Episode 28 | 

June 15, 2023

Digitizing Construction Labor Management

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In This Episode

In this episode of The Construction Revolution Podcast, we sit down with Albert Bou Fadel, the Founder and CEO of SmartBarrel. We’ll discuss Albert’s previous experience in the construction industry as well as his experience as an entrepreneur in other industries. We’ll also dive into how he got the idea to revolutionize labor management on the jobsite, and the evolution of SmartBarrel.  

Additionally, Albert explains the importance of accurate time tracking, and how contractors of all sizes are using SmartBarrel to improve their payroll, accounting, and culture. We’ll also explore how SmartBarrel is using AI and biometrics to enhance this part of the industry, both now and in the future.  

Host Image


Steven Rossi-Zalmons

Marketing & Events Lead, Giatec Scientific Inc.

Guest Image


Albert Bou Fadel

Founder & CEO, SmartBarrel

Podcast Transcript

Steven Rossi-Zalmons:

Hello there and welcome to the Construction Revolution Podcast. My name is Steven Rossi, and here on the show we explore the latest trends, technologies, people, and organizations that are revolutionizing or disrupting the construction industry and are changing what the industry will look like tomorrow. Today on the show I’m speaking with Albert Bou Fadel, the founder and CEO of SmartBarrel. After working for over 10 years in construction and on glazing projects around the world, Albert realized how inefficiently workforce tracking was being handled by the construction industry.

This sparked an interest in solving this pain point, so he set out to create SmartBarrel. SmartBarrel is transforming the way construction management handles labor, time entry and safety by applying AI and biometrics. Their solution allows contractors of all sizes to improve their payroll, accounting and culture. Tune in to learn about how Albert and SmartBarrel are revolutionizing time tracking on job sites.

Hi, Albert. Thanks for joining us today. How are you doing today?

Albert Bou Fadel:

Good, good. How are you?

Steven Rossi-Zalmons:

Doing good, doing good. The weather’s getting warmer here, so not as warm as where you are, but it’s getting better here.

Albert Bou Fadel:

Yeah, I know. Soon enough, you guys are going to beat us with the weather. It’s going to be way more valuable to be up in Canada than in Miami.

Steven Rossi-Zalmons:

I don’t know about that. Okay, so to get us started, I’m just wondering with your past experience in the industry, can you explain to me, what are the current labor management challenges that you’re seeing in the industry?

Albert Bou Fadel:

Sure. I think to put maybe things a little bit into context, maybe my background kind of helps in terms of understanding where I come from and how in the last 10-plus years I’ve seen a lot of challenges evolve while at the same time have a lot of challenges just persist. I come from the construction industry personally. I worked in the glazing industry for 10-plus years and I was fortunate enough to wear multiple different hats in the industry. I co-founded a glass business. I also worked in the field as a project manager. I also worked in the office. I also work in a plant, a manufacturer. So I’ve seen a lot of the construction industry and different geographical location from many different lenses and this has helped me evaluate the problem or assess the problem from many different angles.

Maybe let’s focus more on the persisting labor management problems that probably the industry has been struggling with for the last 25 to maybe 35, 40 years. There’s two main problems that is across trade, across industry, across geographies as well. One is the labor workforce is getting more and more scarce, and the number of workers coming into the industry is way less than the workers leaving the industry. So the worker by himself is becoming more and more scarce and harder to find, which actually pivots to the second point, which is managing the workers is becoming more and more challenging.

When you need more workers, you can set less and less control, but at the same time it’s your most expensive asset. It’s your most complicated asset. So you’re always left in a dilemma, which is how much control can I impose without pushing the worker away, but at the same time, this is my biggest make it or break it asset. And then, where do you draw the line in between? And I’ve seen this problem is probably one over one across the industry, but I’ve seen a thousand different methods of people trying to approach this problem. And I’m not sure if anyone has corrected it yet.

