When you think of the construction industry, you might picture hard hats and steel lunch pails. What you may not realize is that the industry is making leaps in software innovation. Modern construction is more technologically advanced than ever before.
The build methods used in today’s tech-savvy job sites mirror the increasingly complex challenges that the industry faces. Supply chain issues, the changing work landscape, and an over-commitment to outdated practices are barriers to maximizing efficiency and increasing productivity for many companies working in the modern construction and manufacturing industries.
To learn more about those challenges and how leveraging technology solutions can help, we spoke with Ricardo Rodriguez, VP of Sales, Software & Technology for Total Trade Solutions at Stanley Black & Decker. Ricardo provides insight into the challenges leaders face in the industry and how technology is playing an exciting role in the future of construction and manufacturing.
Theorem: Can you give a high-level overview of the types of projects that Total Trade Solutions at Stanley, Black & Decker works on?
Ricardo: Construction has multiple phases including pre-construction, construction, and post-construction. Pre-construction is where all of the planning and design happens. Construction is where you’re setting up the building or the job site. Post-construction includes things like decommissioning and demolition.
A lot of our focus these days is on pre-construction. One of the areas we’re really excited about is planning and design, drafting off of the innovations in building information modeling (BIM). We’re also focused on a lot of new things in the construction space, such as robotics.
Theorem: What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the construction/manufacturing industry?
Ricardo: I always like to think about challenges in two ways: there are structural and cyclical challenges. Structural challenges are those that are endemic to the industry that have been there for decades. These challenges include things like labor, the changing work environment, and what I call the “stickiness of legacy processes.”
There are very shallow labor pools right now. I think the knowledge-based economy has greatly impacted construction and manufacturing. Fewer and fewer people want to be in construction—it’s a lot easier to choose a career that makes good money and isn’t hazardous to your health and safety.
The work itself has changed significantly. Thirty or forty years ago, we didn’t have any software or robotics in the industry, and lean management wasn’t a widespread concept. People tend to be stuck in their old ways and that prevents innovation, which is a structural problem. Many organizations can’t really get out of that mode, and that’s a challenge we often find ourselves helping our customers navigate. We have all of these really great innovations from a software perspective for instance, and the challenge is figuring out how the customer will adopt it.
The last problem is my favorite because it drives our innovation the most: customers expect more from us. They expect more from manufacturing and construction.
Just because we don’t make MacBooks doesn’t mean that we can’t innovate from a customer experience standpoint. We can make better customer experiences by making things easier for them. We can learn from FAANG companies [Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Google] and apply them to our business.
On the cyclical side of challenges, we face things like the supply chain, inflation, the pandemic, and an event-driven news cycle that supplies non-stop information. This confluence of structural and cyclical problems impacts our space and our customers. There’s so much opportunity here if we can correctly connect the dots and deliver solutions.
Theorem: How do you approach recruiting the right people to help inform relevant messaging and solutions?
Ricardo: Well, that’s the crux of my job. It’s really about building the capability internally. We open the aperture of how we seek talent. Before, you would look for people who have experience in construction or know electrical, mechanical, plumbing, and manufacturing. Nowadays, we look for people who understand technology and how to engage with people who sit in the office who aren’t necessarily out in the field. We recruit people with software experience and enterprise sales experience, those who are more biased towards digital products. Customer success is a good example.
The concept of customer success is the most critical aspect of commercializing technology. Customers require onboarding and training. It’s incumbent upon us to build out that capability internally which requires us to seek talent with that expertise.
Theorem: What is one project you’re working on that you feel would be most impactful in helping to solve these problems?
Ricardo: I think the biggest challenge is solving that stickiness of legacy processes problem. How do you convince a company to change what they’ve been doing for so long, especially if they’ve been successful? They understand that they can be more profitable. They know that they can help their customers more. But it’s easier just to continue what they’re doing than to change things up. How do you show a customer, a construction company for example, that adopting this new piece of technology will be a game-changer? And how do you show them that it will be impactful to their customers without disrupting what they’re doing?
