How should contractors approach data strategy? How can they make the most of past and future data generated in construction operations? Roz Buick, Construction SVP at Oracle, shares her perspectives on where to start, and where data can take the industry next.
Roz Buick April 20th, 2021
Hugh Seaton: [00:00:00] Welcome to constructed futures. I'm Hugh Seaton. I'm here with Roz Buick, global senior vice president of product strategy, development, and marketing for Oracle's construction and engineering business. Roz, welcome to the podcast.
Roz Buick: [00:00:16] Thank you. It's great to be here.
Hugh Seaton: [00:00:17] Yeah, so I we've got a lot and Oracle covers an awful lot of things.
So I wanted to start with your views on, on kind of the, the basis of it all. And that's that's data and data strategy. Tell me a little bit about what you're seeing and where you'd like to see things go.
Roz Buick: [00:00:33] Yeah, thanks Hugh.
Yeah, I think data's one of those first principles that customers... architect, engineer, contractor owners. They all should be thinking about their data strategy as a business or company. And what does that mean? You know, it's strategy 101. What am I really good at as a business? And am I measuring that I'm on a path of continuous improvement to that and what micro metrics can we start to collect around that?
And now with data and analytics, cloud processing, you know, bandwidth, we can really do an amazing amount of data analysis, big data, AI machine learning, and deep learning around the kinds of things that are going on in your business, in your construction projects, notably, and how to better manage going forward.
That once was a lot more work than it is today, just because of the acceleration of all these technologies and, you know, with Oracle being at its core, a data company. We're spending a lot of energy around this ability to really help customers get deeper insights to their data and in construction and engineering you know, it's really that parallel, if you like to, the industrial manufacturing segment to where lean six Sigma measurement of processes and how to make those transformationally better, that needs to happen in construction.
It's got more challenges, you know, more diverse supply chain, more [00:02:00] complexity with the field versus the office, but the technologies are definitely helping that data capture come about much more efficiently.
And you know, the ability to process that, of course through AI and machine learning. And I think, you know, as the industry is going through a massive amount of skilled labor shortages, the 20 or 30 years of experience, as you see with experienced employees walking out the door retiring, you know, the next generation of employee has to have tools that can really help them be experts quickly in the workflows, whether that's scheduling or project management or estimating. You know, how to provide insights from the AI knowledge base that we can capture now. And yeah, you don't want to lose that intelligence. Apparently 95% of all data on construction projects really is left behind after the project. So it's a real opportunity to capture that and make it meaningful going forward.
Hugh Seaton: [00:02:59] So Roz , there's a lot of really great stuff in there. And I want to unpack a little bit of it. I want to start with... you started the conversation about data strategy, and I think there's a couple of kind of parts of the strategy you, you talked about, the first one is starting with what the company does, what do they do well, and, and from there thinking about, okay, what would we like to learn?
And then from there, what would we like to track? How have you seen people take that sort of sequence in terms of really focusing on what data can do for them, as opposed to just generically collecting things?
Roz Buick: [00:03:32] Yeah, I think you know, we've had a product for many years called Aconex which is really a core project management collaboration environment and the kinds of information we've been accumulating through that has been teaching us a lot over the years, such as how many hour fires are happening, how many documents are being shared between participant a or b on a project and those customers can then get a feel for, are we sort of burning down the number of RFIDs on a project every time we get together on a project and being more efficient with our overall process. So that's one example, we've just actually launched a new Construction Intelligence Cloud, which is really gearing up to take this concept to a much more holistic level across all our applications, starting with scheduling.
And the idea of seeing, you know, 20 years of schedule and capturing the essence of how long it took me to get structural steel, you know, detailed design fabrication, and into the, into the construction place on the job site, those kinds of timing metrics, or, you know, communication metrics around those kinds of processes can now be captured and collating across 20 years and, modeling off that you can predict better what your timing should be on projects to provide better risk mitigation on the schedule and how people sort of see that insight within the application, not just the reporting dashboard, but sending it back to the application for deeper within the workflow insight.
So they're kind of, couple of examples, I think, you know, we're on the leading edge here, but in learning, what is it that the industry wants to measure as well? You know, there's a lot of technology choices out there which can be overwhelming. And I often hear customers also say, "Oh, I don't know if I buy this technology I'll just be as good as the next person that buys it." But the great thing about Construction Intelligence Cloud is it does become your own kind of personalized machine learning, deep learning system because of the way you've run your projects, your business and your people's processes. So it is a very competitive core element to this idea of the big data and analytics on a construction company's workflows.
