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How do project constraints and measuring production progress enhance project performance and save cost?

In this episode, we sat down with Matt Desmond, President of AGTEK, to discuss how understanding project constraints and measuring production progress enhances performance and saves costs for contractors.

BK: Welcome to HxGN Radio. My name is Brian and in today’s podcast, we’re going to be discussing how understanding project constraints and measuring production progress, enhances performance and saves costs for contractors.

Joining me today is Matt Desmond, President of AGTEK. Matt, I just want to say thank you for joining me, appreciate it.

MD: Thanks very much. Great to be here.

BK: Yeah, of course. Well, let’s get to know you a little bit. Tell us about yourself, what you do and what you’re nerding out on, you know, personally. We’ll start with the personal side first.

MD: Okay. My name, Matt Desmond. On the personal side, what I’m nerding out on… My pastime is doing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

BK: Oh, nice. Very cool.

MD: I’m nerding out on trying not to get strangled or not get my arm broken. That’s a lot of fun.

BK: That’s cool.

MD: It’s like meditation for me, which is a little bit different from normal meditation. When I’m doing jiu-jitsu, if somebody’s trying to strangle me or break my arm, I can only focus on one thing and that’s not work.

BK: I hear you on that. Do you have the brain where there’s just a thousand things going on at the same time and by being able to focus on that one thing, that’s what calms the brain for you? Is that what you’re saying?

MD: Yes, exactly. There’s nothing like life and death that makes you focus on what you need to do.

BK: I’m in the same boat when it comes to that. Too many things… I got 10 songs running through my brain at the same time too. I’m just like, “Why?” I need something to… I like this. I might have to consider Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I like that.

MD: I’m sure you’d find it enjoyable.

BK: Regular meditation doesn’t work for me either. It’s too quiet and that’s bad. I love that. All right, Matt, tell us a little bit more about your role with Hexagon and how did you come into that role and what’s your passion for the industry as well? Let’s go into that.

MD: Yeah, I’ve been in construction all my life. My father was a carpenter and I used to work a lot with him and then all the way through to now I’ve been in construction related industries.

BK: Sure.

MD: I’m a trained surveyor, went to university in Australia, hence my accent, my deep southern accent. After working for a while, I needed a holiday, so I went to the UK. I worked there for several years on one of the biggest construction projects in Europe, that was about 20 years ago now. I started using machine control there. At the time it was quite cutting edge. We were automating paving machines. My visa ran out and I needed another job. I rang up Leica, one of the Hexagon companies, to see if there was another project nearby using the same technology. There wasn’t actually that many projects in the world, so they asked me to come and work for them developing the next generation from a user’s perspective. That was about 17 years ago.

BK: Oh, nice.

MD: Then I went to Switzerland, worked in the machine control division of Hexagon for six years, developing the next generation of technology for machine control and grade checking, but my hometown drew me back. I went to Brisbane to work in the mining group, developing technology for really big machines and bigger trucks and spent six years there looking after service delivery teams all over the world. I got to travel the world with some of my teams to look at how we could implement the technologies on lots of different mine sites in lots of different places. Then I came back to construction and one of the Hexagon companies that was acquired, this company called AGTEK. After the acquisition, I came as part of a transition and now I’m the president of AGTEK. I’ve been there for four years. I’ve lived in California for the last three years and I travel now back and forth between Brisbane and California.

BK: That’s cool.

MD: I had a great journey in Hexagon. It’s been fantastic, technology and construction are what I love to do besides Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

BK: That’s great. Well, it’s good. You’ve got an actual passion for what you do and the fact that you’ve had so much diversity within your field as well, which is really cool too, because it just gives you a much more experience. You travelled around the world. Of course, you’re able to interact with various people depending on where they’re from, culture and everything too. It’s probably given you quite a wealth of experience.

MD: Oh, it certainly has. At the end of the day, while lots of people think there’s lots of differences in how construction processes run and projects and things, problems are still the same. Nearly everywhere in the world, there might be some small changes, but the main challenges are getting projects in the door and getting them done.

BK: Yeah, and safely.

MD: And safely. That’s right.

BK: Yeah. Absolutely. Oh, that’s great. We’ll talk about some of the changes you’ve seen though over the last five years in the industry.

MD: Yeah. I think the last three years have probably been the biggest change with COVID and all of the other issues that have gone on because of COVID. We’ve seen some acceleration and adoption of some of the technology. It’s getting somewhat easier to use, getting a little bit more democratised, but there’s still a long way to go in that sort of easy use, but the need for communication is really what’s changed, and which was spurred on by COVID. Not having all your people on site or having issues with getting labour, issues with having to social distance and do all of those sorts of things have really allowed people to look at technology implementations in a little bit of a different way.

