Behind the Build: Interview with Matt Roberts, Data Manager, VDC Services, Gray

February 19, 2021 Alyssa Jaber

Being a leader in the construction industry of today requires dedication to innovation. New technologies are a constant, yet new problems arise each day that require outside-the-box solutions. As one of our Trailblazer spotlights in our Behind the Build series, we’re recognizing construction professionals who can identify a challenge that exists in the industry and solve it using an innovative approach.

That’s exactly what Matt Roberts, Data Manager at Gray, does in his daily work. Through his use of construction technology, Matt is able to tackle large issues that come up for Gray, winner of Constructech Magazine’s 2020 Vision Award, by breaking a problem down into solvable and trackable parts. We recently caught up with Matt about his career journey in the construction industry, how he uses innovation and technology to solve big problems, and more. Read his story below.

Tell me a little bit about Gray. 

Gray is a fully integrated service provider, deeply rooted in engineering, design, construction, and smart manufacturing services, and consistently ranked among the top five industrial contractors in the U.S. We focus on the following markets for domestic and international customers: food & beverage, manufacturing, automotive, distribution, mission critical, and commercial.

 Gray’s robust offering, which includes strategy, operational improvements, construction, engineering, automation & controls, and equipment manufacturing, enables us to create one-of-a-kind solutions at the highest level of customization. We deliver unmatched precision and partnership to some of the world’s most sophisticated organizations.

Tell us more about your career at Gray. 

 I have a non-traditional background when it comes to this industry. I didn’t go to school for construction management or design, but I was involved in some project management work in the past. I was hired by Gray in 2018 as a project engineer for the construction group and was assigned to a project team. It just so happened that this particular project at the time was going to be a large, complex project in the food & beverage sector. It involved a very sophisticated design, and we initially leveraged the BIM model using Assemble as our takeoff tool. It was a good opportunity for me to learn about building such a large scale industrial project. I did some research and realized that there was great potential to use Assemble during the project execution phase to track work-in-place, rather than limiting its use to being just a pre-construction takeoff tool. This realization catalyzed the evolution of my career with Gray. This November, I took on a new role at Gray–Data Manager for the VDC Services Group.  

What are the biggest challenges you face in your role? How does technology help you overcome those challenges?

 Gray is wonderful in that it promotes an entrepreneurial spirit among project management and project teams. But, like the vast majority of construction firms, data silos do exist, and sharing information can be tough.

In construction, technology is about finding a way for us to get critical information about project health and project status in one place for everyone who needs to see it.

We’re also able to use it to automate reports, so our teams receive the most updated information when they need it. When integrated with construction, technology reduces data silos, improves access to information, and increases efficiency. 

What is the secret to getting the field comfortable with using new technology?

Initially convincing an experienced site team member who has been doing something one way his whole career to use new technology can be challenging. In my experience, if you want to gain buy-in, it’s not something that you can train them remotely in a couple of hours. When training the field, I would spend one to two full days with everyone on the jobsite who’s going to use it to get them all signed up and walk them through every aspect of the product on the web version and on their mobile devices. Most importantly, it’s about getting them involved at the very beginning, rather than just dumping a new piece of technology on their plates well after a project is underway. It’s essential to interact with users on a personal level and build that relationship. 

You were recently awarded the Constructech 2020 Vision Gold Award. Can you tell us more about that accomplishment?

The award is for innovative use of technology in an automated way. Our group developed a better workflow using Assemble, Revit, Microsoft Power BI and SharePoint, and Primavera 6. This allowed our site team to track real time work and progress using an interactive 3D BIM model. 

We were using the schedule integrator app to tie in the P6 schedule to the Assemble model objects. When we would bring all of that data into Power BI from Assemble, we could show whether we would meet our scheduled dates based on how much we were doing per day. This provided us with a productivity report in addition to precise quantity tracking for each discipline. In addition to integrating the Assemble data into our reporting, we had quality audits and safety information, as well as man-hour and weather impact data that we were able to integrate into our Power BI report from other data sources like SharePoint. The whole integration allowed us to track project progress much more efficiently. The ability to have reports auto-refresh multiple times per day was crucial in ensuring teams were always looking at the most current information.

It’s not like we’re the first company ever to use Assemble. And there have been other firms to use Assemble and link software like Power BI, but that’s not why we received the award. It was a combination of multiple different technologies being integrated into one workflow and automation that really won us the award. 

What advice would you give to the next generation of men and women entering the industry?

Always be on the lookout for opportunities to improve efficiency—opportunities to fill a need and make yourself useful.

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