7 Memorable Moments from the AGC-IT Forum

“See IT… Learn IT… Build IT.”

That was the simple, bottom-line theme of this year’s 8th annual conference of the Associated General Contractors of America’s Information Technology (AGC-IT) Forum, which returned to Chicago earlier this month with a knowledge-hungry attitude reflective of those three commands.

Where there was once ingrained hesitancy and aversion to new tech, even among this cutting-edge slice of the contracting community, there is now only aggressive, enthusiastic curiosity…

On the eve of the conference, held this year at the futuristic, Jeanne Gang-designed Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel, BuiltWorlds offered a preview Q&A with AGC-IT Forum event chair Howie Piersma, longtime VP of Technology for Pepper Construction. Some 360 attendees and 27 vendors from all over the U.S. — both record numbers — turned out for the conference, which was held in collaboration with Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering and “powered” by HP.

“Compared to last year, we saw larger attendance, and greater academic collaboration, thanks to Northwestern,” noted C. Fara Francis, AGC’s Chief Information Officer. “And attendees this year enjoyed an even broader spectrum of conversation on topics like lean construction, IT budgeting, and document management.”

Below, in no particular order, are just a handful of personal highlights from this jam-packed IT gathering:

Listen to their AGC-IT podcast here. Look for JBK’s annual tech use survey results next week.

Darnell struck a chord with HCSS, creator of the broad ‘I Build America‘ campaign (below).

HCSS: “Without construction, our modern way of life would not be possible. I Build America is dedicated to showing the people and companies of construction who make that happen.”

Proceed with caution

Amid all the excitement, of course, there still was some drama present — both spoken and unspoken — especially in the exhibit area, where soap opera-like subplots tempered at least some of the ample energy on hand. Among the vendors, it was noted that two who were seated just a few booths apart were actually suing each other in federal court for unfair business practices. In between, another pair of competitors eyed each other warily from across the room, the longtime spokesman and public face of one now enthusiastically representing the other.

Meanwhile, another exhibitor arrived sporting the name of its new corporate owner, but also under a cloud of rumored layoffs and continuing management overhaul and consolidation. And in the corner, one older startup found itself the subject of gossip: “Well, the word is that their CEO is out, and that they need another round of venture funding soon. Supposedly, if that doesn’t go well, they’re done.”

  • One caveat > Remember, virtually everyone in the room was a competitor!

Still, many on hand may have recalled that at last year’s AGC-IT Forum, keynote James Benham, aka “JBKnowledge”, had predicted an inevitable shakeup for the construction tech marketplace. “Just too many startups, too many apps that do the same thing,” he had said. So this year, I asked him if he still thought a reckoning was coming, and if so, when? Without hesitating, JBK said, “It’s already started.”

More evidence of that consolidation will likely appear in JBKnowledge’s forthcoming fifth annual Construction Technology Report, due out later this month. Co-sponsored by AGC, Texas A&M University and the Construction Financial Management Association, the national survey has grown from 450 industry respondents in 2012 to over 2,600 this year. Insights to follow soon…