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Access Answers: Episode 15

CII-CURT 2021 with Angela Tilton

Access Answers: Episode 15

Angela Tilton, Manager of Engineering & Construction Information, joins Access Answers to talk about her experience at CII-CURT 2021, share innovations in the industry, and discuss challenges facing the workforce.

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Episode 15: CII-CURT 2021 with Angela Tilton

Julia:

Welcome to our 15th episode of Access Answers. I’m your host, Julia Vergara, along with Angela O’Pry, and our podcast guest is one of our employees out in Oregon. We have had the pleasure of meeting for the first time in person this past month.

Angela O:

So, of course, anyone else with the name Angela I will be super excited to meet in person and have as our podcast guest. So, welcome Angela! She is our Manager of Engineering and Construction Information and yes, she does live in Oregon, but we were able to meet her, finally.

Angela T:

Thank you, Angela. Love the Angela parties. Always a winning team.

Angela O:

Yes. So, we recently had the opportunity to attend a conference, which was the first one since COVID, by the way, down in Orlando for the Joint CII and CURT Conference. So CII is the Construction Industry Institute, and they are forming an alliance with CURT, the Construction Users Round Table. So we had an opportunity for presentations by researchers, by fabulous speakers, certainly learned a lot. And I think today we’re excited to share some takeaways. So, first question right off the bat, what was your top takeaway, Angela?

Angela T:

Top takeaway, people are hard to find. People are hard to retain. It’s only going to get worse.

Julia:

That was definitely a big theme throughout.

Angela O:

The labor shortage, and not only just finding qualified workers, but the generational impact to the whole industry. Right? So finding the younger workers is a challenge. So you do a lot of interviewing and hiring of our employees to work with you there in Oregon. Do you sense that? Are you feeling the shortage in your world?

Angela T:

I have felt it probably for the past five plus years. It’s been increasingly hard to fill our positions. Partially I thought it was just the way our company and our teams ramp up. And when they ramp up, they’re using everyone in the pool, but it’s really eye opening to see that it’s a much bigger issue.

Julia:

So, I guess for some context for the audience, can you explain a little bit about, I guess your role with Access Sciences and a little bit about what we do specifically at the site you’re at out in Oregon?

Angela T:

Sure. Basically we manage facilities models for our client. It’s in a variety of platforms, CAD, Revit, CADworks, all things that don’t quite speak the same language, but as projects are looking for the most efficient path. They accept whatever the project teams can be most efficient at, even though that may not be efficient for us owning and managing those for the operations of the site long term. So part of our challenge is looking at the potential problems that will come with whatever new innovation comes out there. So we manage many sites, many buildings, many, many processes, and many, many, many, many players come through us. And they all have different perspectives of what the best practices are and the best approach will be. And projects always want to save time and money. And the first thing to go is the standards around the CAD and the processes that we need to maintain for the client.

Angela O:

Yeah. So I think that context is great for the audience to have, and I’ve certainly learned a lot more specifically about what you do through our conversations. And the platforms that you just mentioned were AutoCAD, Revit and CADworks. So, tell us about how those three systems are different and what are the pros and cons or is it common, I should ask, for people to have all three of them?

Angela T:

All three of them and more. So, although I mentioned a couple of the major players, competing softwares, there’s dozens more. And they all have different pros and cons that the construction field likes to leverage depending on their discipline or their expertise. And so while one program may have very detailed stress analysis and one may have a better graphics and visibility for highlighting details, right? Each company under the contract can choose within those what is most efficient to them to deliver their product. It’s usually an oversight or not a concern of how one group can consume and manage all of those without the expertise of the dozens of platforms that the skilled workforce is using.

So there comes our problem solving and our research and our reverse engineering to try to figure out what was done, how it was done, and how it can work in our system so that we can manage all of the data or as much of the data as we can get pulled over from one platform into another. Because interoperability between the programs is one of the things we struggle with the most. Maybe we can link the files together and give visibility, but we lose metadata. Maybe we can link it together and we get all the metadata, but the graphics just will not show. So, depending on the different setups, the way the things were modeled, the way things were built, the programs that were used, it’s quite mixed bag of which problems we’re going to have to tackle.

