In this week’s episode of the Work Done Right podcast, we are joined by Eric Thomas, the host of Autodesk’s Digital Builder Podcast, to delve into the fascinating evolution of construction technology. Eric sheds light on the pivotal role of hardware advancements in revolutionizing the construction industry by facilitating the digitization of blueprints and documentation.
Additionally, Eric underscores the importance of purpose-built technology tailored to the construction sector’s specific requirements, outshining generic software solutions like Microsoft Office in terms of efficiency and scalability. The conversation also delves into the contractual framework for driving innovation, emphasizing how owners can proactively define technology expectations within contracts to enhance collaboration, reduce risks, and align technology with project objectives, potentially leading to swifter project deliveries and superior outcomes. Tune in for a captivating exploration of construction technology’s past, present, and future with Eric Thomas.
Our guest today is Eric Thomas. Eric is the Manager of Multimedia Content Marketing at Autodesk, as well as the host of the Digital Builder Podcast.
Eric has over a decade of construction and digital marketing experience, specializing in thought leadership style content marketing and customer marketing. He has worked for companies such as Gilbane, Inc., Grand Rounds, Truebeck Construction, and PlanGrid.
In addition to his extensive background in construction and marketing, Eric also holds a Bachelor of Science in Scientific and Technical Communication from the Michigan Technological University.
Top 3 Episode Takeaways
Evolution of Construction Technology: The episode highlights the significant shift in construction technology, particularly the impact of hardware advancements. It discusses how the introduction of devices like iPads enabled the digitization of blueprints and documentation in the construction industry, leading to the development of sophisticated project management tools. This emphasizes the importance of hardware in driving innovation and paving the way for future software advancements in the construction sector.
Importance of Purpose-Built Technology: Eric Thomas emphasizes the value of purpose-built technology designed specifically for the construction industry. Unlike generic tools like Microsoft Office, purpose-built software solutions cater to the unique needs of construction professionals, enhancing efficiency and scalability. This highlights the role of industry-specific technology in streamlining processes and improving productivity.
Contractual Framework for Innovation: The podcast discusses the significance of contracts in driving innovation and technology adoption in construction projects. It suggests that owners can play a pivotal role in specifying their expectations for technology usage within contracts, promoting collaboration, and reducing ambiguity. This proactive approach not only mitigates risks but also ensures that technology aligns with project goals, potentially leading to earlier project deliveries and improved outcomes.
Eric, welcome to the show.
Thanks, Wes. It’s always good to be on the other side of these conversations for a change, so I appreciate the invitation.
Yeah, man. Thanks for agreeing to join. You’re obviously a busy man with everything that you have going on in your own podcast world.
With that, actually, I’ll just kind of, for our audience who may not be as familiar with you or with the Digital Builder, I was wondering if you could just kind of walk us through a little bit more about your background and kind of why we have you here.
Yeah, absolutely. My trajectory into the construction industry admittedly was a little bit of an accident, and I graduated from Michigan Tech at the tail end of the Great Recession. For folks like myself at that time who had no real -world experience doing much of anything, finding a job was difficult.
You’re just sending resumes into the void, crossing your fingers. The first one that really ended up hitting was with a company called Innovative Technical Solutions, which was acquired essentially the day after I joined the company by Gil Bain.
They hired me as a junior proposal writer in their federal business unit, and I showed up. and didn’t know a dang thing about construction, and they were just excited about my writing chops and understanding of technical things.
And over the following months, things just kind of turned around. Ended up in Dubai at one point as a proposal manager, mostly focused on federal infrastructure projects in Afghanistan and the greater Gulf or GCC, the Gulf Cooperation Council.
And randomly enough, I was looking at my Google memories today. And 11 years ago today, I was doing my first site walk, which happened to be on the Ministry of Defense building in Kabul, Afghanistan.
So I was going through some of the photographs of that. And so, you know, things have just kind of gone from there. I worked briefly for a health care technology company before going back into construction with Truback for about a year.
ended up getting a little burned out if I’m being honest and left the industry only to jump straight into Plankard, which got acquired by Autodesk later and you know, here I am. So multimedia content marketing, I guess you could say, I do a lot of interactive things.
So digital builder is the predominant thing that I work on these days. We release new episodes weekly, but also other different types of video series, interactive content, Tidot at Autodesk University, a bunch of other fun stuff.
So that’s kind of where I’m at these days.
Yeah, it’s interesting because you were in a field that in no way, shape or form, would you think would be related to the construction industry, which I think happens to a lot of people, right?
