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Interview with Doug Chambers from FIELDLENS

UPDATE 2022: In 2017, Fieldlens was acquired by WeWork and it has actually dissapeared from the market completely in 2020 and it is now owned by RedTeam. Doug Chambers is not involved anymore with Fieldlens.

It’s not a secret anymore that there is a digital revolution the last years in construction industry, which seems very hungry for solutions that will solve many of the problems that everyone working in a construction site faces on a daily basis.

We have recently presented 9 Apps for Inspections at a construction project and later on we came back with 7 more Apps for inspections on site.

We had the opportunity to discuss with Doug Chambers , CEO of FIELDLENS  about their solution which was recently launched in CONEXPO/CON-AGG in Las Vegas, USA March 2014 .

FIELDLENS is a new platform for collaboration in construction industry and has literally just launched (March 2014). What’s the story behind it? What’s your vision?

The idea for FieldLens came out of my frustration dealing with broken jobsite communication in the 10+ years I worked as a construction project manager. Having worked on all types and sizes of projects from large sites like the New York Times Building and 4 World Trade Center in New York City, to smaller commercial, retail and public recreation spaces, I quickly learned that communication breakdowns were consistent on every project, big and small. A few years back I got my first smartphone (it was a Motorola Droid 2!) and the proverbial “light bulb” went off. There were all sorts of amazing new ways to connect with various networks of people in our consumer lives, and yet construction projects were still being managed in a very linear, off-line and inefficient manner. Construction professionals work so hard, with constant stress, pressure and long hours, and they deserve a tool that will help them make the most out of the time they spend on the jobsite. Our ultimate goal is to help their day-to-day become easier by making communication as effective as possible. We do that by providing an application that feels familiar because it is as simple to use as the social media platforms that are now so prevalent in out lives.

FieldLens’ motto on your website is “All your Jobsite Communication In One Place”. That sounds really ambitious. Lack of Communication is probably the biggest cause of problems in a construction site. How is FieldLens going to solve that problem?

Our team is made up of construction veterans and tech experts, and our top priority when starting to develop FieldLens was to make jobsite communication as simple as possible. One of the biggest problems with standard field communication is that it tends to come from several different sources – email, phone calls, faxes, in person site visits, and so on. Add that to the fact that most construction professionals are handling multiple projects at one time and you have a big mess. They’re left sorting through hundreds of disparate pieces of information each day without any way to organize all of it.  

FieldLens solves this problem by using project-specific newsfeeds to organize and keep track of everything that happens on the jobsite. All project information is stored in these newsfeeds for a simple and accessible overview of a project’s status. Need to know everything happening on Project A? You simply go to Project A’s newsfeed, and you’ll find all the communication related to that project, updated in realtime. This includes updates to jobsite items from every person involved with the project including any relevant photos, videos, drawing mark-ups, documents, and voice notes uploaded from the jobsite and more. But it is not a free-for-all – FieldLens allows each of the four types of companies involved in a construction project (Owners, GCs, Design, Subcontractors) to communicate in a structured manner that is organized and highly searchable while maintaining a complete audit trail for every decision made on the project.  Most importantly, while it is our goal to help construction professionals gain control of their email in-boxes, FieldLens is completely integrated with email – allowing the communication of jobsite issues with non-FieldLens users to be as seamless and useful as with users of the platform.

There are some videos on your website, from some early test users before the official launch of FIELDLENS this March. In how many and what kind of projects has FIELDLENS been used up to now? Could FIELDLENS be used in any type and size of construction project?

One of the things we are most proud of is that FieldLens has proved useful on projects of all types and sizes – from residential home repair to 40+ story mixed use urban towers, as well as hospital expansions to name a few. Communication breakdowns occur on every project, no matter the size. FieldLens is designed to be useful in all scenarios where important jobsite decisions need to be made and data needs to be shared quickly and easily.  Our beta period was extensive. We decided to work on product development in a closed beta for almost a year because we knew the problem we are tackling is complicated. Our beta partners were amazing and they helped us shape a solution that is flexible and relevant to all project participants. We worked with over 1,000 companies on 800+ projects during the beta period. It is important to note though, that some of these projects were as small as a roof repair and some $100+ million core and shell projects.

There are many online collaboration tools, snagging apps and Document Management software for construction industry out in the market at the moment. So, what makes FieldLens different?

FieldLens is different for a few reasons. 

First, we view construction project communication as a holistic problem in need of a holistic solution. Apps that help automate punchlist or make it easier to share drawings & specifications are a great help, but they don’t attack the core problem which is that every employee at every company on the project is overwhelmed with data coming from disparate sources. They need one place to go to track and manage the 100 things that come up every day on the job.

Second, our view is that specialty trade contractors/subcontractors are too often ignored by construction technology solutions. These companies are responsible for the majority of installed work on every project, yet most technology tools are not built for them, and are in fact uni-directional, allowing more data to be pushed to them without providing them with a way to manage all of it or deal with all of their own internal day-to-day issues. FieldLens is purpose built to provide the installing contractors with the same tools as the GC, Design Team, or Owner.