Steven Rossi-Zalmons:

Yeah, absolutely. I know the labor shortage is obviously something that is a big issue in, as you mentioned, all trades, especially the construction industry. And it’s interesting to see companies like yours and other companies trying to help that. So can you explain with the problem that you saw, how did you come up with the idea for SmartBarrel and how does SmartBarrel address some of those challenges?

Albert Bou Fadel:

Sure. It’s actually very interesting because many, many people, especially if they’re non-construction related, when I try to explain what we do, and even if you want to dumb it down at construction time tracking or construction labor management, the first reaction, the first intuitive reaction is that, “Really? Like 2023, and you’re still in the timekeeping business? This is absurd.” What everyone fails to realize is that the status quo, which is the paper time sheet, is still very, very much dominant in the industry even in 2023, and it will be in 2030, to be honest.

The reason behind this very powerful paper clipboard thriving on job site is because the nature of the construction industry is very unique. You have the job site, which is the workplace, very much separated from the office, which is not very common. So you have your admin, your payroll, your HR miles, sometimes states, away from where your work field is. So this separation is very significant.

Step number two is construction workers are usually showing up in a non-civilized environment. It’s literally a land. There’s no power, there’s no electricity, there’s no water, roads, lights, anything. So just introducing technology in this environment is just challenging by itself just to start with. And I was someone who was young enough to where I was experiencing the Uber of the world and ordering stuff from my phone and then seeing the car driving all the way up to me, and then yet showing up to my day job where I’m managing a couple hundred thousand dollars worth of weekly payroll and literally tracking it on a paper clipboard with pencil, which I knew was absolute garbage. So living in those two universes the same day was insane.

Then I didn’t personally go from all paper/clipboard to SmartBarrel. It wasn’t that obvious of transition. The middle and the most important part of it all is that I decided to venture into finding the solution. So I reached out to management and I was fortunate enough that I reported to ownership direct. And they believed in me enough to say, “Yes, go procure that.” And I procured everything that probably would be the most intuitive way of thinking of solution, mobile apps. Oh, download the mobile app and have GeoFriends and you can track everyone, so obvious. And there’s a dime a dozen. Apps exist left and right. The biggest problem with apps is compliance. You can’t get 70 workers to download an app, especially if you’re not providing the phone, especially if you’re not paying for the data, especially if you don’t know if the app has any privacy breaches. Is it going to track them at night, yada, yada?

So you very quickly realize that even though the technology is available and it’s a dime a dozen, the construction is the problem. The industry by itself is the problem. I tested mobile apps, I tested fingerprints. I tested hand scanners, I tried iris scanners. That was actually a very interesting experiment to scan everyone’s iris. I mean theirs are built for airports and very controlled, clean, neat environment. I had people waiting for five minutes to get their iris scanned. I mean it’s absolutely garbage when it comes to construction site.

I tracked wearables, whether you put on your belt, you put it on your hard hat. Also amazing, but workers figure out within 15 minutes, they start swapping each other’s hard hat. I had a device where you had a fob and then you tapped your fob. And then every time, like I said, it’s a mini keychain and every time you tapped your keychain on the device, it would check you in and check you out. I would have one guy with 25 keychain. Actually, there’s a whole funny story, and this was probably my tipping point, is I drove from Miami to Tampa, which is about a five-hours drive, to go check on a job site because supposedly I had 30 guys, and the general contractor had mentioned that we had guys. And I get there for a meeting, and then I go to the site and I see nobody. And then all I see is one guy with 25 keychains.

Then this is where I realize, okay, that this is like buddy punch. This is exactly… It’s a legit problem. And then there’s the whole legality behind it. So even though you might have witnessed this “fraudulent act,” in quotation mark, there’s really not much you can do about it. You have to pay them because the data and at court, your word doesn’t mean anything. So this is where the problem started is that no matter what technology we adopted, within a certain amount of time, we always fail back to paper. And that was probably a very… something that personally probably rubbed me the wrong way and it doesn’t make sense. And where frustration was found, opportunity was realized. And this is where we decided, okay, maybe there’s something to go after.

