Thoughts on construction law from Christopher G. Hill, Virginia construction lawyer, LEED AP, mediator, and member of the Virginia Legal Elite in Construction Law

Construction May Begin with Documents, but It Shouldn’t End That Way

Rob Mathewson, GeedraFor this week’s Guest Post Friday here at Musings, we welcome back Rob Mathewson. In his role as CEO, Rob handles strategy and partnerships for Geedra in addition to overseeing technology architecture and implementation. He has spent twenty years in sales and marketing management roles with experience in industrial, consumer and construction markets. Rob believes the construction industry is ripe for innovation, based on its massive size, yet low productivity. Even with such inefficiencies, a building still rises from the ground. Rob’s goal with Geedra is to leverage technology to increase transparency and communication so that projects can be completed with less risk, effort and cost. Prior to founding Geedra, Rob was the Chief Marketing Officer for Construction Documentation Services, where he was responsible for sales, marketing and business development. He spent 15 years in the chemical distribution business, including eleven years as the Northwest Branch Manager of a $50 million distributor. Rob was the founder and CEO for On The Spot Games, a board game startup. He is currently in the midst of a streak of over 2,900 consecutive days without a bad hair day.

An avid mentor himself, his own business inspirations come from problem solvers like Dean Kamon, innovative communicators like Seth Godin, fierce competitors like Lance Armstrong and global gurus like Thomas Friedman. When he’s not creating innovations in the construction industry, his passions include bike riding, throwing the ball around with his kids, and cooking. He is an accomplished public speaker and is a past president of Emerald City Toastmasters. Rob holds a B.S. in Manufacturing Engineering from Boston University and a MBA from Seattle University.

Construction folks are a focused bunch. Once a contractor signs a deal for a project, its team will immediately get to work generating and then executing a construction document set. For the entire duration of the schedule to follow, the construction team eats, sleeps and dreams about those documents. Their monomaniacal efforts continue until a building rises up from a patch of dirt in a matter of months.

Though, when the dust clears on a project, the typical team is ill-prepared for what happens next. As the owner’s team shifts their attention from the project to their shiny new building, the construction team is presented with a harsh reality; their beloved document set loses relevance with each passing day. A condition that I’ll call “Contractor’s Remorse” sets in, as the team hands off a document set that is destined for a (virtual) dusty file cabinet, hardly to be looked at again. Why? In reality no one on the owner’s team has the time, capability or wherewithal to make heads or tails out of much of the document set. To put it more plainly, facilities managers don’t do BIM!

However, it doesn’t need to be this way. If a contractor’s team can extend their value horizon beyond a building’s warranted life to include its entire usable life, then they might realize that their opaque document set cannot deliver value to an owner or anyone else within a building’s ecosystem. Changes are necessary in order to retool construction docs so that they can both support a building’s continuing operation as well as its construction.

Construction May Begin with Documents, but It Shouldn't End That WayThere are several areas in which contractors can offer improvements from the status quo. Such improvements will provide the owner of the building blocks of information that can provide long-term utility for an owner’s organization. I’ll discuss one example in this post with more to come in the future

(Note – I welcome others to contribute their own examples of improvements that contractors can offer for the benefit of others in the Building Ecosystem.) To start, let’s consider my favorite medium; construction photos.

Construction photos traditionally have been used for reporting project progress, recording as-built conditions and, as readers of this blog know all to well, provide evidence for claims resolution. Recently with the advent of smart phones, photos have become essential for in-project communications between the project team and off-site players including designers, consultants and inspectors. Digital images are also a powerful way to convey processes (e.g. “How to install flashing”), record events (weather, accidents, etc.) and a variety of other applications. Once the owner occupies a building, photos can continue to play an important role in supporting building operations by adding value to many operational areas including maintenance, marketing and security to name just a few.

Think of the benefits to an owner and all others in the building’s ecosystem, if the owner’s team had easy, searchable access to a full archive of photos that conveyed the entire history of a building. The overall reduction in risk and associated cost savings would be significant and just the tip of the iceberg when considering the many economic benefits.

The key to realizing these benefits sits in a contractor’s hands, if only they would stop burying their photos within their existing document sets and instead, organize photos using more accessible system that an owner could adopt and continue to utilize indefinitely. Currently the most popular systems for project photo storage utilize a Cloud-based document storage solution (Dropbox, Sharepoint, etc.) that organizes photos in date-coded folders. Such archives can include tens of thousands of photos that offer little contextual information for people outside the construction team. While there have been some recent innovations that enable contractors to map photos on blueprints, or integrate them with BIM models, these solutions are an extension of the construction document set and add little value for those outside the construction team.

An alternative solution should offer these qualities at a minimum:

  • Cloud storage with secure access through an admin.
  • A searchable index that enables photo searches using common terms (e.g. Room #, Level or standardized keywords)
  • Multiple input methods for new photos (mobile phone apps, server imports, etc.)
  • A way to connect photos to construction documents, maintenance records, property management systems and other relevant operations.

If a contractor were use a system that offered this characteristics, it would make the end-of-project handoff a much more rewarding experience for the owner and the owner’s organization would be much more likely to adopt and add value to the existing photo data set for the life of the building.

As always, Rob and I welcome your comments below. Please subscribe to keep up with this and other Guest Post Fridays at Construction Law Musings.

Construction May Begin with Documents, but It Shouldn't End That Way
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