by Pete Schermerhorn
As the University of Hartford gears up for its 10th annual Visionaries Forum this April, I find myself thinking about the word “visionary.” To me, a visionary doesn’t just have a grand image or idea about what the future will look like but proactively works to make that vision a reality. A visionary thinks big but is also acutely aware of the smaller steps that are required to get there, which in my experience requires both a keen understanding of how things are done today as well as a willingness to get into the field (or onto the jobsite) and ask how things can be done better.
For the construction industry, which is still at the beginning of its digital journey, this is a particularly relevant and important concept. As I’ve written about before, after decades of lagging technology adoption, construction contractors are turning to cutting-edge tech (wearables, equipment sensors, drones, and other connected devices) to streamline processes and unlock new efficiencies.
And while tremendous progress has been made, there is more work to be done. Being a visionary involves more than simply having an idea or vision of what the future could be like, and similarly, innovation is much more than a one-time initiative/exercise before returning to business as usual. True vision and digital transformation challenges leaders and organizations to look within themselves and to establish the tools, processes, and frameworks necessary to unlock new insights, act upon those insights, and drive change.
So, what does this look like in practice?
In my experience in the construction industry, the most successful companies start their innovation journeys by bringing different stakeholders to the table to have a conversation. What does their future jobsite look like, and what challenges or limitations prevent that from being a reality today? What assumptions or ideas do they have about that future that new data could confirm or disprove? By taking their larger vision — such as one platform for project data — and breaking it into smaller chunks — determining what data it important and how they can capture it — they can set attainable goals and take concrete steps towards making it a reality.
For example, the ultimate vision of zero workplace incidents not only requires an understanding of the safety challenges faced today (limited visibility, manual processes, ineffective tools for communication, etc.) but a plan for enabling and maintaining a safer workplace. What is standard practice today and what risk-reducing/safety tools are available that aren’t being used? How can safety behaviors and practices be measured on site? How can project teams better prepare for emergency scenarios or encourage workers to stay vigilant and report hazards? Asking the right questions and assessing the available tools/solutions is the first step in a larger innovation journey that requires a willingness to review – and if necessary, change – corporate culture and governance. Yes, that initial idea or solution is important, but it’s equally as important to remember the people and processes that will support it.
Ultimately, a visionary is about more than his/her vision, just like innovation is about more than technology, and technology is about more than the product itself. A visionary requires foresight and creativity, as well as the wisdom to know that change doesn’t happen alone or overnight.
As the Visionaries Forum so astutely highlights, each one of us has an important role to play in driving the construction industry towards a smarter, safer, more sustainable future. From executives willing to champion change to project teams willing to test new solutions to industry partners shining a spotlight on all that’s happening in the industry, each of us plays a crucial role in shaping construction’s future and new digital identity. That’s the reminder and inspiration I take away from this event each year, and I hope you will too.
Pete Schermerhorn is president and CEO of Triax Technologies, Inc. and an active member of the Construction Institute, University of Hartford.