Enabling and Empowering Through VDC
Barton Malow Sr. VDC Engineer Steffanie Schrader helps make life better for project teams
As standardization has become an industry buzzword, the best measure of tech value can still be found in the hands of the end user. Steffanie Schrader believes this first hand, and it defines her approach to discovering and implementing digital solutions for Barton Malow. “If we deploy something and the project teams don’t use it because it’s a pain to use, or it doesn’t achieve what they need, then it’s an obvious waste of money and time,” says the senior VDC engineer. Schrader has been in the industry since 2000, and a chance interaction at Bluebeam’s Extreme Conference connected her with Barton Malow, general contractor and construction manager. “I went to the Bluebeam Extreme Conference and I just happened to sit next to Lindsey Rem, VP of systems for Barton Malow at lunch. She and I got to talking and one thing led to another and she said, ‘You know we’re actually looking for a VDC person down in Southeast Region.’ And I think, ‘Please let it be me.’”
It was, indeed, her and since 2014, Schrader has become a key contributor and part of the firm’s team of experts that assist project delivery teams in the planning and successful execution of their document control strategies. In her current role, Schrader instructs project delivery personnel throughout Barton Malow in the use of Box, Bluebeam and mobile technologies to maintain project documents in a consistent and highly organized manner. Schrader and the Barton Malow team strive to enable every employee to work efficiently and collaboratively through the use of constantly improving techniques and technologies.
Bluebeam Blog: What drew you to the industry initially? How did you get started in AEC?
Schrader: When I was younger, I thought I wanted to be an architect. I didn’t go to college, but I decided to dip my toes in the water, so to speak. I got a CAD degree, which got me a job at an architecture firm. I figured out that I did not want to be an architect. But, I did use that CAD degree to stay in the construction industry. I went to fire protection after that and was in it for 14 years. The fire protection industry is still very much a male-driven industry. The guys that started as young men back in the ‘60s or ‘70s might still be in it. I had gotten into sales and estimating, and I just did not see the sales position going as far as I would have wanted it to. And then a contact that I had made offered me a job at Barton Malow, so I decided to make the switch from subcontractor to general contractor.
Bluebeam Blog: What was that transition like?
Going from a company that spanned the state of Florida to a company that spans all over the southeast, eastern and central regions was a difference, but it was a good difference. Coming over to Barton Malow, I was really impressed right off the bat at how many women were in project management and director positions. So it was a good change. I’m really glad I made it.
Bluebeam Blog: How did that inspire you?
I didn’t understand the scope of it until I actually started working for Barton Malow. I was just not prepared for as many women as I met that were in positions of power.
Bluebeam Blog: What made you get involved with VDC?
My natural aptitude and interest in technology, organization and standardization led me to the VDC department. I’ve been with the VDC group about two and a half years, after spending the first two years as a project engineer.
Bluebeam Blog: What was VDC like when you started in the role with Barton? And what do you do as a senior VDC engineer for the company?
When I started with my team, we were called the VDC collaboration team and we focused a lot on software testing and document control. We worked on lots of 2D things because we had a whole other team that took care of 3D coordination and 4D and all that other stuff. There were only three of us and we were trying to establish standards and get the right training pushed out to everybody in the company from the source—instead of the process being more like photocopying, where this person teaches this person and there’s always some loss of something. We’re still trying to do that. The group got re-structured to try and remove those silos. The guys who did 3D and self-perform modeling are learning about 2D stuff. We don’t expect them to be experts, but it’s a level of awareness and the kind of collaboration we didn’t have before, and the same with me. I am getting familiar with those other systems that I don’t work with all the time but which still fall under VDC.
Bluebeam Blog: How do you go about evaluating and measuring technology to know that it’s working or creating value? How do you know what you need?
I approach it from the end user level. In the VDC department, we can take a look at a piece of software and say, “Oh this looks like it would be great, it checks a bunch of boxes.” But it turns out, we have to go to the end users and say, “Does this save you time or is it more of a pain?” And in some cases there are things out there that project teams will be all about, but it’s cost prohibitive.
Bluebeam Blog: So you consult with project teams, as opposed to a more top-down approach to implementation?