Steven Rossi-Zalmons:

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, that’s really interesting. I think to your point, obviously we all are aware the construction industry is old school and hesitant to adopt. Even, as you mentioned, if the technology does exist, it’s not always a smooth transition. So I’m curious what the process was like developing SmartBarrel and then also getting people to actually use it and ensuring that they have to use it and are using it properly.

Albert Bou Fadel:

Yeah. That’s a great question, and I am 100% sure what I’m about to say is going to base… It’s kind of controversial without really going down the controversial path. So step number one, I think, and it’s mainly due probably to my lack of technology knowledge. I don’t come from a technology background, so I was kind of winging it and exploring it. Probably the smartest thing we did is we did not digitize an existing process. And I feel this is the biggest trap that a lot of technology companies go after. They go to the construction and they say, “How do you track timekeeping?” “Oh, we have this clipboard and it has those fields and those columns and those rows.” And they go and they try to build it on a digital form, and then they think this is an upgrade. Now instead of having a stupid paper, now we have digital form.

But you basically are simply digitizing a form, which basically inherits all the flaws of that process. It’s a lot of manual input. There’s no verification. How’s the data still going? Is this guy inputting the information? Is it really his job to input this information or someone else has better knowledge, yada yada? So because I was an insider in the industry and because I was naive enough to not look at it from a technology lens, but more from a holistic problem-solving lens, the main philosophy was, how can we optimize this process? The two biggest, there were three really, but the two biggest kind of points that we wanted to check off the list was step number one, simple, stupid simple, easy. The main idea was this, this should require zero IT to set up, zero IT to install. I need nothing from the job site.

That’s why our devices are a hundred percent weatherproof. They’re LTE connected. They have cellular connection built in into them. They are magnetic. You don’t even need to have a drill. You can just find your office trailer or your container and just lean it against it, and this is the installation. It’s also fully solar powered, battery powered. All the tech, we built it behind the product. The product is the dumbest product to set up and install ever.

The check-in process is equally dumb. All you have to do is the worker shows up, types in his phone number, hits enter, either blinks green, you’re good, blinks red, contact someone. This is it. There’s no training. There’s no onboarding. There’s no watch this YouTube video, there’s nothing. It’s one of the simplest UI. So we spent a lot of time thinking of every tiny detail, how it’s going to work indoors, outdoors, underground, above ground, and then field in the middle of nowhere, or at the turnstile and everything in between. So we went through this.

The second one was how can we make sure that the data we’re capturing is crystal gold? I mean, we call it code-ready data. I want my data to be non-negotiable, right? So zero manual input, zero entries. If anyone touches or manipulates or tampers with any of the information, it’s forever logged. We have a picture that proves when it started, why it changed, who changed it, yada, yada. And those two, which seemed very obvious, but they were in contradictory of the other. The more you’re simple, usually you’re losing the value of the data. And then the more you focus on the data, you add complexity. And this is where we were able to figure out our soft spot is that how can we build something that we maintain the integrity of the data at the highest level but keep it exceptionally done where it’s like the deployment is not a problem?

We went through many, many different iteration. The reason why the business is called SmartBarrel, because we used to have a huge device that sits on top of the orange and white barricades, those construction cones that you see on the highway. So this is what we used to use as a base and install our whole kiosk on top of it. So it was a whole station, and then it moved to become a wall mount and smaller and apps and yada yada. But the core values were always the same, and this is how we started the innovation process and the iteration.

Now the second step, and this is mostly the controversial one, is there’s this huge misconception that the construction industry… It’s not a misconception. The construction industry is the least digitized industry, second least, according to a McKinsey study, yada, yada. That’s great. But what I’ve personally seen is that even though the status quo is still paper, even though it seems like they’re very much against tech, they’re very much willing to try a lot. The sales process is one of the shortest sales process across many, many different industries. Usually, decision makers jump into the room and they’re willing to pull the plug. They’re willing to test, they’re willing to risk it. I’ve actually noticed that their appetite to experiment is very high.

