By Meghan Hall
Digital technologies have permeated almost every sector of the commercial real estate industry, changing workflows even in construction. While some traditional processes remain as a function of habit, new platforms such as Fieldwire are expanding their offerings in an effort to get contracting and construction businesses fully integrated with the rest of the industry. Those efforts are close to completion, according to Fieldwire’s Co-Founder and CEO Yves Frinault, who believes that most barriers to paperless processes have been all but removed and complete integration is on the horizon.
Tell me a little bit about the construction industry in general, and how job sites have evolved with the introduction of mobile technology such as smartphones. What pain points in the industry did you see that inspired you to create Fieldwire?
Pre-2010, construction was essentially like the office pre-computer and internet. 90 percent of field employees were working offline, so getting access to information was quite hard. Even more, communication was hard! It was the [effort] that came with creating punch lists that inspired us to create Fieldwire. Essentially, punch lists are used to document site issues (or punch items) with photos: localize them on drawings, assign them to people and track them to completion. There are often thousands of punch items on projects so this process pre-Fieldwire was super tedious. We do much more than punch lists, but I would say this was the starting point.
When it comes to the construction industry, do you believe that it has kept pace with other commercial real estate sectors in terms of the innovation and implementation of technology? Why or why not?
There is no debate that the digitalization of construction has been slower than in other industries. However, it has little to do with people being early or late adopters. There are various structural reasons that have slowed down initial adoption. For example, a construction site is a rugged environment often with bad connectivity, but, more importantly, it’s a temporary setup with dozens of companies involved. This makes it really hard to first reach a consensus on the best technology to use and also invest long-term in that technology.
Fieldwire recently launched its Custom Form Builder; how does the expansion of technology enhance Fieldwire’s existing offerings?
Fieldwire actually eliminates the need to fill out lots of forms, since most of a user’s data is archived automatically. However, we realized that sometimes a form cannot be eliminated. For example, what if an owner wants you to file a form that is unique or custom to them?Well, now, our customers can build that very specific form in Fieldwire, submit it to their client and continue to use Fieldwire as the core platform. It’s that easy!
Why do you think the industry has not adopted technologies to eliminate paper forms like daily reports, safety audits, inspection checklists, etc. previously?
It’s taken decades for the construction industry to get to this point, but I think we’ve finally removed almost every technological hurdle there is. The technology available to site and office teams has been trialed and tested, and the ROI is proven to be positive. It’s now up to the last few people to get on board with the program and embrace a paperless future.
How successful has Fieldwire’s Custom Form Builder been at encouraging companies to go paperless?
Very successful. There is always that one form that a company absolutely needs and now Fieldwire can digitize that for them. One of our clients was previously scanning an old piece of paper again and again (no one had an original digital copy) and then filing the forms away where no one could easily access them. They created that form digitally in Fieldwire, and now they can easily track the progress in one place for everyone to see.
How many of Fieldwire’s customers are using the Custom Form Builder, and what has been their reaction to the platform?
Our customers love it. In fact, many of our existing customers upgraded to our Business tier just to get access to the Custom Form Builder, so it’s been really successful from that perspective. What’s interesting is that digitizing forms is usually only the first step in their mind. Most of them plan to extract the data later through our API.
What downsides exist — if any — to going digital in the construction industry?
Unlike your smartphone or tablet, paper won’t run out of battery and isn’t hard to read in the sun. Paper processes seem fairly effective at first, which is why they’re so hard to displace, but the benefits of going paperless are immense. We save our customers an average of one hour each day (based on user feedback) which is pretty amazing! Just imagine what you could do with an extra five hours every week.
What technological challenges has Fieldwire faced since its launch? How has the company worked to overcome them?
Fieldwire uses [our product] internally — across the whole company including engineering, marketing, sales, and operations — so we’re constantly developing the product to ensure issues with the technology don’t arise. As a company, one of the biggest challenges we’ve faced was learning enterprise marketing and sales, as we’re primarily product and engineering focused.
How many projects are using Fieldwire today? What are Fieldwire’s plans for future growth?
Used on over 450,000 projects worldwide, Fieldwire has saved projects millions of dollars by powering clear and efficient communication between the field and office staff. The company has grown 5X over the past two years, and we only plan to accelerate further with our third office opening in Phoenix this year. Our goal is to power the future of construction through software.
What are some notable projects for which Fieldwire was used and had a significant impact on jobsite processes?
Fieldwire has been used on many great projects worldwide – from high-rises and hospitals to airports. If I had to highlight a couple, though, I would mention the Moscone Center in San Francisco with Webcor, and the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. with Clark Construction. Both are extremely impressive structures!