The coronavirus outbreak and COVID-19 pandemic have, so far, caused only a minor slowdown in the construction sector. The hope is that this economic impact is short-lived and activity returns to normal before doing more lasting damage to the industry.
Per Dodge Data & Analytics, the leading provider of data, analytics, and intelligence to the North American construction industry, March saw construction starts decline by a scant 0.6%. Dodge reports that it is still very early on in the COVID-19 crisis; however, it is heartening that projects continued to move into the early planning stages at a reasonable pace despite the near stoppage in economic activity over the last few weeks.
Though it is too soon to say if the COVID-19 crisis will give the construction technology industry a boost, there are signs that builders are turning to tech tools during this disruptive time to help improve efficiency and resiliency.
Modern office buildings are an incredibly complex orchestration of steel, glass, concrete, and an array of subsystems: heating and cooling, security, telecom, power, plumbing, and more.
Yet much of the process of managing the “assembly” of these massive and complicated structures remains manual. The resulting inefficiency leads to most major commercial construction projects coming in late and over budget.
But a new breed of technology companies is setting out to change that. One of the most fascinating is Innovative Construction Technology (ICT), led by CEO Tim Duncan.
Tim and his team recognized that the creative application of technology could increase labor productivity, benefiting both the commercial construction companies building these complex structures and the investors paying for them.
Here’s their story.
ICT Tracker is an augmented reality (AR) mobile app for digitizing project progress data collection from construction projects. It replaces manual paper workflows for tracking subsystem installation progress, enabling construction companies and contractors to reduce overall project time and costs.
ICT Tracker uses AR to superimpose the 3D model on the built environment, allowing the foreman to record installation status of components. It provides an immediate visual assessment of project progress to construction managers so they can take timely actions to keep projects on schedule.
Most progress tracking done today is manual and requires foremen to print drawings, capture progress on paper with highlighter pens, and then take the drawings to the construction trailer for manual take-offs, and entry data into Excel and project management systems.
Remote project managers review the data and provide feedback to contractors about actions to take. It is a closed-loop workflow that typically takes more than a week. ICT automates this process and reduces it to a day or less.
Year founded: 2018
Funding rounds: Initially, boot-strapped by the co-founders to start building out the MVP (minimum viable product). Just completed first seed round and in the process of starting Series A funding.
Current size: In revenue and expect to be cashflow positive in late 2020. Team currently has five members, with plans to expand to 17 by end of 2020. ICT has onboarded many early adopters and lighthouse accounts who are in the process of using ICT Tracker and building ROI testimonials.
Webbiquity: What inspired you to work on a solution to this particular problem?
Tim Duncan: According to McKinsey, 80% of all projects are delivered over budget, and 61% are completed late. A major cause is construction labor productivity. ICT provides the industry a solution for workflows that improve project delivery performance and increases project profitability.
We reduce the amount of time spent recording and reporting (admin tasks) project progress and provide real-time status visibility to project managers to enable them to optimize construction workflows. Using ICT Tracker, a contractor can double to triple project profits.
This is my second startup. Years ago, I noticed a need in the market for a tech company that understood what architects and builders did with technology instead of just selling a product, so I started CADsoft Consulting.
We grew CADsoft to become one of Autodesk’s top AEC resellers, for software and professional service and sold CADsoft in late 2017.
I looked around and realized that while building design now uses advanced technology, the actual construction still relied heavily on inefficient manual processes.
Being an entrepreneur passionate about technology in building, I partnered with Lisa Duncan (co-owner of CADsoft and a successful leader of several national sales organizations), David Francis (a nationally known and respected 30-year construction professional) and founded ICT.
Together, we developed the first mobile app that uses AR to digitize project status data collection on-site and provides managers quicker access to information, enabling them to take timely actions to complete projects on-schedule and at-budget
I enjoy creating and running successful businesses. I have a deep commitment to creating an organization that expands, creates profits, and is held in the highest regards with its employees, business partners and clients. This is why I do what I do.
Webbiquity: How has COVID-19 impacted the construction sector and your business, and how has that changed your plans going forward?
