Constructed Futures

Burcin Kaplanoglu Pioneering an Innovation Ecosystem at Oracle Innovation Labs

Episode Summary

As a leader in construction technology, Oracle has been at the center of innovation for many years. In the past few years, Oracle set up an innovation lab near Chicago that has gained fame as a leader in realistic prototyping and testing of everything from remote work technologies to scanning and more. Working with a range of industry partners, Burcin Kaplanoglu and his team have pioneered a new way of innovating in simulated real world environments that is a model for how systems as complex as those in construction can be developed.

Episode Notes

Learn more about the Oracle Innovation lab:

Episode Transcription

Burcin Kaplanoglu

[00:00:00] Hugh Seaton: Welcome to constructed futures, I'm Hugh Seaton. Today I'm here with Burcin Kaplanoglu vice-president Oracle industries, innovation lab, and welcome to the podcast. 

[00:00:12] Burcin Kaplanoglu: Thanks for inviting me.

[00:00:14] Hugh Seaton: So I want to start with, with what the lab is. It's so exciting, and I've seen on LinkedIn and from friends talking about it, you've been at this awhile and you've gotten some really cool things done. Talk to me about the beginning of the lab and what got you guys going.

[00:00:28] Burcin Kaplanoglu: Absolutely. So our innovation lab opened up three years ago and it is not the traditional look and feel that normally big corporations have. Originally started as a simulated construction site.

So in Chicago, August 2018, we actually set up a construction site with a site trailer, a fenced area, steel structure. That's how it all started. 

[00:00:51] Hugh Seaton: And, and what, what led to it though? Like what was the, was this coming from customers? Was this an internal realization that the complexity of, of construction means that you should create something that's pretty close to a real site?

What kind of led to doing this? Because a lot of ways you could have done this, right? There's there's labs where you're building, building little things and there's incubators and so on and so forth, but you chose a certain, much more realistic, much more simulation-based approach, it sounds like.

[00:01:20] Burcin Kaplanoglu: Absolutely. So going back in time. So I spent almost 16, 17 years in the industry and four years ago joined Oracle. And as I was working in the business unit, which provides products for construction engineering, talking with customers and from my also personal experiences, they got bombarded by a lot of new technologies, right.

And technology is for the sake of technology is not the right approach. And to make the technology work, you really need to people in the process. You need to improve and bring new processes. You also have the skilled people. So you know, being into this job, working six months into the job, we were having a conversation and brought up the topic that customers and from my personal experiences, if we really going to innovate, we actually have to do these things right? Physically to do them. 

Because in the past, if you, you know, if someone came to us and say, You, Hey, I have this amazing sensor. It will link to your scheduling product and it will tell when the concrete is poured or a certain thing happened, we had no place to test it. We would have to rely on customers trying these sensors or other technologies, and we didn't have any test fit to try them.

So that was the whole premise and customers also... Look, we went to customers and said, how would you feel would be do this? One even told us that, I still remember like yesterday, he said, this is like innovation as a service because they're like, well, we're trying to do the same things. And we're trying to do this on an active site.

And it's very difficult, you know, it's hard to try on an active site. So we got a lot of positive response in the planning stage from customers about what this should be, how it should be, how it should be operated. And that spirit's still continues today. 

[00:03:07] Hugh Seaton: I love this, you know, it reminds me of the folks at IDEO that really pioneered a lot of design thinking.

And one of the elements of design thinking is prototyping. And the point there is that when you engage more of your senses, you see more of the problem. So I love that you guys really took that as, as a, I don't know that you specifically took it from IDEO. My point is it's the same idea though, is that the more real it is, the more likely you are to see some hidden implications or, or how it really works.

[00:03:36] Burcin Kaplanoglu: So the lab, you know, creating an innovation lab is not a new concept, right? As you said, the creating a space to have hands-on trials is not new. There are lots of R and D labs who actually does this, that our other spaces allows you to do that. There are institutions in the universities, as you know, you have these kinds of capabilities and then they're like pure testing labs, right?

