Q&A with Rob Ioanna
One of the objectives outlined in Vision 2025, Syska’s strategic plan, is to foster innovation. With this in mind, we created Syska Innovations, LLC, a subsidiary of our holding company SH Group, in April of 2020. To learn more about this entity, Connections spoke with senior principal Rob Ioanna, who oversees its operations.
Connections: What is the purpose of Syska Innovations?
RI: Our purpose is three-fold: To invest in seed-stage companies that serve the AEC community, to pilot their software and products, and to support innovation within Syska itself.
Connections: On the investment front, Syska Innovations is active in AEC Angels. Can you tell us a bit about this organization?
RI: Sure. AEC Angels is a group of investors that focuses on developing technologies in the AEC sector. Other members include Thornton Tomasetti, STO Building Group, and SHoP Architects. Recently, we announced investments in Rhumbix and OpenSpace. Rhumbix automates construction field reporting, and OpenSpace uses artificial intelligence to create 360-degree representations of construction sites. Both technologies increase efficiencies and improve workflows.
Rhumbix automates construction field reporting, and OpenSpace uses artificial intelligence to create 360-degree representations of construction sites.
Connections: Are you involved in any other organizations with similar goals?
RI: Yes, several. We are associated with Shadow Ventures and Building Ventures (formerly Borealis Ventures), both of which invest in companies that bring innovation to the built environment. We’re also a member of BuiltWorlds, a global network that enables building and infrastructure professionals to learn about important trends and technology, share insights, and make strategic connections to adapt and succeed in a changing world. As you can see, our focus is very much on the AEC industry.
Connections: You mentioned piloting software and products. Are you piloting anything now?
RI: We are. We are trying out the OpenSpace 3D capture tool. With this tool, people can walk through a space with a 3D camera on their heads and the camera will snap pictures and videos and convert it into a 3D representation. Once we have the representation, we can compare it side by side on screen with our Revit models. It’s a cool solution that holds a lot of promise.
As you can see, our focus is very much on the AEC industry.
Connections: We’ve covered some of Syska Innovations’ external initiatives. What are you doing to promote innovation in-house?
RI: We are developing a process to decentralize innovation across the firm and make it an integral part of our culture. Everyone will take part in the process. Our first step is to arrange a series of workshops that will define our vision, culture, and the path toward innovation. We plan to use dedicated software to track our progress. We’re also hoping to bring in innovation coaches who can guide people on what channels to follow and can identify appropriate resources.
We are developing a process to decentralize innovation across the firm and make it an integral part of our culture.
Connections: The stereotype of the AEC industry is that it lacks innovation. Is there any truth to this stereotype?
RI: Unfortunately, yes, but several factors influence the status quo. For starters, consider that buildings are meant to last 50+ years. Owners are naturally more risk-averse because they have to sit with a fixed asset for so long.
Another factor is the legal risk. Our legal framework between entities in the construction process disincentivizes innovation that might pose a risk to one entity. Many players are involved in a construction project, and they all assume some degree of risk. Innovation leads to rewards, but it also adds to the risks.
A third factor is simply that digital innovations take time to adopt, and people who are used to the realm of the field aren’t always comfortable using new software.
On the other hand, construction is a $10 trillion industry across the globe. Innovation typically follows investment, and the venture capital community is making larger investments in our industry. That’s why I think the stereotype will soon be invalid. We’re at the beginning of a major innovation cycle.
Innovation typically follows investment, and the venture capital community is making larger investments in our industry.
Connections: What advice do you have for AEC firms that want to promote innovation?
RI: Define what innovation means to your firm and establish a framework within your organization. Do your research on all sorts of innovative companies and see what aspects of their innovation process might be something your firm would benefit from. Then piece together the most relevant portions of each process and come up with a model that works for you. Once Syska’s in-house program gets further underway, we hope to share one of those models ourselves.
Define what innovation means to your firm and establish a framework within your organization.