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At the end of 2017, SAP invited a small group of innovative thought leaders in the construction and real estate industries to evaluate how we could better leverage transformative technologies to better design, construct, and operate assets. The one day session was held in San Francisco, CA and we had participants from the United States, Australia, Japan, Germany, Portugal, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Finland, and Chile. That’s a worldwide perspective!

Labor productivity in industries such as construction that rely principally on a “skilled labor” force (construction, field maintenance, facility management, etc.) are finding productivity gains have been flat for the last 60 years. As cost pressures and complexities are ever increasing, technology and process improvements struggle to keep pace.   The goal of the innovation summit was to look beyond the current state of the industry and find innovative ways to transform our industry by eliminating surprises, lowering operating costs, and leveraging a workforce that is becoming increasingly more technologically savvy.  Many companies are using technology as toys and concepts, but our aim is to leverage technology and information to “change the game” permanently.

To set the stage for our interactive afternoon sessions, we spent the morning hearing from various companies like Apple, Kiewit, and SAP about how some of these next gen technologies are being deployed today. From Apple’s Augmented Reality to Kiewit’s use of 3D modeling. We even had the opportunity for participants to use the Hololens in an interactive setting. SAP discussed the concept of expanding Building Information Modeling (BIM) into a “true” digital twin, bringing together the models (asset and equipment) and all the data associated with a facility or asset (sensors, alarms, traffic flow, etc.) into single view that is securely and seamlessly shared by all stakeholders.

Now for the fun stuff. As the afternoon began, we were guided through a Design Thinking session focused on two scenarios. We broke into groups and were assigned one of the two scenarios below:

Innovation Scenario: The augmented worker

Demographic changes globally are reshaping the workforce.  Highly experienced workers are retiring in record numbers and are being replaced with a workforce that is made up of inexperienced, but more technologically savvy millennials.  This offers us an opportunity to leverage technology to deliver “best practices” at point-of-need to improve safety, quality, and productivity.

Innovation Scenario: Leveraging field and facility level data as a weapon

The Internet of Things (IoT), Drones, Lasers, Visualization, etc. can provide unprecedented levels of insight to what is happening remotely.  Like in manufacturing, we can use techniques like DMAIC (acronym for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control) to drive data-driven cycles to stabilize, improve, and optimize business processes and work. From intelligent buildings to connected construction sites. From digitally tracking traffic in buildings to staffing on construction projects. Everything is measured and monitored to truly industrialize the construction process.

As you’ll note, the underline phrases above became the target words we focused on as we were asked to drop any preconceived notions of what technology could and could not do. The guided sessions were timed exercises that had each group walk through collaborative sessions examining: 1) Current Situation; 2) Today’s Barriers; 3) Possible Future; and 4) How might we…?

Current Situation                                                                  Today’s Barriers

                                

Possible Future?                                                                    How might we?

                                 

 

Personas

After these first four sessions, we turned our focus on creating “Personas”. The idea is to create a tangible person who has real life values, experience, and personal circumstances  that might factor into their adoption, or resistance, to our future-state thinking.

 

Scenarios

Once Personas were established, we were tasked with creating scenarios that might exist in our newly imagined job site. Because we had created the personas, it made it much easier to put ourselves into the lives of these people and try to determine what they would enjoy, what would be challenging for them, etc.

     

 

Storyboard

Following the scenarios we had an opportunity to take our thoughts and place them into a succinct storyboard with drawings to help provide a two minute recap of our session with the other groups. There was a lot of laughter and creativity from all of the groups, but there was also a future that was very fun to envision.

Takeaways

The takeaways from this innovation session were very informative. In general, the participants thoroughly enjoyed the collaboration from people representing different roles, different companies, and different regions of the world. Another item that became clear was that this session confirmed their original conceptions of the industry – we’re behind other industries, but have a tremendous upside with the advent of next-gen technology and innovation. Creativity and humor were very much a part of each group and that made the day thoroughly enjoyable. In general, topics such as 3D printing, robotics, and improved field data capture were at the forefront of each group’s discussions.

How far away is this innovative future? It was a mixed reaction…with many thinking it was coming in the near term, while others thought it was perhaps still quite a few years away. Personally, I think the technology is closer to a reality, but the industry culture is the bigger hurdle. Sure, there are legitimate obstacles created by the constantly increasing complexity of the projects the construction industry tackles, but companies willing to push the envelope will step forward and change the status quo.

If you are interested in more details or your own design thinking journey feel free to engage in the comments section.

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