Constructed Futures

Jim Smith: Data and Managed Cloud Solutions at LoadSpring

Episode Summary

In an era where a given contractor can have 50+ different cloud environments through their various providers, LoadSpring offers a solution to this complexity, bringing everything into one cloud environment. The benefits in terms of data, security and management are explained by Jim Smith, who walks us through what these benefits mean, and how they usually get adopted by contractors large and small. In fact, one of the key benefits of a managed approach is that smaller players can enjoy the same security and cost savings as a larger contractor with significantly larger internal IT support

Episode Notes

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Episode Transcription

Jim Smith - Loadspring

Hugh Seaton: Welcome to Constructed Futures, I'm Hugh Seaton. Today I'm here with Jim Smith, EVP of cloud solutions at LoadSpring. Jim, welcome to the podcast. 

Jim Smith: Hi Hugh, thanks for having me. 

Hugh Seaton: So Jim, let's start with what LoadSpring does.. 

Jim Smith: So we built a system called the LoadSpring Cloud Platform to provide the fully managed service for project teams across, ENR top firms, as well as the owners and operators they support. 

In all cases, we're helping these businesses increase their profits, win new projects, eliminate risk, and then we use our analytics to help them improve their business intelligence. 

Hugh Seaton: That's an awfully big array of things that you provide for people. What do you usually start?

Jim Smith: So usually they identify an application that a diverse project team needs access to. Something that they don't want to have to install and learn how to use or something they want to share with third party contractors. A lot of these projects have third party vendors involved for different disciplines, and we've all got to be on the same page, sharing the same information.

No one wants to let all those third parties onto their networks. 

Hugh Seaton: Let's start with what fully managed means. I think people see that a lot and it's one of those words, people kind of gloss over, but I'd love to dig into what fully managed means. 

Jim Smith: Sure. So from our perspective, we manage, control, monitor everything up to including the applications that project teams need to work with.

So project teams simply come together, identify the best of breed applications that they want to use for scheduling, for geospatial, for BIM, really anything surrounding these mostly architecture, engineering and construction projects. And they simply log in and run the app. They focus on the functionality and the value they got out of the software.

We focus on the security, the backup, the monitoring, keeping the lights on. 

Hugh Seaton: And how do you guys deal with the fact that A lot of these software platforms kind of like to keep their data to themselves, some of them more than others, but how do you get around that?

Jim Smith: Yeah, it's tricky. You know, a lot of customers are out there looking at new software and trying to decide which type of model they go with. And in every instance where you look at a system where you can install any application, wherever you want, those applications can sit side by side in a secure, fast environment so they can share information.

So the ability to integrate between say, an ERP system and, a cost control system for project is really seamless. 

Hugh Seaton: And so you guys are able to get around the fact that a lot of these systems aren't really built to be sharing data, even though they're getting better, they still often aren't so wonderful at sharing information. Is that kinda what you guys are, are specializing in, or one of the parts that you're specializing in is still being able to integrate them and share the data? 

Jim Smith: We do, you know, we actually cloud enable a lot of applications that were never designed for the cloud.

So years ago, they're built to be set up, you know, on premise on a particular set of workstations. Now we're trying to provide access to people all across the globe for those same applications. So by breathing that new life into them, it gives the customers who have already invested in those licenses and the training of how to use the product, more years before say a web native application's out there. There's something that's designed natively for the cloud that you think might run faster. 

Hugh Seaton: That's really interesting. So you guys are hooking up on premises, instances of certain software and kind of integrating it into the managed cloud environment.

Jim Smith: So we do both. So customers will come to us with brand new, modern cloud-based applications that were built to run in their browser and they want us to take on the hosting. So it's one less thing for them to worry about, right? Once they see how easy it is and how fast it goes and how secure the environment is, and the support responsiveness that they get from our team, they want to bring them more applications.