But yeah, I think we're still learning a lot, quite frankly, with this new product. And I'm looking forward to seeing a lot more customer stories around it. We just launched it last month or so.
Hugh Seaton: Right. And, but a lot of the underlying ideas have been whether it's with Aconex or, or other platforms people have been trying to pull together historical data and understand what it's telling them for a while. So it sounds like you guys sort of streamlined and expanded on that. How, how does the data cause if for somebody listening, their first thought is, wow, that's a lot of, that's a lot of typing. How do people typically get that historical data into a system?
Roz Buick: Yes. So what we're doing with a product like P6 for scheduling, which of course is a legacy product, a pedigree product, and a long-time product for Oracle; you know, we're basically helping to suck that information up into the Construction Intelligence Cloud. So customers can get the benefit from their P6 histories.
And so that, that is, you know, an automated process to be able to put Construction Intelligence Cloud across those applications because we understand them. We build them, we can make that deeper data. We're also trying to position so that as a data platform, you know, we can actually, you know, remain open enabling a common data environment as much as possible.
And that's certainly a goal to be a meaningful player in this industry. Every project is bespoke in terms of its players and, and people, but also its technology choices. So we want to be keeping our data platform open to third parties, which might be field tools or other applications that our customer chooses for their project, so that we can actually bring that information in as well for a customer to be considered, in Construction Intelligence Cloud, and yeah, open APIsas a strategy is absolutely critical to, to I'd say anyone in this industry.
Hugh Seaton: That's just generally technology at this point, which obviously as Oracle, you have unusual exposure outside of just construction, so you can bring some of those ideas and best practices in. Can you talk a little bit about another point you made earlier that I think is really helpful. So one of the problems we see in every industry and construction is definitely one of them where people think their industry is the slowest, dumbest, and least advanced.
And I think analogies, and again, I've seen this in advertising. I've seen this in e-learning, I've seen this in a couple of other places and I don't think construction is, is as unique as it... can think it is, but there's some learning to be done with manufacturing, which in the nineties and into the noughts, you know, made, made a similar sweeping transformation.
What are some, what are some lessons you think we can draw from that process?
Roz Buick: Yeah, I think, you know, if you go back to the lean six Sigma movement, the Toyota way and everything where it sort of started yeah, it's fundamentally measurement and it's, you know, look at the lowest level, but something like lean task planning is certainly an [00:09:00] area we have been active and linking that to CPM scheduling. And of course, how does that translate to the field and the progress in the field?
We built a very interesting innovation lab, which is this amazing project up Illinois, Chicago. And, you know, we used a lot of partner technologies to help sort of fill in where we wanted to capture more data such as a reconstruct or such as you know, IOT, labor, equipment, material tracking type applications, and those things you know, really helped bring in more useful information to the story, but at the end of the day, it's all about capturing that data and sorting it into a meaningful set of patterns or key metrics that you want to measure. Really like a construction money ball. If you've seen the book, read the book, you've seen the movie, you know, "What gets measured, gets managed".
And I think that's the principle of lean six Sigma is it started out in manufacturing. There's now so many amazing technologies evolving in the industry and more money than ever before in construction technology. So I think you know, we're going to see more of that automation of the data capture and the ability to have it be less manual.
Let's say that it might've been historically, particularly in the field. Right. But even in other processes, how supply chains managed, you know, how to connect supply chain more, efficiently, how to connect the obvious sort of things like scope, schedule and budget. And as payments are being made, we have another product called Textura that captures the payment activity between contractors and our owners to contractors.
So understanding the dynamics of the money flow while you're in the project dynamics and comparing that continually against the planned costs as well as of course schedule activity. I think the industry's at this really amazing tipping point, quite frankly, for the ability to be truly you know, precisely managing and measuring itself.
And yeah, I'm super excited about the future. You know, next five, 10 years is a really big shift. The first, I'd say 20 years ago, we got a lot of digital silos created by individual personas, specific software and tools, estimating for estimators, design for designers. And then we moved to sort of this next step- function improvement.
You know, these tools have all helped along the way to improve our productivity, but the next was collaboration and document sharing and file and document proprietary formats often. But you know, the ability to now take it to the next level of really drilling into much more data and deeper insights around the processes and microprocesses on the project.
