The importance of digital transformation in the construction industry cannot be overstated. Equipping your teams with the right apps and platforms helps them to work faster and more efficiently. Technology also enables companies to collect data and insights for smarter decision-making.
Ben Fiedler, Staff Consultant at Benchmark Inc., has seen the positive impact of technology firsthand, having played a pivotal role in getting teams to adopt digital and mobile construction tools. And as a roof consultant, Ben knows that technological innovation and capturing meaningful data are imperative to efficiency and quick decision making in the field.
We recently had a conversation with Ben about his career journey, his experience with implementing technology at Benchmark, and the upcoming innovations at the company.
Have a look at what he has to say.
Tell me a little bit about Benchmark and what you specialize in.
I always start by saying, we’re weird. We’re different. Benchmark is not like anybody else you’ve ever worked with. We’re roof and pavement consultants. We are not architects or engineers and we’re not contractors. We mostly focus on reroofing opportunities or repaving for industrial clients that have a million square feet per facility with at least 10 facilities. Think: those big, nasty, hard-to-do projects, where we focus on the reroofing and paving.
Benchmark is not like anybody else you’ve ever worked with.
Beyond that, Benchmark is also unique in that we have a very strong company culture. We recently implemented EOS (Entrepreneurial Operating System), which is bringing greater alignment and clarity to how we function.
We have three core values. First, we focus on being a strong team based on relationships and trust; secondly, we’re committed to being technically excellent; and finally, we focus on being a “benchmark.” Think in terms of how benchmarks are used as a place from which to measure. We want to be that leader and we want to be that measurement point.
Walk us through your career and what led you to become Staff Consultant.
At my previous job before Benchmark, I worked as a satellite uplink engineer doing national news and sporting events. I was traveling the country and I even worked the “Big Game”. Life was great, but there was zero career advancement. I was basically at the top of the game already.
I started looking at getting into project management. Turns out, I knew someone at Benchmark.
So I applied for a position and in the hiring process, I saw that Benchmark looks for the right person, not just the right technical knowledge. It’s all about finding someone who is willing to learn all those things that align with the company culture.
I started at Benchmark, and spent a couple of years in training learning roofing from some of the brightest minds in the industry. I then spent a lot of time on the roof providing quality assurance. I was out on projects, doing observation, and then slowly I moved into completing roof surveys and design projects.
Now, I wear multiple hats. I am our lead UAV pilot, creating orthomosaics, for our drafting team to use in AutoCAD to draw roof and pavement plans. As a roof consultant, I am involved in roof condition assessments and surveys of roofing systems, design and quality assurance during the construction phase of our projects.
I also have additional responsibilities as an innovation product owner, taking those innovations, like Autodesk Build, and and applying those resources to our processes and in implementing them in the field.
What is your proudest accomplishment in your career at Benchmark?
Implementing PlanGrid is by far my biggest accomplishment.
Today, every consultant at Benchmark has an iPad and is using PlanGrid to complete our surveys, streamline our design processes, and provide quality assurance. With this technology, our processes have become much more automated and efficient with data automatically entering our databases.
We’re more efficient today with the use of PlanGrid. All of this allows our consultants to do what they do best, providing great results and service for our clients and their companies.
What are the biggest challenges you face in your role? How does technology help you overcome those challenges?
Technology will enable us to be more efficient while providing more accurate and useful information to our Clients. It helps us reduce time spent on low-value tasks, allowing us to spend more time on high-value tasks that benefit our Clients.
Then there’s all the data being captured. How do you leverage data to be able to make better decisions? When you’re surveying a roof, what kind of data can you use to make more accurate predictions and use less of that human intuition to be able to say, “Yes, this roof is going to last X number of years—and here are all the data points that support that.”
We have one of the largest databases of historical roofing data. Continuing to better understand, mine and use that data will allow us to provide more value and new services in the future.
Why are you excited about implementing Autodesk Build over the next few months?
We’ve got everyone on PlanGrid right now, so switching to Build means there’s going to be retraining. The good news is that with PlanGrid and Build being very similar products—especially on mobile—it will require minimal retraining.
I like that Build has additional features, such as having progress meetings and agendas built into the platform, so you can start assigning tasks, which then creates your RFIs and submittal packages.
We’re also using BuildingConnected, and we’re just getting that off the ground to use with our bidding projects. With Autodesk products, the whole process never leaves one common ecosystem. The data just flows from concept to finished product.
When you think about the future, what are your plans to advance innovation and productivity at Benchmark?
The first thing would be unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). It’s quite impressive how drones are helping us be more efficient.
For instance, the site that I’m at right now is over a million square feet of roof, and I’m going to fly it. I’ll have a 3D model of the site in just a few hours that I will export as a recap file. We can then send that file to our client, and they will import it into Revit and virtual design the entire facility from a few hours in the field.
Here’s another use case: an infrared scan. The infrared scans are used to determine where wet insulation is in a roof, so you have to fly those at night. I’ll come out to the jobsite during the evening and I’ll fly, which will take a couple of hours. Previously, this was done with a handheld camera, and might take several hours.
After the flight is complete, I will upload the data into DroneDeploy. DroneDeploy has an integration with PlanGrid and Build, so after the data’s processed, it adds itself automatically as a sheet to the project.
There’s another layer to this. You can take that drone data and then the next step is to apply artificial intelligence. One of the future projects that Benchmark is working on is incorporating the use of artificial intelligence, building off the years of data and experience that we have.
Imagine in the future when we fly an infrared scan, the AI algorithm goes through, quantifies square feet of wet insulation, draws the roof plan as a DWG, and adds wet insulation to the drawing, all without any human intervention. I mentioned before the transition from low-value to high-value tasks, and this is another great example. By reducing drafting time creating roof and pavement plans, we can focus on those high-value tasks that deliver greater value to our clients.
What advice would you give to the next generation of men and women preparing for the future of the industry?
My advice is to consider a career in roofing or paving. Most people don’t understand the skills and knowledge required to succeed in this industry. It’s an exciting industry with many opportunities ahead.
I’ll also add, never stop learning. There’s always something new to learn.