So within the first 60 days, two thirds of our customers add more software to their cloud. So the second environment would be something maybe traditionally an on-premise type application. It could be a windows, client server application, where you've got database servers to worry about, you've got application of middleware servers to worry about. You've got front end web servers, web services machines to have to deal with. So they bring that up to LoadSpring, and it's a very easy onboarding process where effectively perform this lift and shift and move that environment to LoadSpring, now you've got the two flavors there. But then they come along and there's always that third request say, well, I've built my own application and we've got this custom developed piece of software that, unfortunately, they have no documentation for right unfortunately they don't really have anybody that may know how to fix it if something breaks, but they rely on it and it works and it's built into their process. 

So that third application really becomes the custom developed tools that LoadSpring can set up on our cloud. And now you've got all of your project applications in one place. In one portal, everything's talked to each other. It's fast, and it's secure. 

Hugh Seaton: So the last part is really interesting because we're seeing more and more contractors create their own solutions of varying kinds. I mean, it's been going on for a while and sometimes very successfully, sometimes a little less so, but is some of what you're saying that like, if some, if a company is looking to a contractor specifically is looking to create their own, call it a scheduling app, that you guys are able to provide, whether it's an SDK or just some kind of baseline connectivity that allows them to go ahead and do that. But they can also without having to do with themselves, integrate what they've just built into a bigger managed system that you guys are helping them with.

Jim Smith: We can. You know, a lot of it depends on what the end points are. What's the other application that they want to talk to. So from our perspective, if they want to talk to a product that already has a web service, or already has an API, it's really easy just to provide the URL and some credentials and they can connect to it.

Then it really comes down to the customer and their developers or their contractors to look at what calls they want to make, what fields they want to pull from those instances. Getting them integrated works really well for these customers. We also provide them with development environments. So not only do they have a LoadSpring production level cloud, that's managed by service level agreements that guarantee their uptime, guarantee their performance.

We also give non production environments, something they can test in, something they could even have say, remote administration access to, if they want it to go out there and build their own code. Now for us, we're monitoring the system, so if a customer needs to be able to restart a development server during the middle of the day, well, we're monitoring as if it's up and it's live and it's real time.

So we've got to make sure that we're following our practices on who's doing what, when that there's a special request for change or RFC process followed. The other part that we get to, and you'll hear more in one of the future episodes when you talk with Asif and Eric of LoadSpring, about our project Intel. And project Intel is a new offering where we're helping customers get to trusted data. Too many folks out there that want to start building analytics and talk about AI and ML, but they're really not ready for it.

Most of the data, isn't something that can be trusted. So we're doing is, we built a system that will take that data source, it will convert it to a system that's trusted. We know that the information that's in there it's good. It goes through an order remediation process and it gets rid of the duplicate data, the testing, the sample, the demo, the training data. 

It gets rid of projects that may be missing information, have their own codes. Now you've got this clean set of information. We then put that into a data pond and it gets to a data lake. So those customers that want to integrate with information, well, they can go right to that data lake and get that clean, pristine, trusted information versus looking at no the schema of a particular data sources saying, well, I see five last modified columns, or I see five end dates, which is the right field, which is the right one.

So Project Intel gets into that data quickly. 

Hugh Seaton: You touched on something that we're hearing more and more about, and that is data lakes. And, the idea of a data lake is it's a place where you put data that you then later on, will do things with. How do you guys help people with that?

Cause I think there's a little bit of no pun intended jumping into the lake. See what I just did there without necessarily the strategy all the way thought through. And the problem with the lake is it can be so big that you net out with... it's like buying too many books and now you've got to deal with the fact that you got all these books and you're not even, you're never going to read them.

Not that that's ever happened to me. But you know what I mean? Like, like the downside of a ton of data that you haven't processed properly is you now have gigabytes or terabytes of data that you feel like you should do something with, but you're not going to invest in, especially as the data ages.

So how do you help people think through, let's start with data lakes. 

Jim Smith: Yeah. What you're talking about is it can be overwhelming. It can get very expensive and we want to make sure people aren't wasting their time with data that's not going to give them a good answer. So, you know, from our perspective, we want to make sure that when we've built a deployment plan, so we're going to bring our customers through a 3, 6, 12, 18 month plan that shows them, here's how we're going to bring you up this mountain.

