Otto Alhava: How to Empower Craftspeople with Data

Fira, a Finnish building contractor, has transformed itself from a construction company into a service company. Now, it wants to become an information company empowering on-site workers with data.

“The nonexistent flow of information is our industry’s biggest problem. The flow stops at the construction site’s office trailer,” says Otto Alhava, CTO of Fira. “We design with BIM and talk about VDC, but what does that matter to a craftsperson at the site? Does he or she get the essential information from a BIM to do the job at hand? I think not.”

Poor Support for Daily Work

“On a building construction site, we carry the information to the work face in a paper notebook and on printouts,” Alhava observes. “In the telecom infrastructure business, competition has forced companies to increase field worker productivity. Their employers care about their field workers’ success: everyone has a car, proper clothing, a tablet, a computer, and a smartphone on which they receive detailed work instructions.”

BIM could provide accurate and detailed data from any spot in the model. Alhava maintains that’s not happening: “You need to be a Master of Science in Technology to extract the information that a supervisor or a technician needs at a certain time in a certain place.”

When employees don’t have the means to work efficiently, they become a costly expense. A plumber, for example, creates value only two hours a day. Construction workers spend one day a week just moving or clearing away the stuff of their co-workers. Companies try to compensate for poor productivity by hiring a cheaper workforce from abroad.

From Point Solutions to an Ecosystem

Of the lean construction methodologies, Last Planner has had the greatest impact on Fira’s construction sites. It has brought to light a problem with site management: if a supervisor spends two-thirds of his or her time walking around a site to manage it and collect information, that’s process waste. That’s why Fira implemented Sitedrive, a mobile tool for communication between supervisors and craftspeople. Previously, some sites had used WhatsApp for the same purpose.

Sitedrive gives everyone a real-time overview of what’s going on at a construction site. It allows an individual craftsperson to plan his or her tasks for the day and shows what others are working on. Alhava calls Sitedrive a resource management tool for field work. The startup that developed it brought IT developers to construction sites and inspired the company to start “speaking IT.”

As good as any single app may be, it is still a point solution. Fira is now promoting Open Data Platform, which allows the sharing of information between different systems. It may be able to create a software and data ecosystem for the construction industry. Finland is known for clean tech, health tech, and gaming. Alhava envision that in two years we’ll be known for world-class construction software development.

From Projects to Production

Fira is also making construction lean in other ways. It has developed a strategic partnership with CarinaFour, a shipbuilding company with experience using Product Information Management, PIM. They’ve showed how constructing a building on-site that normally takes four hours can be done in one hour in a manufacturing facility. Fira has its own modular bathroom plant in Hämeenlinna. It provides one delivery instead of having each subcontractor contribute its own.

Alhava believes that we must move from project thinking to partnership thinking. Fira wants to be able to open a dashboard that would provide one view on each subcontractor working on all their sites. “Only after we influence the productivity of subcontractors we can improve the productivity of the whole industry,” Alhava wraps up.