There’s probably still two main ways that customers are implementing their technology, either through transformational changes where they’re looking at end-to-end of the whole process that their company goes through, or more incremental, where they look at one problem at a time. I’d say COVID has led to a little bit more transformational change where you look at the whole value chain, but that’s not to say that’s the right way for every company. Solving a problem and starting to implement technology is the best thing you can do, no matter how you do it.

There’s also been a lot of supply chain issues, especially more recently in getting equipment, getting materials for construction sites. That’s led to a lot of delays, a lot of potential overruns if that hasn’t been built in up front into the project. Education is a big deal. We’re seeing people being, I’d say, more educated about the general ability or the benefits of technology, but not really in how to apply it to their specific scenarios. Then also the increase in digital platforms, social media, the way you can consume information has completely changed. We try and push out our information across as many channels as we can to try and get our customers educated.

BK: Yeah. Speaking of customers too, I’m assuming you’ve seen some significant changes as far as their expectations and of course, just mentioning all the challenges you guys have dealt with in the last few years, what’s going on with that? How are they coming across now?

MD: Our focus is… Well, the AGTEK tagline is Dirt. Simple. Solutions.” We really try to make things as easy to use as possible. I think that there is a need to democratise the technology, to make it useful for the generalist on site. Often technology is considered the realms of a specialist user. Lots of people that adopt technology think they need a Surveyor or a Civil Engineer or someone with a university qualification to run the technology. That’s simply not true. What we try and do is make the technology as easy to use as possible for a construction generalist, rather than needing to have a specialist to run all the technology. There’s certainly places for specialists and there’s great benefit in having specialists in your workforce, but quite often it’s more difficult to make an application easy to use than it is just to add another button or another workflow. We really focus on keeping that workflow very much constrained to heavy construction. We optimise everything we do for our own industry… and don’t try and be all things to all people. To really focus on their needs. At the cornerstone of that is making everything dirt simple.

BK: Yeah, which is good. I love that. How is Hexagon with AGTEK all of that, how is this all coming together? Well, let’s go into the next stuff. Let’s go into the future of the industry too. I’m just curious how you’re working together to provide these solutions and then looking forward too. What are you thinking?

MD: Yeah. On the AGTEK piece, we really develop software for getting work in the door and getting it done. That’s a continuum. You need to do a take-off. You need to understand your lengths, area, counts and volumes of all of the material and things you need to move on a construction site. Then you need to measure against that.

BK: Yeah.

MD: Once you’ve won the job, the process doesn’t finish, and you need to hand that over to the crew that’s actually going to execute that work. If you don’t know what the baseline is, you can’t measure against it and then you can’t improve on your performance.

BK: Sure.

MD: Making sure that there’s a continuum from winning work and getting it done productively is something that we are really focused on. To make sure that there’s a feedback loop and that everyone is informed of what’s going on and what opportunities that there are to improve. We’re really tying that together with lots of other technologies from Hexagon. Machine control, cloud technologies with ConX, being able to bring all of that data back to make sure that the turnaround and feedback loops between something changing and then being notified of the change, good or bad, is really what we’ve been focused on to create a whole ecosystem.

BK: Good.

MD: As part of that, we really focused on open architecture to make sure that our systems were working with the ecosystem that you already have. It’s up to us to create the best technology we can, to keep you coming back to Hexagon. I think that’s what we try and do.

BK: Good. What do you think is the next big thing coming in the industry?

MD: From a technology point of view, I think that there’s a few things on the horizon. Certainly, connectivity is a big thing, trying to connect people with platforms with the right data. There’s some enabling technologies that are helping with that. Things like 5G, certainly making data transfer easier and interface design, making sure that you can see and consume that information better is always evolving. We’re also seeing a lot of advancements in machine learning. Some people refer to it as artificial intelligence, but it’s more just machine learning. Having a look at very repetitive tasks. If you fly a drone, you see some asphalt on a road. The asphalt looks like asphalt, no matter where you are in the world. You don’t have to digitise the boundary by hand to know that it’s asphalt. You can fly a drone and someone can tell you that this block of material is asphalt. Why don’t we put the data to work and automate those processes through these machine learning algorithms to make less repetitive work for the operator?

BK: Yeah.