Here's how we're going to get you to that clean, trusted data. And you can start generating reports that your consumers go ahead and interact with. And you know, that what they're seeing is solid from a decision-making perspective. So we're going to help get the decisions on what are those questions I need to answer.

Now, there could be three questions I want to know how much was this project supposed to cost? How much does it actually costs? How much have I spent on it so far? That could be the highest level for one audience. Someone else may want to look at efficiency. How effective is my team and actually completing these tasks on time?

So, first I want to go out and define what those items are, the questions that we're going to answer. Then we'll bring it through that process of selecting the data sources. It could be coming from a scheduling system. A cost management system. It could be coming from a geospatial system. So we identify those data sources, pull the information together into the data pond.

And then when we present it in the data lake, it's a flattened, normalized architecture that has those sensible names of what you're looking for. So we get them to clean information. We get them to fields and names that make sense for anyone who's trying to understand what's happening with that project information. 

Hugh Seaton: I'm going to stop for a second and linger on a point you just covered in that is naming.

How big a deal do you guys think it is that naming strategy happens before other things? I know that sounds like a rhetorical question, but I think it's the sort of thing people don't think about until they have to deal with it later.

Right. Is it like really thinking about how are we going to name things and what's our strategy for naming so that, you know, we can, we can find things in a year. 

Jim Smith: It it's tremendous. I mean, from a baseline perspective, just get everyone speaking the same language. Here at LoadSpring, we've got a lot of engineers and we're all very specific and we try and get very precise at times.

And that accuracy, often times these codes, these fields, these names they're very similar, but you get one component of it wrong and we're looking in the totally wrong place. Right? So what the naming convention has to be consistent, it has to be trained. It has to be understood and we're doing it. We're putting in place that best practice to make sure that you're enforcing it.

Hugh Seaton: How do people tend to enforce that? 

Jim Smith: So a lot of it comes down to, you want to automate as much as possible, right? You know , there's a great saying, about do not command what you cannot enforce, but if we know that the project gets initiated in one system, by the time it makes it to the second or third system, it's got to have the same codes, it's got to have the same naming information. So this gets back to the idea of integration. We want to automate it. So if something gets started in one system, say from an estimating perspective, when that gets pushed over to the schedule, it's all consistent. It's all got the same name because when I want to come around later and actually run some S-curves against it and compare them, it has to match up name by name, otherwise it could be a nightmare. 

This is where our customers tell us that they need to get to these costs and schedule performance index on a weekly basis. Usually there's two people in the organization that can do it. They've got some really fancy high powered Excel spreadsheets with macros in them.

But guess what? If they're out sick for the week, if they're on vacation, it doesn't get done. So part of this LoadSpring analytics tool we built is it's automated. So it's right there on demand. So users can just click with a button and see all the information that they have access to in those clean, sensible formats, and we know that it's trusted because the data is uniform throughout. 

Hugh Seaton: Yeah, this is a big deal. And I think what we're finding across the construction industry is so much of what people will call data is freeform typing or writing that even if somebody is trying to follow something, the reality is we make mistakes or we miss type and we keep moving on.

So I think that the, the ability to enforce, and sometimes that means constraining it right. Or automating it either way. So it's a dropdown, so you have to get it right. Or it's automatic and you're not actually entering it, but as minor a thing as naming sounds, it really underpins the ability for a lot of what you've described to actually work, right. Especially when you're talking about different, different products and different data models and so on. 

Jim Smith: It does, and every customer is different and some are going to break it down based on do I want to look at the project or the program or the portfolio.

So depending on how I laid this out and how my business operates, I may have a different scheme for each of them. We're going to do is just try and make it consistent, set that workflow set the logic. So those rules will tell us this scheduler in particular is not following the guidelines for our best practice.

We're not going to be able to use this data when it comes down to the analysis piece. 

Hugh Seaton: That's right. Or you're not going to be able to find it right. Cause you've named it so many different things. 

Jim Smith: Right. So what we've done is to correct it. We'll never go back and change the source data, but we can change it going forward as it gets to the data lake.

So there are ways that we can automate that process so that we're not going to go back and again, change the original data source it came from, but we can adjust it going forward. So that now it's uniform. 

