Indestructible. It is what the trades have always been, are today and will continue to be in the future. I love the power that word communicates. It sends a message of strength and optimism.
Over the 3 days of MEP Force this year, we unpacked the relevance of the word to describe the MEP trades in detail. I was fortunate to be joined by an incredible panel (Amy Peck of EndeavorVR, Jake Olsen of DADO and James Simpson of eVolve MEP) at the end of each of the days to recap the themes, topics and trends that were sparked during the conference.
One takeaway from the first day of MEP Force 2021 was that company culture is key to being indestructible. The attitudes of individuals and their buy-in to technology adoption directly contribute to the company’s outcomes. Also important is a solid strategy for collecting and analyzing data.
Amy indicated that the old habit of being in a reactive mode when facing change could be better focused on using technology for collaboration to keep the industry moving forward together. She applauded the trades for their “indomitable spirit,” where technology and humanity can merge.
Jake summarized that a majority of companies in the industry have maintained an agile work ethic, finding new ways to do things when they must, although he admitted, it can appear to be a slow trend. Nevertheless, trade contractors have the ingenuity and the will to continue producing jobs. James added that companies have been resilient for a long time and have demonstrated genuine creativity. My view is that, now more than ever, MEP firms need to be involved from the early stages of construction projects.
When it comes to business trends, Dan McCarthy (MEP Force’s Day 1 Keynote) reminded us that managers should ask themselves, “Do you know that or do you think that?” Gathering and analyzing data is a way to find out. Amy summarized, “What are we trying to accomplish? What do we care about?” Through analysis, you can either prove yourself right or wrong.
There is so much data available now on jobs, a plan to use it needs to be formulated. Amy said, “Data is meaningless unless you have a perspective.” Because data is a two-way street, companies will need to rely on data analysis to make sense of it. Although companies are collecting interactions with no perspective on what it will be used for, that will change. “It’s got to tell a story,” she said. “There’s got to be meaning behind it.” It’s time to make the data more mature, usable and flexible.
For instance, Jake suggested data can be framed in terms of a problem a company is trying to solve: What business question do you want to answer? Companies that collect the data now will need it in the future in ways they can’t currently imagine.
The core message, according to James, is to be intentional about the tech you’re using and make it work for you. Implementing the wrong tech, or implementing it incorrectly, can cause debt and feature bloat that can be overwhelming. Let’s be realistic, no one uses 100% of the features of a tool. A specialist may be needed on staff solely for implementation and management. Jake added that companies need to have a purposeful plan for success, including the financial resources and commitment. He said, “Playing around [with new software] never works.”
There was a recurring theme during the day around attracting the right fit of the next generation to job openings. Amy suggested companies let potential employees know they are tech-forward and further exhibit an honest culture. Since the new workforce is attracted to technology, Jake reminded, “Consumer tech becomes construction tech.” Amy agreed, recalling that “mobile devices went from day-to-day tools and became ubiquitous at work.”
People had to embrace technology as it expanded over the past 18 months. It turned out to not be as scary as some might have thought. One of those daunting topics has been standardization, but not to worry. As it was discussed in the Industrialized Construction breakout session, parts can be standardized in a scalable way – it may not be a perfect part, but it can be one that has a range of possibilities.
The theme of the second day of MEP Force 2021 involved companies embracing disruption and upgrading the way they accomplish projects.
Amy suggested companies need to embrace disruption and rethink their attitude about innovation. As she put it, if you’ve got an arcane setup now, you need to be thinking about how you’re going to transition to a newer system. Of that transition, Jake suggested that companies align themselves with a software partner that is not in danger of getting disrupted itself: “Be sure to ask the right questions about overarching strategy.” It’s important that the customer get the best product, and the eVolve MEP Lighthouse Project was cited as a good example of getting customer feedback on software development.
Jake lamented that it seems we are still working on trying to achieve a “single source of truth” a decade after the concept was introduced by Autodesk. There seem to be too many ways to create data silos today. Amy agreed, saying, “We don’t live in a time when there is a single source of truth.” Companies need to maintain fluidity in their use of data. Contractors are living with what they have in place. As Amy said, “There’s no magic bullet.”
The takeaways on the third day of MEP Force 2021 included the conundrum of dealing with supply chain price and availability fluctuations. In addition, knowledge capture may be a way that companies can deal with the looming labor shortage as baby-boomers retire.
Reflecting on breakout sessions, Jake pointed out that inventory management and optimizing purchasing have become critical for the industry. Often it’s the little things can cause the biggest issues on a job, i.e. . things are hard-specified in a contract but can’t be procured due to shortages. He said these situations “could result in legal precedents being established.”
Supply chain problems have a ripple effect. Building information modeling can help because the more detail that can be put into the model, the more visibility that can be gained into the supply/demand of materials on the project. Jake also suggested that the global computer chip shortage may be with us longer than other materials issues.
I got to be part of a panel breakout session that reached the conclusion that a public relations campaign for the industry would be helpful, where companies tell their stories. It would be the campaign to make construction cool again to the public, because as Amy reminded, “People who are in it love it.”
Once companies attract new talent, knowledge capture is important for bringing those new employees up to speed. Perhaps that could involve using wearable technology to record how the existing expert does the job.
While companies must think about profits, it’s also important to develop a strategy to optimize processes for long-term business viability. If you don’t do that when the times are good, then you won’t be able to react fast enough when the down times come.
If you were part of MEP Force 2021, make sure to take time to view the classes you may have missed OnDemand. Looking forward to seeing everyone next year for MEP Force 2022!