Our mission here is to really bring the digital and the physical together. And the problems we solve is purely brought to us by customers. And because it solves real world problems. We had no lack of participation or engagement. And to the point, like we may build this, you um, you know, from far, it didn't look that exciting by the way.

I mean, it was a small construction site, with a fence and steel structure, but it even exceeded our own expectations. I mean, we had customers came from Australia, New Zealand, China, middle east to Europe spent two, three days. You know, the partners ecosystem has been amazing to work with. And then other, you know, other people in the ecosystem, it just even exceeded our own expectations.

Just made us realize that we were onto something that was you know an absolute need. 

[00:04:48] Hugh Seaton: That's great. So you obviously don't solve every problem. There, there obviously are some focus areas or some concentrations. What, what do you focus on? 

[00:04:59] Burcin Kaplanoglu: Absolutely. So again, we went back to the customers and said in the planning stage Hey, you know, which areas we should focus on, what is your major pain points?

It really boiled down to five. First one was: materials. They said, well, I need to know where my materials are from production to shipment delivery on site. I need to know when it's installed. That was one focus area. The second one: worker safety. How can you help us improve worker safety from location, proximity, crew size, what technologies we can try test and validate.

The third one was about progress reporting. At all our customers from contractors to subcontractors, to owners, as you know, everybody has to tell progress. Everyone has to say, this is what's complete. This is what's planned. This is what will happen next. And how can we automate that process? And that was our third focus area.

The fourth one was about centralizing operations. You know, how can we centralize operations as an example, you can't have a coachable experts on every site, right? How can you provide video feed other things? We can have centralized operations for scheduling using, you know other technologies or project management.

How can you centralize this? And the last one, not least is data, data. How can we visualize it. Is it virtual reality, augmented reality. Is it mixed reality? Whatever reality you put the letter in front because it keeps changing. Right? We need to visualize it. So we focus on those five and when customers came and engaged with us, they comment every time.

Yeah. These are my pinpoints. I like what you're doing here. This is like things I want to be solved and, the lab is created as a real lab. When I say real lab, it's not a demo space. So like the concrete example, I've given you, the model we work with with partners and customers is this way: so when someone comes to us through a customer or themselves and say, I have this technology, this is going to do X, Y, Z.

We have a place to test it. We test it with ourselves and customers and see if it works. If it works, then we figure out what... first of all, it needs to be solving a pain point, right? So we all need to test the things that fit into those five groups. 

And if it does work, then we work on the workflows, data flows, how is it going to, you know, how is it going to really give you true benefits? And then we trialed them on the site, those integrations and all that. And eventually this turns into a commercially available integration. So let's say we worked on this three, six months. Turned into a commercial available integration.

Next time you visit the site, we'll be able to show you and say, Hey, you know, this is where it started and this is where it's now. And by the way, you can actually use it on your sites because we build it. We tested, validated, and it's available. 

[00:07:49] Hugh Seaton: That's really interesting. And you know, there's a couple of ways that we can take what you said about it's a real lab.

One of them is iterating and tweaking and testing. Another one though is developing hypothesis and then testing and trying them. Do you have the opportunity? The first one I assume, is, is being in the middle of Oracle and so much technology. You're doing the development piece a fair amount, but are you able to actually say we have a hypothesis and we're going to go after it.

We're going to go. We're going to go try it out. 

[00:08:19] Burcin Kaplanoglu: Yeah. I mean, like as an example let's talk about our own internal innovation. So we brought a product called construction intelligence cloud which does predictions, right? It's uses machine learning. And for that, well, when we were actually building the phase two of the lab, we use our own data.

So we were actually able to use active construction data to see its predictions. How accurate is it? Is it helping us? Is it not helping us? So short answer is whether it's ours or partners, technology, you know, we were able to actually pull this together. 

[00:08:52] Hugh Seaton: That's great. So for those out there who were thinking about innovation labs or, or, you know, doing a better job internally of innovating, how did you guys land on five?

