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Data Augmented Spaces in the Construction Sector - Driving Better Businesses and Security through Effective IT

By Malcolm Jack, CIO, Granite Construction (NYSE: GVA)

What keeps you awake at night with respect to the ongoing technology trends?

In terms of cybersecurity, construction has not typically been an industry that has been at the forefront of preparing for cybersecurity. It generally has been floating along through safety by obscurity methodology, but that is coming back around and causing some problems because cybercriminals have learned that the construction industry is not only fairly wealthy but also unguarded. The construction industry has got to spend time and money, making up ground in the overall cybersecurity front, not only in just implementing the technological controls, but also in educating the user base that this is something that they all play a part in. When you think about a typical construction company, you have resources and endpoints spread out geographically and are oftentimes very mobile and on the go, prone to all kinds of different attacks and vectors. It is thus a very complex problem to solve, and we have to spend a lot of time to get there. The implications that these have in technology are interesting, that is where it gets really exciting. We are starting to see technology take off and start to change construction around. Digital transformation is somewhat of a clichéd term these days because it has been happening for years and only in the past few years has it started to swing around to tech. 

We see some larger construction companies utilizing some of the disrupting technologies whether it is leveraging AI, or partnering with some of the big data companies, or looking at how 3D printing can help change the construction industry. This is really up to each company to figure out the right mix of what is going to be best for them and where they want to take their business model in the future.

What are some of the changes that you see when you compare the last five years and today?

I would say that it has improved and it continues to do so substantially. 

Two factors are playing into this. The first is that we are taking it seriously. When I talk to my colleagues, other senior leaders in construction technology, CIOs and technologists, we know cybersecurity is essential. We know that it is something that every business needs to be prepared for, and we need to be proactive in protecting our franchise. So we now have the support of the executive team, the board and so the industry as a whole is awake, and we are moving forward very quickly to do all the right things. The other side of it is that cybersecurity has become so pervasive in our society, that you are seeing companies being hacked, which impacts the workforce. When you think about some of the large hacks lately, things like Experian, when the credit reporting agencies get hacked, that affects everybody. Everyone has seen the large hacks, and they know it is important, even in their personal lives. There is a WSJ article that talked about how Russian hackers had used a small mom and pop construction company as an entry point to go after public utilities. So it is not just that they are coming after us as an industry; they are also using us as a breach point. We have a greater responsibility, not only as a company but also to our clients and owners.

What is the latest technology that has been implemented in your company under your influence?

My leadership team and I have instilled a digital technology strategy that is based on four main pillars:

1. Data
2. Cloud enablement
3. Mobility
4. Cybersecurity

We have different initiatives in all areas that are starting to make some waves. At Granite, we are almost 100 years old; we have a lot of data. 

We have a lot of institutional information from all the diverse work we have done, and we feel that the data is a true asset. So we have embarked on a data strategy which is helping us see and understand our business- using new tech to connect data components to get outside data and looking at data within the organization through interactive dashboards. Doing so, we can move faster, make quicker decisions, and become a more data-driven organization, which we think will help us execute projects better, be more efficient, and reduce our overall risk.

How do you measure success, and how would you communicate that to your CEO?

At Granite, IT organization and the solutions that are used in the field for the work that they do are industry-leading. The men and women in the field feel that it is helping them improve the work that they do every day in a positive way, that is when we have achieved a level of success. In terms of KPIs, they are all very individual for what that company is trying to achieve. Whether it is cost reduction or business growth or if you are trying to achieve factor bidding, or more efficient use of your equipment assets. Those are all objectives based on your company mission.

What is the one piece of advice you would like to give aspiring CIOs?

Get to know your business, and get to know your business well. To do that, you need to get out in the business. Whether that is in finance, where I had to understand that world as I worked in asset management, or in construction where I now work. It is about putting on my boots, getting in my car, going to a site, meeting the people who work there each day, and understanding what is working or not working for them. You cannot be a CIO and sit in an office and pretend to solve problems for the people in the field; you have to be out in the field and understand their challenges.

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