Yes. For example, during our project management software testing, we had a week where we had some different software solutions that we wanted to try and we brought in people from our 3D coordination team, the VDC department, project engineers, superintendents, project managers. We brought in people from project delivery to come sit in a room with us and test it out from their perspectives. We came up with all the criteria for testing as a team and got the real-world feedback.
Bluebeam Blog: What kinds of specific feedback were you looking for?
If we deploy this and you were using it, what would you love? What would you hate? Would you want to use this? Would you want to do this one over that? That’s what it all comes down to.
“If we deploy something and the project teams don’t use it because it’s a pain to use, or it doesn’t achieve what they need, then it’s an obvious waste of money and time.” – Steffanie Schrader, Sr. VDC Engineer, Barton Malow
Bluebeam Blog: What is the biggest key to buy-in, in your opinion?
The whole way to get buy-in is, can you prove that you’re going to make people’s lives easier with this solution? That’s what it comes down to. Ted, my manager, has said on numerous occasions that even if you’re saving overall time, if you add one step to a process then people are going reject it. You have to take steps out of a process to make it a successful workflow, so that’s the way I’ve approached it since I started doing training. If I go into a job trailer and there are some people there who are really averse to technology, usually as soon as I show them that it’s simpler and it’s going to make their personal life easier, they’re like “Oh, okay.”
Bluebeam Blog: How would you approach the subject if you were giving a guest talk on technology’s value to the industry?
I know there are a lot of old school people who still want a piece of paper to scribble on, they don’t want to just look at things on digital solutions. But, I always bring it down to, what can be avoided by using digital workflows and technology. Can it reduce risk? Can it make your life easier? Can it remove what’s essentially busy work before you get to the actual work? You just have to reframe it a little bit. For instance, I’ve had some discussions with guys who didn’t trust the cloud, but they trusted a server. I’ll frame the conversations like, “Hey, we’re all carrying around cell phones, right? 10, 15 years ago, were you carrying around this magnificent little computer in your pocket? No. Has it made your life insanely better? Yes.” Technology is not there to take your job; It’s there to make your job easier.
Bluebeam Blog: Your passion for innovation seems to be a huge motivator for you. How else do you promote change?
I just recently got involved with the National Association of Women in Construction, or NAWIC. One of our business development colleagues up in Baltimore asked me to be a part of an event last year. I went and I talked about VDC and technology, and she invited me to be involved in a technology panel at the national NAWIC conference, which is a huge meeting. I did, and now I’ve volunteered my services to be the technology chair for my Orlando chapter. I’m just applying all my VDC knowledge to another group so that they can go about carrying out their mission better. And to spread awareness that construction holds a lot of opportunity for many different kinds of people.
StrXur: Was your experience in the Clark program different?
Ramos: Yes. When I worked with the state regulatory agency that regulates contracting in Virginia, every board member was male and there were very little minorities. In the contracting industry; you rarely saw women; rarely any Latina women at that. And so my perception of the construction industry was completely different. At the program, when I was able to get in a room with people like me, it was very encouraging because there was one older Latina woman there that I could look up to and say, “Hey, you have a successful construction company, and this is what I can look up to and aspire to.” And I felt that that was important for me, but also important just to see and have different perspectives. I think that these programs really bring that to the industry. They bring diversity, inclusion and different perspectives; I think that that can only help the industry as a whole.
StrXur: You’ve actually partnered with the program. Can you explain that?
Ramos: We’re helping to spread the word about the program towards women-owned and minority-owned businesses. A lot of the time, these businesses don’t know about these opportunities. I know Clark wants to get the word out more and be able to reach more women-owned or minority-owned businesses so that they know about the opportunity and can take advantage of it.
StrXur: What advice would you have for other people looking to go into construction or construction ownership? Would you have any special advice for women or minorities who are also in that sort of group?
Ramos: I would advise them to acquire a good technical understanding of construction and seek out learning opportunities. I think that’s the most important advice I can give. I think what has pushed me the most is being aware that I don’t know it all. And being aware that there’s always a lot to learn. Knowledge really is going to help you have a more successful company. There’s no “one path to success” in the contracting industry. That’s why I decided to share my story. I’ve gotten so much amazing feedback from women saying that I’ve encouraged them to look more into the construction industry, and I hope to see more women, not only in my own company, but in the construction industry in general. It’s really important to try to educate yourself and then continue educating yourself so that you can do the best job possible.