Innovation and technology part of Pomerleau’s DNA
A conversation with Ian Kirouac about the intersection of innovation and technology as a foundation for change management at Pomerleau
Ian is Pomerleau’s Executive Vice President – Canadian Building Operations and Corporate Transformation, and initiator of the FOX program. Two years ago, FOX, the Foundation for Operational Excellence, was born—a program to initiate change management at Pomerleau and essentially its recipe for best practices. Now, two years later, Ian shares some of the lessons learned along the way and how they have shaped the company’s approach to technology and innovation.
Q: As a major player in the Canadian construction industry, Pomerleau is recognized as a leader in innovation. What are the key drivers for your investment in technology and in the development of your service offer?
Ian Kirouac: We look for technology that leads us to a solution. Before we adopt a new technology, we want to make sure it will address a problem or need.
Sounds pretty basic, but it is actually much more sophisticated than this, as there isn’t much technology out there that’s specifically designed for construction. Construction is still a small market for technology development, even though we are seeing a growing interest in our field in recent years. So, we are often looking at technologies from other industries that are facing similar challenges—and then we find a way to innovatively apply them to construction.
We employ a smart, concerted effort to alter a process when an innovation is introduced. We look at improvements and new technologies as adjustments to parts of the complete process—and not necessarily to change the entire process with new technologies.
Q: Can you give us a clear example of the use of innovation to address an operational need?
IK: The example that comes to mind is scheduling, an essential activity on construction projects. The master schedule, the six-week look-ahead schedule and detailed Lean planning have been used on our construction sites for years. But when automated dashboards were created to evaluate the quality of these schedules, combined with the use of Spot, a robotic dog whose 360-degree camera allows it to capture completed work on the worksite, processes were assessed to see if any improvements could be made, thereby allowing teams to focus on other important actions requiring their experience and skills. Spot’s images are compared to the 3D model to visually identify any differences, which helps in the coordination of onsite trade partners, resulting in freeing up valuable time the site managers previously spent gathering the data themselves.
Spot is also a perfect example of pulling technologies from other industries and applying them to a construction problem.
Q: We often hear that the construction industry is reluctant to change. What is your strategy to accelerate the adoption of innovation on site?
IK: The real success story is our change management program, which we’ve called FOX, an acronym for Foundation for Operational Excellence. FOX is our secret sauce, our recipe for best practices. You can’t apply this to another company.
Change management is one of those buzz terms that no one gets excited about anymore. People will only make change when they see added value—or if they are not comfortable with the status quo. Put these together and people will change—NOT because they’re scared or because they don’t understand something. They need a compelling reason. And if you combine a compelling reason to change with technology that will solve your problem, not only have you mastered change management, you’ve got innovation.
Part of Pomerleau’s success with the adoption of new technology—and the change it engenders—is communication. Let me be clear: to embark on change, you need to involve the end-users of the technology from the get-go. That means from the assessment of the need, to the deployment of the technology—and this will invariably create a group of ambassadors that will ease the adoption within operations, and steer the development of the new process. First, it’s essential to clearly define your needs and objectives, then to demonstrate the benefits linked to each initiative—and finally, to communicate relentlessly.
What we’ve found is that resistance to change is most often the result of a lack of information. People are flooded with information daily so it’s important to communicate directly with them. Once employees have a chance to try the new tool and get comfortable using it, they will embrace the change.
Communication and including the operations team in development and testing are key to fostering the faster adoption of change. If you have these elements in the mix, you also foster a culture of innovation.
Technology is only a tool—but it leads to innovative thinking in our people. That’s how we’ve made technology and innovation part of our DNA.”
Q: How do you envision the future of construction?
There is indeed change, but this is only the beginning. There is infinite potential to offer solutions that are smarter, faster, of better quality, more eco-friendly, much more economical in the long term, and quite frankly, more fun! Whether it’s prefabrication, robotics, 3D printing or artificial intelligence, to name just a few, there are many tools and situations that will help the construction industry excel and leverage the opportunities to the max.