Jon: Hi. Welcome to Shift, PwC Canada’s podcast series, and we’re digging into key digital trends and topics that can make your business transformation a reality. I’m your host, Jon Finkelstein, and I’m also the Creative Director of PwC Canada. Today we have an amazing guest, Mark Bryant, who is the chief information officer of PCL Construction, and latest recipient of a V2R award. Congratulations for doing that. Tell us a little bit, what was it like?
Mark: The award ceremony was awesome. I got to meet a lot of peers and colleagues across multiple industries. It was exciting..
Jon: When you did the entry, did you think that you were going to win?
Mark: We knew we were going to win.
Jon: Yeah? Were you super confident?
Mark: Absolutely. We're super confident. I’ve got an amazing team. We've made a significant transformation. I went in there with a high degree of confidence that we were going to take it away.
Jon: That's wicked. Congrats. Tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you do at PCL?
Mark: I'm responsible at PCL for the entirety of our IT operations and digital transformation strategy as it relates to moving technology forward in the organization, primarily with a focus on how do we drive digital transformation in the field. How do we transform that operation of the organization to be more digitally enabled to do things with a higher level of productivity, higher level of creativity, higher level of efficiency, higher level of quality, and higher level of safety.
Jon: When I think of construction, I don't automatically go to digital transformation. I think of machinery, I think of people constructing large buildings. Clarify for us, a little bit about how digital and digital transformation plays a role in construction.
Mark: Well historically, it hasn't, so it's a great question. We do things on a job site today that we've done 50 years ago, 75 years ago, 100 years ago. That's where the opportunity is. Taking away paper process, streamlining and automating things that would be done by arms and legs moving. A great example would be we use iPads on the job site today to do safety inspections and quality inspections. We're doing things instantaneously at a job site today that historically we would take hours to get back to a sub trade. Those things, those digital technologies allow us to do things more efficiently, make sure we have a high level of safety and a high level of quality, and that's what customers want.
Jon: PCL is 110 years old. I've got to think there's all sorts of deeply rooted opinions. "This is the way we do things. “It's been working this way for 100 years and we're like the top”. “Don't talk to me about iPads and digital transformation." I'm guessing though.
Tell me, was it difficult? When you started the process, was it one of those things where the organization goes, "Absolutely. We need to do this," or, "I'm skeptical."
Mark: It's probably the 80/20 rule. You probably have 80% of the people in the organization that say, "Yeah, we've always done it this way. We've battle tested it, battle scar it. We've gone through the battle scars. We're going to continue doing it this way. There's always that 20% that just wants to disrupt a little bit more and open a change.
You have to find the people in the organization that are willing to make the change and get them to be part of the change with you. If you don't, you won't have the organizational success. The other thing I can say is, you can't boil the ocean over-night. You've got to start really small, very tactical. Where's the immediate business value and work with those people that do want to disrupt and change. Then use that as your proving point. If you can do that with one or two of the naysayers, bring them along for the ride. It adds credibility for the next one. You've got to keep building on that momentum. You can't do one and stop. You've got to continuously keep adding momentum as you gain it.
Ironically, the demographics are shifting as well. We have a lot more young people coming in to the work force, that need or ‘I expect your company to be in the digital era’. We bring students in to help us with the new thinking. It's a great learning experience for everybody in each of those specific roles.
It allows us to see things that we may not have been thinking of, and it brings forward new ideas and that change. I think the most important thing in any organization is the management of people and change. Without that, the technology doesn't matter. Partnering with a younger generation and allowing those students to come in and say, "Hey, have you guys tried this?" is positively disruptive, I think, in the organization.
Jon: Let's talk about change for a second. You talked a little bit about, doesn't matter how great the idea is, if you don't have change management in place, if you don't have a way to get people on board, you're pretty much dead in the water. Tell us a little bit about how you did that within PCL
Mark: Change management around people is probably the most complicated thing. In the early days, it was probably one of the things we overlooked the most. I think people were a little bit scared that they were going to lose their job by us moving technology infrastructure to the cloud. That's when the light bulb went on about managing the people change. How do we get people on board, make sure that they're part of the process, understand what they want to do in the future, look for opportunities to retrain them.
Give them really good visibility into what was going to be next for them, ideally, something that they were passionate in. Communicating and evangelizing early and often is critically important.
I think it's critically important to help people understand what's in their future, making them part of it, retraining them, and really getting them involved.
Jon: I love what you said about, "Hey, consider it this way. We're going to change from X to Y. In doing so, it opens up a whole world of potential opportunity that didn't exist before for you.
Mark: Absolutely. I had to ask people, "Why did you get involved in technology?" I personally got involved in technology 20 some-odd years ago, because I don't like doing the same thing every day. I like challenges. I like obstructions. I like figuring out how to get around them. I like embracing new technology. I think our change metamorphosis really woke everyone up, to help them re-realize why they got into technology and reengage their passion, reengage their energy, and reengage their spirit.
