Procore set out to find the companies, projects and individuals that stood out for their bold achievements in construction. Among the 27 outstanding finalists selected, nine were named winners of the 2023 Groundbreaker Awards. This article is the second in a nine-part series spotlighting each winner.
For Rogers-O’Brien (RO), a leading Texas general contractor, innovation is everything. This reaches far beyond simply using the latest technology — it extends from the field to the office and everywhere in between. RO puts their money where their mouth is by investing in the right tools and talent needed to build better.
“Simply put, innovation is a better way. To build a better way to perform a process — that’s really interwoven into our DNA. It’s one of our core values and built into our language,” says Todd Wynne, RO’s Chief Innovation Officer.
For RO project managers like Nick Vargo, insights from the field and for those who have transitioned between field and office work are incredibly valuable.
“Innovation doesn’t occur in a silo,” says Vargo.
With their integrated perspectives, these “hybrid builders” as they’re called at RO have unique insight into how to improve processes across the board. Vargo and the rest of RO are also keen to present a unified tech stack to ensure everyone, from the field to the office, can easily access the right technologies. This creates an environment of trust-driven efficiencies that help prevent burnout.
“Trust equals adoption,” explains Vargo, “and adoption is what really unlocks our ability to build with greater efficiency and quality, and to fulfill our mission to simplify the build.”
Forging a path forward
RO has been taking risks by piloting cutting-edge technologies for construction projects, even if they aren’t or weren’t originally made for the industry. They pioneered the usage of drones in the field as early as 2012. As one of the first users of iPads in the field since 2011, this forward-thinking approach has helped RO get and stay ahead. In fact, RO was even chosen to be the face of general contracting for Apple due to their innovative use of iPads before they were common in the field. Most recently, they’re the first general contractor to adopt and implement the Guru platform for a fully-digital knowledge base, a system primarily used in the tech industry.
The company has made history in other ways too. After finding an originally healthcare-focused safety device called SafeGuard, RO was immediately keen to implement it across their teams. This heat sensor device is being tested by the likes of NASA, the Department of Defense and the U.S. Air Force. RO was the only general contractor in the world unafraid to trailblaze and try it out. They’re excited to see how this can improve safety for field crews out in the blistering Texas heat.
“Now we can actually utilize technology to bridge the gap, to send everyone home safely to their families. It’s a dream,” says Wynne.
This also sparked an idea in RO’s VDC department to revolutionize more safety and accuracy. The team created an advanced concrete tracker app and dashboard. By comparing quantity takeoffs with actual pouring in the field, the tool can ensure efficiency and cost savings. On a recent project, this tool saved RO $540,000 by accurately estimating and uncovering actual amounts.
Encouraging exploration: buy-in from the top-down
New ideas don’t just come from places like the Research & Development team. At RO, every employee is encouraged to bring their thoughts and ideas to the table. Team members can submit idea proposals through the company’s “Innovation Station Challenges.” This program connects teams and creates involvement within every business unit. In 2022, over 150 individuals in a variety of departments were awarded bonuses connected to the Innovation Station. These ideas go through a stringent process before being potentially implemented.
“We use an engagement score when someone submits an idea, and anyone in the company can up-vote or comment on it,” shares Wynne. “We get to crowdsource for where we think we should be putting investment for new ideas and innovations. The second filter we put it through — and this is where the magic is — is the RICE framework.”
This method, which stands for Reach, Impact, Confidence and Effort, is used by many software companies to calculate a decision’s real influence.
“This ensures our innovation roadmap is completely data-driven. It’s not subjective,” says Wynne.
RO’s digital transformation journey has been an exciting ride since the beginning, and with cross-company buy-in, all employees play a part in the selection and implementation of game-changing technologies. This continuous innovation makes RO an exciting place to work and appeals to tech-savvy new talent, who RO attracts at job fairs with unique recruitment tools like A/R (Augmented Reality) business cards.
“We’re in the first 12 to 13 years of a 30-year digital revolution that’s occurring in our industry. If you look at every other industry, they’ve gone through it. We’re right in the middle of it and luckily companies like Procore are giving us a platform that is helping us accelerate that transition,” says Wynne.
As RO presses forward on their pioneering journey of data-driven innovation, they’re continually rewriting the rules of the construction industry.