And we know the inconsistency is one of the hardest things to battle. If it was always the same problem, we would be able to solve it. But with the ever-changing choices that everyone’s making and the ever-evolving technologies that are coming out faster than we can become experts and consume them, we just have to be very flexible.

Angela O:

Flexible is the key word there, right? And I can’t even imagine how overwhelming that could be to try to get the systems to speak to each other. I think that’s a common business problem that clients have.

Angela T:

Absolutely. It’s definitely frustrating for the team. Our team has a very solid process that they follow, but when these different programs give us different hiccups that we’re not used to, we have to stop and figure it out. And we’re relying on others to highlight the things that aren’t coming through. Not being the expert on any of these systems, we don’t see that detail unless somebody says, hey, this isn’t doing what it’s supposed to. But at that point something’s already late, something’s already missed, somebody is already frustrated. And our team who has a very heavy workload now has to stop and start to try to figure out something that they weren’t slotted to do, wasn’t on their plan, but somehow, we’re the ones who are going to pick up the pieces and try to give everybody the best product possible.

Angela O:

That’s why y’all are the best.

Angela T:

That’s right. We love those challenges, even if they don’t love us.

Angela O:

So, Julia, what was your takeaway from the conference?

Julia:

So, I was going to mention, because we were talking a little bit about data and I remember in one of the presentations we sat on about driving value with data. The speakers said that 95% of data captured in the construction industry goes unused.

Angela O:

Wow.

Julia:

So I thought that that was surprising. Angela, you’re out in the thick of it. Is that, is that surprising to you at all, or?

Angela T:

No. No, it’s not. And it’s very sad because a lot of time and money and energy goes into building these models, but when they’re not done in a way that they can be leveraged after they’re handed off to the clients, operations can’t take advantage of them. It’s kind of like a snapshot in time. And then the next project that starts three months, six months, two years later is basically starting from scratch. They’re doing something like laser scanning to get their facility data instead of leveraging all of that technology, all of that information that went into that model. So sadly, it does not surprise me.

Julia:

Yeah. Are there any, I guess, solutions for that? I know that was a big topic of what companies can do to kind of help that. But is there anything you’re seeing that might be especially helpful?

Angela T:

From our side, it’s really getting an alignment, an alliance with the players. Both the owners and the contractors creating the models and then us managing all of that data and being the checks and balances between both to make sure we’re actually getting what the owners need, and the creators have enough time to bake that in early enough in the process. So for us, we rely very heavily on our templates, making sure that everybody starts from the baseline data, our models, our base points, our levels, our grids, those essential things. And then anything that the owners, operators need, we need feedback from them to make sure that we’re getting the metadata. So maybe that’s equipment tanks for the HVAC unit on the roof. Maybe that’s the pipe label for the hundreds of thousands of piping systems to go through the facilities.

So, it’s really key to have that alignment, to know what we need at the front of the project so that we can manage it after. That was one of the biggest things that made Revit and the BIM concept so overwhelming in the beginning. Is in order to set it up right you have to front load all of what you need. You have to know what you’re going to need in order to have a successful project. And without having the experience and the expertise of knowing what you’re going to need, it’s very hard to add that in as you go, right? It definitely messes up the timeline and the money factor involved with all the players involved.

Julia:

Right. And I know a research takeaway from the research CII has been doing is on advanced work packaging. And they presented that as a best practice for aligning engineering procurement and the construction side of things. That was the first time I’ve heard of it at the conference. But have you heard of that before?

Angela T:

Yeah. So the concept, yes. I think the way they presented it was a little different to me, but conceptually yes. But with all the players that they mentioned, which are key, our group is typically left out of those conversations and the expectation of what’s going to be expected at the end. And so, to miss that step and then to not be able to audit and manage what is really wanted is a gap in my particular world.

