Debrief: e-Construction in Practice Exchange w. PennDOT & KPG: How to Run A Successful Pilot

During Pavia’s April e–Construction in Practice exchange, Tom Harman, Director for the FHWA Center for Accelerated Innovation, talked about the various funding options available to state agencies to minimize the risks and financial impacts of piloting e–Construction technologies.

Once you have secured funding, the question becomes: how do you pilot your e-Construction technologies successfully, regardless of your prior experience?

Jim Foringer, Assistant District Executive, Construction for PennDOT and Nate Monroe, Resident Engineer, Construction Services at CEI firm KPG, shared their recent experiences piloting e-Construction technologies during our June 29th e-Construction in Practice Exchange, which was moderated by Forbes contributor and author Mark Fidelman. Below are highlights from their conversation.

Watch the entire exchange on YouTube.

Which e-Construction technologies have you recently test piloted? What were you hoping to change/improve?

JIM: PennDOT recently piloted four e-Construction initiatives for project collaboration, construction management, mobile data collection and archiving designed to save costs and boost efficiencies. Now in production, the pilots include a SharePoint-based project collaboration center that contains over 90,000 submittals and updates to our engineering and construction management system that merged electronic bidding and contract management with time expansions, work orders and field documentation. We also automated document workflows to minimize processing delays.

We also piloted mobile devices and applications for inspectors designed to replace standalone desktops in field offices with Web-enabled iPads for collecting data, writing daily diaries and completing documentation for payments. Our fourth initiative piloted an ECMS system to document and track project punch lists.

NATE: KPG piloted three technologies and adopted two: PlanGrid and Headlight. SharePoint didn’t make the cut, because the data entry part was difficult for people to use in the field, and they resisted using it. We also found SharePoint wasn’t an effective customer-facing tool. “PlanGrid and Headlight flowed into something we were already doing. There was no additional work you had to do to make those work. It was just, instead of doing an IDR on your laptop, now you’re doing it on an iPad. Instead of pulling out a plan book and marking it up, you’re doing it on your iPad. There wasn’t so much up-front change you had to do. You could immediately see the results of those two pilots.

What are the biggest hurdles to piloting e-Construction tools, and how did you address them?

JIM: The first challenge was gaining support from the executive team, since there was a fair amount of internal development effort involved in all four projects. The Construction QA team authored a white paper estimating cost savings and set up metrics to track cost savings, efficiency gains and feedback (both positive and negative) from the start.

The second challenge was clearly communicating business needs to the IT team. “For the mobile pilot, we actually had developers come to the field to understand a construction project and all the dynamics going on in the field.

The third was keeping Business Leads engaged in the pilots. Daily distractions can impede progress, slowing the pilot significantly. Fortunately, our project leaders reported to me directly and remained highly engaged throughout the process.

The fourth major challenge was user resistance, which is a work-in-progress as we roll out the systems to users across the state.

How did you identify the pilot team?

NATE:It came down to personality and timing. Finding people who are early adopters, who give good feedback and already have good communication skills. Fortunately, I don’t have hundreds of employees, I have about 25, so I know pretty much all my employees well.” In terms of timing, if you happen to have a project starting up in the next four or five months, you can try and time it so the same project team participates in the full pilot.

JIM: “It was probably a little more challenging for us having 11 engineering districts plus a central office, so we solicited volunteers from other engineering districts. We have longstanding IT coordinators in the districts, so they were a great asset to help start things up… We assembled project execution management teams by identifying folks that were real champions of what we were going to pilot and develop, and we assembled an executive level of project governance committee that really steers our projects. Our chief information officer identified who were going to be the developers and the business analysts and got those team members on board. Then we identified overall project managers for each project to keep things on track and really moving.

Do you have any specific recommendations for overcoming users’ resistance to change?

NATE:Change management is always hard for everything you do. I think the first step is recognizing when the person you’re talking to is going to see the new technology as an attack on the way he’s been doing things.” Coaching from this recognition can be very effective.

JIM: Winning over users requires plenty of coaching and hands-on support. We also give users up front wins: “Getting inspectors their iPads before we rolled out the mobile apps meant that they had their email, their own cameras, and all their documentation on one small device, instead of having to carry boxes around in the car.” Only after these initial wins did we roll out our mobile apps, which we made sure were intuitive to use.

We tested user friendliness and ease-of-use of our mobile solutions by recruiting 28 testers statewide – some who had experience using an iPad and some without. Our pilot team created mobile experiences, solicited testers’ feedback and interacted closely with testers to improve usability and get their buy in.

What kind of training did you offer users?

JIM: PennDOT offered various training materials at all levels throughout the pilot, beginning with an iPad reference guide covering basic iPad functionalities. We also offered training videos that actually walk users through the process of using the mobile apps, and how to sync them and hosted a kickoff meeting and face-to-face meetings to get them up to speed.” Training tools were fine-tuned during the testing phase and are now available to all users.

During a pilot, how would you handle a situation where somebody’s just saying, “I’m not going to use this tool?”

NATE:To be quite honest, I wouldn’t give them the pilot if that’s how it was going to be. I’m able to pick the people I want to be in the pilot program, and I would set it up for success by picking people that aren’t of that mindset. We take more of a toolbox approach and less of a burning platform approach to change management. Meaning that you can choose what you want to use, or not. With a couple of exceptions, there’s nothing that can’t be done multiple ways.” Our philosophy is – We think we have a better, quicker, more efficient way for you to get things done, but do whatever works for you, and we’ll make it work for us.

How did you know whether a pilot was successful or not? Do you start with a premise, and then if you hit that premise it’s successful? Or if you don’t, then it’s not successful?

JIM:It’s really that initial rate of return that we estimated, and then verifying that throughout the process. I guess I’m fortunate. It just seems like our rate of return keeps increasing as we go through the pilots and continue development.” Although these projects are 100% up and running, we’re still continuing to develop and pilot additional features. We’re careful to not overlap that rate of return between projects, so we can feel confident in the verification we are doing.

We have reported some pretty big numbers. As an example, we estimate our mobile initiative saves $17.5 million dollars a year. That’s 1.7 hours per person per day in efficiency gains from in-house staff and consultant inspectors; application development costs were 1.7 million dollars.

What e-Construction technologies do you plan to test next?

JIM:We get a lot of feedback and requests for additional apps and additional functionality. For example, we’re working on a concrete inspector app that we’re getting ready to roll that out across the state, and one of our big challenges is environmental compliance, and erosion and sedimentation. So we’re actually looking at making an app for a checklist to help with those inspections.

As far as bigger developments, PennDOT’s getting ready to roll out an automated source supply. The agency is also planning to automate our material certification system, implement electronic ticketing for delivery tickets and evaluate ways to improve inspector safety.

We are also looking into the HeadLight product. There was some features that we like and we’re probably going to have discussions to see if there is a way we can pull those into our system and not have to develop them.

WHAT’S NEXT?

We at Pavia Systems have a vested interest and considerable experience delivering successful digitized projects inspections programs with agencies across North America, and we’d like to show you how we do it.

Join Beth Chmielowskius, Vice President of Customer Experience, for a one-hour lunch-and-learn on Tuesday, August 2nd, 2016. Walk away with concrete management, field implementation and change management steps will give you a clear, actionable plan for your e-Construction deployment.

Register today!

 

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