actually, you are individually responsible for one of our most significant recent changes in the way that we help with project setup, because you, we discovered, were putting together little awesome camera packages for your projects. You actually bought cases. Tell that story a little bit.
Ben: Sure. When I was just using StructionSite just myself, I just had a camera that I left on my desk or whatever, and I think that was it. Then as we were going to scale and give it to everyone, going back to the accessibility, I just wanted to make it as easy as possible. I didn't want to have any roadblocks for people. I just went online and found the most compact little hard shell cases that I could find, the 360 cameras and the hard shell was key because we're in construction, things get thrown around and beat up and sites are dirty and dangerous.
Nice hard shell case for the camera that has slots for two extra batteries so that you can hot-swap into the camera, and then also a little mini charging dock that can charge multiple batteries at one time. All this fits in that nice little hard shell case. The only thing outside of that case is the monopod, or the selfie stick to hold it on if they want to use that. Then also, then the cherry on top was, even though you guys have your own training staff and whatnot, we also just created our own little workflow of how it works into our own systems and whatnot.
We created that walkthrough training system online, and then laminated little QR codes that we would place inside each of those camera cases. That when a new hire whatever gets that camera case, they open up the first thing they see it that QR code that says, "scan me to learn how to pair this and use it." It takes them directly to instructions how to do all of that. I'm really happy with that whole package. It works really well. It gives people everything they need from just the protection to the extra batteries and just makes it easy for everyone. Versus just handing out a camera and then they throw it into their backpack and they're like, "Oh, my lenses scratched now." It's nice just that everyone gets that same nice little package.
Chris: We loved that idea, so we started actually putting together little kits that people can just order so that they have a light and a camera and whatever they need. We'll just send that to them directly to get started up with a project. Love the hard shell case idea though, that's even better. I love that idea like, there's that initial technology hurdle. Just okay, how do I connect my camera to my device? What other technology do I need? Hardware do I need? Put it in a box and open it?
Ben: I'll still help people set it up if they need to, because sometimes people feel like doing it in person, but then other people are like, "Oh, no, you gave me instructions, all right cool. I'm good to go." There have been times where new hires have only been here for a week or two or whatever and then I'll check in with them and be like, "Hey, do you need help setting up structures et cetera", and they're like, "No, it's easy. I figured it out." I'm like, "Great. I love people like you."
Chris: So do we.
Matt: There's another thread here related to accessibility that actually we'd love to hear from you on about. We talked about accessibility to the hardware, we talked about you personally being accessible to your team. What about the accessibility of the data? Is there anything that you're doing or trying or that you've seen, or that that you guys are currently using in practice that makes this information more accessible to the project teams and make sure that it gets--. For example, if you go out and scan or you go fly a drone, what are the ways-- Anything that you're doing or trying there that round trips that information back to the people who need it to make decisions?
Ben: I mean, everything, especially with all the web-based software these days. I would say that most of them don't really have problems with accessibility to project teams. Everyone is kind of nailing that right now with the web-based stuff, it's just you're not having to bring things back to a computer and upload them to a program and let that program sync back to your on-site servers and stuff. Everything just uploaded mobile from your phone or whatever, and then goes up to the cloud and then everyone has it instantly.
Accessibility to project teams I feel like isn't that much of an issue anymore. I'm sure there might be small pain points here and there, but I can't think of any off the top of my head, but for the most part that's been really great. What really has improved, especially over the past couple of years with COVID is accessibility for the owners into data. I've seen a lot more software's making that a priority, especially when jobs, siteworks aren't as much of a-- well, I mean, people still do that. If you have an architect who's over on the East Coast somewhere and we're in Chicago here, before they might take frequent flights out. Over the past couple of years we haven't seen that happen nearly as much, and it's really great that they can just instantly see the structural typos and see the interior stuff.