Was it, you kind of had a sense that we have the manpower and the woman power and the kind of managerial attention to handle five things at once. Or was it just the market really resolved itself into five top things. And you're like, we got to figure out how to make this work. 

[00:09:20] Burcin Kaplanoglu: Well, the market drove it, and I'm going to actually highlight something very interesting for us.

So. So we worked on this, Hugh, for 16, 18 months, right? At the simulated construction site. And after 18 months, we actually started building a facility in the same location in Chicago, it's in the Chicago suburbs. And three months later, the pandemic happened. And by the way, everything we tested and validated in the 18 months, we actually used it to build this building in Chicago.

So imagine here comes April, May, 2020. We have a construction site which has material tracking, remote monitoring, knowing what your supply chain is, is it in production, has the shipment arrived on the site, we have worker location, proximity. We have automated progress reporting. We have centralized command management and we have visualization.

All of a sudden, we had a site that the technologies that everybody's looking for during pandemic in one location. So our engagement, you know, increased exponentially because all of a sudden, right, some of these technologies you might have said to you, oh yeah, this is like vision. It's going to happen in 10 years or 20 years in the industry, right. 

But because of what we were going through at that time, and still going through to, to a level. You know, all these five use cases become, you know, some more nice to have become a must have, like knowing where your workers are, how much crew you have on site are there in the right zones? Are they, you know, all these things become a necessity during pandemic.

So it was not a surprise, like I remember first doing some webcasts and then realizing that, wow, you know, the response is amazing. It's because we're actually showing, telling the world, Hey, you know, all these things you want. Do you know, there's a site in Chicago actually has all those in one place.

That was quite an achievement on our hand. And I want to thank all our partners and customers who helped us to get there. So it's it was a great moment to be able to help the industry. 

[00:11:27] Hugh Seaton: That's very cool. They say luck is what happens when opportunity meets preparation. Right. So the opportunity. 

[00:11:34] Burcin Kaplanoglu: Cannot agree more, we were really well-prepared.

[00:11:37] Hugh Seaton: So let's talk a little bit about some success stories. You've already talked about your own internal creation and process of expansions to the lab and so on. Let's talk about some times and ways that what you've done has really made a difference, and really been successes you're proud of.

[00:11:53] Burcin Kaplanoglu: Absolutely. So let me give you one example. So one of our partners is Faro technologies, so they have laser scanning products. Most of your audience probably knows the company, really established organization, and great to work with. So again, around April, I think March, April timeline of last year, you know We have a construction site we're building and new building in a space to have the lab location, working with the general contractor. 

Faro and us agreed that we would use the site as a trial, for how they would integrate their laser scanner with the Boston dynamics spot robot. The concept was, Hey, let's prove to the world that it can do more than just dancing, right? Now, this is almost a year and a half old news. But in starting around March, April 2020, Faro had access to the site, they built the robot test to trial all the stuff. And then here comes August 2020 Faro brought a fully integrated semi-autonomous robotic side scanner with Boston dynamics spot to the market. So again, this is an example of us enabling an innovation into markets, working with an amazing partner. And eventually this data that collects from that resides in our products, right?

So it's the scanner goes into our project management product that can lead to scheduling and other things, but working with a partner and bringing something new to the market. So that's another story of the lab enabling industry innovations. 

[00:13:25] Hugh Seaton: And really it's an example of how you're having an impact beyond just Oracle, right?

You're you're talking about helping to partners and customers to bring things that really affect the whole ecosystem. 

[00:13:37] Burcin Kaplanoglu: Absolutely. And again ecosystem is really, really important. And I will say this, we would never be able to do this without our partners. So all of them were extremely thankful and our relationship has been phenomenal because once we create a neutral ground where we all work together we, you know, our industry's extremely innovative.

It's just been a phenomenal experience to work with all of them. 

[00:14:01] Hugh Seaton: Isn't it funny that construction doesn't get thought of as being innovative, but the reality is everybody on the ground is solving new problems every day. It's it is one of the most intensely problem solving oriented industries there is, but it just, you know, not all of it's flashy, some of it's just getting things done.