You know, it's tens of thousands of decisions are happening at once, right? On a project. So how do you keep everybody better orchestrated and synchronize across all those data dynamics, is a really key part of how the industry is going to take this next level. And yeah, data becomes kind of that foundation to that story.
Hugh Seaton: And it's just a harp on this, this Manufacturing analogy, because I'm thinking about how manufacturing companies and beyond that, like when I was at Sony, we had a six Sigma and I was in the marketing team. We had a six Sigma process and the point of it was giving somebody a green belt or a, I think there was an interim and then black belt.
I forgot what the middle one was red belt probably. But the point is that you would do projects that may or may not have had a lot of data. It was the fact that you use data to make decisions. And it was about culture change is at least as much as anything that got actually achieved in the projects.
And I think that there's an interesting analogy here in construction, where you're seeing some of the larger general contractors are doing programs that are often very innovative. I've heard of a lot of innovation programs where they'll do hackathons and they'll do design thinking and this and that, which is lovely.
Cause they're there again, it's culture change, but I wonder if there is a need [00:13:00] for an equivalent in construction where you're saying you can get your, I don't, I think maybe the black belt thing is it's day has come and gone as an idea. But, but you know, something like that where you're getting, you know, people are doing projects that get them used to thinking in a data centered way so that when they're working with the inputs and outputs of something like the intelligence cloud it's just more natural and you can you can understand what to ask of it. I mean, I think the problem with a Cadillac product is people have to know how to, how to appreciate driving it.
Roz Buick: Yeah. It's definitely always an evolution revolution and any industry adopting technology, you know, more and more people retiring and sort of moving out.
We lose a lot of expertise, of course, with those. Experience, you know, 20, 30 years of experience and the decisions are made around that human expert. But, you know, the reality is you bring in new generation thinkers too, and they expect zoom calls to be built, you know, be part of their workflow and their day, or they expect digital tools.
And they're comfortable with information management. I think there's a lot of digital natives of course, and the next generation coming. Who will expect 3d they'll expect multidimensional data to just be at their fingertips. And the, the concept of digital will be natural. And yeah, the, the, the strategy, I think, still comes back to first principles of knowing what does the business want to improve on and the sort of the market leader.
And if I'm really great at structural steel, I need to be sure I'm measuring that and on a path of continuously improving to get THE best at structural steel And I think, yeah, there's an element of management insight and comfort with analytics. You know, the Billy Bean story with the, with the Oakland A's is a great parallel because he came in with a completely different mindset about I'm just going to measure everything on a baseball player and team and come up with the right analytics that defines or predefines the winning players and team. It's changed the whole industry, they all do it now.
Hugh Seaton: Right.
Roz Buick: But I think that's the sort of parallel was that managerial insight that's thinks this way, as well as kind of the next generation too. I think the best examples I've seen of contractors adopting technology have actually put in their organization a team that focuses on training and up-skilling existing employees on the digital workflows that the company is centering around.
I think that's important rather than saying here's the new BIM department with the experts that do BIM that sit in that department and they struggle to communicate outwards to other departments maybe as well as they should. And so just like a classic six Sigma problem, the executive sponsor has to be owning this transformation of how this cross-functional process shift should look.
And you can't leave it up to one department at a time.
Hugh Seaton: I love that. And I think I've heard a number of times that, that when new digital initiatives have happened in some companies, they said, well, the, the VDC guys do stuff like this, and it's probably a faster way to get something off the ground because you do have people that are working in computers all day and they think, but it's also, it almost limits you to saying, well, the geek squad can handle it, but you know, the normal line of business doesn't have to worry about it.
So I, I think your point is if you silo it like that, you're almost, create your you're stopping it from becoming part of the company. You're just keeping it often some skunkworks.
Roz Buick: Yeah, it creates... it alienates people too. I remember I used to love, I didn't love it, but I often hear these stories from an estimator that, "Oh, the BIM guys moved my, you know, HVAC system or my electrical cable ducting and cable six inches, and it changed my cost by six figures".
And you know, just that's that disconnected information I think is going to have to be a thing of the past. And the more the data platforms can bring all kinds of information to the fingertips of the workers. It's going to be expected, like I said, with the next employees, but it's also critical to sort of really empowering more people was the, the data insights going on.
Hugh Seaton: I think there's something in that, you know, we talk about collaboration systems and, you know, giving access to this, the outputs as well as the inputs. And I think there's something there that, that we're just starting to have people appreciate.
Is that value sent back out to the field is a critical part of getting value in right. Is, is how are they seeing the, the analyses this leads to, or the, the, you know, the recommendations or whatever it is. Can you talk a little bit about how you're seeing that.