You get into something like contracts, right? But you know, here you are, like you were saying, you have this background in technical writing, all of a sudden it seems like construction is a good fit.
And then you leave it for a minute, you can and you just have to kind of come back into it, because it it’s captivating for a lot of different reasons for a lot of different people. But it’s I think that speaks well to the fact of just how extensive the construction industry is and how seemingly everything is related to it.
And it’s an opportunity, I think, for our industry to really highlight the the ways you can kind of move through construction. And so I would never represent my knowledge to be that of like, you know, project manager or something along those lines.
It’s a very different background coming from, you know, proposals and contract modifications. But it is such an interesting industry, because there’s so many different types of roles that can be appealing, whether it’s tied to technology or marketing or bids.
And, you know, marketing is an area where I think construction can do better more often than not. And so, you know, part of it’s just getting that message out there and letting people know that there are cool careers and there are opportunities.
And when I graduated, if you told me one that I was going to work in a number of construction companies, I would have been, you know, what do you mean? And then And then as I got into, you know, multi -year career as being a proposal manager, if you told me that I was going to be hosting this podcast and doing all these other things, I’d also looked at you a little sideways.
You go, what do you mean? Like how does this translate? But you can kind of choose your own destiny to some degree, depending on, you know, where your interests and background are.
Yeah, no, absolutely.
I think that segues really well into kind of what you’re doing now with the digital builder like you keep saying and other content marketing that you all are doing over at Autodesk. So how is it then that, you know, through this transition, you started working with Autodesk.
How did you come to start this podcast? And what is the sort of messaging that you all have over there at Autodesk for this?
Yeah, so the idea was kind of an off the cuff one that I had pitched to my then boss, Alison Scott, at a team offsite that we had had a little over three years ago.
So digital builder released or was launched October three years ago this year and. It was kind of a loose idea where I’d started seeing more B2B podcasts out in the market. And I just thought it was neat.
I was on the radio in college and it seemed like a cool opportunity to get behind the microphone again. When I suggested it, Ali was receptive but also asked, you know, what’s the business case for this?
I had to step back and go figure that out because I wasn’t entirely sure if I’m being honest. But we did a three -episode pilot and just tried it out and the reception was really positive and it’s just kind of grown from there.
So it went from a weekly or a bi -weekly show that was audio only. Now we are full video, 4K, weekly releases and I travel once a quarter to a new Autodesk location and, you know, film a bunch of episodes and then also record some remotely like we’re doing today.
But the focus is very much about the industry and is absolutely not about Autodesk. So the frequency of mentioning our own tools and technologies is generally limited to my introduction as far as just this is an Autodesk podcast.
And then for the rest of it, it’s just really meaningful conversations with industry leaders just tackling all of the biggest problems, whether it’s technology or leadership. It can kind of span the gamut of ideas and it’s turned into a bunch of fun.
I’d say in the last three years I’ve learned more about our industry speaking to really smart people than I did working in it for, you know, five years in a much narrower focus area. So it’s a bunch of fun and a real privilege to have this platform and an opportunity to learn from, you know, cool folks like yourself.
Yeah, I think that that speaks well to like you said earlier. You know, we in the industry have a lot of areas of opportunity for growth to improve, just kind of our messaging about the industry, about the careers and opportunities that are there.
And just even just kind of spotlighting different people like you guys do so well on the show of, you know, their stories, their backgrounds, kind of the journey that they’ve taken through the industry.
Because there’s, again, there’s so much that happens on any individual project. Even the projects that end up not going anywhere. Like if you don’t win the bid, those those months that led up to that point of, well, you you lost this go around.
That’s still a lot of work. There’s a lot of lessons that you can learn along through that. So so even the painful days are are still great days of, you know, areas of opportunity for people to learn from.
So with that, you know, you guys are are now you’re in the thick of it. Like you said, you’ve been doing this since 2020. So you guys are kind of the the OGs of this whole construction podcasting game.
There are a couple of other podcasts that are out there, like you said, doing some of this B2B style of podcasting that’s out there in our space. But but really still, you know, in 2020, there weren’t a whole lot of them.
So with that, you’ve had a lot of opportunity in order to to cover a broad range of topics over the last three years. I was hoping that maybe we could just go through the top three or five lessons that you’ve learned maybe about the industry or about the needs of the industry.
And and maybe after after we cover those, we can just dive into a couple of those time permitting.
Yeah, let me I’ll just give you a quick high level. I’ve got a handful that I thought about before I joined you today.
