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SymTerra: Our mission to simplify construction-site management

by BDigital_Admin

Software firm SymTerra may only be two years old, but it has already ignited a revolution within construction-site management. Liam Turner sat down with co-founder and managing director John Ryan to find out how, through its commitment to streamlining the site-management process, SymTerra is transforming the space for good

For those who don’t know, what is SymTerra?

SymTerra is a construction-site management software that enables the full supply chain to come together on one project and communicate, easily and instantly.

We co-founded SymTerra back in 2021, Sarah (Crawley) and I. Together, we have accumulated approximately 25 years of construction experience from mega infrastructure to highly specialized projects. This extensive background has given us valuable insights into the industry, allowing us to identify and address the key pain points we encountered in both large and small projects. Our mission is to leverage technology and make it the driving force behind solving these challenges.

As managing directors, I mostly oversee data analytics, customer support and the sales team while Sarah mostly focusses on the platform technology and marketing side of things.

What are the main problems with construction-site management that SymTerra sets out to solve?

As an industry, we highly rely on email and paperwork, and I believe it plays a significant role in both our success and failures. Our industry is among the least digitised sectors globally, just slightly ahead of agriculture.

When the construction-tech industry emerged, many individuals proposed digitising paperwork to eliminate the need for physical documents. They suggested capturing and storing information in digital formats, such as using Dropbox or emailing it.

While this approach has its merits, the challenge lies in recognizing the inherent value of each piece of information. These documents are not only valuable for immediate reporting purposes but also for compiling comprehensive monthly reports in the future.

It is inconceivable that project managers today are still manually drawing from multiple static documents – with information sometimes a month old – to feed into project reviews that are meant to give control and visibility to drive progress and mitigate risk. The impact of inaccuracy and error in construction is a well-documented, multi-billion-dollar re-work and disputes risk that is paralysing both for the progress of projects and the profitability for construction firms in this economic and regulatory climate.

The average project involves more than 100 different suppliers and subcontractors. We allow it to communicate with open standards at the tap of a button. SymTerra aims to bridge the gap caused by historically absent, incomplete, outdated, and incorrect data in construction from the ground up.

What feedback have you had from the 150+ companies you have so far been working with?

Following SymTerra’s mission, our primary focus was to create a tool tailored for project teams on-site, for any projects of any size and any sector, and for companies to have greater commercial defensibility and accurate record keeping navigating changing times with strong headwinds.  

As a business, our utmost priority is the satisfaction of our users. We believe that if they like the product, they will be more inclined to use it. This, in turn, results in a greater influx of information, empowering them to make improved decisions.

So, our core focus has always been on them, and therefore I suppose we live and die by our feedback. We’ve had great relations with them, the feedback has been fantastic, and the adoption has been great.

When customers reach out to us expressing their difficulties due to a lack of technical expertise, we recognise that it’s our responsibility, not theirs. We strive to simplify and streamline our solutions, making them more accessible and user-friendly. Our goal is to alleviate any technological barriers and ensure a seamless and straightforward experience for all users.

SymTerra has already grown a lot in the few years it’s been operating – to what do you attribute that growth?

Our design aims to ensure the preservation of the golden thread by involving the entire supply chain in capturing and reporting on project data. As clients join SymTerra, they can incorporate their supply chain into our platform. Moreover, each added contract is included at no additional cost.

We have streamlined the process of adding contractors by eliminating any fees associated with using SymTerra on a project. Contractors can join without any financial burden, and clients do not incur additional charges for including more subcontractors. Adding subcontractors is strongly encouraged, and each one can utilise SymTerra for free on the specific project they are involved in.

“By focusing on the essential functionalities that may seem less glamorous but are crucial, we can significantly improve operational efficiency and deliver tangible benefits”

In addition, subcontractors retain ownership of their own data within SymTerra. This is unlike traditional systems where access is controlled by an individual, and once a project is completed, the subcontractor’s access and documentation are typically revoked.

By enabling subcontractors to own their data within their clients’ projects, we have witnessed a reduction in adoption barriers. This, in turn, leads to a higher rate of adoption and allows us to grow rapidly as a business. The increased adoption rate facilitates the expansion of our client base, contributing to the overall growth of the industry.

What new features do you have planned for the app?

Currently, our focus lies on developing new features related to work scheduling and utilising generative AI to automate administrative tasks. In the construction industry, we face significant challenges in terms of labor and skills shortages. By relieving workers from performing unwanted administrative tasks and allowing them to concentrate on their core responsibilities, we can optimise the utilisation of staff on site.

A central objective for us is to achieve a 10% cost reduction on projects through improved utilisation of data. This includes efficient work management and minimising reworks across all our projects. By leveraging data effectively, we aim to enhance project outcomes and deliver substantial cost savings.

