Q&A – Solving the Most Complex Issues

This article is included in the Great Things: Issue 5 edition of the DPR Newsletter.

Innovation room
For the industry, the evolution of technology means that all construction companies have the means to provide customers with predictable outcomes now more than ever. Courtesy of Peter Molick

Atul Khanzode of DPR’s Management Committee and Kaushal Diwan of DPR’s Innovation Team share insights on tech adoption and innovation in the industry.

What’s the state of innovation and technology today at DPR? Do you think it reflects broader trends within the industry?

Atul: I think the construction industry has been resilient, especially in how we collaborate and have maintained the level of productivity we had prior to the pandemic. Another pivot I have observed is that leveraging digital tools for collaboration was talked about as the next “new thing,” and that has accelerated for all of us. From a project delivery perspective, we had to get better at using data during the pandemic in order to make good decisions, which in turn helped fuel the Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) processes, as many of our clients were looking to continue progress on their projects. In some cases, this increased use of data and VDC also enabled more opportunities to use offsite construction and prefabrication.

Based on DPR’s experience, how do you introduce and implement a technology solution that will deliver more value?

Atul: To understand how a technology solution can add the most value, we first need to understand the problems our customers, partners and project team members are trying to address and that requires our innovation and technology team. During the pandemic, for example, the primary concern for our customers and us was how we can maintain the safety of everyone on the site. Our Innovation Team quickly developed a check-in app that made it easier to know who was on-site, helped with tracking social distancing and was crucial to keeping jobsites running safely and efficiently. That is where innovation happens; if we as the builder see and understand the customer’s problem, we can provide a solution through technology or an innovation process.

Kaushal: DPR approaches every project differently. The key to piloting solutions on our projects is developing a trusted relationship and partnership with our customers, partners and project team members and deeply understand the problems they are trying to solve. We find that we get more engagement from our project teams and customers when we involve them in the process and collaboratively develop the objectives we are trying to accomplish.

DPR partners and collaborates with third party entities to provide solutions and value to customers. When it comes to investing in these partnerships what does DPR look for, and how does DPR ensure alignment amongst all stakeholders?

Atul: Our primary objective in using any process or technology solution is to provide the best value and predictable outcomes for our customers. We want to partner with technology providers and others that share the common goal of moving our industry forward to deliver predictable outcomes consistently.

We have identified areas of focus—such as prefabrication, robotics, artificial intelligence, jobsite safety and productivity—where we want to partner with innovators. We find that it works best when we have the opportunity to test products and services. We gather feedback from these pilots, and then decide whether it merits scaling up the solution across our other projects. In some instances, we also invest through our corporate venture fund, called WND Ventures, but in the capacity of a strategic partner that can provide continuous feedback to the technology provider. Our primary aim is to deliver successful outcomes for our customers.

Kaushal: Our process for due diligence has provided insight on which opportunities we do want to invest in, and which ones will have a higher success rate. But I think we could probably refine even further by asking: “Is the investment of strategic value to DPR in terms of how it helps us be operationally better, and does it provide predictable outcomes for our customers?”

We're learning that some of these require a deeper dive. Something like AI requires collaboration between our teams and the technology provider to determine exactly what we’re trying to prove and build an algorithm or some sort of prediction model.

Same thing with robotics. They're not easy to pilot and need substantial planning to see how it can really benefit us. Investing in innovative solutions is more about engaging with our craft workforce and getting people to realize that innovation can even be a process improvement without any technology involved.

Ten years from now, what does the industry look like?

Atul: At the core DPR is a construction firm, but the phrase “every company is a technology company,” resonates with me. If DPR started today, would it be a technology-driven construction company? My answer is yes, because technology has enabled us to achieve things that are way beyond what we had envisioned 30 years ago. For the industry, the evolution of technology means that all construction companies have the means to provide customers with predictable outcomes now more than ever. That is where technology plugs in, allowing us to have an integrated project delivery approach.

Kaushal: I like to think that people drive innovations. As I look 10 years ahead, the mindset of people will create the next big idea that DPR will go after, and we will have solidified the right framework to allow individuals to think freely. Broadly, I think 10 years from now, citizen developers will thrive. We may have people who take customer problems and engineer, develop and create a solution as a hobby, and in return help the industry be more effective in the kind of tools we want to develop. I see an opportunity for new entities to flourish, and if we are more deliberate and strategic in working with them, it could change the core revenue of the construction company. After a day’s work, we are still builders, but maybe that's just part of where our revenue comes from. It is something the whole industry would strive towards.