Jon: There's a quote that I really like. It's very simple: “habit is the great deadener”. I find that that's, for me, I love tech as well. Doing things differently, you find when you get into doing the same thing over and over and over again, you just go into autopilot. Nothing awesome happens.
Mark: I think there's a lot of organizations that are in that stagnant state. You have to take a leap of faith and you have to understand and have a vision of where you want to go, how you're going to get there, how you're going to get people involved, how you're going to communicate it and what the processes are. If you don't have those ingredients in that Crock-Pot, you're going to fail. It's a great question, because you have to have all those things in that Crock-Pot for that to taste good. If you don't, you're going to see something there, but you're probably not going to want to eat it. If people aren't eating what you're selling, you're not going to have success.
Jon : Maybe we could spend a second telling us a bit more fulsome if you will. When you won V2R, what did you win it for? Tell us about your transformation.
Mark: Well first, I won for the people. I had a four-prong strategy in my vision that I laid out. It was cloud-first mentality.
How do we mobilize? How do we enable mobility in the field? How do we use data and analytics to drive decision making? Then what's the integration technologies that we use to stitch that all together? It was the combination of those four things that have allowed us enable our digital transformation strategy. The fourth ingredient in that mix though, that is, as I said, more important than the technologies getting people onboard.
I can tell you, those four things that we did, that have transformed us significantly, have set the stage for their digital transformation that we're working on right now. Certainly, cloud, first and foremost has allowed us to streamline the operations of what I would call traditionally technology operations of the business, so people keeping the blinking lights on in the back end that are usually not seen by most organizations.
The mobile component of that strategy is enabling us to do quality inspections, safety inspections, use of drones in the field, augmented reality, virtual reality, in the field, driving different practices around, construction, virtual estimating. We're doing that as well. Then shifting to data and analytics, we have a huge data analytics practice.
Jon: Love to hear a little bit more about AR/VR and some of the practical applications. Do you have an example?
Mark: Yeah sure. We're building towers all over North America. There's a specific tower that we're doing today where we've used augmented reality to allow an owner to visualize what a finished tenant's suite will look like, based on the materials and features and functions that the owners expect. We can actually take the owner right into the 45th floor of that facility. Have them put on the goggles in an unfinished room, and actually see what those finishes will look like. It gives the owner a great level of confidence that they've picked the right builder, they've picked the right materials.
Augmented reality really gives you a feeling of comfort that it's going to be what you envisioned. When you're investing millions of dollars in a building, that's a peace of mind. That again, enables us to drive a different level of value in customer satisfaction before we even put a shovel in the ground.
Jon: That’s amazing. You're entering another phase of your transformation. What's next?
Mark: Excited to tell you, this is probably one of the most exciting things I've worked on in my last 10 years in my career. The next phase of our digital transformation is around two prongs. One is smart construction. One is smart buildings. Let me tell you a little bit about those two things.
On the smart construction side, we're expanding that business analytics that I referred to earlier to something called job site insights. We're going to be leveraging IOT sensors to instrument job sites with sensors that measure things like heat, humidity, vibration, noise, barometric pressure, volatile organic compounds. We're putting those on the work face of a construction site. To make sure that things like mill work, making sure that the temperature and humidity in a room is kept at a constant, so we don't have mill work issues.
We're instrumenting sensors on materials for materials tracking. We're instrumenting sensors on people to make sure that they're safe and we know where they are on the job site. Those are a few items that we're doing and currently active today in pilot phase, to enable a job site to be smarter.
Our project analytics dashboard is going to graduate to job site insights, that'll still have safety and financials and quality and all those other things, but will also have the telemetry data from the IOT sensors, that allow our construction manager, our general superintendent and project manager to have a really good view of what's going on at that job site at any given time. That's job site insights. We don't think anyone else in the industry is doing it.
On the flip side, we have owners continuously asking us for a smart building. A smart building could mean several things to people. Traditionally, a building management system is installed in all buildings. That primarily focuses on energy. Again, using IOT sensors, we want to be able to provide a buffet of sensors to an owner that say, "Hey, you want to measure how many times the elevator's going up and down? We can put a sensor in that elevator."
You want to understand how many people are coming in the west entrance versus the east entrance? Would you like a sensor to count people? Do you need facial recognition?" The list goes on. If you can dream up a need, likely a sensor out there that does it.
How can we, when we commission a building and turn it over to an owner, put all those sensors in, measure what they're doing, give the owner great confidence that not only the traditional building management system, but all the sensors that they put in to manage their building? How can we hand that over to them with great confidence on a single pane of glass for them to then, on a go-forward basis, manage their building?
That’s PCL's vision of an intelligent building.
Jon: That's really, really interesting. I can totally see the power of all of that analytics, all those sensors, where does privacy and concern for privacy factor in?
Mark: Well, the only are that privacy really would be an issue is if we did something that tracked you as an individual. Depending on the state or the province that we operate in and the privacy laws there, there may be certain things that we have people review and sign and understand. Certainly we're encountering that now. Early days for, certainly around people tracking, that's where privacy would come in.
