Rhumbix recently welcomed Kevin Soohoo to join our team as Field CTO. Prior to joining Rhumbix, Kevin was CIO at Air Systems. With more than a decade of experience in the construction industry, we’re thrilled have someone heading up our field technology who is deeply familiar with the needs of all project stakeholders and has led many successful construction technology implementations. Read on to find out more about Kevin’s background, experience and perspective on the future of construction.
You’ve been in construction for a long time. How did you get your start in this industry?
"...they needed to be looking at technology as a business enabler but weren't sure where to start."
Prior to Air Systems, I was working in global manufacturing. My role was evaluating the potential of new technology from a strategic and business perspective, starting on the plant floor and extending to all the other parts of the business: supply chain management, materials, shipping and so forth.
This was during the early days of data collection so a lot of my upfront time was spent formulating ways to effectively collect and evaluate the data, which was a fun challenge. We used a lot of excel charts and old-school observation methods, and then did extensive analysis of that data in spreadsheets to brainstorm potential solutions.
When I transitioned to Air Systems, the ask was really similar: they knew they needed to be looking at technology as a business enabler but weren't sure where to start. At the time, the extent of their technology was their printers and network. They’ve come a long way since then.
What are the similarities and differences between the use of construction technology and manufacturing technology?
"Mobility really has been the tipping point for construction...."
I think the rate of innovation is the biggest difference. Manufacturing as a whole started looking at technology as a business enabler before construction did, but the rate at which innovation happened was slower. Part of the reason for this is that a construction workforce is distributed - they’re not all in one place. Until the mobile phone came around, this was a big barrier to wide scale field technology. With manufacturing, you’ve pretty much got everyone in the same building and therefore mobility is not as much of a game-changer.
Mobility really has been the tipping point for construction and we’ve seen a bunch of new construction-specific technologies as a result. We’re so used to technology now in our personal lives, it’s easy to forget how truly powerful a smartphone is.
The iPhone 5, for instance, has more computing power than all of NASA had in 1969 when they launched the Apollo 11 mission to the moon. That’s a lot of computing power in your pocket, and it’s going to keep growing as broadband connectivity and cloud processing continue to expand.
In terms of similarities, there is a lot of great principles that crossover from manufacturing to construction. The whole concept of Lean Construction came from manufacturing, and I think if you look at the general principles of removing the non-essentials and streamlining everything that can be streamlined, they are absolutely applicable to construction.
When I was working in manufacturing, we found often the simplest solution could massively optimize a workflow, down to details like workspace set-up, location of materials, and whether a worker was left-handed for right-handed.
I think the same is true for construction. Small changes will make big differences in project productivity and profitability.
What have you learned from your experience deploying mobile tools on construction jobsites?
"...the distinction between the office and the field is beginning to disappear."
In some ways, I think construction initially overshot it when it came to field technology. The mobile phone came out and we wanted to do 3D BIM all from the phone. It’s possible, but it’s not necessarily the most practical first step.
Now, what I see firms doing is starting simpler, which I think is wise. They’re starting with things like digitization of paper-based processes: blueprints, schedules, time cards, notes and so forth. What’s really exciting to me about this process is that with each step towards digitization, the distinction between the office and the field is beginning to disappear.
Office workers are no longer tethered to their desk, and field workers are now able to stay up-to-date on project performance. This is a big deal for an industry where there has traditionally been a big distinction between these two groups.
The other thing I’ve learned is that people want this, and there’s a lot of great contractors out there doing everything they can to acquire new technology. Statistically speaking, the industry as a whole is way behind in terms of dollars invested in technology, but for every person that is pushing back, there is someone else pushing the envelope the other way. The time is right for industry-wide change to really take hold.
What are you most excited about in terms of your role with Rhumbix?
"When I look at the future of construction, I’m incredibly optimistic about what I see."
One thing that really drew me to Rhumbix was their willingness to engage with and support customers to solve their unique challenges. The result of this is a team that is hungry to learn about the industry and provide holistic support for our customers.
I also think hiring two data scientists right out of the gate was a smart move because we’re positioned to proactively search the data for new insights. While our app is focused on digitizing time cards, we’re constantly exploring new functionalities that are a natural expansion of our core product offering. As Field CTO, I’ll get to play a key role in those discussions.When I look at the future of construction, I’m incredibly optimistic about what I see. I’m looking forward to digging in with our customers and making those visions a reality.