And I’d say the first point is just things have changed very rapidly for our industry in the last 10 years. I remember the first time I got into this are betterments and the things we were offering and proposals weren’t very technical technical.
There wasn’t a lot of, you know, futuristic oriented technology. You’ve very likely seen that McKinsey graphic that highlights construction as the least productive and innovative alongside farm equipment and such.
10 years ago, that was true. Today, that is not true. And every time it shows up now in presentations, I cringe a little bit because I feel like construction now is the opposite. The amount of technology we’re embracing is almost overwhelming for a lot of leaders because there’s so much when there used to almost be nothing.
So I think the change is one of the big ones that I’ve seen. Also, the next one I’d say comes back to something we were just kinda talking about a little bit is just the community of construction. It’s an incredible one, one that shares very openly amongst competitors, maybe not your super deep competitive Intel, but it’s an industry that recognizes that we’re not gonna make these changes that we need by ourselves.
It’s not a one company decision, even if you’re a… you know, $10 billion annual GC, it’s not a one region thing. If you’re just one country, it’s a community conversation that is what’s going to push any change that’s meaningful and allows us to address our common problems, you know, is a collective entity.
It’s just not one person, one company, one organization. Um, and then I think the, the other two for me would be, you know, making changes really requires focus and intent. Um, as, as you start thinking through adopting technology or, you know, building out a data strategy or something.
If we’re not being very deliberate at the onset, it puts a lot of risk at our organizations because we haven’t thought through the big picture, say adopting a data strategy organization or something I’m pretty passionate about.
If you look at your whole company and go, Oh my gosh, there’s so much to change, it’s very hard to, to decide what to do first. If you might do anything at all. And so being intentional and starting small is great.
And then the final one that I think we can get into too is, you know, data’s king today and, and everybody kind of jokes about this. And Nathan Wood, um, from Spectrum AEC had a comment I heard that I stole from him where he goes, if you’re not capturing data deliberately, you’ve got to data, data sewer and what you want is a data lake because you want good quality data and a lot goes from that ensuring, uh, ensuring that you set that up to be successful from, you know, day one at your organization.
So I know that’s a little all of the map for, you know, a few focus areas, but I’d say those are kind of the big themes that I think about and hear about time and time again.
No, I think that’s a great starting point.
And there’s a lot that we could talk about. We could probably talk for the next couple of days and still not get to the bottom of those. Uh, you know, I’d actually like to start with that last one about kind of data is king.
If you don’t mind starting there, uh, and then, and then we can go on and, and cover some of these other areas like the community of construction and, and how change needs to be driven in a focused. way and how much of a tech change we’ve had.
Talking about data is king and we need a data lake, not a data sewer, which I think is hilarious. It’s a great comparison there.
Yeah, it’s a very spot on. I very excitedly stole that one from Nathan when I heard him say it.
Either on a podcast or a presentation that we were both on. But I think the data conversation is one that’s really starting to evolve. I mean, you go back and you think about where construction companies were five or 10 years ago and we’ve all seen the shared company server that’s internal, that’s just got nested folder structures and things sprayed around in different places.
There was a moment where we moved some of these things into the cloud and we started digitizing more of these documents, even if it was PDFs of plans or something simple. Those documents, like a PDF of a construction plan, is just a time stamp in a moment of time.
It’s not an interactive document. It’s not something that’s data rich. In a folder that you put, whether it’s on an internal SharePoint folder or if it’s in Google Drive stuck up in the cloud, is still a laborious place to stick folders and information in a way that doesn’t necessarily have the ability to infer insights from it.
It’s just some place to put your stuff. And I think the exciting moment we’re at right now is all these organizations are rallying around different platforms and different companies define that in a different way.
But right now, when we have this moment where there is so much construction technology, a few years ago, I feel like you could step back and go, all right, cool, I have all these tools, whether it’s hardware or software, but moving my information around between these platforms to get insights was very difficult and very manual.
But those organizations that are making the right choices now and aligning on their platform and connecting everything in a way where it’s not laborious, it’s not manual, there’s less opportunities for errors.
Now their information is easier to parse and search and have a real record for their owners and their collaborators. But also, now we’re at this great opportunity where we can have insights from this data that we just never had before.
And that can be at the project level. You can make decisions in the field based on dashboards that have meaning and they don’t just look pretty, but also at that organization level where you go, okay, what am I doing from project to project and how can I make big company decisions now because I have access to that data instead of it being siloed by project or siloed by tool that it’s in or a variation of both.
And so there’s so much we can do now with that data if we’re setting our teams up as we make our technology choices in doing so in a very deliberate way from the start.
