Thursday, 14 January 2021 22:47

In conversation with Oracle's Callan Mantell Featured


Where is the forefront of technology in the construction industry?

We recently took the opportunity to chat with Callan Mantell, Oracle's Area Vice President, Construction and Engineering about Oracle's work with the construction industry.

iTWire: Let's start by assuming most of our readers aren't particularly familiar with the construction industry (aside from working in an office that the industry has created - pandemic notwithstanding). Can you outline Oracle's interest in this area?

Mantell: Part of Oracle's value-proposition is deep industry expertise and solutions built to tackle the unique needs of complex vertical segments. To serve these industries, Oracle has a number of distinct global business units - Oracle Construction and Engineering is one of these.

iTWire: Sao, how did you get into this particular vertical?

Mantell: Oracle Construction and Engineering began over a decade ago with the acquisition of Primavera, an industry leader for project management for 35 years. Since then, we've built upon that foundation through organic development and key acquisitions - including Skire which later became Unifier, Textura and, most recently, Aconex (founded in Melbourne, Australia). All were strategically selected, not just for their products, but to bring together trusted industry technology leaders with years of knowledge and expertise.

In an industry that is under-digitised, we have an opportunity to really make a difference within the industry. We are already are one of the principal global players in the construction technology space, and we aim to continue to grow our market share and capability to continually capture more of the global spend within the industry.

iTWire: As we see it, computing in the construction industry is likely to address a small number of domains of interest. Task scheduling (including past, present and future work), worker qualification and certificate management, union involvement, equipment and supplies ordering pipeline, site attendance (including hours, strikes, medical events, etc.) all spring to mind. How does the Oracle solution address these?

Mantell: Nearly all elements of the construction industry are ripe for digitization, with many already in progress. In the future, this will also extend - as it does already in some cases - to automated construction tasks performed by robots / humans with exoskeletons, autonomous vehicles and so on.

Today, there are very few processes on projects in mature construction technology markets like Australia and New Zealand that are not addressed by technology. Oracle's solutions are used across the full plan, build, and operate lifecycle; from managing ideation and portfolio management to scheduling and coordination of consultants and designers. Further, Oracle' technology supports the management, coordination and collaboration of project information, including documents, correspondence and models; cost and risk management; onsite and remote tasks; safety; and payment management.

In terms of specific solutions, Oracle Construction and Engineering offers a secure and scalable foundation based on a common data environment with the most complete set of end-to-end solutions for asset owners and delivery teams, including:

Oracle Primavera Cloud which is the only planning service that brings together portfolio planning and project teams as well as delivery teams. It provides the capability for planning, resourcing, risk mitigation, integrated scheduling and task management, and program management.

Next, we have Primavera P6 Enterprise Project Portfolio Management, which is a suite of Cloud-based tools for global project planning. It's an easy-to-use solution for prioritising, planning, managing, and executing projects, programs, and portfolios.

Then we have Primavera Unifier, which provides flexibility for project and asset lifecycle management. It offers extensive configurability along with prebuild process for a rapid start to automate any business process with custom forms and workflows.

Oracle Aconex enables project visibility, control, reduced risk, and connected teams. It drives efficiency in design and construction coordination, project controls, cost management, document management and field management.

Finally, there's Oracle Textura Payment Management, which is a cloud service designed to bring every element of the payment management process together in a secure platform. Users benefit from improved pay applications, payment scheduling, compliance management, and disbursement. These, in turn, lead to more control, efficiency, and reduced risk for all project stakeholders.

iTWire: …and presumably, there's a degree of optimisation drawing all this together.

Mantell: Yes. Part of our strategy is using data science for insights into how things are currently performing, with the goal of being able to identify potential risks before they happen. This foresight allows teams to leverage rich data to improve their processes - enabling greater efficiency, transparency and decision-making ability. This, ultimately, leads to continuous improvement and better outcomes.

iTWire: Demand for this must come from a variety of directions.

Mantell: There is increasing demand for technology solutions from those working in the industry, both seasoned operators and new entrants, who are driving change at a rapid pace.

For example, Oracle Aconex, was (and remains) at the global forefront of the digitisation of the industry from its inception in 2000. Aconex fundamentally transformed the construction industry in Australia, overcoming challenges but successfully breaking the status quo approach to construction-which, was formerly largely a paper-based process.

On top of this, when it comes to sustainability and the environment, construction companies have the opportunity to adopt data analysis to help them build more sustainably. There's so much information available to not only improve construction methods but also to acquire a better understanding of what humans really need from buildings and cities.

As the world gets smarter through an increased use of digital tools, we'll reap even more data from these environments and, if we're analysing and applying these insights to future builds, we'll naturally become more sustainable in our approach. That means not only being greener today but also laying the foundation for a greener industry in the future.

iTWire: …and detractors?

Mantell: Whilst there will always be specialist interest groups opposing change and transformation across most industries, it's important we play our part in educating our prospects, clients, and industry peers on the importance of digitalisation and embracing the culture of the change to continue to improve the way the industry operates.

iTWire: There are amazing opportunities for digitisation in construction that are only now seeing the light of day, for instance self-rotating crane loads. Where do you see the next big development?

Mantell: Construction digitisation is going through a breakthrough with innovative solutions in both software as hardware (including the use of sensors on machinery, materials, etc.). The current and next developments are now progressively seen in project jobsite delivery solutions from remote reality capture and AI-enabled safety monitoring, to material tracking and delivery, data science, and predictive analytics.

Self-rotating crane loads, as you suggest, are one example. But the real change is happening by virtue of how the industry is altering the way it works in order to stay competitive and profitable. This challenge will continually see construction evolve to become more like manufacturing, treating each project less like a one off and more as something that is repeatedly manufactured and assembled, wherever possible.

