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Expert Viewpoints on Facilities Tech from Eveart Foster of BuiltWorlds

March 3, 2022

Technology and innovation are coming for the construction and facilities management industries like never before. From IoT roofing systems to virtual reality headsets, new tools are providing more data and more efficiency to construction firms, building owners, and facility managers.

AkitaBox Co-founder Josh Lowe sat down with BuiltWorlds’ Director of Technology Adoption Eveart Foster for a frank discussion about the current facilities tech landscape, roadblocks to tech adoption, and what the future looks like.

What Tech Will Have the Biggest Impact on Facilities Management?

Blockchain and NFTs may sound like science fiction, but Eveart provides some real-world examples of how these concepts could improve the industry.

Josh: I think you see leading edge technologies being adopted in the construction industry that trickle into facility management. So I look at construction as a leading indicator for where FM is headed. And so I’m curious, just generally, to understand what technologies you think are going to have the biggest impact.

Eveart: With asset management and facilities management, I think there’s an obvious opportunity to keep the as-built record alive. A building should not only exist in real life –  it should also exist digitally at all times. Everything in the model should have a receipt on it. It should have a submittal tied to it. It should have the entire history of everything that went into the decision in the actual implementation in the building. So the full history of everything.

There’s so much data that goes into building just one building. Right now, I’m in River North Chicago in a 39-story building. It probably cost around $300 million to build it, not including the air rights and the permits that they had to spend money on. So there’s this physical asset that hopefully is around for at least 100 years. It will change ownership and change debt cycles, but the building won’t change, nor will all the people who ever built it and their records. So this data has to live somewhere. It has to be accessible at all times to the facilities management team and to any of the people with the mortgage or lease on the building.

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Some of these older builds in Chicago just have drawings that are completely out of date. But I think going forward for new construction, we have laser scanners, we have reality capture method, we have paper trails for miles either stored in someone’s email, at a company’s File Explorer, or in the cloud. Where I see a massive opportunity is leveraging technology that didn’t exist commercially 10 years ago: blockchain and non fungible tokens (NFTs), specifically, for allowing the submittal process to be tied to what I would consider a distributed ledger that can be uninterrupted forever. What I mean is, no matter who owns the building, they can see the paper trails of everything that went into that project, for example:

  • Who created the actual drywall
  • Who shipped the drywall
  • Who installed the drywall
  • The warranty on it
  • All the insurance claims that have ever existed for the building’s materials and product

All of that can be orchestrated in security through blockchain technology. People hear the word blockchain and think it’s a magical world filled with numbers and letters all over the place. But it’s just a framework that allows for, example, one piece of paperwork to be accessible by multiple parties. No one party owns it, or has to email it. This is where I think there’s a lot of opportunity.

Why Organizations are Hesitant to Adopt New Technology

With so many exciting tech solutions out there, why are organizations sticking to the way they’ve always done things? The answer is more nuanced than you might think.
Eveart: Collectively, a lot of solutions are hammers looking for nails. They’re solutions begging for a problem instead of problems begging for a solution. Which is why there’s so many different solution providers that overlap each other. Look at LIDAR and reality capture. There’s like nine or 10 different competitors you could use that do similar core product delivery. Now it’s starting to be so crowded with options that it’s really hard to even tell the differences between them.

There’s also the data that you have coming in from these solutions. You can have your executive team managing different datasets from either the asset itself or the financial aspects of project delivery. Really you can look at anything that you want to slice and dice because there’s so many different data sets coming in. I think there has to be Darwinism naturally built into adoption of technology that requires a really good user experience. Even in my previous roles, user experience was worth more than the functionality of the technology itself.Improving Compliance and Risk Management in Facilities_Newsletter CTA-1

Josh: To me, the Darwinism of it is what’s keeping people from going all in on technology. The idea that some of these solutions are going to die is keeping a lot of people standing around the edges of the ring to see who wins the fight. This can actually be detrimental to the technology adoption itself. Are we running the risk of losing good technologies simply because people are afraid of the longevity of any one of these companies

Eveart: On the topic of Darwinism built into a lot of tech adoption and the hesitancy around not wanting to be the first mover –  that has changed how technology in construction gets adopted. Instead of trying to organically grow your user base using cold calls and pitching to any contractor who’ll take your technology, now I’m seeing technology providers only focus on the top contractors. Get one top contractor to try your product and the proof of concept can be displayed to other top contractors. I relate it to having a celebrity endorse your product so that other celebrities and other people will adopt it too.

Big companies like STO Building Group, DPR Construction, and Pepper Construction are the gatekeepers of technology that everyone else uses. If you can get some of these top contractors to demo a product, put your logo on their website, or even do a case study with you, that’s gold. That gives other contractors the confidence to do a demo or a pilot – or even potentially sign a contract. Technology solution providers are shooting for early adoption among these big influential companies so they tell everyone else what a great product it is. It’s a herd mentality.

Overcoming Hurdles to Tech Adoption

Researching, testing, and implementing a new tool may seem overwhelming, but there are a few things you can learn from how the big guys do it.

Eveart: Before you adopt anything, you have to find room for it in the budget. You also need to predict the ROI of the technology. Then you have to put together an internal adoption plan that implements the technology in the shortest amount of time. Some solutions, like a 360-degree camera, take maybe a day. Then you look at other solutions that take an entire organization multiple years to adopt, like a payment management system, construction administration system, or anything with construction documents.

It takes a lot of effort to decide and collectively agree that your company is going to adopt a new way of doing things. But there are ways to make it easier. You can adopt the new solution in stages. You can do careful planning around the adoption, and you can get executive buy-in that supports the execution phase.