The biggest problem that the industry has seen is that products have failed the industry. The more you dive into those statistics of having the construction industry being the least digitized, it’s mostly coming from a lot of technology product who had very short stickiness. The dropout is high, the churn is high. It goes into test pilot and it gets dropped. The data is not collected. It’s not efficient. And I’ve always, or we personally have always internally assumed the liability on us. It’s not the industry’s problem, it’s a product problem. If you have a product such as Procore that aced the penetration, took them years, but once they converted, they took over the market. At the end of the day, if you have a proper, not product market fit, product industry fit, where you really understand, and it’s not in the big value proposition, it’s in the tiny, tiny details.

An accountant job is not to adjust payroll from the field. An accountant job is not to put cost codes in the field. A worker should not assign his own cost code at the same time. So there’s a lot of, once you really look at any problem and dissect it properly and once you put the pieces in their place, you realize the stickiness is actually phenomenal. And the appetite for construction industry or personnel, even older generation, for them to say, “Yes, let’s adopt tech,” it’s actually very healthy in my opinion. I’ve seen other industries, like restoration business or food and beverage, being way more stubborn to having any kind of control because they’re worried about many different things.

The construction industry, most of the resistance in my personal opinion comes from a lot of failed attempts and a lot of PTSD from having burnt a lot of money, have a lot of damage in their process and the team trust and internal fights. And the cost of recovering from a bad technology implementation was very high that now they’re much, much more reserved, but they still have an appetite. They still see the value. And once it’s a good fit, they’re usually running with it.

Steven Rossi-Zalmons:

Yeah, yeah. I think that’s a good take, actually. It’s not one I’ve really heard before, but I think that’s an interesting take is that, as you mentioned, we’ve all seen numerous different technologies. Construction, obviously most people in construction are aware it can be more digitalized and are happy to try that, but it’s not always possible. And the transition to that can go horribly wrong in time. So I think that’s interesting.

You touched on that you don’t really get too much hesitation when you pitch this. So I’m curious as to how that process goes. So once, if I’m interested, what is the onboarding process like? And if I’m a worker on the job site, how does it actually work?

Albert Bou Fadel:

Yeah, I think the step number one is we have different stakeholders that would reach out in the company. It can be from a field operational standpoint or it can be from the accounting/payroll/money standpoint. So we have two sides of the same coin, and it’s very, very, very rare that we reach out to a company and they have no issues, they have the perfect, flawless system. Either it’s one of three brackets. Either they think that it’s fraud, people are cheating hours and they’re bleeding money. And they are trying as much as possible to patch the process, but it’s so loose, that basically defeats the point.

Or the second one is their job costing. Maybe they don’t have an issue. It’s a smaller operation and I know the guys. And I have one big job, so I know who showed up, I know who didn’t. And it’s not a trust issue, but just how can I translate this information into accurate job cost? Do I know how much I spent on fourth floor, how much I spent on phase two, blah, blah, blah? And because it’s so manual, it becomes very clunky and then it’s like hot potato, everyone throwing it. It’s like, “No, you do the cost coding.” “No, you do the cost coding.” “No, I don’t know.” So it’s like everyone’s throwing this liability away, which ends up with very poor project visibility.

Or the last one is, which is the more kumbaya utopian, but it’s very, very tangible once really you’re able to get into level number three, which is the culture building. What are you doing in terms of… I mean specialty trade contractor, their workforce is their biggest asset, right? Material you buy, you sell. Warehouse, you shrink, you grow. Workers are your assets. Every day, the more men you have, you should be getting more revenue. So retaining them is… I mean the industry is getting slowly more aware of it, and actually they are aware of it, but they’re giving it more attention. And it’s only because the first two problems are so much bigger that this one doesn’t get enough attention.

