Like several other software giants, Salesforce is exploring opportunities in the construction sector – and looking to develop construction-specific offerings, not just to sell more CRM seats.
At the invitation of Andrew Bowles (a long-time industry contact – he worked at what is today GroupBC from 2003 to 2012), I attended the inaugural meeting of the Salesforce Construction Council, held in London on 7 June 2018.
Building out the Salesforce proposition
Since its 1999 foundation by Marc Benioff, Salesforce has become one of the world’s leading providers of cloud-based customer relationship management (CRM) software. It has capitalised upon growing corporate acceptance of Software-as-a-Service tools over the past 19 years, and also expanded its portfolio through acquisitions and internal development of new products and services. Today, its offerings include:
- An advanced Platform-as-a-Service (Lightning) upon which customers’ developers can build their own applications (desktop and mobile) that can either run standalone or fully integrated with Salesforce’s main applications
- AppExchange – an online application marketplace for third-party applications running on the Lightning platform
- Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning capabilities – branded ‘Einstein’ – that can analyse and make predictions based on data collected by customers, from conventional CRM data through to social media data streams, data generated by image recognition – we saw an interesting drone example – and even Internet of Things (IoT) signals.
Embracing digital technology
Bowles and his colleagues (including representatives from partner businesses) briefly explained these technologies to a construction industry audience including several existing customers of Salesforce. They highlighted the industry’s productivity challenges and its widespread continued reliance on creating and then sharing conventional documents, drawings and spreadsheets via email. As a company, Salesforce practices what it preaches when it comes to investing in its workforce – its own experiences show that businesses that invest in their employees outperform those that don’t, attracting better people, retaining them longer, and helping them be more productive.
Yes, we often embrace consumer technologies enthusiastically in our personal lives, but hesitate when it comes to deploying the same types of platforms at work. Concerns about security and trust are often used to justify delaying their deployment in the construction world. Overcome such resistance and there can be powerful opportunities to enhance productivity. Salesforce shared several examples.
Salesforce in action
First, a Salesforce partner, Israeli startup BuilderEdge, demonstrated a Salesforce-based solution that could automate numerous project team processes when organisations deploy repeatable and reusable components in their construction projects, and automatically adjust schedules, budgets, quantities, etc, accordingly.
I talked to one of the presenters, Avi Kaye, afterwards, and we identified there is a strong need to educate traditional construction organisations to rethink their near-bespoke approaches to every project. Offsite and design for manufacture and assembly, DfMA, techniques are increasingly advocated as ‘disruptions’ that could capitalise upon BIM and so improve industry productivity, but many industry professionals tend to start projects almost from scratch.
Second, we heard from Glenigan, which provides construction industry business information services. It had developed a proof of concept with Salesforce to explore how Glenigan’s historical bid data held in Salesforce and/or in Glenigan might be explored using artificial intelligence (“augmented intelligence”) and machine learning to help businesses identify critical success factors in work-winning.
The third example was closer to Salesforce’s CRM heartland, and underlined that successful delivery of services to end-users requires businesses to be responsive to customers’ needs. East Sussex Highways’ Salesforce-powered portal, operated by Jacobs (formerly CH2M), efficiently captures users’ concerns relating to physical assets (around 30,000 defects per annum), manages its employees’ workflows, and has cut complaints by over 80%.
The final two examples were from residential property. First, we heard a Salesforce partner (London-based CloudShift) explain how its Salesforce-based platform had helped a property developer turn sales prospects into customers, while also efficiently managing on-site snagging processes. Then we heard how not-for-profit social housing organisations were working with Salesforce.org (the social enterprise arm of Salesforce) to streamline facilities management works relating to their physical estates and to build successful community initiatives with residents.
Towards a more customer-oriented industry
As expected, in a highly competitive low-margin sector, there was some keen interest in Glenigan’s example of more targeted work-winning. But I also felt that the construction industry’s ongoing digital transformations …
- from being document-centric to data-centric
- from being adversarial and silo-based to collaborative and integrated
- from lowest-price to best whole life value, and
- from being focused on project delivery to thinking whole asset life-cycle
… could all be accelerated by more connected approaches, accompanied by some market education. As construction digitally transforms, it will embrace more connected business processes, and will be devising, creating, operating, maintaining and updating built assets that are themselves more connected.
Future citizens will be living and working in smart buildings, many of them located in smart cities, with sensors and other devices constantly streaming data to help users make informed real-time decisions. In such a social, economic and technological ecosystem, the industry currently known as construction cannot solely be concerned about designing and building new assets. It will have to consider the constantly changing needs of its customers and of their stakeholders as they interact with systems of both new and existing assets – and this will heighten the need for technologies that will help businesses be more responsive and more productive.
[Disclosure: I was paid by Salesforce to attend the event. Tweets from the day were shared using the #constructforce hashtag, and I produced a white paper based on the day’s presentations.]