The following is a guest post by Dustin Chapman.
Dustin Chapman is an Area Manager at busybusy.com- a software that simplifies your payroll process and improves your workforce analytics through better time keeping. While working as a construction professional, he built out well over 1 million square feet of multi-family, commercial, institutional, religious, tenant finish, apartment renovation, green building, podium, and financial institution projects. Most recently he has been heavily involved in helping folks in the construction industry of all skill levels adopt technology.
If you haven’t seen it yet, the “in” gift this past Christmas turned out to be a product by Amazon called the Echo. Echo comes in different sizes, shapes, and price ranges, but the one thing that makes the Echo special is Amazon’s artificial intelligence called Alexa.
Alexa is different. It’s better than Apple’s Siri. It’s more functional than Google’s voice assistant. Amazon has developed a product that “just works.” I (apparently like many others) purchased one for our household for Christmas and the best thing I can say about it is that it passes the kid test. My kids can’t stop playing with it and asking it questions and they don’t get frustrated by what it can’t do but rather become excited by what it can do.
So what exactly does Alexa do? It can play you a song, create a radio station from your favorite artist, play your favorite sports talk radio station, order garbage bags (or whatever you want) from Amazon.com, create an event for your calendar, function as your alarm clock, add items to your to-do list... it can do a lot of fun things easily- but it goes much deeper than that.
Amazon was quick to put out a public developer kit so that seemingly anybody that wanted to could develop an integration with Alexa. That means that it can also read your tweets to you, turn your lights off, control your furnace or A/C temperature, or read you the latest news update from your favorite news network. And this is just the tip of the iceberg, through a service called IFTTT (which stands for If This Then That) you can link up almost any service you want.
The point in telling you all of this is not to prove how big of a fan I am of this product (I am), or how I think this product can help on a jobsite (it can), but rather to talk about how the strength of Alexa is interoperability. It’s a newer product, but rather than going with the closed ecosystem approach that we see so many tech companies go with (hey Apple) Alexa works with many other complimentary products early on in the product life cycle. I wouldn’t compare it to having your Milwaukee battery work in your DeWalt drill, but I would say that it’s like having drill bits work in drills and blades working in saws regardless of brand. In short interoperability is being universal. It’s collaboration. It’s what construction is.
Unfortunately up to now interoperability among many of the construction software products hasn’t been pushed as much as it has in many other segments of the industry. There are many reasons for that, primary among those is that most construction software companies are still fighting for market share and profitability. There are also issues with code and manpower to make things “interface” among other reasons, but we’re slowly seeing it happen at an increasing rate (shout out to the Procore App Marketplace and the Bluebeam Developer Network).
Amazon is in a fight for market share in the new virtual assistant market with their Echo/Alexa product against Google’s Assistant and Apple’s HomeKit offering. They made the conscious decision to be more open with their technology early on rather than be closed and wait for the market force them to be collaborative.
In my time in the construction software industry one of the most frequent complaints I get is that solution A doesn’t work with solution B. For example, even though a solution-specific mobile app (time keeping, daily reporting, punch list management, etc.) would be tremendously helpful, if it doesn’t play nice with the company’s long established ERP solution it makes the adoption process a much harder sale. The lesson that Amazon and Alexa teach us is that being proactive in letting tech solutions work together ultimately leads to quicker adoption, which leads to increased market penetration, and ultimately more for everybody.
The counter argument, of course, is that keeping things closed and single solution-centered means greater control and ultimately a better experience. It’s the system that Apple has used and frankly has made endless amounts of money doing. While this may be true to a degree even Apple has realized over the years that they need to work with Google and likewise Google with Apple. Google has many apps on iOS devices and Apple Music runs on Android.
If Alexa is any indicator of what the future holds then interoperability is going to be a big deal. I’ve already seen it in the products I’ve worked with within software for construction. Project Managers and Foremen want to track time and job costs in busybusy and have it automatically carry into Quickbooks or Procore. Superintendents want to create daily reports in Raken or Note Vault and have them flow into Timberline or Viewpoint. Field Engineers want to create punchlists on their plans in Fieldlens and have it sync to Bluebeam.
These examples are just the beginning. There’s so much potential data available that isn’t being properly utilized. In my opinion the ones that are proactive in getting the data and the collection and reporting programs to work together will ultimately win out and the industry as a whole will benefit. ConTechTrio member Josh Bone said recently that he felt that in the very near future interoperability (his words were “Common Data Environment”) between softwares would take off. I say watch the trend and enjoy the ride because it’s coming fast!