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 This is the fourth in a series of sit-down interviews with ABC’s Vice President of Construction Technology and Innovation Matt Abeles. Discover where the industry stands on a variety of technologically focused topics at the height of current events.  

 Construction Executive: What, to you, is the purpose of labor and productivity tracking?
Matt Abeles: What you’re seeing right now is a shift in construction where everyone is trying to understand data more closely and increase profitability via understanding of that data. And now, more than ever, there is an opportunity to understand more insights on your data. So, with labor tracking and understanding productivity, even simple things can assist with a look toward the long-term return on your investment. 

CE: Is labor and productivity tracking a niche part of increasing profitability or a critical part?
MA: It’s a critical part. To really track all of your field data as it relates to time and materials, as well as being able to access that information, is really helpful for your margins. If I had to boil it down, it’s getting real-time visibility into how healthy your projects are. Timing in and timing out is one part of it, but you also have to log that against: What’s needed for a project? What is the production of those people on a project? Does everyone have the right certifications on a project?

A lot of this relates to your workforce. 

CE: You’re saying labor and productivity isn’t as simple as how much time is spent. It also involves certifications and equipment. 
MA: Correct—but you have to take it a step further to really get the most out of it. The more data you can gather on your jobsite, the more insights you have. There are technologies, such as Riskcast, that allow companies to see these insights. Some focus on job costing or large equipment. But making sure you get the most out of your working people, working equipment—that’s really the big thing here.

Being able to look at day-over-day, week-over-week and month-over-month to not only predict what will happen, but maximize the efforts of your people and equipment is where the industry is going right now. 

CE: We’ve talked about AR, VR, robotics, etc.—and all of those have at least some kind of hardware component. Is tracking technology solely software-oriented or are there hardware components that assist?
MA: When it comes to equipment, you do need “Internet of Things” devices on that equipment to track it. That could be a QR code that goes on the equipment to provide geofencing, a beacon or a tracker, but you need some sort of hardware to track your assets. Similarly, when it comes to tracking people, having badges in most cases, or even using a cellphone would be appropriate hardware. 

CE: In terms of the software aspect, what types of products are at the forefront of this technology segment?
MA: Field Control Analytics is one good company; myComply is another. The nice thing with a group like either of those is that you’re getting more than just productivity numbers—you gain an understanding of the jobsite and what type of diversity you have, which is increasing in importance nowadays.

For companies to see everything from minority status to gender to veteran status to a trade status on a jobsite, then see current, weekly labor hours versus average hours per worker—all of this plays a role and helps contractors to properly budget, understand how many workers are needed and account for future scenarios. 

CE: How has this technology changed during the pandemic?
MA: A lot of companies are embracing technology in ways they might not have before, and many of these solutions are adding a component that is necessary for the jobsite to keep moving forward. You get data for everything from workhours to onsite headcounts and tracking workers with COVID-19 symptoms. That’s a big part of labor tracking today. For example, Field Control Analytics updates in real time to ensure that anyone onsite is able to validate being symptom-free.

A lot of tech companies are adapting and adding pieces on the front end to make jobsites and workers safer, of course, but the backend has also been updated with tracing protocols in case something does occur. 

CE: How effective are these labor tracking technologies in the field?
MA: Right now, a lot of the bigger companies are using this type of technology; but it’s being explored by some of the small and mid-sized companies. 

CE: What do you think about these technology companies making the choice to welcome integration, even with competitors?
MA: The technologies I mentioned earlier all integrate with Procore. MyComply integrates with both Procore and Autodesk. And that’s just because the reporting of detailed workhours is becoming more important.

No one has only one app on their cell phone and no one uses just one technology. These companies do a good job of project management, as well as data collection, worker insights and even site access controls. Integrating with a company like that is a win-win for everybody. 

CE: Has there been any issues with labor and productivity tracking causing contention with the workforce itself?
MA: When some of the solutions first came out five or six years ago, a lot of workers may have been skittish. But now, the current workforce understands that the norm is being responsible for your productivity. On the one hand, it shows flaws. But on the other, it more easily rewards people for good work.

And right now, workers are just happy to get on a jobsite and figure out the new COVID-19 protocols. From what I can see, jobsites may get a little more restrictive. People will want more hours onsite—especially if you have a good company culture. 

CE: So, the technology has staying power as well as a short-term future?

MA: People are getting used to it. And the industry has work to do in terms of attracting the younger generation—who are used to tracking everything. It’s a trend that is going to continue in that direction. 

CE: Would you say the industry is making strides in this arena?
MA: More companies are involved in technology for tracking equipment and employees because productivity is such a big deal. And companies that aren’t embracing data get hurt—like small companies that are fragile because their whole CRM “system” is their CEO’s inbox. The idea of keeping as much data as possible, live on the site and stored in the back office, is becoming critical for big companies and small-sized contractors alike. 

CE: Is there a tracking trend that you’re most excited about?
MA: When it comes to the small equipment side of things, their equipment is getting smarter and safer while the larger equipment is getting more efficient. They are cognizant of the excess and extra idle equipment that companies had in the past. This is a vital piece for equipment. 

CE: What is the return on investment for this technology?
MA: I don’t think the costs are too extreme. If you use this the right way, then you will be a more profitable business. It’s a question of if you’re ready to embrace a new technology. I have yet to hear of a company embracing this kind of mentality and technology without a successful ROI or increase to profit margins.

 

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