Roz Buick: Yeah, well, collaboration is key. And it's been said for a long time, probably 15, 10 years now, but certainly you know, I think what's really important in collaboration, there's a real art to it. And as design-build projects become more and more common globally. I think it's, I read a statistic that a 50% of projects in North America in 2021 are going to be design-build, which are fundamentally contracts that encourage this very collaborative approach to the project.
And drives a different set of behaviors, but you need a platform around collaboration that really is obviously open common data environment, but where parties can all come to the table and feel it's fair and equitable. Sounds kind of strange to say that, but it's not one party buying the system and forcing it on the others and owning all the data.
You know, you know, the information rights of an, of an individual player on the project need to be protected so that if you're a sub contractor and you're doing your work, and you're submitting information to this collaboration system, you need to be sure that that doesn't get changed and that your information is intact.
And of course, accurate to how you perform the work it's fundamentally built on trust. And so I think that owners are realizing around the world that this idea of design build is really changing their engagement, their need to be involved more on these whole technology decisions, but that they really want greater partnership and trust between the players.
And, you know, we of course have Aconex, which is really built around these principles and having you know, this idea that whether I'm owner an owner rep, an architect, an engineer, a contract general contractor, or a subcontractor, the system works so that we partner and ensure that the information and sharing of documents is what you have to share or wish to share.
And your information is always kept as intact and accurate as possible. And I think that's a key behavior shift as well.
Hugh Seaton: I love what you said earlier about sort of rights to their digital information. There's an interesting point there, right? Is that not only are they you know, someone like a subcontractor, not worried about things being changed, but I've heard a numberless times where there's concern that I'm entering data you can use against me later.
And I think that the obvious outcome or, or impact of that sort of a feeling is that people are going to only give you what they have to, which can be missing things that can be laddered up to really important insights. So I think that's a really cool way of thinking about it, that, that as, as partners across an ecosystem and data can be, you know, commonplace where, where people see the same picture cause it's, you know, you, you win arguments with graphs faster than you do with, you know,
Roz Buick: you know, it's a great book that Stephen Covey, you know, the father wrote seven habits of highly effective people. And the son wrote a book called the Speed of Trust. It's a great book, but it's basically that principle of, you know, a system that is obviously helping you.
As a project management and collaboration communication tool, but that you can trust it is foundationally critical to help change the way the industry works.
Hugh Seaton: I heard an example of a, of a general contractor that would enter their own data alongside that, of their subcontractors, so that when people would see analyses things of being late or being whatever, whatever the metric was, they said, look, we're on the hook just like you are. I think, I think little thoughtful, little tactics, like that can go a long way towards building trust.
Roz Buick: Yup. The best team wins, right?
Hugh Seaton: Yeah, that's right. And that's kind of, I guess what the point of, of design build and some other delivery systems are supposed to be.
Well so I'd like to kind of take us to the, looking towards the future and broader goals. One of the things we talked about was decarbonization and how a lot of what we just discussed can, can help support that as an idea and as a way to take the industry, how are you viewing that?
Roz Buick: Yeah. You know, I many years ago was doing a PhD that was basically trying to model the real world into a digital form because of acceleration today of all these technologies, the ability to represent the, the physical and the digital model of what you're managing, and therefore monitoring and optimizing is so much easier. And so I think this idea of digital twins of what you're designing and building and how that evolves throughout the actual whole, whole project. It's not just an end point, thing it's a living thing and evolves throughout the project.
It's also the digital, you know, signature, if you like, of, of what the asset is, of course, IOT and the sensors and such come to a level now that you can be monitoring so many aspects of, of the asset with it's, the heating, cooling, you know, energy side of the asset, or it's the flow throughput on a power process, plant or oil and gas, or, you know, Food processing plant the industrial IOT front, all of these assets are really expensive and you want to be preventatively maintaining them.
You want to be on top of the costs operationally, but I think what's really cool about this and the need to really actually save our planet is decarbonization on the acceleration to net zero energy for anything we do. But on building infrastructure and buildings and assets, we have to be thinking about that right upfront, as we design with high-performance buildings, high performance infrastructure, whatever that might look like and, and all the way through the process, thinking about how are we going to decarbonize or reduce the, you know, steel and concrete are big drivers of it and in many cases, but, but all of that process, I think becomes a really key part of the actual design build and operate spectrum. I think ESG on boards is going to help drive the significance of this. From owners to contractors, the topic becomes relevant at the boardroom and I'm optimistic, but say that we've got to accelerate this, but we've, you know, we will tackle this proactively.