Hugh Seaton: Well, this is what you see in the handover process a lot too, right? Is that there's all this data and all these forms and content that's come from different subcontractors and so on, and somebody has to translate it all, so it can be viewed at one at once. A lot of what you're saying. Um, but you cannot change the original document because there's often legal implications of doing that. So your, your job is to create little mini translators, right? 

Jim Smith: On the translator side of it, we build connectors, right? So there isn't just one black box that's going to do all this, but we've got several connectors that will look at each end point and these different systems we want to pull together and one's going to reach out to cost estimating system, another two, a cost management systems and other to scheduling another one to risk other to my construction document control system. So those connectors can reach out and pick those, like those top, most popular, best of breed products out there. And if it's something that's not on our list, okay, we can import a spreadsheet, you can take a flat file and you can go from that too. 

Hugh Seaton: yeah, love it. So talk to me a little bit about who comes to you?

When someone picks up the phone and says, I need load spring, obviously they're saying something else first and you convince them that LoadSpring is obviously the answer, but what are they looking for when they come to you? 

Jim Smith: So, it's funny the way that they come around. You know, in many cases we're looking at AEC customers.

So 50% of our customer base is from AEC industry. And when I break out from there, we start looking at utilities, transportation, heavy rail projects, even when you get into the chemical processing refinery type global manufacturers. They're still doing most cases, AEC type projects.

So they may build using the world's greatest earth moving equipment, but they're using a project management process to manage it, the design of the equipment, as well as the facilities they're are being made in. And so those customers would come to LoadSpring because a couple of triggers happen. One, they may get with a new software that they don't want to have to learn, they don't want to have to manage. They don't want to have to go out there and get hardware to support it. 

Another trigger is when they're going onto a new project. So oftentimes we see joint ventures. So, for example, someone's going to build a three and a half billion dollar bridge, and there's three or four parties that form this venture to put it together and get the bonding capacity.

And then they'll go out there and complete it. And those customers really come down to saying, well, we're partnered on this new bridge project, but they're each competing with each other on other projects, kind of like vendor one or a joint venture partner one's not going to let joint venture partner two on their network.

Joint venture partner two is not going to let joint venture one partner in their network. So they need that unbiased third party secure network to share all this information. So we'll see that a lot.

Other triggers are just software upgrades. When a customer is used to running a particular application and now there's a new major version's come out, and the architecture's changed. They've gone from one database platform to a different one, or they moved from one type of web server to another one. They don't have the expertise for it. Upgrades for software is always a good time to move it to the cloud, get it off their network.

And, you know, we try and help those customers along that journey where they need to determine what's that cloud awareness. Is this something that's new to them and they're just kind of dipping their toe in, to try cloud applications. Some customers come along and say, oh, I'm SaaS first. If I can get the application from the vendor who designed and developed it, I'm going to go with that as my first route.

But then if I can't integrate with it now, I want to bring a partner along that can do it for me. So there's a few triggers that will bring it along, but usually it's AEC, it's large utility projects, anybody that wants to get into the point of reducing their risk, big projects start out many cases there's heavy liquidated damages for every day that they're late. And they look at all the reasons why projects have been late in the past, things like support. They have a problem with a piece of software, where do they go to get an answer? 

Many cases they're stuck in this finger pointing contest between a local help desk, a software vendor, maybe a third party provider, and the user just kind of spinning their wheels, getting nothing done.

So we've built our support team so that you know, our customers get a 15 minute response to those support requests, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. On average, that works out, if you took maybe 10 cases a month, compared to an internal environment save about $25,000, just off the bat from a support responsiveness perspective.

And when you start comparing that to, well, if my project's late, I've got heavy damages to pay, it adds up quick. 

Hugh Seaton: That makes a ton of sense. And as I look at what you guys have in the platform, it seems like you're also, whether somebody is triggered to go, look for something like you or it's after they've worked with you for awhile, it seems like some of the things like the analytics that you provide has gotta be growing their internal capability too. Right? Like you're showing them the performance of a network in a way that it's tough for internal teams... they may get there later, but they don't start with the ability to really think like that.

Does that kind of resonate with what you see? 