Third, we believe that our User Experience design is a major differentiator. We are the only mobile field management platform that takes the best of what we’ve learned from social media and applies it to construction project management. Social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter connect people using realtime newsfeeds that allow for instant photo sharing and news updates. FieldLens uses a similar process, but has made it more robust to match the real-world workflows and needs of construction projects.

BIM is by far the hottest topic in construction industry the last years. Is FIELDLENS able to work with BIM Models? If not, how exactly I will be able to view a drawing with FIELDLENS?

We’ve built integration with BIM that allows for all project locations to be imported into FieldLens and communication in our platform can be tagged to the same locations within the model. In addition, we’ve begun to experiment with sending FieldLens “items” back into the model where they can be viewed and updated without leaving the BIM environment.

From what we’ve seen from the teaser videos, there are no checklists involved in FieldLens. However, people in construction are using to checklists all the time. What’s your point of view on that? 

Without question, checklists and forms have historically been an important part of confirming that work is installed correctly and within specification requirements. The problem with checklists and forms is that they are not always actionable- in other words, they have a static output that typically contains action items that need to then be communicated to other project participants.

 We’ve built tools within FieldLens that help to eliminate many of these older processes by allowing users to create FieldLens “items” that act similarly to form questions but allow for the direct assignment of items that require action so that they are instantly communicated. However, we understand that some checklists and forms will always be necessary on the jobsite, so we are adding additional functionality later this year that will enable users to quickly create them within FieldLens.

If there are items (e.g. snags, issues) that need to be communicated to people that are not using FIELDLENS and they may not even belong to my organization (Clients, Designers, Authorities), is it possible to do so? How exactly?

We are realistic in the fact that not everyone on the project team may be using FieldLens. But FieldLens users still need to be able to collaborate with absolutely everyone on the jobsite, and this is why we’ve made it simple to share information with non-FieldLens users. We have a feature called Single Item Share, which allows information to be sent to a non-user’s email address via a live web link. The non-user can view all information related to that item, and the link will update in realtime as information is added. Any response that user makes to the email will automatically be uploaded into FieldLens to ensure no information is lost, for a complete audit trail. We also make it possible to share full project reports with non-users. These are also sent as a web link, and include all multimedia in the report.

Is it possible to produce statistics for your project through FL? 

We currently provide live filtering of all project related issues that include statistics for every possible combination of filter criteria. This Summer we will be releasing an analytics package that provides a more visually representation of the statistics for quick consumption of a project’s “health.”

It seems that the last years the use of tablets and mobile devices on site is booming, with new apps and tools coming out almost every year! How soon do you think construction industry will move completely to a “tablet digital world”? Is that even possible?

I think construction professionals are hungry for tools that will help them do their jobs more effectively, and as mobile technology improves, we will see only see tablet use increase on the jobsite. And that increase is coming from the workers themselves – it is not top-down as some might imagine. Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) is a growing trend in construction because mobile technology is a huge part of people’s non-work lives, and people expect to be able to use their devices at work as well as their personal lives. But with that being said, it’s actually quite likely that we will see wearable technology like Google Glass and smartwatches rise alongside tablets. The ability to manage the jobsite without having to take your eyes off of what you’re doing or stop to punch in information is very appealing to construction workers. 

You just launched FL at CONEXPO. What are the future plans for FL? Are there any new features coming out soon?

We are consistently communicating with our customers to figure out features that will make their day-to-day as easy as possible and we will continue to release features that will help make FieldLens the most important tool on the jobsite.

We have a few exciting additions to FieldLens coming up in 2014. First, there will be a new way to visualize construction drawings on mobile devices within the FieldLens environment, providing a filterable and searchable experience layered on the drawings no different then what we currently offer within the newsfeed. Second, we will provide new tools to manage manpower tracking and reporting within the FieldLens experience. Third is the visual analytics package described above. And fourth, fifth, and sixth remain a secret for now!

Beyond that, we did a surprise demonstration of the prototype for our Google Glass app at CONEXPO. We see wearables becoming increasingly important for jobsite efficiency, and we plan to answer that need.

For more information about FIELDLENS, you can visit :  https://fieldlens.com

Many thanks!

UPDATE 2022: In 2017, Fieldlens was acquired by WeWork and it has actually dissapeared from the market completely in 2020 and it is now owned by RedTeam. Doug Chambers is not involved anymore with Fieldlens.

PS: QualityInConstruction.com is not commercially linked with any of the products that are presented or any of the interviewees (read our disclaimer).

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Pavlos Inglesis
I am a Chartered Civil Engineer (CEng-MICE) and a Chartered Quality Professional (MCQI CQP) working in the construction industry for about 20 years. My specialty is Quality Control and Quality Assurance Management in Construction Projects. I have worked on projects in the Middle East, and Greece and am now based in the UK.

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