There are a few solutions available which help to address the current unique industry challenges, ensuring construction projects are progressing with as little disruption as possible. For example, remote visual monitoring of construction sites, physical distancing onsite and bringing people, information and processes closer together by ensuring project schedules are continuously and accurately updated.

iTWire: The construction industry is 'famous' for resisting change. What are your strategies for bringing your innovations to the worksite?

Mantell: While the construction industry is indeed famous for resisting change, Oracle prides itself on its ability to work closely with customers so that innovation is achievable, rather than put in the 'too hard' basket. For example, due to industry's project-based nature, each project is an opportunity to adopt and adapt to change, taking that construction innovation to the next project and so on. This approach helps to drive the industry to constantly evolve.

In terms of bringing construction innovations to the worksite, we've always also successfully identified and fostered early adopters-people or groups who naturally want to be change agents and who aren't afraid of doing things for the first time. To help drive this industry-wide, we launched our Oracle Industries Innovation Lab in 2018. It has helped construction organisations explore and test solutions from Oracle and the larger construction ecosystem in a simulated worksite environment.

The Lab has already welcomed hundreds of visitors, including best-in-class technology partners, customers and industry thought leaders. There, they have worked together in a simulated worksite environment to test how solutions such as connected devices, autonomous vehicles, drones, augmented reality, visualisation, and AI tools can positively impact the construction industry.

iTWire: We hinted at this earlier, but surely, the industry would benefit from a belief in "all information, everywhere" - does Oracle support this?

Mantell: People will often have a preferred technology solution they want to use, but when organisations must work together, how do they choose what solution to go with? As engineering and construction projects continue to grow in scope and complexity, so does the need for greater collaboration among the project participants and key stakeholder groups.

Our services support collaboration, neutrality, accountability and governance. A fair and neutral platform can support everyone on the project, allowing each organisation to control and secure their own data and workspace. This increases trust, which in turn increases adoption. Our platform also creates a single source of truth through an unalterable audit trail leading to transparency across a project.

We also have a role-based model in our services to support different user groups within the organisation from executives, to core power users, to mobility across the field workers. All of the above ensures seamless and reliable reporting of data making the data timely and available for decision making at all levels.

iTWire: With that in mind, what on-site research are you doing? Have you actually spoken with the Alimak operator? The 'stop-go' dude on the street? The construction electrician? The concreter? (to name a very few roles).

Mantell: Yes, user experience and research is absolutely critical given our solutions are put into the hands of hundreds or even thousands of people in different roles and organisations on any given project.

We have a large user experience and research team who drive a huge amount of ongoing industry-wide research, to ensure we are catering for the needs, wants, and challenges faced on projects day-to-day. Also, our presale and proof-of-concept stage includes all targeted user levels of our proposed solution to make sure we are satisfying their requirements under the organisation's strategic objectives. This helps us and our partner network have a clear solution design when we undertake the client's implementations.

Finally, we have our Transforming the Industry Influencer Program (TIIP). TIIP is an industry collaboration program which utilises a range of engagement formats to establish best practices and standards around the end-to-end management of engineering and construction projects. With this information we can propose solutions designed transparently with the industry, as well as working with the industry to set the measures that will ensure we are on track with the improvements we release to market.

iTWire: Coming back to your central theme, where do you believe construction's biggest inefficiencies lie?

Mantell: For me, the industry's inefficiencies lie in the way we work, particularly that each project is its own entity, and collaboration is a challenge. Usually, project teams come together and disband in accordance with the project lifecycle, meaning transferring learning from one to the next is challenging. This leads to relatively slow, iterative change.

While the industry is open to quicker change, each project needs to be bid for and won, so the organisations delivering them need to manage their exposure to carrying overhead and large teams without certainty. This, obviously, leads to individuals working broadly across the industry and not necessarily with the same company or team for longer than a few years at a time. Unfortunately, this sees knowledge lost, along with the appetite for major change.

Second to this, budgeting is another area which needs attention, particularly given the often-difficult disputes which can require arbitration. And finally, the importance of having a rigorous risk management procedure in place to mitigate project schedule and cost overruns.

Beyond this, other focus areas include:

Collaboration: bringing project stakeholders together to communicate on project deliverables, planning, scheduling, quality, payments management as well as health and safety as well as model management.

Data science: such as AI and machine learning to manage the wealth of data and insights projects can provide.

Better job-costing management: for managing project financials linked to back office automation, for example, ERP.

Risk management: With ever increasing uncertainties and a rapidly changing market, having a project associated risk management solution across the project lifecycle is a necessity.

iTWire: Finally, what is your future? Should your program be successful, what would be different from the way things are today?

Mantell: With regards to our program, it is already successful, with our customers as proof points over the decades we've been driving digitalisation in construction. As for the future, there is no doubt change and digital transformation is inevitable within our industry. Construction technology is becoming increasingly weighed and embraced by leading builders and project owners.

iTWire: …and the ML / AI you mentioned earlier?

Mantell: We see a wide application of AI and machine learning especially in areas related to remote site monitoring and detecting quality issues. For example, while building information modelling (BIM) has been around for years, it has been mostly used for design authoring purposes. Today, we are seeing a shift in adopting BIM for project controls as a source of truth and transition from handing over to asset operations. Further to this, cloud is growing in popularity as a common platform for all new innovative technologies for construction and will continue to gain broader adoption across the industry.

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David Heath

David Heath has had a long and varied career in the IT industry having worked as a Pre-sales Network Engineer (remember Novell NetWare?), General Manager of IT&T for the TV Shopping Network, as a Technical manager in the Biometrics industry, and as a Technical Trainer and Instructional Designer in the industrial control sector. In all aspects, security has been a driving focus. Throughout his career, David has sought to inform and educate people and has done that through his writings and in more formal educational environments.

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