Yeah, no, that’s I think, I think whenever I approach the data situation, I see this kind of as a twofold, you know, we need the foundational data in order to enable these technologies that we’ve been really rapidly introducing into the industry, kind of like you were spelling out a second ago.
And also, you know, what is the output of all of that new technology and what’s the status of each and I see this as a twofold sort of problem, you know, one being maybe the front end data is not quite as robust or resilient as it needs to be.
And then it’s so we have a little bit of a stop gap between the ability in order to implement some of these new technologies. And then this output data is like you’re very well pointing out. It’s not structured in the way that it needs to be to be able to actually utilize this in a way that’s most meaningful.
And the people that can bridge the gap between really you know, on the back end of receiving this new data, you know, and make it into the most coherent and cohesive message are really the people that are going to be, you know, helping out and big winners in all of this kind of cascading change that we have in this technological revolution that we’re all seeing.
Are you seeing, I guess, frequent areas and maybe people that you’ve been talking with on the show or even in the work that the Autodesk is doing? Are there frequent areas for opportunity where people could be, you know, better structuring their data on the back end or better integrating with other systems?
I mean, what are you all seeing?
Well, I think there’s a couple nuances here that are important. One is data standards and standards sometimes make people cringe a little bit because it feels onerous in that there’s so many expectations for how we capture data.
But unless your teams within a project and then across from project to project are capturing data in a consistent fashion, it becomes very difficult to analyze it because it’s captured with differing intent.
And so when you set that baseline expectation for how you’re capturing at what your team expects, it helps ensure that you have data that’s easier to understand and analyze. But the other aspect of that as you start getting into your standards is you have to be really thoughtful about what you want and what you want to do with that data.
So as you’re thinking through it, if you just start capturing for, you know, just the sake of capturing, you’re going to have a lot to work with. And that’s important. And don’t by no means stop capturing data, but think about what you want, what you want to do, because unless you’ve done that, sometimes you might not capture things in the format that would permit you to do that in the first place, or you’re going to have some gaps that are introduced.
And so I think between the standardization conversation and ensuring everybody’s on the same page, and thoughtfully so, and then that intent portion, that’s where you really start bridging those gaps.
gaps in ensuring that you have meaningful information for people to consume. Because the other piece is especially early on in our journey here, people were often burned by their dashboards and the data that they were capturing because the data in them wasn’t necessarily accurate.
And that mapped back to the fact that the standardization wasn’t really there and things weren’t being captured in the way that would make those dashboards meaningful. And it’s very hard to convince a project manager or a super who’s made a decision on bad information in the past to then come back and say, okay, I trust this now.
So it’s going to take a bit to get there. And so that intention I think at the start of the journey as you’re looking to improve is so important because it’s hard to get a second look. It’s hard to change somebody’s perspective a second time.
No, you’re spot on with that. And you see that, you know, there’s a big difference between what you’re saying and what you’re saying. Thank you. A level of apprehension that people have when approaching these new technologies on any site and even from site to site, maybe on the last project, it went reasonably well, but if this new project is something slightly different, there’s again an apprehension that people have and it’s understandable.
In order to, we’re talking about projects that are millions or billions of dollars, that’s a lot riding on the line in the event that something doesn’t work right, but kind of starting off in that way of being more methodical and structuring it in such a way that makes things most usable, definitely will provide more of a higher likelihood that we get the outcome that we’re looking for.
And like you said in the beginning, we need to kind of start driving towards standardization and I’m not a big fan of, we’ll say, some forms of regulation and all of that stuff, but really this kind of covers all areas of these new and emerging technologies that we have, whether we’re talking about interfacing on, you know, kind of boots on the ground with some of the tools that we have.
Maybe it’s Bluetooth technologies and protocols or maybe we’re talking about, you know, the data that’s coming as an output of any of these systems, so where we can actually use it from one system to another and kind of handshake and pass this information back and forth in a useful way.
I agree that maybe we technology providers see some level of risk in this because one of us could become obsolete, but whenever we look at what’s the best thing for the industry, standardization is the best thing for the industry.
Yeah, and I think our friends in the United Kingdom and parts of Asia Pacific, Singapore predominantly are ahead of the game for compared to those of us in the United States because the application of standards is being done in a much more meaningful level and it’s coming from the government entities that are dictating it for the entire region.
And of course, governments may stumble on occasion. Let’s not be ridiculous there on, you know, the implementation of that. But at the base level, I think it makes it easier to apply those standards because at least we have a framework as organizations come together to start with instead of having to define those standards for your team every time a new project begins.
