I met with the CEO of FieldLens, Doug Chambers a few weeks ago at a skiiing event. Given that my family works in construction in New Jersey (no relation to the Bada Bing or Tony Soprano), and Doug did something similar in New York City, we had a lot to talk about.
One of the things that annoyed both of us was the complex amount of paperwork that had to go back and forth between the various people / groups involved in the construction process. From builders to contractors, subcontractors, inspectors, etc. Not only is the amount of back and forth a big time waste for builders, but the amount of errors that occur between hand offs results in almost $40 billion being spent on fixing incorrectly installed work each year.
Given Doug’s frustration with this inefficiency, he told me about how he created a company to solve the problem. The following is an interview with Doug Chambers.
How did the idea of FieldLens come about?
I’ve been working as a construction professional for over a decade, since I graduated from college. From the NYC Parks department running from jobsite to jobsite, to small interior projects in Chicago to major skyscrapers here in NYC. No matter the size of the project or the stage of my career, the problems were the same: lack of consistent, reliable means of keeping track of and communicating field issues between all the different stakeholders on a given project.
A few years ago, I was working as a project manager at the New York Times Building on 8th Avenue. It was a highly complex project for a variety of reasons: the building employs state of the art mechanical and architectural systems and the construction schedule was extremely aggressive. We were tasked with getting the newsrooms open and operating while still completing the construction of the upper floors. I personally was overwhelmed with hundreds of paper reports containing literally thousands of action items that needed to be communicated with over 30 subcontractors. Our processes for field issue management and communication were antiquated and inefficient. As I witnessed the proliferation of smartphones and tablets (and the awesome apps that accompany them) over the past few years, I realised there could finally be a better way for construction professionals to manage communication. Software alone couldn’t solve the problems– the solution had to be truly mobile: something that would enable me to walk on to a job-site, pull out my phone and easily find out exactly what I need to deal with.
How much time / money could a property developer save per project when using FieldLens?
The American Society of Civil Engineers studied “field errors” and determined that 5% of all construction costs are attributable to avoidable mistakes made in the field. Many of these errors occur due to the lack of communication and coordination between installing contractors and design team members.
But this statistic is misleading: that 5% only accounts for direct construction costs – i.e. – the actual cost to replace an element installed incorrectly.
What about all the time wasted using inefficient means of communication and collaboration? Repetitive trips between office and field, re-inspections, communication bottlenecks, etc.: these result in hours wasted per week for every construction professional and construction worker. We estimate an additional 5% savings are possible by significantly decreasing the time construction professionals and the workforce spend on reporting, reacting, and most of all waiting for direction while on-site.
Even more significant than this potential 10% per-project cost savings is the avoidance of even larger indirect impacts: schedule delays, insurance claims, and jobsite injuries all have the potential of occurring when field defects are not adequately captured, communicated, and rectified. While these issues are harder to quantify on a project-by-project level – they often have a massive impact on the health of a project.
What platforms do you support?
Our initial product will support Android phones and tablets (with full offline access) as well as all browser-enabled devices. We will release an iOS native application in the Fall.
How big is your team and current status.
We’ve built an incredible team! It’s a blend of very talented people with range of expertise, with a focus on construction, enterprise software development, Android development, and user experience design.
The current roster includes our co-founder and CTO Dave Small – building the back end services and managing the overall application development, three Android developers (Kevin Galligan, Will Sanville, Matthew Davis), two web front-end developers (Joanna Weinman, Cory Burnett), and our UX/design partner Charming Robot (Dan Maccarone, Christopher Pace, Claire-Marine Sarner, Nathan Morey, Erik Bowie). Jennifer Li is our intern assisting Dave on API development. Gordon Titus and Joe Coniglio are both construction professionals who are building out our sales and support teams. I’m overseeing overall product development and co-founder Matt Sena is handling all finance and business operations. We’ll be adding an iOS pro soon!
Mobile design is complete, web-design is well underway and development of both is in full-swing, and the back-end services are being linked to them currently. We are on target to have a mobile-only alpha release to a select group of customers in April, and are looking to launch a full web and mobile beta in late-June/early-July.
Do you have to work or integrate with city / state agencies in order to get your app to do all the things needed?
No, the majority of the communication and reporting issues we are solving are typically managed at the project level between the owner, design team, general contractor, and subcontractors. We do, however, believe that city and state agencies will be able to use FieldLens to reduce inefficiencies with their own on-site inspection processes.
What’s next for FieldLens over the next 12 months.
Right now we are focused on delivering a beta product in July and have approximately 10 clients ready to test it and provide feedback. Our roadmap calls for some really interesting SMS-based integrations that we believe are an important first step in automating communication for the greater workforce. We are also working on integrations with existing construction management and scheduling software that will help alleviate the office-field disconnect so common in construction. Last, but certainly not least, we are very excited about studying the data and metrics that FieldLens will begin to uncover this year!