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How These 4 Atlanta Construction Executives Embrace Innovation

As technology is changing the building industry at a rapid rate, today’s construction executives need to embrace innovation more so than ever. Nevertheless, according to a KPMG study of construction and engineering CIOs, only 48% report that their company has developed a data and technology strategy or roadmap. 

However, there are construction executives who are on the leading edge when it comes to creating a business strategy for technology and innovation to prosper. On October 1, at the PlanGrid Roadshow in Atlanta at the Georgia Aquarium, we will be hosting a panel with top construction professionals who are advancing the industry forward. This executive panel session will include discussions on the state of construction today, barriers to technology adoption, measuring ROI and how to standardize technology across organizations. Speakers include:

  • Zack Poole, Vice President & General Counsel, J.R. Hobbs Co. 
  • Kelsey Stein, National Preconstruction Technology Manager, Skanska
  • Jason Waddell, Director of Construction Technology Development, Batson-Cook Construction
  • Tony Taylor, President/Owner, Engineering Design Technologies, Inc. 

There are still a few seats left for the Atlanta Roadshow. Don’t miss out on a full day of sessions, keynotes and training, in addition to hearing more from the executives above. 

Register NOW

Curious to learn more about how these executives got to where they are today? Ahead of their Atlanta panel discussion, we had an opportunity to learn more about how Zach, Kelsey, Jason and Tony think about creating an innovation strategy for their companies to prosper. Read on to learn more.   

How did you end up in your current position? 

Zack: I am a lawyer by trade. I spent around eight years working as an attorney for a private practice before I was contacted about an opportunity to work in-house for the parent company of J.R. Hobbs. I considered it an attractive opportunity. At that time, I didn’t have anything to do with their IT strategy and the company was still a novice with technology use in general.

In 2017, J.R. Hobbs was purchased by another private equity interest holder. In purchasing J.R. Hobbs, their strategy was to grow the business and to raise the level of sophistication in the services that were offered. Part of that included an investment in new technologies. It was one fateful day, at an executive meeting that our CEO turned to me and said, “Why don’t you do IT?” So that’s how I came to be responsible for this element of the business. It has become one of the more interesting enjoyable parts of my role at J. R. Hobbs.

Jason: I was always interested in technology. I went to college for computer science in my first year. Since I worked in construction and did a lot of hands-on type of stuff outside, I realized I didn’t want to sit in front of a computer all day. I ended up switching to construction management. 

I went into construction as an estimator. I was always trying to do better and be more efficient. Because of that mindset, I began implementing new technology. I started with onscreen takeoff technology. I bought it, implemented it and trained my team. Within six months, I was bored and thought, “There’s got to be a way to be better.” I started researching and got into Revit. I was modeling my own jobs, and then I’d estimate them–this was 15 years ago. 

I ended up switching to a new company because I was able to estimate from the models so efficiently. I implemented that process across the company. Eventually, it evolved into a pre-con role and then BIM. 

I’ve been at Batson-Cook for almost six years now. Since my first day on the job, we invested significantly in software because we’re growing the department. Ironically, I now sit in front of a computer all day, but I enjoy what I do.

Tony: I’ve been in the industry for 25 years. I worked for 15 years with a leading firm, Parsons, ultimately becoming a vice president sector manager with them in Georgia. I had the opportunity to work on multibillion-dollar programs throughout the United States with the company. This gave me a good deal of exposure to very large projects and programs, and I saw firsthand how important it was to have a technology to aid you, not only in your design but also in the recordation of information. 

About 10 years ago, I joined EDT, a fully integrated design-build firm, much smaller than Parsons.

We boast over 240 employees company-wide, and we are listed in the top 100 black-owned enterprises in the nation. This growth has been in part due to our ability to properly use technology to build more precisely and work more productively. 

How do you determine the value of new technology at your company? 

Kelsey: At Skanska, right now, we have several key initiatives that we’re rolling out within the pre-construction department to help increase our efficiency. The struggle with technology is that you have to prove yourself every time you implement something new or make a change. The main reason why we’ve been successful is that we’ve had some critical small wins. We are continually experimenting and doing R&D and can show success in specific and concentrated ways. This helps us to convert one person and one project at a time. By kindling this conversation internally, we’ve been able to find continued success. 

Zack: You can come up with a theory about how technology is going to operate and save money.

But at the end of the day, if your employees can’t use the technology – that is, it’s not easy and reliable for them, it’s a waste because your team won’t use it.

Making technology usable for people in the field is a key element for us when deciding on technology-based solutions.

Tony: We focus on how specific technology is going to help us as a company. Right now, for me, the three most significant value propositions are increased collaboration, better coordination and enhanced quality. If technology can help EDT achieve these three things, we want to embrace it right away. 

Jason: First, we focus on showcasing the ROI of technology. For instance, when using BIM 360, Autodesk helped us create a presentation for our upper management about how much we can save. With that, it was easy for us to show them the value. The software also ended up speaking for itself–people immediately saw the value. We had our superintendents in the field telling our upper management that it was a great application. If we can prove there’s a benefit and our team will use it, that’s an immediate win. 

Where is your company looking to grow with technology in the future?

Zack: We’ve laid a lot of great groundwork over the past two years with the number of jobs we’ve taken on and the number of people on our team, in addition to the new technology that we’ve taken on. Over the next year, our focus is being able to integrate these new systems and to internalize them as part of the culture here at J.R. Hobbs. 

Kelsey: We’re looking to create a more cohesive platform and ecosystem for all of our technology. Ultimately, we want everything that we adopt to integrate seamlessly, instead of our employees needing to go through 15 different software platforms. That’s definitely where we’re headed. It’s something that will save us time and money, in addition to adding more value for our pre-construction services.

Tony: We have invested in various technologies common to the engineering, architecture and construction environment.  I see our future growth with technology involving more training, acceptance and the use of these tools by our staff.  The integration of these tools into the daily workflow of our employees will be vital to recognizing the full benefits of these investments.

The panelists will be sharing more thoughts on technology, strategy and the future of the industry at the Atlanta Roadshow on October 1 at the Georgia Aquarium. If you’re based in Atlanta, you don’t want to miss this informative day of sessions, keynotes and training. Register today!

Register NOW

Further Reading:  10 Incredible Construction Photos You Need to See: Announcing the 5th Annual Axe Contest Winners

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