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As profit margins drop past the 2% mark, general contractors are compelled to look for more innovative ways to drive profitability. Recently, I learned of a GC that hired a third party services firm to photo-document its work on a large school project and passed the cost onto the owner with a slight markup. While I see the rationale behind adding value-added services as a way to improve revenue, I find this particular choice questionable.
Construction Photo-documentation firms offer a valuable combination of construction knowledge and photography services to owner/developers who lack the experience and resources to scrutinize the construction of their buildings. Most also offer a deliverable that includes construction photos delivered via the web.
However, does this make sense for a GC? Can these firms offer expertise that the GC doesn’t already have on staff? Do they hold the secrets to construction photography that a GC can’t match with a $500 camera purchase and a basic photography course at a local community college (or even online)? The answers are obviously no and no.
So, therefore, the missing piece of the puzzle must be the ability to deliver construction photos with a web interface offers more than a link to a Sharepoint folder. If a GC could deliver a comprehensive package of photos to an owner that offered a complete record of as-built construction and critical installation details, now that would be valuable.
And now, the GC can offer just such a deliverable. In my next post I will describe how Geedra enables GC’s to self perform the photo documentation of their projects, and in doing so transforms an overhead cost, into a value-add service that boosts profitability.
I talk to a lot of GC’s and Architects that use Sharepoint(tm) to store their photos. When I ask them why, their answers usually include something about security (a questionable claim in my mind; Are your needles secure, just because you know which haystack they’re in?) and company policy. Then the grumbling begins.
Here’s a breakdown of Sharepoint’s shortcoming’s as a photo management solution:
#10 Too much typing & clicking required – To file photos in way that provides any meaningful information later on (you know, when your really need them), Sharepoint requires you to spend time creating unique folders or typing LOTS of unique filenames. (e.g. ProgressLevel4DeckPrepour11032011.jpg, oh my)
#9 One-dimensional searching - If I need to verify the window flashing installation on ten different levels, it would be nice if I didn’t need to scroll through hundreds (thousands? millions?) of photos of rebar and framing on each and every one of those same ten levels.
#8 Picture Library doesn’t support sorting - Wouldn’t it be nice to have Excel-style sorting capabilities, while being able to simultaneously view the photos too?
#7 Can’t define a range of search values - How much quicker would it be if you could define a range of search values? E.g. Verifying the curtain wall anchors on the northeast corner of the top four floors.
#6 No comment - In the age of social media, is it too much to expect to be able to add comments to construction photos?
#5 No sharing - Isn’t a tad bit ironic that there’s no built-in photo sharing in a solution that has “Share” in it’s name?
#4 Upside down? - Does your neck hurt from viewing upside down photos with no way to fix them without opening them in another application and then re-saving them?
#3 No rules - Usually, a 7-person team will adopt 7 different photo naming and filing conventions.
#2 Patient searching required - “No Files Found” , is a painful phrase. How many times have you gotten this result repeatedly after struggling to come up with the right search criteria? An interactive search panel that allows for “tweaking” searches would be a real time saver.
#1 Starting from scratch - A new project means a blank slate and recreating your file names, folders and organization all – over – again.
Is there a better way? Most definitely the answer is yes.