And so it sets them up for success and also just allows for, you know, more meaningful accountability across the board. So there’s work to be done and I’m seeing more organizations who are meaningfully adopting data strategies regardless of the level of, you know, oversight or guidance the government in their particular region is offering.
But I think we’re on our way. It’s just a matter of having focus and ensuring people think about, you know, what they want to get out of the information that they’re capturing.
You know, construction was certainly whenever I first got into it much further behind in space of technology than where it is now.
So what sort of changes have you seen in your 10 -plus years in the industry that reshape, you know, your view of where we are and kind of put us much further ahead of? of what people can eventually think of whenever they think of technology and construction.
I think the hardware is there now, which oftentimes has led us to the software conversations that we’re having now. So of course, Plangrid, which is what my entry point into Autodesk ultimately was, didn’t exist until the iPad became a real thing and a handful of project engineers went, okay, I think we might be able to digitize our blueprints and our documentation now.
And that platform obviously grew considerably from just managing your drawings to a much larger project management suite. But it kind of showed a lot of organizations that this technology space for construction is something that’s right for innovation and disruption, although I dislike the term disruption sometimes, depending on how it’s applied, because disruption in construction means slip schedules and all kinds of other stuff.
Right, nothing any of us want, right. Yeah, it’s a scary moment, but the hardware really stepped up and it allowed us to start thinking through where that software is gonna go. And I think that’s now where the sky is the limit.
I mean, you look at things like laser scanning and for a long time, the hardware was the game changer there. Every time something new came out, okay, our site scan is gonna take 45 minutes now, instead of two hours or whatever.
But with all of the innovations in that space, now it’s a matter of what can the software do to process this incredibly high volume rich data that you can capture every single day, whether it’s through cameras or laser scanning or putting one of those two on top of a spot robot or I think this guy’s the limit now.
The interesting changes, of course, is the venture capital world discovered that construction technology is a right for innovation is that decision paralysis that it kind of has forced onto our construction companies because when you have four offerings to consider and the landscape isn’t perfect, particularly innovative, it’s easier to pick what your text stack is going to look like.
But at this point now, we have so much purpose -built technology for our industry. And I think that’s the real change in my perspective, is the tools are made for us by people who worked in the industry, or at least informed by people that worked in the industry.
And that’s really what’s bringing all of these changes. Because when I set foot on my first project site, and answer my first RFP, everything was Excel, SharePoint, Word, forced into different tools, email, and all these things that work, but they don’t scale.
And now we have things that are made and achieve what our people need to do and want to do and are adaptable to their organizations in a way that product offering from Microsoft is just never going to deliver.
Right. And I guess the other thing that comes to my mind is that of it not just being scalable, but it’s also, it’s all inherently siloed, right? Your email inbox is inherently siloed from anybody else other than who you’re directly communicating with.
At least, you know, you want it to be, you don’t want anybody else to be able to go in and start sifting through your messages. Your individual Excel spreadsheet, your individual Word document, those are all secured documents, which is great until we start thinking about the idea that we have hundreds, if not thousands of other people who might actually find this to be useful.
And now they don’t have access to it because it’s just solely on your computer.
You know, the other aspect in the hardware discussion that comes to my mind, there was a study that I saw out of, I believe it was from FMI years back, but still relevant in my mind today, which for an area of opportunity is something like 78% of, I believe that’s correct, 78% of companies out there do not use like mobile devices, whether we’re talking about iPads or cell phones directly interfaced with, you know, the field level craftspeople on job sites.
So there’s a huge opportunity out there for people whenever we’re talking about putting information and resources in their hands in order to put it right where it really matters, right? Not just an engineer walking around with an iPad or some other technician doing laser scanning, but really software directed directly to the craftspeople in order to make sure that they’re able to stay productive, keep moving, have questions answered, do things safely, do things right.
You’re absolutely right though that there’s been a monumental shift just out of the enablement of the hardware that is available to these people. In the data silos of yesterday, and some of them still exist, of course, some of them were just by the nature of our information sharing process.
This is like some stuff might be stuck in email, even if everything’s captured on the server. You’ve got to know how to navigate it and maybe the file name was a little goofy and now you don’t even know where to go get that information or you could have had somebody who’s holding on to it just because they want to you know feel important because you have to ask them for that information or you know some variation of all of the above and now now you get to pick your platform and if you do a good job in choosing that tool that you you know standardize on and centralize your entire tech stack on you know that’s when everything starts to build and I’ll be honest I’m not a product guy as far as getting into the the feature sets of something like Autodesk Construction Cloud but I have to plug what we’re doing in the sense that that’s the name of the game that’s making sure that our information is transparent and it’s easy to move around you get to manage your data from the start of a construction project all the way through operations and so as you you know pick these tools that you choose make sure that You can move your data from platform to platform.