But once you solve buddy punch and fraud and once you solve the flow and the process and you automate, the third-biggest problem on every executive’s mind, company owner’s mind is, man, I don’t want to lose my people, I want them to grow with the company. Because what you realize is there’s a direct correlation between workers sticking with your company and incidents being low, a worker sticking with your company, and it’s more than a worker, it’s a whole team. If you have a crew that’s been working together, they have good dynamic, they’re way more efficient, they crush it. They get job done better, and it’s exponential, the return you get from them compared to a newer crew. I mean it’s not even comparable. So losing talent is very, very costly to a construction company.

So then what can we put in place to make it a better work environment, to make it a more fair environment, to make it where if there’s a crooked or what we call the rotten apple phenomenon, one bad contributor, how can you identify him quickly and get him out before he spoils the entire batch? And this is where we start diving into additional tools. So usually, we identify what is the top problem in the company with one of the three. And then our value proposition is very simple, is easiest solution to implement. We have hardware, biometric timekeeping solution. We ship them to your site. It takes two to three minutes to install them. You can have one per site, or you can have five per job site. You can have them one on each project and then deploy them within seconds.

Once they’re deployed, everything is managed on a singular portal. You can be anywhere. You import your project. We integrate with your ERPs, with your Procores, with your payroll software, yada, yada. So you have all this data and it’s a very, very construction friendly UI. Doesn’t look like an accounting software, doesn’t look like a Frankenstein solution. It’s a hundred percent maps and weather and construction friendly data. And then once you have this information, then what you do is you add the worker, which is exceptionally simple. Everyone checks in in the field, very simple. And then we communicate with the workers throughout the day via nothing but SMS. No app, no email, no anything. Just send them SMS, “Hey, do you have an incident to report today?”

Also, it’s as I mentioned earlier, it’s all about the details. If the workers only speak Spanish, then we communicate with them in Spanish. So we had very good compliance, we had a good answer rate. Hi, Steven, do you have an incident to report today? Hi, Steven, do we owe your per diem today? Hi, Steven, you’ve checked out at 3:34 PM. We rounded your clock to 4:00 PM. There’s so much communication that is happening that builds a whole other level of compliance between you and the worker.

Steven Rossi-Zalmons:

So I was wondering if there’s a standout project or case study that you have that you could share where you’ve sort of seen the biggest impact of the product?

Albert Bou Fadel:

Yeah. I mean it’s very interesting because we recently, a couple of months ago we had a new person join our company to basically manage a chunk of the marketing department, but mainly the customer experience, build KPIs, build metrics, and then focus on success stories, which we’re publishing a lot on the website. And there’s many, many more coming up. And one of the low-hanging fruits or the quick realizations that he had was the company side, we have companies as small as 80, 100 employees in total, 50 employees in total. In our world, they’re smaller contractors. And we have contractors that have 2,000-plus workers and everything in between. And even though the operation might be different, fundamentally it’s all the same challenges. It’s all, how can I capture the data so easily from the field, frictionless, easy, transparent, honest? How can I time manage it, assign the cost code, assign the task, split the shifts, do all the fun stuff? Then finally, how can I calculate over time, job cost, profitability and then ship this out to payroll, to ERP, to whatever?

The flow is the same whether you’re a Mickey Mouse tiny contractor who’s running their entire business from their kitchen or whether you’re a glass tower and you have the whole marketing department and TikTok division. This is now the new sign of success if you have a TikTok division. So it doesn’t matter which one of the two you are, the flow is exactly the same. And where we’ve seen the biggest ROI calculation is payroll savings 100%, direct correlation.

Second one, and it goes to exact same pillar, 100% payroll savings. Whether it’s intentional fraud, non-intentional fraud, whether it’s laziness, whether it’s just pure bad management, you know what I mean? The super leaves early, then everyone’s like, “Screw it, just going to add a few hours to my time because nobody’s here to watch,” yada, yada. Whether it’s this or whether it is mistakes, typos, so the clipboard showed six but it’s actually an eight. But the guy didn’t fully close the eight so someone didn’t pay them two hours, now they’re upset, now they want to sue, yada, yada. All this kind of noise get fully eliminated.