[00:14:20] Burcin Kaplanoglu: Absolutely. And I always say that, right? Our superintendents, project managers innovate every single day, you know, because our process is prototyping, right. We build these projects one project at a time. And then if you're prototyping everyday, you need to solve problems that when you woke up, you didn't think existed, right? In the middle of the day, you already solved 10 of them, you know?

That's the other thing, what we're really working towards is a lot of processes of optimization, right, and making projects predictable. Look I'm going to bring up a topic, which is really important for the industry also important to me is construction industry, especially mental health, and how it affects our lives.

It is very stressful. Anyone who's listening to this knows this right? Delivering projects is stressful. One of the key things, why it's stressful is not knowing what will happen the next day or the next month. Right? So the ability to bring technology that will enable us to remotely monitor things, the ability to bring technology that's going to help us predict outcomes and prevent the issues.

Hopefully, it's going to allow us to go back to home at five, right. And actually spend time with our families and not to worry about it late at night. Right. So I am hopeful and that these kinds of technologies is going to enable our work-life balance, too. 

[00:15:40] Hugh Seaton: yeah. I really like that. And actually want to tease apart a comment you just made about predicting versus... well predicting as part of, of helping people manage their day. And, and, you know, I think when people hear prediction, they assume that there's a magic ball. That's going to say in five minutes, you're going to have X happen.

And that isn't, what's what prediction is. At least not in this context, it's saying, because these conditions are, are going on in the past, there's a likelihood that the following is going to happen. And I think it, it gives you a control or a handle on your risks and, and where you are in a project in a way that that is just hard to do otherwise.

Right. I mean, as you think about what Oracle was providing and some of what it sounds like you've worked on, worked with actually, in the expansion project is it's all about having a better handle on what might happen about probabilities and also what might not happen. 

[00:16:32] Burcin Kaplanoglu: Absolutely. Absolutely. And it's like you know, some of the greatest examples I'd heard and I'm gonna reference our good friend Karthik who is our data scientist.

He always gives us the example that it's like, weather, every year the weather forecast gets better. Right. And I don't leave the home without checking the weather forecast. You know, it, it kind of becomes norm, right. Is it always accurate? No. Is it fairly accurate? Yes. Is it helping my planning of the day? Absolutely. Right. 

So these technologies are improving and they're going to really bring some sort of, it will be like weather, right? So it is going to help us, it's just going to be another way of looking at our projects, helping us to plan these things better, showing us what could potentially happen.

They might not happen in real life. That's okay. But it's going to actually give us some peace of mind. 

[00:17:22] Hugh Seaton: I liked that you ended with peace of mind because we know from various studies that a huge source of stress is when it feels like what's happening to you is out of your control. And maybe you're not controlling it, but if you're aware of, of what might happen next of the likelihood that that one of a couple of outcomes is going to happen, you feel a sense of control and you feel a sense of things being under control in a way that's just less true if you don't have that level of visibility into what could happen. 

[00:17:51] Burcin Kaplanoglu: Another angle I want to bring Hugh is number four focus area I mentioned, like the command center, right? Remote operations and all that. And I want to share some of the things happening in industry, especially really picked up with this concept with the pandemic like inspections, right?

There are many cities and municipalities are looking at doing inspections with photos and just video. Right? So some of these things were unacceptable two years ago, now it is acceptable. My prediction is some of these things we got, especially the remote operation things, that we learned as an example we have a few partners, and our technology work about monitoring, right? That means that you can stay at your home and not have to drive to the site for three hours to look at something. You can access the cameras or the video imagery, or 360 video or drones or whatever reality capture tool you use that morning and make some decisions which is very powerful, right?

All the time we wasted by commuting to places. We can actually gain that time and you can have a much more productive, work-life balance. I'm going back to that again. Right? So some of these technologies I think, are here to stay. Some of them might be used less, but I think it absolutely accelerated the transformation of... digital transformation in our industry in these last two years.

[00:19:11] Hugh Seaton: Yeah, I think if you combine two of the things you just discussed, one of them is remote monitoring and remote understanding of what's going on a project and on a job site. With predictive analytics suddenly you realize, look, I think today all indications are today is going to be a pretty smooth day.