You can move it from phase of construction to phase of construction. And you’re not over there trying to combine apples and oranges into something and somebody is quietly weeping into a spreadsheet because the information doesn’t map up.
So it’s a really moment of opportunity. And I think most organizations have somewhat digitized. They might have picked up a tool or two. But I think now is the moment for people to really step back and go, OK, what’s the big picture?
What else can I achieve? And looking at it as a expense isn’t necessarily the right framework in my perspective. I think it’s a feature -focused conversation. And the cost of not acting today is likely far more expensive than whatever you’re going to be spending on new technology in the next six, 10, 12, or 24 months.
Because organizations that aren’t digitized and aren’t really embracing these tools, I don’t think they’re going to stay as competitive. But they also won’t be as lucrative for new people coming into the industry because they want to use these tools.
And they need to have them to handle the amount of work we have with the resources that are available to them.
So how is it that presented with these challenges and these opportunities that we have, how is it, if you were dictator for a day, what is it that you would like to see the industry do to come together to go forward in, again, a more focused and intentional sort of way?
Yeah, I think it’s a reassessment of our delivery methods and our contracts. So there are so many challenges that just come out of our contracting methodology that I empathize and I understand with the different players on a particular project.
Because you have to protect your own bottom line. You have to protect your people. But unfortunately, I think the design bid build or even some of the other approaches don’t really scale to the expectations of our owners and how we build today.
But they also silo. all of the decision making in each phase of the project in a way that means that, you know, the steel detailer out there who has a lot of perspective on how constructible something is never has an opportunity to share that information with the people at the beginning of the project who are starting to build out the plans.
And so I know not everybody is bullish on approaches like, you know, IPD or integrated project delivery, but there’s, there’s so much to be said when you adopt this shared responsibility approach and you are a little bit more inclusive and collaborative as these phases of construction move along.
And I know it’s sometimes a scary thing to consider in the sense of I’m showing all of these different players in the construction ecosystem a whole lot of things that normally I keep very close to my chest.
But when people win in this environment, everybody does. And so, you know, you share in the risk, but you also share in the reward in a considerable way. And I think. As our schedules are increasingly shortened in duration, we’re continually asked to do more with less resourcing.
The more that we can improve the way our organizations collaborate, I think we’re gonna win. And that also comes back to how our general contractors work with our subcontractors and specialty contractors because as most of us know, the risk kind of flows downhill right now.
And it makes it really difficult for everybody to trust each other in the way that I think we need to in order to deliver within the expectations we have. I mean, look at the number of mega projects that are out there in the world and how many of those go over budget and over schedule.
98%. Yeah, it’s absolutely ridiculous.
And so something has to change and I think the way we approach those projects inherently is the source of where we can fix some of those challenges. And pre -construction is like so many of the challenges that come up later could have been solved in pre -construction.
If you had a little more information or somebody was able to look at something before those drawings went out to bid. God, I couldn’t agree with you more honestly. I think that, and I don’t like the, we’ll say the heavy handed big stick sort of approach sometimes whenever it comes to, just kind of dictating what it is that we need to do.
But first off, I’ve heard it said from a lot of different people what they think the different solutions are for how it is that we can really make a good revolutionized change. But very rarely do I hear anybody actually bring up the contract.
And I can’t say it enough. I’ve said this for the last, at least probably 10 years. But the contract is our friend, right? The contract is the framework for our relationship. This is our total full expectations of what it is that I expect of you, you expect of me.
This is how we’re going to work together. So I think that owners and GCs have a responsibility with their respective contracts and who it is that they’re doing business with in order to specify this.
This is what we expect.
Where do you see the onus in some of that dictating though? Do you think that this should be coming from the GCs or do you think that they should be owners driving this from the top down?
I think the owners are in the best position to drive this simply because they’re the ones that are riding the RFPs. I’ve received way too many bad RFPs as a former proposal manager and in my house is kind of a swear word at this point.
But it’s a really tremendous opportunity for the owners to set their baseline expectation, especially serial builders who are new facilities over and over and over again. This is their chance to say to everybody who’s bidding on these projects, this is my vision and this is what I want and this is what I want to see.
