Smart Humans Use Smart Tech
An interview with Dr. Jeong Woo
Be smart about choosing software. Avoid data silos. And don’t ignore good old-fashioned people skills now that there’s a dazzling amount of technology at your fingertips. Those are just a few things Dr. Jeong Woo wants future and current construction professionals to know. Dr. Woo has a Ph.D. in architecture and is program director of construction management and associate professor of civil and architectural engineering and construction management at the Milwaukee School of Engineering. He recently spoke with StrXur about how the construction industry uses software, how to teach a new generation of construction professionals, and transferable skills. Dr. Woo was a speaker at BD+C Accelerate Live! Conference, where he delivered a talk on education as the single biggest driver for change in the AEC tech revolution.
You’ve been studying how the construction industry uses software for a long time. We’re now at a point where there’s an app for nearly every workflow. Three years ago, there were under 50 tech startups in the AEC space; today, there are over 2,200. Isn’t there a danger that the choices will simply be overwhelming and people will purchase software they don’t need/know how to use?
I actually did a research project related to this with my graduate students and we found that the average number of software programs that companies are using is seven to eight—for project management alone. And the average functions they use from each software is 1.5 or 2. For example, if they have a safety app, they might use it just for taking pictures and submitting safety reports. And then they’ve also purchased quality control software, other safety software, equipment management software. They have a lot of small apps for those individual things. And so often that creates information silos within the company.
How do you teach your students to deal with this challenge? What software do you teach in your classes?
They need to think about aligning software function with their workflow. If they know how to use the functions for their specific workflow, they can easily increase the usability of it. I think that another reason why people are doing so few tasks with each software application is because people don’t know how to select their software. They just select it from their peer recommendations or marketing brochures. And they don’t really look into the detailed functions to use it for their specific workflow.
We have a lot of a construction courses using Bluebeam. The reason is that Bluebeam can be used in many different ways: for site management, estimating, scheduling, project management and design-build studio, and we also use Studio for submittals and to upload construction and design documents. We teach Procore for project management, because it has specific functions to improve the RFI submittal process. And we use Navisworks for construction coordination.
One of the messages from your presentation at BD+C Accelerate Live! was about teaching transferable skills, skills that go beyond proficiency in a certain construction app or design software. Can you tell us about those skills?
The reason why we use specific tools or software is to improve efficiency, accuracy and communication, right? So, beyond the software skills, we’re really focusing on improving students’ communication skills. That includes sharing information on time and processing and utilizing information to deliver necessary outcomes. Those are all communication skills, and then the students, once they have learned these human skills, then they can use a certain app or software to help them in meetings or presentations. Communication skills help you use construction communication software. Students also need to know how to align construction data with a specific workflow. For example, if you use BIM (Building Information Modeling) software, a lot of people think that just means using Revit for 3D design. But actually, we are using BIM or a lot more reasons that that, such as extracting quantities and developing bids or estimating materials. There’s a lot more things we can do with the design data. Students should be able to use design data for problem solving.
What’s your advice to future construction professionals on collaboration and communication?
I always tell my students: it’s important to take a call from your client without making them angry. What I’m saying is, even though we have a lot of tools that aid communication and collaboration, at the end of the day people in the industry have to know each other personally and personal relationships are key. Collaboration tools help us a great deal, but a lot is based on real relationships. Be collegial with project team members so they’ll want share a lot of information with you. Develop good teamwork.
Another thing is data interoperability. That’s key. If one software doesn’t communicate with another software, it’s a total disaster, since you cannot share any of the data information across your project. Lastly, keep up with innovative technologies because technology is changing on a daily basis. You should be able to be flexible and adjustable, so you can update what you are using.