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Blake Ratcliff on a Better Way to Boost Construction Productivity While Cutting Costs

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Trailblazer: Blake Ratcliff, CEO IntelliSpex

The trail he's blazing: Time and workforce management app for the construction, disaster recovery, and property management industries. The below article is a summary of the Podcast Interview.


The construction industry added 900 billion to the US economy in the first quarter of 2020. Then Covid-19 hit. Digital industries may have thrived, but construction is the second least digitized industry in the world.

"Changes are coming to the construction industry such as robotics to replace many inspection and assessment tools. 3D printing is already producing full building and foundation solutions," says Blake Ratcliff, CEO of IntelliSpex.

"But that only goes part way," he added. Ratcliff believes if you really look at the industry, the greatest opportunities are in improving the management and communication. In this interview he explains why the construction industry is on the verge of massive change.

Q - What happens on a construction jobsite when there are delays?

A - Work crews end up waiting around with nothing to do. Up to 40% of time on construction sites is waiting. You try to get an answer from an owner, but they may not be available.

And the owner may not even understand what the information means. When they do get more information, it raises even more questions. This can become a long drawn out process adding weeks, sometimes months for larger projects.

"Most decisions come down to your most skilled people."

The result is that budgets go up and other resources become delayed. Every party involved faces higher overhead management costs. Oftentimes you find you don’t have the skills you need to deal with it. So now you’re out searching for and bidding on new trades to resolve the problem.

This can have a cascading effect in some situations. Change orders are a major problem in the industry. While you can’t get rid of them, they are manageable. That’s been the missing piece the industry has had to live in the absence of solutions.

They’ve tried to automate the collection and management of the data. But most decisions come down to your most skilled people making choices. Not their ability to fill out paperwork.

Q - What happens when there is a budget overrun on a construction project?

A - In the most radical cases you’ll see unfinished buildings. Change orders may've exceeded the capacity of the people who were trying to do it and they had to abandon the project.

"It’s the perfect storm."

If it’s a government project, there may be bond issues. But in the end, the owner must come up with more money or it doesn’t happen. The impact on the people who were going to use that building is immense.

A - The industry has kept growing since the downturn in 2008. In the fourth quarter of 2020, the US industry was at 1.4 trillion - a new high. 2021 will be higher.

This will continue as more technologies emerge around the globe. But at the same time, the industry's most skilled resources are aging out. They will need these resources for the growing demand.

"It’s the second least digitized industry in the world"

Global construction productivity has declined since the 1960s. It is now poised for disruption by technology due to mobility tools like smart phones. It’s the second least digitized industry in the world. At the same time, it’s the largest industry with the largest waste problem.

Q - Will government spending increase due to Covid-19?

A - There is demand from both Republicans and Democrats for a large infrastructure investment. The US has a multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure deficit. I expect they’re going to use it to jumpstart the backside of the recovery.

Q - How can technology improve construction management?

A - Robotics are expected to replace many inspection and assessment tools. 3D printing is now producing full building and foundation solutions. There is tremendous emphasis on greater modular construction. But that only goes part way.

"46% can be fixed by providing better automation management tools"

If you really look at the industry, the greatest opportunities are improving management and communication. This includes the effectiveness of decision-making to put people and resources where they need to be and when – and with the ability to make the right choices.

That alone doesn’t require all the exciting technologies I’ve mentioned. But it's up to 46% of the waste. This can be fixed by providing better automation management tools.

McKinsey describes this broadly as onsite execution. We at IntelliSpex call it actionable site awareness. It’s what allows you to make those decisions and keep everybody informed and plugged in virtually to what's happening at remote sites across the country.

Q - How does IntelliSpex work?

A - As recently as June 2020, McKinsey cited that there were no entrants on a webcast in construction. And they didn’t see entrants in the onsite execution side. Skanska couldn't see any entrants. They said if you exist in the marketplace, we need these services. And if you are, you not communicating it well enough.

"IntelliSpex looks a lot like the Slack of construction."

We met with Stanley Ventures of Stanley Tool in December 2020. They told us that what IntelliSpex offers is both new and different. Accel, a seed investor in Slack said IntelliSpex looks a lot like the Slack of construction.

Our tool brings the construction site and the conditions at the site to remote users - wherever they are. They can share the conditions and communicate in real time.

We use photos and video clips to address construction site challenges. There is no site where you won’t find dead spots somewhere. But we have a rugged communication approach to manage that process.

"It changes how they do business."

We can bring those folks together, show them the site. And they become aware of the situation so they can make the right decisions. This enables the movement of people, equipment and resources. Construction supervisors can execute unique solutions to complex problems.

This eliminates waste, and projects move much faster. In a billing example, we often do a demo that takes about 8 minutes. In a real world situation, that same demo would take a day to a week.

With IntelliSpex it would takes a couple of hours. This amounts to a savings of 90%+ on timelines and reduced labor costs by 50-60%. So, we can add double digits to construction company margins. It changes how they do business.

Q - Can you share an IntelliSpex success story?

A - In Massachusetts a few years ago, Columbia gas over pressurized some gas north of Boston. 40 house went up in flames and over 8,000 homes lost their gas systems. IntelliSpex was used by one of the sub-contractors that resolved that problem.

"Cited by Deloitte as the best dataset."

Our field assessors were able to do 30% more work on a daily basis. We recovered 1270 homes in 6 weeks time. From a standing start, we trained everybody on day one in under 4 hours. That’s how easy our system is to use.

In under 3 days, were doing assessments and repairs on up to 120 homes a day. And 6 weeks later we had completed that project. It was cited by Deloitte as the best dataset. You can find Youtube videos on how the situation was completely turned around. It was originally projected to be completed in the summer a year following.

Q - What’s new for the IntelliSpex product?

A - We use geofencing to identify people at their worksite. But we don’t track them so there are no privacy issues. You can look at a live view of your work projects and see where your staff is and produce breadcrumbs. Those are all part of the product today.

"Breadcrumb maps will show you where people were on your worksite throughout the workday."

As opposed to other tools that are passive, IntelliSpex gives you a live view. You can see who is and who is not using that tool. Later this summer we expect to start providing breadcrumb maps.

Breadcrumb maps will show you where people were on your worksite throughout the workday. You'll know if they were where you wanted them to be, or do you need to make changes to get the results you want.

"There is the potential for doing some exciting things with AI in construction. "

We also expect to start offering a command center view. This will give you engine room-type gauges on how things are progressing. You'll be able to check if you're getting the right reports or if you have the right number of people.

Since IntelliSpex captures the context of what’s going on at site, there is the potential for doing some exciting things with AI. We are working on the intellectual property to help us build that continuous mode of patents. We expect to file more patents in each year for the next 4-5 years.

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Derek Little

Derek Little

CEO or TrailblazerWriting.com and Chief Podcasting Officer of TechnologyTrailblazers.Club

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