They're putting things in place. We have what we need, but it, it looks like two or three days from now is it is a bit more of a point where they're going to want to have somebody on site to make decisions or smooth things over. And that's another interesting way of looking at it. Right. You're not anxious about not being there because you have a pretty good sense that this is a high probability of being a smooth day and you have pretty good understanding that in the next day or two, you're going to need to get down there because things might not stay so smooth.

It's an interesting way of thinking about this idea of in a work-life balance and/ or just much more efficient way of, of, of using time and, and being in a car less. 

[00:20:03] Burcin Kaplanoglu: Absolutely. And look, going back to the first question you asked, why did we create a simulated construct? That was the whole concept.

It is hard to try these things in the real world environment. We got a test and trial and what we have learned from that, by the way, when customers took those trials and then put it into their projects, it's kind of 80/ 20, you know, 80% of the time you catch all... most of the issues, of course, there's 20% of the things that you will not be able to catch by simulating them, but it solved a lot of problems upfront.

And we now build the building, which is a facility. It is, it has a huge hangar looking space like 30 feet, tall ceilings, 10,000 square feet, just a open space, looks like a hanger in one part of the building. Just for our trials. Like we have that to try things indoor. We have things to try outdoor.

We designed it, so it becomes multi-industry multi- purpose, right? So we can actually try anything. To that end now the Chicago location actually has two other complimentary industries. So Oracle communications and Oracle utilities are also tenants. I call them tenants of the lab in Chicago, which those three: comms, utilities and construction engineering work really closely together because they're in one space and they're trying things, you know, comms is a big issue right now, industry.

How would you communicate all this? Great you collect this data, is that gonna.... How does it sync to the cloud? How's this going to work? Utilities, energy utilities is a major thing our industry deals with. So you know, we are expending it to beyond just construction engineering really building on top of the success we had in that space.

[00:21:45] Hugh Seaton: Very cool. That's interesting that a company the size of Oracle, you're able to pull things together and have them have the left-hand work with the right hand. Cause that's not always so easy. 

[00:21:53] Burcin Kaplanoglu: Yeah, I think we've been very fortunate to be able to actually bring multiple industries and we're going to continue doing so we see a huge benefits to that.

And then we also see benefits of having cross industry collaboration. There's things we can learn from others by the way, right? Like what is manufacturing doing that we didn't bring to construction? What is comms doing that we, we can share with comms that they can learn from us, we can learn from them.

So it's been quite an interesting experience to learn from each other. 

[00:22:20] Hugh Seaton: It's interesting, we talk about diversity more and more. And there's a lot of flavors of that obviously. And one of them that you're talking about is, is often really hard, and that is getting people from different industries or concentrations and getting their perspective.

Cause sometimes they're seeing something totally different from what you're seeing, even though you're looking at the same thing. 

[00:22:41] Burcin Kaplanoglu: Well, one other, I want to share with the audience. I am working with multiple industries now you know, beyond construction engineering, I still work really closely with that group, but working with multiple industries, what I'm seeing is every industry is going to the same transformation.

Maturity levels are different. Right? Everybody's looking at sensors, collecting data, building a platform that, you know, puts into one smart platform, building machine learning on top of it to make sense out of it. It's just the maturity levels are different. And implementation cycles are different, but all the industries are going through the same transformation.

[00:23:19] Hugh Seaton: And the human side of it is, is way more similar than people think it is. I mean, I spent some time in advertising, which you would think is about as far from construction as you can get, but a lot of the same things, where people were not so comfortable with data and people were pretty happy with how things had been going for the last 30 40 years. 

And yet they didn't have a choice. Like they were, they got talked about an industry that got disrupted, but the point is that that there's a lot to be learned from... And the other thing that I think is, is key here is it's not just that they're exactly the same. That's okay that they're not, they're an analogy and you can learn from it without needing it to be exactly the same.