TD: While there are a few locations where construction has stopped, we are finding most construction has continued while office personal work remote. Many contractors have turned to tech to manage employees working remotely, using many tech solutions to help with social distancing.
In our conversations with contractors, this is what we are hearing:
- Many are expecting more funding, and flexibility, from the coronavirus stimulus package.
- Efficient workflows and resiliency plans that help to ensure future project continuity and flexibility are top of mind
- Many contractors, have turned to tech to manage employees working remotely, using tech solutions to help with social distancing, or make up for workers who are self-isolating.
In the Great Recession, contractors had to find ways to make up for the resulting worker shortage; that drove advances in innovation, automation and collaboration.
Contractors, during this pause, are actively looking at efficient workflows and resiliency plans that will help to ensure future project continuity and flexibility. We are wrapping up our current fund-raising and are well positioned to come out strong.
Webbiquity: What were the most effective channels or methods for you to get the word out to prospective customers when you first launched your services?
TD: We totally bootstrapped our venture and partnered with Coplex, a high-growth tech start-up accelerator company, to create an app and followed the Lean Startup methodology to rapidly de-risk our business model, drive revenue, and turn concepts into an investable enterprise.
As a startup, and now scaling up, we’re always in a discovery phase as to where the market is and who our customers are. We continue to strive for market proof of product and how our customers adopt the technology. By generating revenue with early adopters and lighthouse accounts, while learning from these engagements, ICT’s long-term revenue growth plan can be established.
Marketing is an integral part of creating awareness and demand while supporting the company’s strategic direction. Mary Macdonald, former marketing director at CADsoft, recently joined the team and with her industry knowledge and understanding of marketing SaaS, she is helping to build a marketing strategy that combines marketing automation, email, website SEO, social, influencer, and ABM marketing.
We advertise in industry publications such as SNIPS (publication for the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning industry called SMACNA), Construction Dive, Construction Executive, ENR, and Contractor (publication for the American General Contractors Association).
We have established relationships with many of the editors which has led to articles and editorials focusing on ICT Tracker. Attending and exhibiting at industry events—such as SMACNA, NECA (National Electrical Contractors Assn) ConTech Innovation Roadshow, Procore/Groundbreak, and Autodesk University—has been a critical success factor to create awareness.
We’ve had quite a bit of success when we focus our content (white papers, editorials, webinars), around productivity. The industry’s thirst to better understand how to be more productive continues to grow and we leverage that whenever possible.
Getting people to see ICT Tracker in action has been one of our most successful calls to action in our advertising and direct marketing. Seeing how easy and effective it is to use can only be shown in a demonstration and/or video.
Webbiquity: Finish this sentence: “Knowing what I know now, if I were starting over today, what I would do differently is…”
TD: I’d bring on a development team earlier. Outsourcing development had its benefits, such as controlling costs and finding expertise. But having in-house development would have provided several advantages:
- Cultural fit:In-house team members tend to pay much more attention to the specific needs of company. Having in-house developers would have meant that would be motivated to achieve the best results and bring as much value as possible.
- Face-to-face communication:Direct communication would have helped avoid misunderstanding and increased effectiveness.
- Quick changes:With in-house team of software developers, it’s would have been faster to change project’s features and add new ones.
Webbiquity: What’s the most important advice you could offer to an entrepreneur starting out today?
TD: The best advice I can give an entrepreneur starting out is to involve yourself in your local startup community. It’s a tremendous support system with resources ready to help.
There are several books I’d recommend for founders:
- The Lean Startup by Eric Ries gives examples of how to avoid all the common mistakes that wipe the startup’s budget and start the downward spiral of the business
- The Startup Owner’s Manual by Steve Blank and Bob Dorf is a toolkit for launching a startup.
- The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki documents the whole journey in a simple way while highlighting the important aspects of business
- Venture Deals by Brad Feld explains how venture deals work so entrepreneurs can gather more investments for their startups by pitching it the right way.
Finally, if you’re raising money, compete in pitch events and challenges. Start with smaller, more obscure events and work your way up. These will help you see what works (and what doesn’t) for other entrepreneurs, and enable you to polish and hone your pitch through practice, feedback, and repetition.