Angela O:

I think modularization was another topic that was new to me, but not a new concept.

Julia:

Mm-hmm.

Angela T:

And I’ve seen more and more over the different conferences I’ve been to the explosion of module…

Julia:

Modularization?

Angela T:

It’s definitely interesting. It’s super fascinating to me. It’s Legos and building blocks and all the things you play with as a kid, or I played with anyway. And I’ve definitely seen it built out in our world more and more. More pre-assembled skids, more plug and play here’s the components of our data centers. Here’s this wing of the building, that one, tie this in, now we’re good to go. So, that is fantastic in some ways. It’s definitely nice for the projects to say here’s a complete bundle of something, go do it. And then the supplier to already say, okay, I’ve got these pieces, here’s your bundle go. Again, it’s a little hard for us managing the data because those are kind of new evolutions when it comes to what we manage and how we manage it. So, they’re challenging as much as they are efficient.

Access Answers is owned and operated by Access Sciences. We are a consulting and business process outsourcing firm, specializing in information governance, technology enablement, and business strategy. Since 1985, our dynamic team of experts have been committed to meeting each of our client’s unique information needs. If you’re interested in partnering with Access Sciences, send us an email info@accesssciences.com.

Julia:

So Angela O., Angela and I have shared our key takeaways. What was yours?

Angela O:

I think I actually had several. One of them was the comment about how work productivity hadn’t really changed since the 50s, which is fascinating to think about how advanced we assume that the industry is with automation, and with these platforms like CAD, and BIM, and the 3D modeling, et cetera. But to think about productivity not changing, that part was very surprising to me because you would think the tools and the processes would make things more efficient, which would allow for greater productivity.

Julia:

I remember us all recapping on the presentations later that day. And we asked was that surprising for Angela and Linda who also went with us to the conference, and you guys said that it wasn’t really surprising.

Angela T:

Definitely not. Something that stood out to me is we have one of the oldest industries. And I think one of our speakers took us all the way back to Tanzania and how we’ve been doing the same thing since the beginning of some of our recorded time. And we had our industrial revolutions and we’ve ramped up and we kind of hit that plateau. And then as societies we started investing in other directions, and it seems finally we’re really starting to dial in again on what we can do better. And maybe that’s driven by the increases in our technology, in the challenges we’re facing with the workforce. With the new automation and everything we can come up with, working finally smarter and not harder because we’ve met the human limits that can be done. And as we look to actual machines doing things, and whether that’s machine learning, or AI, or just the robots we have around doing everything, it’s starting to get to that point again where we can start to see the increase of production or productivity in a way we haven’t been able to, or haven’t focused on before. It’s just been controlling costs, right?

I think there’s also that point of diminishing returns. And we hit a point where we don’t need to produce more just to produce more. We need to produce better, or we need to change what we’re producing, or we need to switch gears and look at how we can produce more efficiently for the world in general, which I think takes us back to another one of your key takeaways.

Angela O:

Are you talking about decarbonization?

Angela T:

Ding. Ding. Ding.

Angela O:

That was a big topic at the conference, which I was thrilled to see this topic and really had no idea that 11% of the carbon comes from construction. I mean, that’s very significant. That’s no small feat, but I think it was the VP of construction for Microsoft that gave the presentation and really shared the efforts that they’re doing. And it’s very inspirational to get to net zero carbon, net zero waste, and the steps that they’re taking very aggressively to make that happen. Yeah. Decarbonization was a significant topic at the conference, which I think was great. Very inspiring to see that.