MD: Trying to automate lots of those work steps. Now that doesn’t mean we remove the operator or remove a person, not reducing a job. We’re allowing time for that person to think and do a higher-level job that adds more value to the organisation. That, I think, somewhat of a misconception sometimes when we talk about automation. It’s not necessarily about taking jobs away. It’s about focusing on more constructive activities. One more area in that evolution would be around sustainability. We’re seeing a lot more focus on sustainability. The view of sustainability is really that by providing technology and helping construction companies be more profitable. And to be more profitable, you need to complete jobs on time, on budget and on specification. The outcome is you complete projects more sustainably, so you make more money if you’re more sustainable. You have less idle time on machines. You use less material. You’re not over digging. You’re not moving dirt twice. You’re putting the right amount of layers of certain material into place. You’re using less expensive material and the outcome is the asset lasts longer. All of those add value to sustainability. Just by helping construction companies make more money, we help save the planet.

BK: That’s incredible. I love that. See, they’re usually mutually exclusive.

MD: Well, people think they are. I think there’s a lot of money in making things faster, cheaper and better.

BK: Yeah. That’s true. I love that. That’s really neat. Now, obviously these are huge benefits for the customers. Do they need to prepare for anything as these changes are coming?

MD: I think it’s a journey which takes two. It’s a technology provider, but there’s also a customer that needs to put it into practise.

BK: Yeah, that’s true.

MD: A big part of it is the education of the customer, but also the education of the technology provider. What should we develop next to help the organisation, the construction company, make more money in turn that will help a lot of other things as I mentioned. Safety’s another element I didn’t talk about. I think one thing to prepare for is understanding that technology is not a silver bullet. It takes time to implement. It’s like any other skill, like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, you can’t just turn up untrained or you’re going to get strangled. You have to go away and train. You have to seek out a coach. You have to seek out a technology provider who can educate you and take you on that journey. Choosing a technology provider that you trust is important, that has a lot of experience that can help you work through your issues is important. It’s a two-way discussion. It’s not a… “Here’s a box. I hope it will work.”

BK: Yeah. Good point. No, I like that. The journey is good, and a lot of times you run into organisations, companies who, “It takes too much time” and “well, we’ll get to it eventually.” You see that a lot. The change is hard for people because of the time that it takes or the learning curve and that kind of thing too. You’re right. You do have to have them to say, “Hey, we can do this.” Ideally making it as easy as possible for them. That’s the goal.

MD: Yeah. We say, you obviously need to trust the organisation you’re working with. You need to have an immediate need. You need to have a project that we can help you with. If you don’t have a project to put that application into place, you’re probably trying to solve the wrong problem. You need to identify an immediate obstacle that we could… or technology overall could help with.

BK: That’s true.

MD: It also has to be timely. You need to have some time to put it in place, to see the benefits, and it’s just not going to work by signing a cheque.

BK: No, that’s true. That’s true. I know when I feel we do too many things, where we implement too much at the same time, then you go “hold on, one thing, this one’s a need and we’ll get to that later” and then you never get to it.

MD: Yeah.

BK: That’s one of those things too. I love that. All right. Now Bauma‘s coming up end of October. If anyone missed HxGN LIVE for 2022 back in… It was great to be back in person. If you’ve missed that and you’re looking to get involved, tell us about Bauma.

MD: Yeah, Bauma’s the largest construction fair in the world. It happens every three years in Munich, Germany. If you’ve never been, it’s a fantastic event to go to. The size and scale are unprecedented. It’s really a sight to behold and you’ll see a lot of fantastic Hexagon technology there, the aids in the construction process. By all means, make an effort to get to Germany. We can have a beer, come and meet me there. If you can’t get there, there’s lots of other ways to find out more about our technology… I wouldn’t say wait to implement technology or wait to see it at Bauma. Pick up the phone or log in online and look up our website. You’ll be able to find out a ton of information. For those in North America, it might be a bit harder to get to Germany. CONEXPO is only going to be six months after that in Las Vegas. One of the other really, really large construction fairs is CONEXPO. That will be happening in spring of 2023. You only have to wait six months more and you can come and see us there as well. Lots of opportunities. I’d say don’t wait.

BK: Yeah. Agreed

MD: Try and think about the problem that you need to have solved and then come and talk to Hexagon and we can help you with lots of different problems on your construction site. We’ll have a technology somewhere, no doubt that can solve a problem that you have.

BK: Definitely. Well, I appreciate that you are offering these solutions and you’re trying to get people to solve them as quickly as possible because it needs to be done that way. Thank you, Matt. I really appreciate you sharing all this and thank you for taking the time today and joining me.

MD: No problem. Great to be here.

BK: All right. Matt Desmond, president of AGTEK.

Thank you so much for joining us here on HxGN Radio. For More information and also to listen to additional HxGN Radio episodes, head over to iTunes, Spotify, or SoundCloud. And of course, please head on over to HxGNspotlight.com for more information and more stories from HxGN. Thank you again for listening and have a great day.