We've had this owner on the East Coast, he'll contact me directly and be like, "Oh, hey, can you go take some drum pose with this specific spot on the 13th floor of the south side of this building, or whatever I want to make sure this is good." That type of accessibility to the owners, I think has been huge these past couple of years. We've actually done official city inspections through StructionSite. That's big. I didn't think they would actually go for that. I've heard that there's some inspectors who will not do that no matter what, even in the peaks of COVID, but we've had some where they were like, "Yes, if you can take enough pictures that'll be good enough for us. Popping every ceiling tile to see up top and just take a really detailed photo tour," and then that was good enough for them for inspections.
Matt: That is awesome. Are there aspects of the way you guys are building now, that had to happen because of COVID that you think will stick around?
Ben: Just the concept of being able to see your job site from anywhere, I think that's the biggest change. I'm seeing more jobs want to have cameras in. Not only stationary 360 photos or video walkthroughs, but actual live and time-lapse cameras from the inside of their job, but people want to see so that they can see it remotely. That's something that really picked up during COVID that I noticed at least. There's probably other things that I just can't think out of the top of my head right now.
Matt: That's fine.
Chris: It's a really good one.
Ben: I will say just being able to constantly monitor your job remotely, just how a lot of people were working from home and are still working from home. It's the same thing for those owners or architects who don't want to get to the job site all the time anymore. They might be able to, we might have some that are still in Chicago here and could take a trip over, but they're like, "If I can see everything, either on StructionSite or from Drone Media or whatever, why do I need to? I can see it all from here. I'm good. I got my progress update." I think that's something that's definitely going to stick around.
Matt: Inspections is one that I'm curious about, I think in particular because you mentioned that you guys are able to do a remote inspection. There's some legality there. There's laws that need to be paid attention to in that world. Do you see any of that shifting to more of an image-based remote solution, or do you think we'll kind of go back to physical inspections being the de facto still.
Ben: I would say for now probably go back to physical inspections, those were a couple of special cases where-- Now people are getting more "more comfortable" with COVID and how to protect ourselves better, but this was more in the time where we didn't really know what was going on so no one was really wanting to go job site. We still had some inspections or a lot of inspections were in person during the peaks, but there were some that were like, "No, this will be good enough for now. I'm going to stay safe from my house here and inspect your job site."
I think that we'll probably go back to in-person for a little while at least, but the technology just keeps rapidly advancing. I think it could go all virtual easily pretty soon here, but I'm sure like you said, there's probably legal reasons that are holding back that I probably don't know about.
Chris: Tell me a little bit about how you aggregate or what you might like to see in terms of aggregating various reality capture data sources. You've got interior capture, you've got your drones going, laser scan, fixed site cameras. There are probably different applications for those different types of media, but I assume that there'll be a convergence of that so you can have more holistic visibility over your job sites. What would that look like for you?
Ben: That is something that's in its, I want to say early life stages still. There definitely softwares exist where you can do that, and the first one that comes to mind is Reconstruct and all those guys, you can put in 360 media, you can put in your point cloud, you can put in drone photos. You can throw in a model from Navisworks or whatever. You can throw anything you want in there and view it all in a browser. To a, what I'll call average user and stuff, that can be very overwhelming and complicated. Personally, I think it's amazing that you provide all those, but it's in its early stages where you're really combining all that type of media.
We're taking good milestone steps, though. For you guys, for example, with StructionSite have all the 360 stuff down, great at that and then you recently the Procore BIM integration. We have our models that lived in Navisworks or whatever, and then Procore comes out with Procore BIM, we can easily have it in Procore where we have everything else. Then you guys already worked with Procore as well, but now we can have the Procore BIM model directly compared to our StructionSite photos so that's a good milestone step. It's not getting all of those types of reality capture together, but it's getting two big ones side by side. That's a huge milestone step towards there.