Angela T:

I think the last thing I wanted to touch on with the decarbonization and it’s probably just echoing what you’ve said, Angela, is Microsoft being that global player leading, probably setting the bar for what other companies should and could do in the future. And it’s a very aggressive plan and they go as far as I think to overcompensate for it and bring more positive green space into it, as well as just getting that net neutral, that net zero. And how can we incentivize or challenge others to do the same? It’s wonderful to hear that such a big global player is doing that. And we’ve always, I want to say always, we’ve definitely heard over the years as these things have ramped up and other companies are saying for every car we produce, we plant this many trees. For every this we manufacturer, we offset in this way. But to get that as a requirement or built in, or just something that people do naturally, I know the cost upfront is hard to overcome, but the cost in the long run is so much more to us globally as humans.

Angela O:

Right.

Angela T:

And the people factor is something I think we all have to be invested in. Whether that’s the space we live in, the air we breathe, the water. And going into one of the other key takeaways was the mental health of the construction industry in general. And I forget the numbers. Do you guys remember the numbers?

Julia:

Twice as high as the veteran suicide rates. And then also the suicide rates in the construction industry are four to five times higher than the job site fatality rate. So that’s pretty significant.

Angela T:

Yes. So thinking of the significance of those numbers, it’s probably not what we think of when we think of our industry. It’s definitely not what I think of. But when I hear it, it makes sense. And it makes me question the stats over history, when so many of these things were put on safety as why we had so many incidents, so many recordables, so many losses. And safety has come a long way to cut back on those incidences. And as we see that that’s no longer the reason, and we’re seeing we still have these numbers, these high suicides, higher than people who are in other more possibly extreme situations. What can we do for our industry? And the first step is talking about it and getting people to understand that it’s okay to talk about it.

And if you do talk about it, there’s a path forward to get help. It’s not something that’s going to be frowned upon, and you’re going to lose your job, and your livelihood, because that’s the worst scenario for people in that mental health turmoil, right? You need to know that there is support, that there is a path, and that things can get better. And again, back to that workforce, we need everybody on their game and in this game to be happy and healthy and producing what we can, the best way we can, the cleanest way we can, the most efficient way we can. And it’s going to take partnering with other industries, other technologies, other resources to get there.

Angela O:

Absolutely.

Julia:

One thing I really did love about this conference is they cover the people, process, and technology. And instead of focusing on the technology and the processes, which would be very easy to do, they really did focus on the people side of things.

Angela T:

Yeah. I expect we’re going to have some shifts as people understand more what we’re up against. And there’s going to have to be huge culture shifts. I think we saw the other thing that kind of pairs with the last couple topics pretty well, is how unhappy or how negative the response is for people entering this workforce, whether it’s gender based or age based. There’s probably a better word for that.

Julia:

I guess generation based?

Angela T:

Generational, thank you. Whether it’s gender based or generational based or others. I think those were the primary. We saw how women, and then the next generations are not accepting what this industry is doing. It’s still very old-school in the way it handles a lot of things. And I know we have an aging workforce, but the shifts are happening, and it’s going to hit us hard because the old ways, and the old methods, and the old ways of thinking, they’re not going to survive. The industry is not going to survive if they stick around. So how we get that message out there, how the world gets that message out there, I don’t know. But I know in my little corner of the world, playing to people’s strengths, understanding who they are, where they come from, what they’re good at, what they love, embracing those things and figuring out how to use them and bring everyone’s strengths to the table. It’s definitely a task, but I feel the more I put in to make that happen, the better product we have as team.

Angela O:

I love that. Well, thank you for being our guest today on our podcast and spending time with us in Orlando, with the CII-CURT Joint Conference. It was lovely to meet you. And I hope you’re coming to Houston soon.

Angela T:

Yes, I hope so too. And I hope the world gets cleared up a bit and we get some more conferences, and we get to do more face-to-face and all of these great interactions.

Julia:

But in the meantime, it was great to chat with you virtually, because we haven’t seen you since the conference.

Angela T:

Great to see both of you.

Julia:

Well, thanks everyone for tuning into this episode of Access Answers. We referenced a lot of presentations during CII and CURT 2021. If you’re wondering what the heck we were talking about, I have the presentation recaps and blogs up on our website and I’ll link that for easy access.

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