Jon: Smart buildings, smart technologies, IOT sensors, cities are changing. What's your view? What do you think about smart cities and where's it going?
Mark: I don't think you have a smart city without smart construction. You can't have a smart building without smart construction. I think smart cities are going to be a result of smart construction and smart buildings together.
We didn't refer to it earlier. I think one of the things that is equally important and needs to happen is, we need to have a good focus on artificial intelligence and machine learning. Certainly as you start multiplying this thing out. The ability to scale it needs artificial intelligence and machine learning. I think a smart city needs those things, but conversely, I think the smart construction and the smart buildings I referred to over time, are also going to need those technologies to be capable.
I think there's an amazing opportunity there, but I don't think it happens without really smart government regulation.
We've got pockets in Montreal, Toronto, and certainly Edmonton is a top 10 AI school. I don't know if that's well known across the country. I think we need to leverage those things. We need to embrace them. If we don't, my concern as being a fortunate leader of a Canadian construction company and technology is that we may have a brain drain. Let's not educate our people here in Canada, have them go south of the border to feed a US technology company. Let's keep them here locally and figure out how we can embrace the technology solutions that we have here, homegrown in Canada and drive greater prosperity for Canadians.
Jon: Absolutely. You guys are living the promise of smart construction. Seeing a need for artificial intelligence, machine learning and those skills, it's like it becomes self-fulfilling prophecy in a way, which is awesome.
I had the good fortunate of interviewing Councilor Michelle Holland on one of the podcasts. She heads up the innovation economy for the City of Toronto. Working really closely with the mayor and going out around the world talking about how, and obviously, her purview is just Toronto. There's a lot going on in Vancouver as well, and how it's a hotbed of innovation, and how we need to continually fuel it. Not only to keep people here, but to mitigate the brain drain, but also attract people and to really be a leader in smart technology. It's a very exciting place to be.
Mark: You just painted an analogy without realizing it. What you just described is exactly what we had to do internally to drive our digital transformation at PCL. We had to make it exciting. We had to get people involved. We had to keep people engaged. We had to get small wins. We had to keep that momentum going. That all allowed us to keep talent that we had, but also attract new talent as we transformed. On a larger scale, we have to do that in cities across the country.
I think we have a phenomenal opportunity to reinvent our economy in a smart, digital way.
Jon: Think about okay, you're talking to a company that feels very legacy. Potentially old school. We talked about that as being construction. The lessons learned are, communication always seems to be the one that sticks out. Yes, you have to have a vision. You have to have a road map. You have to have executive leadership buy in and then also what's going on at the grassroots level.
Mark: You have to communicate early and often. You have to show the benefits continuously. Whether they're work related, financially related or productivity related. You always got to be able to show here's what happened. Here's what's changed. Wins generate confidence. Confidence generates momentum. Momentum generates excitement. Excitement generates new thinking. New thinking generates the opportunity to drive new technology and new solutions.
If you get enough wins under your belt and continuously build that moment, that crazy idea over there is no longer a crazy idea anymore. It's like, "Why don't we try it out?" We spend a small amount of money on R&D that we may not have spent in the past. What's critically important, everything I just said is, it's okay to fail, then move on to the next thing. Agile development helps us do that, an open mind helps us do that.
Jon: Mark, congratulations again on winning the Reinventor award in our Vision to Reality awards this year. That is no small feat. I'm sure the competition was fierce. I'm glad that you were able to be in town to accept the award. Equally grateful for you spending time with us, talk about your transformation. The highs and the lows, and what it really took to transform what a lot of people might think in construction, being a very old school legacy industry, and really changing the game, not only to improve how you're doing work, why you're doing work, the type of work that you're doing, and really becoming the one to beat.
Mark: Thanks Jon. I really appreciate that. I guess what I would say is, I'm grateful to my team, because my team earned the award. I didn't do it as an individual. It was my team that earned the award. I think we're only in the first few innings of our digital transformation game. Certainly, we're excited about the innings that we're playing in right now and what we're about to do next. Pretty excited about it to be quite frank.
It's a great time to be in IT. It's a scary time, but it's a great time as well.
Jon: You're right. As soon as you finish one sprint or one area of a transformation, it leads to the next one. It leads to the next one. Small transformations lead to a much bigger one and then a bigger one. There's no sitting around resting on your V2R laurels. I'm sure you're working on the next ideas for the next application, for next years, 2019.
Mark: We've got the hologram in process.
Jon: Thanks for listening to this episode of Shift. You can get more details at PwC.com/CA/Shift. If you enjoyed this episode and want to hear more, subscribe to our podcast series. You can find us on iTunes, Google Play or your preferred podcast platform. Just so you know, this podcast has been prepared by PricewaterhouseCoopers, LLP, an Ontario Limited liability partnership for general guidance on matters of interest only and does not constitute professional advice. Until next time.
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