Social, real-time approaches to construction collaboration have been tried several times. Jobsite Unite believes its mobile-based worker communication platform can complement AEC file-sharing systems.
For a long time, construction collaboration technology (like email*) tended to be focused on the asynchronous exchange of project-related content – documents, drawings, forms, comments, photos, redlines, etc – generated by and shared by participants who, more often than not, would be sitting in front of a desktop or laptop. The advent of smartphones during the 2000s began to change this narrow view of the platform, as did wider adoption of tablet devices from around 2010 onwards (and, of course, BIM is also creating new shifts, towards sharing models and data).
However, the platforms still tend be very content and process-focused: documenting and recording interactions relevant to the planning, design, construction, commissioning and handover of a built asset. Despite the emergence and now increasingly widespread adoption of social media tools, construction collaboration platforms have generally not reflected this shift.
Social construction collaboration
There have been some notable – but shortlived – exceptions.
In 2009, I was impressed by the potential of a prototype platform, Incite Toolbox, developed in Australia by Sean Kaye and Michael Baker, which baked the social media concepts of “the stream” and “tags” into the product. What started out as a file-sharing service was potentially developing as a messaging and conversation platform which could easily be accessed on mobile devices. Unfortunately, development of this then ground-breaking platform was put on the back-burner as the Leighton Holdings company, first, focused on its desktop platform, Keystone, and then, in what I dubbed the St Valentine’s Day Massacre, made the talented Incite team redundant, discontinued the innovations they had been working on, and even threatened me with legal action (post).
Another tool that impressed me in 2009 was Kalexo (developed by Hannes Marais – who I recently spoke to again, following his Beta launch of Oumy in April). When I first saw Kalexo I described it as enabling information-rich exchanges such as integrated voice, video communications and online meetings, moving beyond file-sharing and process management, and breaking interaction down into smaller task-based interchanges. A closer look at Kalexo revealed a tasklist interface (not dissimilar to a Twitter stream) through which users could get a quick overview of recent project activity, display the status their own tasks and set filters to show all tasks or only the ones that involved them or their company.
Memories of these (and others – for example, Senubo and Comindware) came flooding back when I interviewed Jay Olsen, CEO of Des Moines, Iowa, USA-based startup Jobsite Unite [not to be confused with job-finding service Jobsite.co.uk] last week. Very briefly, Jobsite Unite is software for hardhats: “Jobsite Unite helps simplify, streamline, and record critical jobsite communication – anytime and anywhere – for residential and commercial construction projects.” Jay says it capitalises upon the increasingly common use of mobile devices and social media platforms by site-based workers.
The lead contractor will set up a project on Jobsite Unite (its licensed per-project, an approach that helps encourage supply chain adoption) and then invite their team members and all employees of all subcontractors to start using the system. They create their profiles and can then start posting comments and photos on news feeds specific to their jobsites, internal company team, or publicly to advertise their availability to work. They can also manage contact lists and call, email, or direct message other workers without affecting their SMS plans. It is offered as an app in iOS and Android; the back-end is managed as a SaaS solution, with prices starting at $250pcm for unlimited users on 1-2 job sites.
In being focused on the workers with “boots on the ground”, Jay said Jobsite United was different to other mobile solutions which tended to be focused upon employers or managers. It is also clearly geared more towards the needs of small businesses, small teams and even solo subcontractors, allowing them to share real-time updates. Importantly, it is not a tool for sharing documents, but it can be used for managing work schedules, relating tasks to the availability of manpower, materials, information, etc. “If there is a change to the program, the contractor can immediately tell the subcontractor or work team, saving a wasted journey, rework, or time spent waiting for previous tasks to complete.”
As a communication platform, Jobsite could therefore complement or potentially be integrated with other mobile tools, Jay said, identifying systems such as PlanGrid (post). Its focus on smaller businesses and on the workers involved in delivering projects for SMEs also reminds me of the Copenhagen, Denmark-based startup GenieBelt (post), which has a similar mobile-first approach too.
(* Tuesday 5 May 2015 is #NoEmailDay; it will be held next year on 6 June 2016.)