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I was talking to a colleague recently and I asked him if tech adoption is coming from the top or from the bottom. He said it’s coming from the bottom, it’s coming from the field. At his particular company, they collectively do pulse checks to see what areas of project delivery tech could be improved. They actually break down their innovation team into areas of technology, like advanced machinery, pre construction tech, and field solution tech.

So they have these different categories where they’re actually getting feedback loops from the product teams. Of course that’s the luxury of being a multi-billion dollar organization. But that’s why they’re the leaders in adoption, because they have an actual method for adopting technology that smaller contractors may not have.

Innovation Finally Comes for FCAs

If the first thing that comes to mind when you think about a facility condition assessment is “ugh,” this section is for you. New approaches and tools are completely overhauling the FCA – and turning it into something valuable and useful.

Josh: We’ve talked about areas in the industry that are un-innovated or under-innovated. I think FCAs are one of those areas. We assume an FCA will result in more construction work or a design project, but firms are just giving it away. It also has a reputation of being low value because it’s obsolete as soon as it’s finished.

That’s why AkitaBox is innovating around that right now. It’s ripe for disruption because no technology company has touched it. Firms are still using Excel for FCAs. In fact, I actually ran into a top-20 contractor that still uses paper forms in the field and puts them into a digital format when they get back to the office. That shocked me. So we want to push the envelope in that space and create new tools.

We think it’s a great place for us to focus because it bridges that gap between the AEC and construction industries and what owners need for solid budget planning. A good FCA deliverable gets contractors, architects, and engineers engaged with their clients in a meaningful way. It positions them as a trusted partner.

A lot of the folks you talk to from a construction project management perspective are doing FCAs somewhere in their company. Where do you think there’s opportunity for innovation that’s adaptable and that people will want to implement?

Eveart: For FCAs in particular, we need to look at the current common practices and deliverables across condition assessments and identify where incremental changes can be made in the workflow.

An example of that is a company we’re working with called T2D2. It’s an external facilities assessment tool that captures photos and data of the exterior of your building and creates a model. Then using AI, it detects problem areas in your façade. This massively cuts down the time someone would have to spend to go around the building and physically assess it. Technologies like these that enable you to spend less time doing something – those are the tools we’re going to see being adopted.

Something that could really disrupt facilities in the next couple of years is getting that digital twin accurate. A dependable digital twin relies less on what was designed and more on what’s actually in your building. From there, you can continue benchmarking your digital twin every year. Think about it like this. Going to see your doctor or dentist every year prevents major health issues from popping up. It’s the same with facilities. By maintaining the accuracy of your digital twin, you’re going to prevent long-term asset claims or risks to your buildings.

Josh: You want to keep your finger on the pulse of your building. Plus, you need to see the changes that come from a failed compliance inspection or from spending too much maintenance time on a specific asset. We’re working on changing the approach to facilities management from a lifecycle and condition-based approach to a risk-based one that’s based on constant data input from your buildings.

Eveart: Speaking of better data collection within facilities, I’m seeing that at some point in the future, there’s going to be an expectation that most products in the physical environment need to be connected or readable products (like IoT).

That’s going to create a lot of useful data. Ultimately, we need to get all these data points into some type of dashboard for the owner that can tie into cash flow and that can predict the probability of an issue arising. These are all just math equations that can tell the building owner how much an asset could cost and what it is costing right now.

Pro Tip: Lean Into What Makes You Unique

No insightful conversation is complete without a life lesson or two. Eveart opened up about leveraging his differences to his advantage in the building and facilities industries.

Eveart: Nearly 100% of the time, I’m the only black person in the room in conferences, calls, events, meetings, etc. Since I physically look different from everybody else, I actually leverage that fact by making myself stand out even more. I don’t try to fit in. Instead, I raise my hand if I don’t know the answer. I make myself uncomfortable by always asking questions and never acting like I know what people are talking about. In doing so, I’ve discovered that other people often didn’t understand what was being said or didn’t know a meaning or acronym.

Always asking questions allowed me to get more information from people who normally weren’t pushed to share more information. That, in turn, equipped me to innovate. And from there, I was getting into Crain’s Chicago Business magazine and Building Design + Construction magazine’s 40 under 40. Those opportunities exposed me to thought leaders and executives looking for fresh ideas.

My background isn’t in construction, it’s mechanical engineering. I came into this industry as an outsider – and I’ve stayed something like an outsider with my ideas, because it’s helped me make changes in the way that project delivery is done.

What Do You Think?

A big thank you to Eveart for sharing his perspectives with us! Now it’s your turn. What technology do you think is going to shake up facilities management? Have you faced challenges in adopting new tools in your organization? Tell us about it in the comments below.

You can also check out how AkitaBox is bringing innovation to the humble facilities condition assessment.

Click to Learn More About AkitaBox Facility Condition Assessment Software

Betsy Francoeur

Betsy is AkitaBox's Content Manager. She loves to write blog posts, e-books, whitepapers, emails, and magazine articles about all things facilities management. She also enjoys traveling, running 5ks, and cuddling with her dog.

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Expert Viewpoints on Facilities Tech from Eveart Foster of BuiltWorlds

March 3, 2022
Betsy Francoeur

Betsy is AkitaBox's Content Manager. She loves to write blog posts, e-books, whitepapers, emails, and magazine articles about all things facilities management. She also enjoys traveling, running 5ks, and cuddling with her dog.

Subscribe to the AkitaBox Blog

Be the first to receive the latest in facility management information, trends, and thought leadership