Second one is you have full transparency. You can run as many repos, cross the data however you want on a weekly basis, monthly basis, total base, yada. So there is a lot of ROI and savings on the second pillar, which is understand my numbers. It’s no longer either a dollar value or paper. This is what usually the industry, either you have a paper and then this gives you the granular information, but when it gets translated, it becomes one huge dollar value.

We’ve spent $89,000 on payroll, but what did we spend it on? Why is it needed? How much of it is overtime? So we give you this centerpiece in the middle. You can cross-reference the data however you want, really have visualization up, down, left. And you can be a small contractor and just run Excel reports and play with it. Or you can be a Power BI, bigger contractor and have a data scientist in the room and then really parse this data up left and right.

And the last one, which is what we’ve started to see more and more, is the culture buildup where workers on a newer site are like, “Hey, can we have Smartbarrel? Can we have this solution?” Because it’s less headache for everyone, it’s less painful. We give them also decal stickers that they put on their hard hat that they say, “I don’t F around.” And then they love it. They love buying into this vision. They love that this is kind of what we stand for. We’re here, we show up, we show our face. We clock in, we clock out. We build tangible assets, we build towers. But there’s so much pride in the industry, and then this is what we’re trying to piggyback on. This is the messaging, you’re proud of what you do, you’re proud.

Any construction person that you ever speak to, they’re driving around and they would pinpoint, “I worked on this, I built this. I did this, dah, dah, dah.” If it pops on the news, they’ll tell you, “Oh, I was part of this.” Maybe they’re one out of 2,000 workers, but they would still tell you, “I built this.” There’s so much pride in what they do and this is what we’re trying to also highlight in this flow. Or when we have a customer buildup, we ask them, “Are you seeing savings in payroll?” Yes. Are you seeing an optimized flow, better data, better understanding of the job costing, on your payrolls. Yes. What about culture? It’s like, “Actually, yeah, they like it. It’s fun. They want this sticker.” In zero universe we would’ve imagined construction workers asking for a decal sticker, and it’s a whole topic of conversation.

Steven Rossi-Zalmons:

Yeah, that’s great. I think culture, I mean, obviously culture is important in any business. And although that may look different in the construction industry, especially on job sites, it’s definitely still just as important, especially when we’re talking about retaining and growing the workforce. So the next question, based off your… I looked and saw you have experience in construction and in other industries as well, and you seem to have quite the entrepreneurial spirit. This isn’t the first business you started. So I’m wondering how that experience has helped you found and also now grow SmartBarrel?

Albert Bou Fadel:

Yeah, SmartBarrel, it’s not my first startup. It’s probably my biggest startup yet, but it’s not… I mean, yeah, it is definitely now, but it’s not my first. I definitely had the entrepreneurial bug earlier in life. I don’t think I can take much credit for it. I think I inherited… It had to do mainly because of my dad. My dad was a hustler, he was an entrepreneur. He started his own business. He basically planted the seed of failing is not the end of the world. And at the same time, going bankrupt is not the end of the world, so go for it. Not that he did, but there was like, “So what?” You know what I mean? So this was early on a big asset that I’ve always had. I probably have a bit of curiosity in my own personality that also, the mix of the two helps when you’re very curious and you’re not really scared of much. So it lets you wander in many different directions.

Also, I think my heritage, I’m originally Lebanese, and I think Lebanese are mainly known to be very entrepreneurial. So it’s kind of a common trait. So that’s the part that I’m saying, maybe I shouldn’t… There was not much of it that was on my… It was more those were given in my setup. But in terms of an industry, that’s where I had choice. I’ve always known I wanted to own my own business, and it wasn’t necessarily for the Ferraris or this. It’s more like you want to create something and then there’s so much excitement of taking an idea into a physical operating business. There was so much fascination to this process.