And I think you're hearing this coming out now, as you know. And a lot of you know, consulting companies or even white papers in the industry. This is becoming now a real focal point for us. Certainly the world economic forum is, you know, talking about these great resets and how we live and do things going forward.
And I think in construction, that's going to be central. But it comes back down to data. You're capturing attributes, whether it's time series measurements of IOT sensors, or it's some form of attributes around the asset that you want to be continually measuring and monitoring and making sure that we have easy ways to do that as technology providers for operators of facilities or assets.
And that is certainly a key focus for us and yeah, with our common data environment coming through the collaboration process around the project itself and the Construction Intelligence Cloud helping sort of capture the key metrics and measurements across that project itself and feeding that through to the post construction phase.
What's the relevant pieces through all of that signature of digital data capture should be sort of a continuous journey captured as best we can onto the life of the asset.
Hugh Seaton: Taking what we've discussed over the last half an hour or so I think we've kind of started with the idea that as a company, begin with what, what you do and what, and where data and learning about data might help you and then go in and kind of develop the, the actual data that you're going to want to collect, but also we've talked a couple of times here about the, at the ground level. Real people need to appreciate the need for this and be data stewards. Have you seen that, that the data stewardship is a word that comes up with some frequency?
Have you seen people, you know, do internal campaigns that drive that.
Roz Buick: Yeah. I mean, at the end of the day, there's always a persona trying to get a job done. So whatever their workflow is and the KPIs or key performance indicators of what their workers, let's say, it's a superintendent monitoring, earthworks trucks being filled and you know, the earth moving cut and fill across the landscape or it's, you know an estimator and their budget and keeping track of the budget through the life of the project. Those key personas metrics need to be still centered, prioritize for each end user or worker.
I think, but, but I think back to that point about, you know, management C-suite, you know, I do think their role is very important to be able to step up. It doesn't have to be digital as such, but just to know competitively, what's our best practices today in the market place. And how do we capture. That we're really on a path of getting to be the best at that.
And it can be simply a spreadsheet, you know, whiteboard exercise, but, but then most companies have a myriad of digital tools already in place. So standing back from what are we using today and are we able to capture these metrics across all our applications and start to sort of build this data journey?
So I think you have to say it has to have an involvement from both ends senior executive engagement and board engagement, even with some of these topics like ESG, but also down the software vendors have to continue to make sure their products are relevant to the persona experience.
Hugh Seaton: This is, I mean, classic corporate change where the senior leadership says, this is important to us. And here is the strategic kind of direction and imperative that it feeds into that then cascades down through the ranks where each rank translates, what that means for their level and the level below them. But the key thing is it's such a cliche that senior leadership has a great idea and it lasts for six months and then they move on.
I mean, that's not a construction problem. That's in everywhere. IBM used to call it boom, splat. And I at Sony, they used to call it launch and leave, which I always thought was pretty funny.
Roz Buick: Strategy's easy. Execution's the hard part.
Hugh Seaton: And , it takes you, it takes years to filter it all the way down and really change. And I think that's an important outcome from this conversation is for those listening, that is nobody really disputes that data's important. What I think sometimes gets, gets missed as we talk about tactics is the broader picture that when you have powerful tools, like you've described with the Construction Intelligence Cloud and what Aconex has been doing for some years people need to be feeling like those are valuable endpoint tools, but along the way, we're thinking like that.
And we're asking questions and we're, we're asking the software to do the right things for us and asking good questions of the software. So it takes us somewhere other than just tracking.
Roz Buick: Yeah. I mean, if you don't have a clear data strategy and goal around what you're trying to capture here, you can quickly be buried in data, and it's not about all the data and the one with the most data wins.
It's about that surgical precision of what analytics really will make a difference to my business and position me better. And make us a better partner on these projects. You know, I think that's, that's really critical. You know, we've seen a lot of telematics or IOT systems come up with a lot of data over the years, let's say and put it in the cloud nicely, but you really have to be, you know, cautious you don't bury yourself in too much data that you don't know what you're really wanting to track.
Hugh Seaton: I love the fact that we started this with data strategy and we brought it full circle. Roz. Thank you for, thank you for your time. This has been great.
Yeah, you're welcome. You have been great to chat with you and I really appreciate the opportunity.