Jan/Feb 2013

No longer about being feature rich, technology solutions need to be data rich.

Back in 2001 when Tooey Courtemanche founded Procore Technologies Inc., www.procore.com, Santa Barbara, Calif., and entered the construction software market, the name of the game was creating technology awareness. As he recalls, the construction industry was a stark contrast to the one that exists today. Back then to label a construction company a laggard when it came to using technology was the cliché it tends to be today. This isn’t to say the average contractor didn’t want to use technology; in fact these firms were very much enthralled by the idea of applying automation to their business. Simply put, it was more a matter of these companies not knowing what they wanted technology to do for their business.

Many events have occurred since that time to bring the industry forward. However, in Courtemanche’s opinion, very few events have had such a profound impact as the introduction of the iPhone in 2007. As he describes, once you planted the idea into the heads of the average construction business owner that the same technology they use to check their bank balance or log online to download email could also be used to manage their projects, it opened up this new world and a surfeit of opportunities for imagining what technology could provide for their business. And with that, the average construction business owner became fascinated with the idea of data. Simply put, they could now move closer to realizing what they wanted technology to do for their overall business and even its bottomline. Limitations were only capped by their creativity. From that point on it changed the way technology providers would serve the market. It became a matter of these companies becoming true partners in helping their customers color within the lines of their creativity.

Such a revelation had a profound effect on Courtemanche. Up until that point he and his company had been very much involved in what he characterizes as a “features race” with his counterparts in the construction-software market, trying to add on all the features to satisfy some imaginary checklist. Now he admits he is excited that the market is demanding software that works beyond the checklist. It turned out some of the early “whizz bang” things that were being creating were not delivering as much value to the end user as originally anticipated. Looking back, “eye candy” is a phrase he isn’t afraid to assign to a few of these features.

But that is the progression of technology. In a way, you need to know how to separate the “whizz-bang eye candy” from the mission-critical features in order to continue creating value. That being said, he believes re-doubling efforts to create value at Procore has been very important for pushing the technology forward to where it is today. Now the need for project controls and technology are still very much a given. Today, however, with the added idea of data becoming so ubiquitous that every construction manager, estimator, trade contractor, and executive could carry around powerful decision-making information in their pocket at all times, what you have is the potential for elevating the value of technology to an entirely new level.

As he describes it, most construction-business owners recognize the universal need for collaboration, transparency, and access to information on their projects. Therefore, the proper tools are required that will allow for that seamless integration of information that is now coming from multiple parties in a fast and steady stream. And it all needs to happen with very little effort on the part of the end user. It is only then, he believes, that the C-level folks in construction begin to realize the types of powerful decisions that can be made on their projects, for their customers, and for the long-term direction of their business. Truth be told, smart contractors that know how to access and manage their data will do extremely well in this new era of construction.

In order to be effective and deliver solutions designed to meet such a revolution with any type of conviction, construction software providers need to get in and do their due diligence with customers. It is an old adage that helped start the company, says Courtemanche. But he cannot take all the credit for such a creed—giving proper credit to his business partner Steve Zahm. In his opinion, it is the only way a software provider will be able to help customers move past that idea of what feature they want and get at what they want technology to do for their business.

As Courtemanche describes it, the role of software providers today is to spend time trying to understand the stratum of the organizations in which they are selling. For example, it is vital to uncover the answers to such questions as which data is most valuable to a chief technology officer compared to a construction manager? Or, which data makes the biggest impact on bid day as opposed to how (and how often, for that matter) data in the field can help support business decisions. To him, understanding each member of the team and in what format they need data is the role of the software provider today. It is something that each one of his customers expects and where he and his team spend the bulk of their time.

As we sit at the cusp of 2013, it might as well be 2007 all over again. While it was that year in which the iPhone changed the business environment, we now are presented with this very new idea of data. To the more generic business environment the phrase “big data” might even apply. But in the opinion of Courtemanche, the phrase “big data” isn’t one we should worry ourselves too much over. After all, that moniker may simply be a nice way to tie a bow around the concept of how information can influence business decisions. However, what is important, he says, is the idea that data—no matter how, where, or when collected—is helping the construction industry reduce risk. But hasn’t that been the idea all along?

Truth be told, not many technology solutions in the market today will provide contractors with all the data they need. But is imperative for solution providers to be working hand-in-hand with customers to understand what problems can be solved internally by simply having the right data at the right time. Again, it is back to Courtemanche’s idea that every request related to technology needs to be around helping customers reduce risk. If software providers are helping their customers solve a problem that mitigates risk, then they are doing their job. The need for better efficiencies? Risk management. The idea of creating a higher level of transparency and realtime access to information? Risk management. And so on and so on. Now the challenge becomes delivering technology tools that mitigate the risk in the most effective manner possible.

As he describes, technology itself is becoming more and more a commodity every day. That “feature race” of a few years ago has long ended—and no one cares to keep track of who won. Today there is a new race; one to help deliver a better understanding around what technology can do for the business of construction. Data is the starting point, but where that end point exists is anyone’s guess. This race won’t be won with a mindless list of features, but rather on due diligence. What’s that saying about quality over quantity? Courtemanche has an idea.

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