Art+Logic is a software development firm that designs, develops, and delivers high-level tech solutions for their clients. The company specializes in mobile apps, web software, desktop software, IoT, and has recently branched into product development where they are putting their software expertise to use contributing to the evolution of new ...
When people talk about innovation in construction, they often enthuse over new materials, methods, or design approaches that boost efficiency or lower costs. But one aspect of construction has remained stubbornly resistant to change and has mired many a project in confusion, waste, and extra expense: information.
“The built environment industry is one of humankind’s oldest industries, yet it’s a productivity laggard. In fact, tons of data says we’re going backward in productivity!” remarks Brett Grendahl, experienced contractor and founder of Built Data. “Contractors think in physical terms. The information side is a byproduct, and they hate it. But as they get better tools to cope with the information, they get better at the physical work.”
Built Data, in collaboration with software development firm Art+Logic, has developed the tools to change how the construction industry communicates. Together, they built the first app designed by seasoned construction professionals that makes gathering and assessing construction project data in the field easy. Skilled tradespeople can snap photos of their work on their phones and get helpful feedback to their questions or identify critical actions that need to happen. Supervisors can see exactly what materials have arrived when. Troubleshooting can happen right away, remotely and collectively. Even inspections can happen in real time, remotely, catching a code issue quickly and efficiently. Given the challenges of in-person collaboration during the pandemic, Built Data’s app is a huge step forward in a time of need.
Grendahl, a tech enthusiast who returned to his home state of Minnesota to help run the family construction business, struggled with the information void as he coordinated teams of skilled laborers, inspectors, suppliers, and customers. He found that what he didn’t know could hurt him, as projects stalled or lagged. He rigged up a sharing system for photos and information, a single place to store photos, reports from on site, invoices, and other key data. This system helped, but he thought it could be better. He decided to create something dedicated to the task of organizing and sharing construction information that captures the organic nature of the field and transforms it into the organized systems of the back-office.
Grendahl’s plan was to help the construction business catch up to the rest of the work world. “The industry has not adapted to the digitization of the world. The way of doing business isn’t built for community and collaboration, even though the goal is collaboration,” he reflects. “Our industry didn’t have a shared communication tool that could unite not just the people in the field, but also the entire ecosystem of vendors, suppliers, municipalities, government regulators, and so on. There’s a surplus of information, but we lacked a great way of sharing it and using it.”
Built Data facilitates this communication with easy sharing, tagging, and search tools customized to fit into a construction professional’s workflows. “The tool was intended to be a photo capture and human context capture submission tool. It’s created so that a person on site can say, ‘Here’s what I’m looking at, here’s what I want to say about it’, and have the photo and those thoughts be accessible later on. The interface had to be simple, clean, dynamic and fast. Folks in the field can generate lots of information quickly. They need to see a return on their time spent.”
Grendahl and the Built Data team knew that proving the app’s return on time investment was crucial to eventual adoption as they worked with Art+Logic to create Built Data’s app. Their beta testers were a tough crowd, older tradesmen who had no interest in messing with tech. However, skeptics turned to regular users thanks to Built Data’s chief benefit, the upside of more efficient communication. Workers and contractors began to use the app on their phones, not just to upload photos and ask questions, but also to show their work and get praise from their peers. “Working in the skilled trades on a site can feel lonely,” Grendahl explains. “It’s nice to hear that what you worked all day on, what most people will never see, looks great.”
Built Data was wary of aligning their tools too closely to a single platform or app store, and they needed the app to work on more or less any device. Art+Logic’s Christopher Keefer, who led development, recommended they use a progressive web app, a key decision in the success of the Built Data app. Progressive web apps allow companies to update their apps across platforms and devices at once, without the hassle of re-submitting an updated version to an app store or chase the moving target of changing operating systems and platforms. “Native apps have their place but they bring a heavier burden on the company to maintain that code base,” Keefer says. “You have to keep up with SDKs that your mobile vendors will mandate over time. With a progressive web app, you can gain most of the advantages of a native application, yet it only takes a day to update.”
The app has brought a new data- and communication-rich approach to construction. “Everyone working on a project can see all the pieces in the puzzle now. There’s no more hunting and pecking and searching for information to figure out what’s going on or what went wrong,” Grendahl notes. “The industry needs some true transparency and real-time feedback, as well as some love and respect for all the hard, sweaty work.”