The opportunity for these owners to be a bit more descriptive in what they need, mandate the right tools that they want on the project to ensure it. Everybody’s using what they expect. Things like digital twins become even more viable when you’re thinking about it at that RFP stage because you can dictate the way that that comes together.
It’s feasible to have a digital twin of a project if the idea came up halfway through, but it’s a whole lot harder to execute and it isn’t a seamless process like it could be in something that’s been chosen by the owner at that early stage.
But it’s also an opportunity for the general contractors to develop their relationships with their owners where they may be more savvy about some of the tools or the technology required to achieve that digital twin, for example, if that’s what that owner wants to aspire to.
And so having an open, maybe send out an RFI before you send out your RFP so you can figure out what you don’t know and then you start to infuse that in the RFP. And then you kind of go from there as far as having the right expectations.
But I’ve seen so many RFPs in my inbox that ultimately we’re very clearly copy and pasted sections from other proposals and reference things from a project that was done 10 years ago that you could pull your hair out and eliminating some of those ambiguities in being deliberate and taking advantage of that opportunity.
I think brings a big ROI for the owners but also everybody who’s working with them down the line. The common response would be to somebody saying, hey, I should be dictating more about how I expect the GCs in order to move forward in this innovations in technology.
What would you say to the owners about maybe why this still rests in their court or maybe how this, what is your response to? Well, now I’m assuming more risk. I’m assuming more liability by dictating more of what I need to this GC or maybe what I need to do the addition of some of the cost is in this?
I think the risk really comes from not having a clear enough vision and picture for those who are building your building. So if you want a digital twin but you haven’t communicated what your expectations for what that digital twin is going to achieve or it’s going to look like, you might be surprised with what you’re going to get because the GC will say, cool, yeah, we’ll give you a digital twin but without a bit more nuance involved, they’ll answer the contract, they’ll meet the requirements but you might not get what you were expecting and it’s also an opportunity to really learn what’s possible.
I’ve seen some cool things coming of the relationship between the contractors and the owners continuing on after handover especially in the realm of digital twins. So say an owner doesn’t have the staffing that is required to keep that digital twin updated because we all know that if that doesn’t get updated after handover.
That very quickly becomes not a digital twin anymore. And one of the hesitations that I hear is, well, we don’t have the people on staff who know how to manage that. But your general contractor does.
And so they can help you continue that moving forward. That builds a relationship. And it’s also another revenue stream for general contractor and continuing building that relationship in goodwill. Maybe you’ll get sole source for the next RFP that comes out instead of that’s going out to bid.
And that increases your profit margins considerably. So I think there’s more risk in not being clear in the RFP than leaving it more up to the contractors who are ultimately the ones that are responding to it.
And it makes it harder to have an apples to apples comparison when you’re evaluating those bids.
Yeah, honestly, you summed that up extremely well. I think that in my mind, by trying to kind of keep your hands clean out of all of this, you’re really selling yourself short on the opportunities for improvement really in the medium to long term.
Because if we aren’t building a solid digital twin and keeping that updated and learning from what it is that we just built, well, then how are we going to build something better in the future? So to me, it’s kind of a share in the risk and a share in the reward.
And really, in my mind, the areas of opportunity for the reward are so much greater than a lot of these risks can be, especially whenever we think that we could potentially be delivering projects weeks or months or years earlier than what we would have otherwise if we don’t have some of this technological innovation and mandating that through the contract.
Yeah, and when you start implementing these tools from the start, the owners get a lot more visibility into the entire process as well. And so the conversations are more meaningful with everybody on the project team.
And you have more insight into what’s actually happening. But even at that RFI stage, if you’re not sure, if you’re an owner of a project, you’re owner out there and you go, well, I’d like a digital twin, but I’m not sure what goes into it.
That’s a chance to build those relationships with the GCs in your area that you’d want to go through and potentially work with. The ones that are more responsive and give you more insight into how they would achieve that.
It’s a long term. I think it just speaks to the relationship factor as being one of the biggest parts of construction. I appreciate you summarizing those lessons and taking this dive into this. I’m going to pivot away from this portion of the conversation to where we can talk about something else, but I’ll make the plug for you in here.
If anybody else wants to hear more about these topics and really honestly anything else whenever it comes to a career, the life, technology in the construction industry, I would highly recommend everybody look up Eric and the Digital Builder podcast to learn more.
It really is a phenomenal show. The audio quality is great. I always enjoy the episodes that you guys put out there. Please keep it up. You’re doing an excellent job with it. And you will be recording more now to segue into this at Autodesk University that’s coming up here pretty soon.