Jim Smith: It does. Some of them, they'll never kind of understand the experience until they've been through it. Until they see the value that's there and that's, it's hard to message, honestly, you know, just from a marketing perspective. So a lot of what we see are customers that used our system at one company they worked for, they had a great experience., They go to a new employer, start a new project, say you know what, this isn't gonna work. I need to get back on LoadSpring. And we had a customer, a large energy firm in the mid Atlantic start last year that has an $8 billion renewables project and the moment they landed at this new company, they knew that they were never going to be able to do what they could do before.

So they contacted our support rep. They didn't call me, they didn't call their sales rep. They call their support rep to introduce them to this new opportunity, because they had such a wonderful experience with us prior. 

Hugh Seaton: That's great. And I want to stick a little bit to this analytics thing, and I say that because the analytics, especially really knowing the state of your system and how it's performing and so on.

And just even more than that, the kind of thing, like to your point earlier, it's hard to talk about until you've played with it. But once you have that level of awareness and understanding you really miss it so it's exactly the kind of thing that maybe doesn't bring people in the door, but it brings them back because it's just all about really upgrading your experience and understanding of your data and your system.

Jim Smith: Yeah, the business intelligence of the cloud we've developed allows those customers to see, like, where am I really spending my money? So if I went out there and I bought 500 licenses for a particular product, I know I've got a new team. That's starting in two weeks and now I think I may have to buy another a hundred licenses to support them.

Well, you don't really know in the past. When you're on LoadSpring, you look at the usage report and it tells you you've only used 400 so far, so you've got another, a hundred available still. So a lot of customers can pay for their first full year of service, just simply with these reports that help them be more efficient in license usage.

Hugh Seaton: It's funny, you bring that up. There's actually a startup that I was having some conversations with a couple of years ago. And their entire business model was going into enterprise. It wasn't specific to construction and auditing how many SaaS subscriptions different people had signed up for that were below thresholds.

So how many Box, you know what I mean? And they'd find hundreds. And it was their whole point was to harmonize that and wind up getting, you know, enterprise agreements or different tiers that would save the company money. And it was an incredible proposition because to the point you're making, you don't know what people, I mean the big stuff, like a Procore or whatever, yeah, of course you know who's doing what. Or how much you're paying for, but you, you may not know how much it's being used and you may not know whether the power users are doing stuff for so on and so forth. So really understanding who's using what, I think is just it's... it is one of those little game-changers right, where you just have such a better understanding of your business. 

Jim Smith: The users from our market, there's a lot of project related buys. So they might buy, you know, an analysis software for particular project. But the rest of the company doesn't know that it's even there. So we're making it visible that everybody knows what assets I own, where they're being used and how can I potentially go and reapply them.

So the intelligence is there for it. They're just, just on the licensing side of it. There's a utility in the Northeast that we saved them $400,000 simply in database license costs, by going with LoadSpring. So as part of our service that we provide, we include all that middleware. So the backend infrastructure, the backend licensing for Oracle SQL databases, for example, middleware components, there's application server components.

Customers really bring their application software license to the table. We provide everything else. So there's massive cost savings there. 

Hugh Seaton: And how do you guys think about that end-to-end project control? So we've talked a little bit about knowing who's on it and what they're doing, but kind of sitting up above that is the idea that this is for a project or set of projects.

And because it's all in one place, your ability to control the project and really have visibility is, is qualitatively different from what it would be, if you were switching screens between different things, right? 

Jim Smith: The LCP is that single pane of glass. So our global cloud offering. Let's these international organizations look across the entire planet on here's my business units. Here are the applications they're using. Here's their projects. The analytics shows me the health of these projects, based on a map. So I can see on the globe where my projects are happening. I can have different KPIs available that show me color-wise how well they're doing or they're not doing. And then I've got that single pane of glass where I can see all support cases, all users, all access points for everybody.

Now a big component here on the security side of things is gotta make it easy. So we've implemented an identity management system so that there's no more passwords to reset. There's no more passwords to forget. As long as you've got your credentials to your corporate network, you can automatically log into LoadSpring.