Eventually, we're all going to be having headsets on where we can see every time everything in mixed reality or virtual reality or whatnot and view all of our point clouds. We're far ways away. Well, okay, you technically can view point clouds and virtual reality and stuff, but they're highly decimated and whatnot. We are ways from making it super easy and seamless I feel like, but we're definitely getting there. They're definitely softwares that can start doing that.
Chris: Maybe in the HoloLens 5, you'll be able to put that on.
Matt: Yes. When computed Moore's law continues on its forward march in the world and keeps making that thing faster and smaller and more powerful.
Matt: Let's switch gears a little bit. Selfishly, let's talk about some StructionSite. We always love to hear stories about specifically, where did the value come from? Where were we helpful for you guys?
Ben: Sure, I touched on it before, but I instantly saw the value when you came into our office back in 2017 and just gave your initial pitch, because at that point I was manually putting photos into Bluebeam.
Matt: You were the ideal person to talk to you were like, "Oh, you're already doing this and spending a lot of time on it."
Ben: I had already made my own StructionSite, it was just extremely manual, and so I personally instantly saw the value. Skender as a company saw the value very quickly after that, because like I said earlier, it just organically spread. I was using on my own projects, but then as I moved from one project to another, I would work with slightly different team and then they would be like, "Oh, this is really cool, I want to use this."
Then as I moved on to a different project and they did as well, they were like, "Well, I still want to be using this just because Ben is the only one with the license here at this moment. I want to use it on this other project." It just was slowly organically spreading as more people saw it until the point where it's like, "All right, why are we just slowly doing this? Let's just go company-wide with it."
Matt: Why did they want to use it though? What were they getting from it that was making them want to continue to use it? Was this purely visibility? Were they just [crosstalk]
Ben: Visibility to the job for us, the owners, and our subs. One of the biggest uses that I was using it for initially as well was, for pre-con walks. If we were bidding on a job, even, I would walk and take 360 photos and then I would share that with our subcontractors too. Even though they would do a site walk as well, now they could have this site walk of 360 photos and give us more accurate numbers. That sounds just easy and commonplace now, but back in 2017 that was a pretty new concept still. I'm trying to remember the original question [laughs], I'm switching off.
Matt: It was really just about getting into the specifics of if you've got somebody on your team that's going, "I want to use this thing," we always want to know why. What is driving that specifically, that makes the people in your team say, "This is something I got to keep using in my project going forward?"
Ben: It was just that visibility of the job site as well. One of the biggest things too was, we're able to get more data and spend less time getting that data. That was a huge factor in it. Because, you'd say before you had to take six photos in a room and now you can take one, but realistically most people aren't going into every room and taking six photos. They're taking just a handful of photos around the entire job. There are some private offices that maybe never got documented the entire job because they just skipped that room and they went around and took their handful of photos from their phone.
Now that it's so quick and easy to capture everything with the individual photos or just the video walks, you can just walk around, you just got so much more data. That was quick, long. Then what we used to do beforehand too if we were just taking photos with our phone or whatever, we would take those photos, and then you have to get them onto your computer. Then in Bluebeam we'd take a 2D drawing and say like, "Okay, photo 13 was taken at this location," with a little arrow pointing this way, because it was in this orientation.
The project coordinator, engineer, whoever, they would take all that time to organize that photo map too using the phone photos, and that just took a long time to do that even. We save time capturing the data, save time organizing the data, and get I don't even know how much more data, a ton more. That was the value that everyone saw instantly.
Ben: That was a long winded answer. That was the initial big pull for it.
Matt: I guess another way to ask that, too, is what happens when you don't have this data? What does that look like?
Ben: Sometimes you may not need it and it's okay, but it's one of those things where that's a big cover your ass type thing. It's good to have it. One, it's good to be just more open and have the job visible to all the parties, the subs, owners, whoever. It's also just good to protect yourself too and know towards the end of the job maybe the owner says, "Oh, I want to install this 85 inch TV on this wall." Then you're like, "Well, do we have backing in that wall? Is there any piece behind here? What's going on?" If you have no documentation, yes you could look in the drawings, but maybe there was an addendum or something that changed what was behind that wall and that's not in the drawing. I don't know.