I started basically in high school. Actually, not in high school, when I graduated… Early in college years, I basically started a media agency where we had an idea of distributing notebooks for college students, and that was definitely an epic fail. That was definitely a major failure. The idea was brilliant. It still is brilliant. Basically, there’s this common five-subject notebook that every student would buy for college and high school. And it was very, very common in Lebanon, the Middle East. And we decided that we would give it for free, but instead of having blue, green, red, blah blah, blah, the colors, we would have them as advertising. And then instead of having random advertising, we would create a bid process. So one tab would be for cars and would have all car dealership, a bid for. Because the university students are, the brand loyalty they build, they usually carry it for life. So it’s a very asset.

The business model was phenomenal. I had a very good friend of mine and he was my partner. We also were very energetic. We had all the execution plans. What we failed at is we were way too young to realize that we needed all the money upfront to buy the notebooks, and then the marketing would only pay us once we deploy it. And then we had $100,000, we couldn’t figure out. We were like, “Okay, this would work, but we’re missing the entire business asset.” So we didn’t know that part, which was interesting. And then it fell apart and then I went into F&B.

I started a restaurant, and then I started a juice business where this is pre Whole Foods, pre all this fun stuff. We created the almost self-managed, very minimum employee booth in supermarkets where you can walk around and have fresh juice. That was also a great business, but this is where I learned different lesson. It was more like how to choose your partners and how to split the business. And even though at the beginning it’s a kumbaya, high five, we’re going to get it, you have to think ahead. So there was a lot of lessons to be learned in operations and scaling the business and the challenges.

Then I got into glass and glazing before I graduated from college, and that’s when I basically co-founded the glass factory. That was a whole other level, and this is where basically my passion for, or basically my obsession, for a while with the glass and glazing was. And that’s where I wore every hat possible in the glazing industry. I worked in project in the Middle East, I worked in Canada, I worked in The Bahamas, Caribbean on a 3.5 billion resort, and then end up moving to Miami and New York working on this glazing project for the longest time.

Steven Rossi-Zalmons:

Yeah. That’s a really interesting path. So moving on to the future of the industry and also SmartBarrel, I’m wondering with all of the recent innovation and developments in AI, I’m wondering how you see that being applicable to addressing the labor management issues we’ve discussed, but also if you see an application for that with the SmartBarrel solution?

Albert Bou Fadel:

Sure. I think the most important is it’s very important to identify the problem, as I mentioned earlier, and then figure out solution to the problem. So even though I a hundred percent believe that AI is here to stay, AI is here to disrupt, AI is phenomenal, what we’ve built. We’ve been using AI for a while. The fact that we do facial verification is basically computer vision, which is a hundred percent based on neural networks and machine learning. A lot of the comparison models, automation model, identifying work, we’ve used AI for years now.

What has happened recently with this entire AI buzz is the fact that you can chat with the computer, so it’s this linguistic model. It’s basically transformed the whole interaction between physical human and digital computer. Instead of it seeing via code or via lines, now you can just transact in broken English basically, because we’re very inefficient as a human. We speak very different ways, yada, yada, but somehow you can get the exact desired response you want.

So with that being said, the construction industry still needs concrete tools. AI is not going fix your drill bit problem. AI is not going to fix your layout problem there. Where AI is going to be able to help is in assistance, in planning, in high-level parsing of data. I’m building A, B and C. They’re very much alike. Can AI give me projections on how I could have built my crew better? But unless we have great amount of data collected from the field, AI’s sitting and guessing. At the end of the day, it’s a statistical model and it’s a numbers game. Where it disrupts is in big, big legal documents or big medical records or financial documents where you have thousands and thousands of transaction and they’re numerical and they’re very organized.

Yeah, it can give you a projection of stock, I mean plus, minus. It can read the news and tell you historically, but construction is, because of what we discussed earlier, it’s so not digitized that AI has almost nothing to work with. And the data sets that it might be working with is so minimal in quantity and minimal in quality that it’s like, what do you want me to do? You know what I mean? This is kind of maybe funny, maybe not funny story. So I obviously come from construction and I love tech. I’m in tech, I love hardware. I’m fascinated by the industry. I think I’m in it for life, but I make sure to keep tech in its place to serve a problem, right? We’re not building cool stuff to cool stuff.