So to provide that kind of global access or global visibility. And let the customers, IT group control it. If someone's shut off in their accurate directory and their Azure ID they're automatically locked out a LoadSpring. So it gives them that kind of a control and command of the cloud across the globe.

Hugh Seaton: And that's interesting this across the globe idea where you often think this is a little bit of a post pandemic way of thinking of things, but we're, we're so much more virtual now that there has been a little bit of a shift to how we look at, who were paying attention to, right? 

Where it's so much more dispersed than it was that, part of everybody's job now is keeping an eye or at least having a sense of what activity is going on and where it's going on. So this idea that you're kind of looking at things through, I love that single pane of glass and really understanding what people are doing across the world is, is pretty powerful.

Jim Smith: Yeah. And it plays a huge part in data sovereignty. We have some customers, public agencies in different countries around the world that mandate that data cannot leave this country. That's not a problem. So we provide them with in country disaster recovery options. They get that kind of data sovereignty.

They get that in region performance. At the same time, we've got customers that they buy licenses that may only be used in particular countries. So someone who's bought CAD licenses in north America, they can't have someone over in the UK logging in and running it. So the way our platform is set up, you can put fences around the environment.

So only users within a given region can actually access the data and can access those applications. So it helps you stay in compliance with licensing for all your different software applications. 

Hugh Seaton: And I'd love to end with a little discussion of security. You brought it up along the way, and it's implied that you're keeping things secure, but how do you guys approach security?

Jim Smith: So doing this in the cloud for as long as we have security is number one, that's our number one priority. That's where focusing our time. If customers don't trust that we can keep their data secure, they're not going to be our customer anymore. So we look at this on an ongoing basis. We have security team dedicated to it.

Now on average, it costs $3.8 million, per breach. For the different things that happen. And we see the major ones that make the news in the last couple of years. A lot of the items in the last couple of years, it's all about Phantom ransomware. Well, Phantom ransomware is something that is easily prevented.

Now, in our case, we don't allow anybody in the public to connect to a website that LoadSpring may manage without first logging into the LCP. 

So that unauthenticated access is a core vector that someone can go connect to a website and take it over. So, because we force you to authenticate first, you can't even get there, you couldn't send it a message. 

That gives us one layer of protection. Another item we heard a lot in the last couple of months about log for J another vulnerability that dealt with really any Java server out there from a logging perspective has a log for J tools on it. Well, in our environment, even if we had an application that was vulnerable to it, our security is locked down, such that users can't connect outbound from LoadSping system.

So once you're logged in, it's prevented from going out and getting a bad payload, bring it back in. So we've spent a lot of time patching, reviewing these on a daily basis to make sure that the environments are locked down, but there's a few things like requiring authentication, like not allowing outbound access that are just, they're simple in a way to eliminating these problems altogether.

Hugh Seaton: It's interesting. I remember a couple of years ago, the FBI would be going around and this is primarily in the Northeast where I was at the time, going to mid-sized companies to say you're probably the vector of attack for a larger company, like an insurance company, because they're so locked down. And what I'm hearing you say is you're able to provide that level of lockdown for companies that aren't necessarily Aetna or, you know, general motors. So that it isn't so much, it isn't so much that that you're fixing the problem afterwards. You just aren't letting people in, which is really cool. 

Jim Smith: So I mean, those, you know, those boutique project management firms is only a few employees, we're giving the same level of security as a fortune 50 global manufacturer we support.

So they get that same level of security, you know, as you mentioned, you think back to folks, like, I think it was the home Depot credit card hack, few years ago. It came through an HVAC contractor in Ohio. It wasn't the home Depot network. They got it through one of their partners. So that's a major area of concern. 

Hugh Seaton: So Jim, this has been a fantastic conversation. Where should people go to learn more about what you guys are up to and kind of understand their own needs? 

Jim Smith: So is your best resource for customer testimonials, for videos about the platforms you can demo to see how it all works.

There's lots of case studies there that will allow you to align an existing customer to your industry, your project, even your role in the organization that will tell you kind of how we support them and how we can do the same for any team. 

Hugh Seaton: Well, Jim, thank you for being on the podcast. This has been great.

Thanks Hugh. I appreciate it.