If you're looking for an honest perspective on construction and engineering technology, look no further than Hugh Seaton, our third guest on the 4M Utility Strategy Podcast!
Hugh Seaton is General Manager of Crosswalk by CSI, author of the Construction Technology Handbook, and publisher of both the Constructed Futures Podcast and Construction Technology Quarterly. Prior to CSI, Hugh was general manager of Adept XR Learning, a VR/AR unit of the Glimpse Group. Hugh has held senior technology marketing positions at Sony Electronics, AOL, and worked for clients such as Google, Blizzard and Philips Electronics.
Hugh has lived and breathed construction technology for years, seeing firsthand what works—and what doesn't make it—from the back office to the construction site. He has also interviewed project managers, designers, contractors, and tech developers from hundreds of firms. In our conversation, we focused on innovation in engineering and infrastructure. How does a new technology go from pilot project to industry standard? How do project managers budget for innovation? What kinds of progress and productivity gains are possible through the market, and what problems call for government subsidies or regulations? Hugh shared his insights on where we are, how we got here over the past few decades, and what changes we can expect in the near future.
The bar for adoption in construction technology is: "It better add value on Monday, or unfortunately, I can't afford it."
Construction has a tight profit & loss ratio, so there isn't a lot of patience for technological products that don't deliver value immediately. That's not all: the cost of learning needs to be low, or teams won't find the time to adopt it into their intense project schedules. That doesn't mean technology can't be ambitious and game-changing, but it needs to be completely viable before it goes to market. Hugh sees the next wave of change coming in software that processes large amounts of data to predict factors like material needs, supply chain delays, labor costs, weather, etc. When artificial intelligence becomes affordable for construction technology, there may be noticeable leaps forward in terms of productivity.
Contractors tend to be inward-focused, but their IT teams are driving innovation enterprise-wide and even industry-wide.
Hugh contrasts hierarchical structures like multinational manufacturing corporations, with flat organizations like contractors and engineers. In hierarchies, the higher management can dictate technological adoption directly. Meanwhile, in flat organizations, change tends to be more incremental, teams work more independently, and management tends to be inwardly focused. Contractors tend to trust their own teams' experience and expertise, as opposed to keeping up with industry-wide transparent dialogues on innovation. However, Hugh mention IT teams as unique elements within contractor firms. The role of IT teams has grown from managing e-mail servers to setting up massive databases, selecting software, testing devices, and overseeing innovation upgrades.
Contractors are not just clients for new technology. They are market makers for their internal workforce.
Technology companies tend to think of contractors as their clients, and market their product to the decision-makers on enterprise solutions. But the process of adoption is more complex, as Hugh points out. For larger contracting companies, innovation is a balancing act between two factors: staying competitive with external benchmarks and solving the pain points of internal project teams. Once a contractor licenses a new technology or tool, they have to show their own project managers and teams how to use it and why it adds value. In other words, the contractor effectively becomes a market maker for their own internal community.
Co-hosts: David Horesh (Director of Marketing) and Ophir Wainer (Director of North American Business Development)
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