Because when I first started the industry, I went to a construction tech conference. That was been four, four and a half, five years ago now. And I remembered very well, I was still fresh out of construction, so I was still wearing both hats. And I go to this event and there’s this big speaker who goes on this main keynote stage. He’s basically presenting how innovative they are and they’re building hard hats with AR lenses, augmented reality. So basically, you can look around and see the BIM model and see the pipes and see everything before it’s even constructed. While the technology was mind-blowing, I mean the application was absolutely nonexistent. I mean this is 999 jobs site out of 1,000 would kick you off the site if you show up with those goggles. I mean we don’t have the BIM data, we don’t have accurate BIM data. There’s no use for it. Nobody’s walking with the hard hat.

Maybe the big top 10 GCs who have a huge innovation arm and they can experiment with it, but I mean on the day to day, the bridges that are being built, the airport are being built, the hospitals, the houses, no one is using this technology because we’re still missing the fundamental tools to make such a product useful. Is the product phenomenal? Absolutely. Can it help the industry? Absolutely. But this is not where the problems are. You know what I mean? We’re so far out trying to build this AR, VR. Who is funding the modeling? Why is BIM modeling not part of the code? Why cities do not require BIM model? If the city does not or federal or government does not impose that everything needs to be BIM modeled and updated and as-built, what’s the point of AR? You’re just going to walk around and look at Angry Birds. Just going to be looking at the sky and just using it as a toy.

I think this is the same thing applies for AI. If we don’t have fundamentals to standardize some data collections, digitize some processes, build up unified data models that cross industry they can share. They can be like, “Oh, my dataset looks like this. Your dataset looks like this.” AI is just going to be an assistive tool like this. Which, actually very funny when we start playing with ChatGPT early on and it starts writing a lot of code and doing a lot of fun stuff, the running joke inside the office between us and then all the developers was, “We’d better go start learning carpentry and electrical, become electricians, because this is not where AI is going to be doing the least amount of damage, where you need physical work.”

So while a lot of intellectual or white collar jobs might be at risk, I think the construction industry is still very much safe. But at the same time, it comes at the price that implementing AI in construction will have its own niches. But overall, unless they really upgrade massively the data quality that they collect and they preserve, it’s going to be very hard to make much of it.

Steven Rossi-Zalmons:

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I think, yeah, you hit it right on the head. I know that’s a problem we encounter every day here as well. It’s great if you have the capability to build an AI model, but if the AI or machine learning has nothing to teach itself off or not good data, then it’s useless. So yeah, I think that’s a great point. I think just wrapping up, if people are interested in learning more about SmartBarrel or getting started, where should they go and how would they get started?

Albert Bou Fadel:

Sure. If any construction company of any size, a hundred-plus workers up to a couple thousand, they want to enhance their labor management, timekeeping, attendance, PTO, blah, blah, from any kind of issue and they want to enhance it, they can easily go to our website, smartbarrel.io. And I know it’s io, it’s not dot.com and dot.net. Basically, request a demo, contact us, pitch us. 99%, we have nothing automated. We’ll jump with someone. Our support is in person. Our sales are in person.

We know the construction industry. I’ve been doing it for 10 years. It’s not going to be an annoying chatbot that’s going to ping you or bombard you. You can schedule a call and then we can jump… The reason why we jump into a call is to identify if it’s a fit and how it makes sense for the business. And then it will make the quality of the conversation much more customized or tailored to the person asking.

Steven Rossi-Zalmons:

Yeah, absolutely. That’s great. Well, thank you so much for your time, and it was really interesting to learn more about you as well as SmartBarrel.

Albert Bou Fadel:

No, thank you. Thank you guys so much for having me, and thank you for making this so effortless and a lot of fun.

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