|Photos on Geedra™||Photos on SharePoint™|
Automated photo filing on Upload
|Yes. Photos filed according to user profile, project profile, time, date and other data assigned by camera.||No. User manually files photos by file and folder names.|
|Menu-driven, point-and-click photo tags||Yes.||No.|
|Construction-specific tags||Yes. Tag types include: gridline, level, room number, camera orientation, multi-building designations, CSI division codes + text-based tags||No – text based tags only.|
|Searching by single tag values||Yes.||No.|
|Searching by multiple tag values||Yes.||No.|
|Searching by a range of tag values||Yes.||No.|
|“Excel-style” photo sorting by tag value.||Yes.||No.|
|Instant Search Experience (Search results appear as search criteria are entered)||Yes.||No.|
|Integrated Photo Sharing||Yes.||No. Share by email.|
|Integrated Report Builder||Yes.||No.|
|Individual photo comments journal.||Yes.||No.|
|Pre-defined comments menu||Yes.||No.|
|Hiding redundant photos||Yes.||No.|
|Automatic filtering of duplicate photos||Yes. Even works when filename is changed.||No.|
|Built-in photo rotation||Yes.||No.|
|Remote web access.||Yes.||Yes.|
|Cloud-based storage||Yes.||Office 365 only.|
|Seamless user experience from any Browser or Operating System||Yes.||No.|
|iPad compatible||Yes.||Yes. (Separate app required)|
If you have ever tried to capture a critical photo in low light with your iPhone(tm) or iPad(tm) you have experienced the devices’ shortcomings in low-light photos. With small lenses and no flash, iPhotos in these circumstances are grainy and generally poor quality when compared to even the most basic point-and-shoot cameras.
Now there’s a new new app called NightCap that allows you to adjust the exposure of your device’s camera with impressive results.
A recent report from McGraw-Hill (also discussed here) outlined the results of a survey of owners, architects and general contractors examines the ways in which project teams on $100 million projects handle risk management. The report suggests that formal risk control processes “beyond simple checklists” are necessary for these projects to sufficiently mitigate their overall project risk.
The costs of risk in these projects are staggering. For example the average size of a post-construction disputes is $3 million dollars. But what’s striking to me is how common it is for these projects to be dealt a blow from risk related issues. Consider these statistics:
- Almost a quarter of projects are hit with schedule delays.
- Close to 20% of projects are over budget.
- About 10% of projects experience disputes.
And these are the big boys. The best-in-class, technology savvy, resource-rich organizations that one would expect to have their act together. But even the best and brightest are subject to the ill effects of overruns, scope creep and safety and site conditions. As a matter of fact, “unforeseen site conditions” was listed as one of the most difficult risks to quantify. It’s nice of the MH folks to formally recognize something we all know to be true; once you break ground, you never know what can happen next.
Site conditions change, often unpredictably so. However, as I’ve discussed before, unforeseen conditions present a challenge in dealing with the risk of the past where costs pile up as those charged with investigating, analyzing and negotiating a resolution struggle to recreate the conditions on the site at the time in question. Capturing this critical information doesn’t happen by accident. If the principles of major projects are going to take a dent out of risk-related costs, it’s going to take organization-wide efforts to make recording site conditions a mandatory (and routine) practice. Current methods rely on individual project managers to establish their own systems for recording information, leading to a different system for every project and predictably inconsistent results.
I got a touching note from someone the other day. I had never met this person before and they had no reason whatsoever to reach out to me, but did anyway. Thanks, Shirine.
A few years ago I handled Business Development for Waste Management in new accounts for their CDL collection. It was for the new home construction divisions setting up garbage collection to unestablished accounts. …I was often in the garages of the new home developments forming solid relationships with on site Super’s and staff. (Geedra) will be a great resource/ tool for them.
I can appreciate that service and benefit your business will offer the construction community.
Continued success for your business.
Interesting coverage in today’s NY Times about legislation in Europe and proposed in the US about labeling photos that have been highly re-touched to the point where the appearance of the subject has been substantially altered.
In the case of a single photo, it’s next to impossible for the naked eye to detect a professional retouch. However, in our world of construction photography, we rarely deal with a single make-or-break photo. In cases where photographic evidence exists, there are often many photos from many different cameras that show the same subject. Anyone who is inclined to modify a photo in their favor, better plan on hunting down all of the other photos as well if they hope to succeed.
It is extremely difficult for someone who has not participated in a construction project to comprehend the complexity involved. As I have said before, a construction project is akin to starting a factory that makes buildings. Only after you do all of the personnel and partner recruiting, product design, process planning, procurement, infrastructure building, quality system design, customer service and warranty planning, you shut down the factory after the first completed unit rolls off the line.