So could you tell us all more about what is Autodesk University, what you’ll be doing there and what people can be looking forward to?
Yeah. And thank you for the kind words about Digital Builder. It’s a labor of love.
And I’m thankful that we’ve got as big of an audience as we do today and have just the resourcing internally to produce what I consider to be a great show. So this will be my third Autodesk University and it will be the second that we’ll be doing things in person Autodesk University.
Of course, we had a couple digital only in the moments in the last few years. But it’ll be the second year that we’re recording live episodes of Digital Builder at the event. But at a high level, and I can really only speak to like my personal part of AU because I am in the trenches the entire time I’m there and don’t get a chance to see as much of the event as I would like sometimes.
But AU essentially is a, you know, they consider it a design and make conference. And the cool thing about it is it brings innovators from architecture, engineering, construction, product design, manufacturing, and media and entertainment all together in one space.
So there are 10 ,000 attendees of AU every year, give or take a little bit. And I think one of my favorite things is just that convergence of industries. And many people don’t know that Autodesk doesn’t only serve the AAC industry.
The media and entertainment industry is largely supported by Autodesk. If you’ve seen any action movie or special effects in the last 10 or 15 years, many of them are likely created with Autodesk technology as well.
And our manufacturing and product design support is also huge. And the cool thing is there’s so much to learn from those other industries that we can apply to our, you know, our construction best practices, especially on the manufacturing side.
You’ll hear Jim Lynch speak at length in Andrew Adagnosti’s well about that convergence of construction and manufacturing. And you get to see that firsthand in not just in a digital presentation, but you get to go up in the Expo Hall and see all these different things.
And so, AU lets you venture a career. I think it’s super inspirational. It’s a chance to really build your community. And then the Expo Hall is where I’ll be hanging out for the entire event. And last year, we lucked out and I managed to score some cameras and some additional equipment.
And we recorded, I think, 15 or 16 episodes live from the Expo Hall. This year, we’re going bigger. I’ve got a better booth that we’re going to be building. And there’s going to be an audience seating area and a bunch of other really cool stuff.
And so, essentially, we’ll be sharing more details about who’s going to be interviewed, what we’re going to be talking about, and everything else in the coming days. But it’s just such a cool event. And the energy in the room is always huge.
Last year was our first time back in person in a while and it was just a ton of fun and I’m just excited to see a bunch of friends and meet some of the people that I’ve interviewed or connected with digitally and actually shake some hands and put a real face to a lot of these names.
It’s a really cool event.
When, what are the exact dates for AU and how can people join?
So, Autodesk University this year is going to be November 13th through 15th. It’s going to be in Las Vegas again.
Many of the prior events have been in Vegas so it’s going to be cool to go back and see a bunch of old friends and make new connections. Ryan Reynolds is our keynote speaker this year actually which is going to be pretty cool.
Yeah, it was a pretty fun announcement when that one came out a couple of weeks ago. If you want to head over to the Autodesk University website, it has all the information as far as registering and all the different sessions.
There’s a huge learning opportunities and pretty impactful keynotes. There also is a digital experience although it’s a bit more limited in scope than what you’re able to experience in person. If you can make the truck down, it’s absolutely worth it.
I think F1 is having a big race the week afterwards. If you want to hang out in Vegas for an extra week and pay even more outrageous hotel room prices, you can stick around for F1 for a couple of days too.
Rapid Fire Questions
Hey, we’re coming right up close on time here, Eric. I’m going to ask a few little rapid fire questions to get to know Eric Thomas the man, not just Eric Thomas the professional.
First question, what one word best describes you?
I’d say fun or funny. That might not come out as much in digital builders since there’s a business element to it but I am as serious as little as humanly possible wherever I can get away with it.
Best way to live life, in my opinion.
What is your idea of a perfect vacation?
Somewhere on my motorcycle with a very loose plan but a whole bunch of road in front of me.
What is your favorite book?
I’d say Chantarum which is by Gregory David Roberts.
What is your favorite quote?
You know, I thought about this for a bit and I realized that thinking about it this deeply meant that I didn’t have a favorite one in mind and it would have been disingenuous to go Google one and say that it was my favorite quote.
So I’m just going to pass on this question.
That’s the most honesty I’ve seen out of a person in a long time. That’s fantastic. Thanks for that. If you could have dinner with any one famous person in the world, living or dead, who would it be?
I think it’d be Keanu Reeves. It’d be a who to hang out with him. He’s an avid motorcyclist and just seems like a very cool down to earth guy. So I think it’d be fun to have a chance to sit down and chat with him.