We’re focused on how to bridge that change management gap. How do we nurture the customer, develop the customer, and get them ready for the future in a way that puts points up on the board?
Theorem: What in the construction process has changed the most in the last 10 or so years?
Ricardo: I think the biggest change is business information modeling (BIM). Many people don’t know that Autodesk is the largest construction software company in the world. [Construction] is the biggest segment they have. Autodesk owns that pre-construction space from a design standpoint. The archetype of BIM started with engineers, but now you see contractors using it and adopting BIM and design capabilities.
You are also seeing manufacturing bleed into construction—this idea of prefab, offsite construction. Supply chain, inflation, and bad margins mean you need more ways to be efficient. The pre-construction phase is becoming a bigger and more important part of the construction process.
You are shifting some of the work that traditionally happens on a job site and bringing it into a warehouse or factory. To do that, you need software, robotics, power tools, people, and more. You’re seeing that the pre-construction phase looks more and more like a microcosm of manufacturing.
Theorem: How has Stanley Black & Decker evolved regarding its adoption of technology?
Ricardo: I’ve been with the company for five years, and what attracted me to a role here was Stanley’s willingness to move ahead with digital transformation initiatives. When I joined, the company was already a leader in that regard, but since there’s been a remarkable change. The culture has fundamentally changed, and I am seeing a lot more digital tools. We’re always running pilots, always trying out new tech. If it’s good enough for the customer, it’s got to be good enough for us, too.
We’re implementing new tools across many divisions, and this approach is changing how we procure, train, and more. I give a lot of credit to Stanley Black & Decker University (SDU). It’s a great training program and as a center of gravity for a lot of this digital transformation change management.
Theorem: Where do robotics fit into the bigger picture? What are some of the most exciting things that companies like Stanley Black & Decker are implementing in terms of robotics and AI?
Ricardo: I think it goes beyond robotics and AI—what’s most interesting is the early phase of construction. The planning and design that happens upstream are what pave the way for the interesting things that happen downstream.
Downstream can be power tools, a service, a robot, or something we’ve never heard of. Some of the things that we’re keen on are what I call force multiplier solutions. These solutions are services and hardware that we can put into the hands of customers to help them get the most out of what they already have. We’re also working on lightweight implementations. What are the quick wins that can be deployed on the customer with the least amount of change management? I think customer experience transformation is more compelling, especially in the near term than any one particular type of technology.
Theorem: What is Stanley’s approach to innovation?
Ricardo: It feels unique. What I love most about our approach is that we’re very customer-focused. First and foremost, we have our commitment to giving voice to the customer through research. The rigor we put into strategy and planning is significant, and then from there all the other programs we have fit in.
Stanley Ventures is a great venture arm that helps to gather insights from the customer and market, and then look at business priorities to see where we should invest.
Theorem: How do you decide on whether to invest in emerging technologies? What does that process look like?
Ricardo: It’s usually about two things—how fast does this particular technology allow us to solve a customer problem and go to market, and how fast does it make money? Speed and the commercial readiness of emerging technology allow me to speak to the customer immediately, and that interface with the customer allows me to see what’s next.
Theorem: What advice would you give friends at Fortune 1000 companies who are getting started on their digital optimization journeys?
Ricardo: Go agile. Go lean. When you’re doing something new in a big organization, you need to move with speed but with care. The only way to do that is with an agile startup mentality. Not everyone has a big budget and three years to do digital transformation. You have to move quickly.
The challenges the construction industry faces stand in the way of companies across many verticals—energy, logistics, and mining. These organizations must change their approach to innovation and recruit the necessary talent with the skills needed to ensure that they stay ahead of their competition. Custom-focused thinking, even for industries such as construction and manufacturing, is essential for building business and knowing which technologies to invest in.
Stanley Black & Decker has evolved by putting the customer first and treating obstacles as opportunities to learn and grow.
Do you need to understand your customer better? Will a quick, impactful win encourage leadership to support more of your projects next year? Theorem can help you discover what the market needs and align your leadership by prioritizing investment into projects that will make a difference right now. Contact us for a free consultation.