The topic for a recent “Everything Building Envelope” podcast ventured into the world of tech, as host Chris Matthews, of GCI Consultants, brought innovator Stephen Smith to the studio to talk about the FieldChat platform, a new tool for field communications.
Stephen is originally from rural Ontario, Canada, and describes himself as a “computer guy” who is familiar with the construction industry. As a software developer with more than 20 years’ experience, Stephen was up to the challenge of finding a solution for the thorny problem of communications on jobsites.
Stephen gave Chris an overview of FieldChat and how it eases communication between multiple individuals and teams.
Defining the Problem
During consultation with supervisors, project managers, and superintendents in the construction industry, Stephen noticed challenges with communication were a consistent theme. People are communicating in a variety of ways, he says, “phone calls, emails, WhatsApp, text messages, group meets, face to face conversations, you know, napkins.”
As younger people move into leadership roles on the jobsite, texting has become increasingly accepted for relaying information related to the innumerable tasks associated with a construction project, including coordination, sharing photos, scheduling, and logistics. Texting is easy, since people just need a phone number, they don’t need to use the same type of technology to communicate. Texting is fast, allowing messages, photos, and documents to be shared immediately. As a result, hundreds of texts may be exchanged during a project.
Managing texts is another matter. “Texting is chaos”, says Stephen. The messages are usually one-to-one, though it’s often desirable to have several parties sharing them at the same time. The format isn’t designed to accommodate a central place to store information, either. Organization is further complicated by all the other methods that are used to communicate, in addition to texting.
How FieldChat Works
With FieldChat, companies can set up channels, each with its own phone number, organized for different groups. For example, a general contractor may set up a channel for superintendents, another channel for the internal management team, and channels for each subcontractor, such as an electrical channel, a framing channel, mechanical, and so on. FieldChat channels can be shared between companies or kept private as needed. One-way site broadcast can also be enabled, to communicate messages of general interest.
Like texting, it’s not necessary for everyone on FieldChat to use the same technology. It works with any device that can send a text message, whether it’s an old phone, smartphone, tablet or laptop – even “a year 2000 era Motorola Razor flip phone”. The person on the other end interacts with it as a text message, while administrators can communicate with everyone on the channel and keep the messages stored in one place.
FieldChat integrates with construction software already in use, including Procore, PlanGrid, and BIM 360, making it easy to upload messages and attachments sent on the platform directly into the company’s construction management system.
“A Leap Forward”
As Chris says, FieldChat seems like “a really useful upgrade to communication on job sites…a real leap forward”, in addressing a challenge he has experienced himself firsthand. FieldChat has already been adopted by large and small companies, from residential homebuilders with several single-family houses on the go, to general contractors building condo towers and large-scale civil projects, including hydroelectric dams, commercial industrial projects, and airports.
Visit the “Everything Building Envelope” podcast website for the full conversation between Chris and Stephen and take a minute to subscribe while you’re there for more of these fascinating discussions between construction industry experts. Chris also invites inquiries about the services that GCI Consultants provides for all building envelope needs. You can reach GCI through the website or by calling (877) 740-9990.
Stephen welcomes inquiries about FieldChat through the company website, where a demo and meeting can be booked for a full discussion about what FieldChat can do for your business.