Do you already have AI integrated within the app?

Our entire product has been built with AI as its foundation. We have been conducting trials and analysing data to offer enhanced insights to our clients. This includes performing basic trend analysis, identifying potential issues proactively, and other similar functionalities.

As we continue to accumulate more data and train our models, these capabilities improve significantly. The more data we gather and the more we refine our models, the better our ability becomes to provide valuable insights and predictions to our clients.

Generative AI is then going to start adding a lot of value to our clients to help reduce their workload, their tasks, and reduce the admin in their business. That’s been our core feature. Since we began, we ensured that we’ve got a strong data pipeline that we and our clients can use for streamlined working. As opposed to having all that data sat in 3,000 PDF documents in 16 Dropbox folders, and nobody being able to leverage that information.

How does your app integrate BIM?

SymTerra is BIM basics. The core essence of BIM is about data sharing on assets or on buildings with the rest of the team or the people who need the data. From installation works and what’s happening with that asset, all the way through to the current state of an asset. It’s what BIM is all about, and it ties in with the golden thread quite nicely, that it is a record of your building.

At SymTerra, we take the assets out of the BIM model. They’re available on our app for the teams on the ground to link their updates to it. So, for example, the lift shaft has now been completed, it is now ready for the lift team to do the installation works, any issues, snags, problems that they’ve found, you can quickly tag it, do a quick video, and then link it to that asset.

You end up having that history of all of your assets as the project progresses. And at handover, you can prove to your client, this building is built, it’s certified, it’s fit for purpose, and the maintainer can continue using SymTerra through the maintenance of the building because it’s so simple and easy to use and doesn’t require complex, expensive CAD software to use.

How does your app cater to both small and large projects?

SymTerra’s construction site management software is ‘Slack for construction’

At the essence, there’s no difference between small and large projects… or even megaprojects, they’re just a collection of small projects, which just happen to be competing for time and access to resources in the same area. You have the basic requirement of understanding what’s happening on the ground to be able to go and protect the business, and to make sure that information is not absent or incomplete, outdated or incorrect.

The larger projects then require SymTerra because then they can tie in their full supply chain. It’s real-time supporting, from each and every one of the projects that make up the larger project into one place. They can see daily and weekly reporting, trend analysis, they can see the dashboards of it.

And because we can provide on not just the projects and set them up individually, but also the subcontractors and the suppliers, it means everybody is contributing to the same project or megaproject. Or, it’s one company delivering one project in house, and they want to keep an audit trail of everything that they’re doing.

So, that’s where it works across the board in every scale.

I recently watched a recorded webinar featuring your co-founder, Sarah Crawley, who spoke about the importance of tracking projects, not people, in construction site management. That that goes to the heart of what SymTerra is all about, right?

Yeah, it’s down to the focus on our end-user, which is the most important part of it. These experts on the ground, they’ve been working in the industry for many years, they are the ones who know what’s actually happening on the ground.

Sadly, a lot of tech has been looking at the tracking of users, tracking on timesheets, and a culture of distrust between office and site teams. That’s not the right way to go.

We’re meant to be working as one team, one dream on a construction site. When you’ve got a high-performing team on the ground, it is a pleasure to work with everybody. Everybody is pulling in the same direction.

When I worked on the Olympics projects, nobody was saying, no, we won’t do this this weekend, we’ll wait another week. Everybody was there to do their best, to make London look fantastic for 2012. Everybody was pulling in the same direction.

Where do you think the industry sits today in terms of its willingness to engage with new and emerging technologies?

We are currently undergoing a transitional phase. Over the past few years, many companies have enthusiastically embraced technology, often gravitating towards flashy and exciting features that gain popularity on platforms like Instagram.

However, we are now witnessing a shift in mindset. We recognise that technology’s true value lies in addressing fundamental aspects right from the start. We are beginning to understand that it doesn’t have to be about shiny, eye-catching features. By focusing on the essential functionalities that may seem less glamorous but are crucial, we can significantly improve operational efficiency and deliver tangible benefits to the bottom line.

In essence, we are experiencing a realisation that the real value of technology lies in getting the basics right, even if they may seem mundane, as they ultimately prove to be more effective and impactful in practical implementation.

Build in Digital Stakeholder SymTerra is a construction site management software firm that provides a simple, instant and integrated method for the entire supply chain of any project to communicate, collaborate and capture vital information at the point of work.

Main image: (L-R) John Ryan and Sarah Crawley, managing directors at SymTerra

Read next: Digital-twin provider Aize partners with reality-capture firm Cintoo to boost industry efficiency

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