[00:23:57] Burcin Kaplanoglu: Well I'll tell you two industries, which we were able to bring together with the lab work is hospitality, which is basically our business, which provides products to like, if you make reservations and provide experiences, you're in a hotel or a casino or a resort that's the product line and construction engineering.

So when we start working together as a group, they figured out that they have a lot more similarities than differences, which was very eye-opening. You might wonder how it is, but like I say, I think eventually everybody's looking to collect the data, put it in a platform, make sense out of it, work with the ecosystem and then put AI on top of it.

And it was quite a unique experience to see all work together. 

[00:24:41] Hugh Seaton: That's great. So I want to ask about other things that you're up to, where, where do you see all this going? 

[00:24:48] Burcin Kaplanoglu: Well I want to talk about the next chapter. So the next chapter of the Oracle industries innovation lab is actually build a lab that will be focused on sustainability, mobility and accessibility, those three things, so sustainability, mobility, and accessibility.

So to do that we are going to build a innovation lab in the UK, Reading, UK, which is close to London and imagine it looks like a little town center. It's all outdoors, there is a construction site, which we show how you build infrastructure. There is a train station. There is an actual train and this whole site is built with sustainable materials and recycle materials and pre- fabrication, all of those things that we are looking to take our industry to, but also it is where we connect the five industries together. So there'll be construction, engineering, utilities, communication, food and beverage, and hospitality.

Now the audience might wonder like, sustainability for construction.... Well, if you look at UN reports, you'll see that our industry creates 38% of the CO2 emissions, which is massive right? And then there's sustainable building materials to how to do that way to how you manage, track metrics, how to predict the outcomes, that's one angle.

And then you can wonder the same thing for food and beverage, right? So how have you take... what are the sources of the food is coming from, that's one angle, to do how you recycle things and then maybe connect the construction engineering with food and beverage, how you would build an infrastructure to make those things actually recyclable.

Right? How would you build infrastructure of a city, so these things can be collected and multipurposed and reused. So it's a very unique opportunity for us, for the industries. And I want to say for the world, because we are creating a new simulated environment to take this mission of sustainability, mobility, and accessibility, tying it to five industries and creating a simulated environment to actually test, validate, explore and see where we can accelerate industry innovations. 

[00:27:09] Hugh Seaton: That is so cool. It's the ultimate prototype, right? It's a functioning community almost with all the, all the pieces and you get to see how they come together. I mean, I got to imagine that's a big part of it, right? Is it's systems not elements and its intersections, not just flows.

[00:27:27] Burcin Kaplanoglu: Absolutely. And also look, you know, we build a very strong ecosystem in the US with this lab in Chicago. Now we're doing the same for multiple industries for the lab in UK. Like one example could be maybe, we do need to figure out how the last mile delivery has to work with the infrastructure we build. Right? 

Like you are in a transportation vehicle and you want your groceries to show up when you get off the train, how is that going to work? Right. You know, we talked about drones doing deliveries, to rovers providing you stuff like hotel rooms with robotic you know, solutions give you towels.

You know, if you look from that perspective, those has to be built the right way we enabled them. Right? We are in the engineering and construction space. We need to build these things, to enable these technologies to work. It all goes back to, I am happy to say this I'm a civil engineering in training. This is one of the reasons why I picked this industry because we actually build the world. Right? 

We build everything around us and we have to build them in a way to enable the next generation of technologies to actually really deliver these things in the physical world. 

[00:28:35] Hugh Seaton: What an awesome vision, super exciting. 

Well Burcin thank you for being on the podcast. I really loved hearing about the journey you've been on in this exciting next step.

I'm looking forward to hearing about what happens in Reading. 

[00:28:47] Burcin Kaplanoglu: Absolutely. I want to conclude this with I mentioned this a few times, but I personally cannot thank our customers and partners enough. To make these things happen we worked really close to with their contributions have been significant and we all are doing this to really improve the industry that we work in.

We all believe for the betterment of the industry we need to work together. And I want to thank all of them for all their contributions. 

[00:29:13] Hugh Seaton: Perfect. Thanks again.