Could be lots of sources of error there but what's really nice is if you have photo documentation of the in wall and EPS before you put drywall up, then you can just look back and know.
Matt: Are you guys doing anything in the slab as well? That's probably the most common application. Capturing what's in a wall, what's above a ceiling, but also concrete as well. Do you guys do stuff in the slab?
Ben: Not nearly as much as in wall just because of the jobs that Skender does. We don't have as many ground-up jobs where we're putting the slabs in. We slab some though and yes, they're using them there. The majority of our jobs are interior build-outs. The in wall is huge for us. In-slab that's just almost more important, because you can rip open drywall if you really need to and look inside the wall but you don't really want to demo concrete slab just to see what was underneath there. It's actually more important in that situation then.
Chris: Let's wrap things up a little bit here. Before we let you go Ben, we wanted to ask you to share with us a real success moment for you in your career. Something that just worked really well, where you felt like you made a really positive impact on Skender?
Ben: I have an answer for that, and it's really going to sound like I'm sucking up considering the podcast that I'm on right now, but it's going to be implementing StructionSite at Skender because like I said, I was a project engineer at the time when I first started using it and I wasn't in this construction technologist position yet. StructionSite was the first big impact that I made technology-wise at Skender. That was a big win for me personally, because I made an impact on Skender's workflow. This is something that we use every day here now and I helped to make that change. That was my first big success and a big win. There have been subs since then but this is the first one that [crosstalk]
Matt: I got to tell you that's the best thing we could ever possibly hear.
Chris: On podcast one too. It doesn't get any better than that.
Ben: It looks like that was a planted question or something, but that really is the truth.
Chris: We'll get you that $50 check later, thanks a lot for sharing that.
Ben: Yes, I take Venmo.
Chris: Thanks so much. Thanks so much for joining us, really excited to have you inaugurable podcast.
I don't think that's a word inaugurable, inaugural podcast. Thanks so much for joining us, man. Appreciate you sharing all this.
Ben: Thanks for having me guys. It's been a lot of fun. It's good seeing you guys and I could talk about this stuff for hours.
Matt: Well we will after this.
Chris: We'll keep going.
Matt: It's really good to see you, Ben. We appreciate you joining us here on Podcast number one of Built Different.
Chris: I love it. Can't wait till we get to 100.
Matt: That's right.
Chris: Built Different is brought to you by StructionSite. To find out more about us head to structionsite.com.
Matt: Make sure to search for Built Different in Apple podcasts, Google podcasts, Spotify or anywhere else you listen. Click follow so you don't miss out on any future episodes.
Chris: On behalf of everyone here at StructionSite, thanks for listening.
In this episode we cover:
👉 Ben’s journey to the construction industry
👉 A field engineer’s discovery process into different types of technologies
👉 Addressing pain points and idea implementation in construction through problem-solving
👉 Ben’s career path, passions, and motivations for becoming a builder
👉 The process and timeframe for making a difference through new technology
👉 The delta between tools and technologies that get adopted and ones that don't
👉 Unsuccessful adoptions of new technology
👉 Accessibility in technology and practice
👉 Technology automation support
👉 Ease of data accessibility to project teams and decision-makers
👉 Effect of COVID on building practices and the possibility of their retention
👉 Remote inspections vs. physical inspections
👉 Aggregation of reality capture data sources
👉 StructionSite’s impact on Skender
👉 The visibility of job sites with StructionSite
👉 Pros and cons of working with StructionSite
👉 Photo documentation in construction
👉 Career success and impact-making by Ben
Built Different is a podcast by StructionSite & hosted by Matt Daly and Chris Jervey, where we listen, question the status quo, and continue to find better ways to build the world. It is a podcast for boots-on-the-ground hard workers who aim to get the job done.