Hello once again and welcome to the construction industry podcast. Click on the player above to listen to it, or subscribe to it on iTunes or BlackBerry Podcasts.
Today we will talk about how a bad economy can be a great opportunity for your business and career. We will also have an interview with Deborah Murphy on Universal Design, and on our tech tip we will bring you the advantages of web based tools. I hope you enjoy it.
- Episode Transcription
- Interview (Transcription) with Deborah Murphy, from ADAMI
- ADA: Americans with Disability Act
- UD Institute
- Book: Building for a Lifetime: The Design and Construction of Fully Accessible Homes
- Book: Accessible Housing by Design: Universal Design Principles in Practice
- Book: Universal Design Ideas for Style, Comfort & Safety
- Book: The Accessible Housing Design File
- Shelters for Healthy Environments, Inc.
- Even more resources
- Tech Tip (Transcription)
- Service Task
- Google Docs
It’s no secret that the construction industry in north america and other parts of the world is taking a hit as the economy continues to stumble. We at Remontech find that unless you have an edge, or you stand out from the crowd, it is very difficult to continue to succeed in the sector. So we are always trying to find new ways to think differently and stay ahead of the game, so when trends and fads become the norm, we will be ready. It is that mentality that drives us to try and innovate all the time. Besides monitoring construction projects as a project management tool, we’ve created new services such as our dynamic scheduling for construction projects, remote security services, or our mobile monitoring stations. For us those were great at diversifying what we do and providing something our potential competitors were not. You can learn more about all that we do by visiting myconstructioncamera.com.
One of the things I want to do with this podcast is to bring ideas to your business and to you as a professional to help you stand out and have an edge over your competition. On our first episode we spoke about social media for the construction industry, and that was our first time bringing you some fresh ideas on how to help you make sure you are riding the wave of change instead being crushed by it.
It may seem counter intuitive, but a struggling economy can be an excellent opportunity for businesses and careers. It’s been said that people will only buy to solve a problem or fulfill a need. I will make a point that there is no better time for finding needs to be fulfilled and problems to be solved than during economic turmoil. Companies like HP, Hyatt hotels, Burger King, IHOP, FedEx, CNN, Google, and PayPal, all started and thrived when the economy was struggling.
Here on the construction industry podcast we will bring you ideas on how to fulfill needs and solve problems in the construction sector that other people might be overlooking. And we will also give you tips on how to do it effectively and on a budget.
With that in mind, today we will be interviewing Deborah Murphy on the topic of Universal Design. And on our tech tip, Al D’Andrea from servicetask.com will talk to me about web based tools.
Enjoy the podcast!
Cesar: Hello, Deborah. How are you?
Deborah: Hi. I’m doing well. Thank you.
Cesar: You know, in Chicago, I lived there for four years and I absolutely love that place.
Deborah: It’s a wonderful town. I’ve lived on both coasts in Miami and in San Francisco and I always told everybody I was going home and that’s what Chicago always will be and I’m proud of this. We have the best skyline because this is where the skyscraper started so …
Cesar: Back to that same old place.
Deborah: Exactly. Sweet home Chicago.
Cesar: That’s right. Yes, it’s gorgeous there. I just wish the winters weren’t as bad and …
Deborah: Yes. Well, this summer is pretty hot. I feel like I’m back in Miami. We’ve had a lot of steamy days. In fact I just heard on the radio that July has been the hottest July on record. So it has been a little steamy, steamier here than we would like but that’s okay and I keep telling everybody in six months we’ll be complaining about the freezing water. So …
Cesar: Yes, it’s the one topic that we can all relate to.
Cesar: And we’re never happy. It’s either too cold or too hot. I’m here in Canada and we’re just as hot as you are in Chicago and it’s just impossible.
Deborah: It’s amazing, isn’t it, to think that in an area that everybody thinks of as more snow than anything else, you’re with 95 degrees and it’s high humidity but …
Deborah: I don’t know how people can say there’s no global warming but anyway …
Cesar: Yes, well luckily we have very cold winters and that on average, we’re fine, I guess. It’s just having …
Cesar: … one hand on the boiling water and the other hand on the bucket of ice and on average …
Deborah: There you go.
Cesar: On average, we’re good.
Deborah: Well, just I’ll have to move to San Diego.
Cesar: Oh yes, that’s a lovely place there. I’ve been there once and it was like, oh wow, that’s gorgeous.
Deborah: It was very nice. I’ve been there once too.
Cesar: Okay. Well, we’re talking today about universal design and you’re very much involved with it so I would like to start from scratch. Can you tell us what it is? What is universal design?
Deborah: Well, the basic definition of universal design is it’s the design of products and environments to be used by all people to the greatest extent possible without the need for adaptation or specialized design. For example, it fits people that are 3 to 83 years old, four foot eight to six foot eight inches tall or people that are mobile as well as those who lack mobility.
Cesar: I see.
Deborah: So it’s designing for everybody and anybody and I think that’s what the beauty is of universal design and that’s why I promote it.
Cesar: I see. Well, obviously it’s universal. It’s in the name. But who needs it? Is this something that everybody can benefit from or there’s this special niche there in the market? Who needs universal design?
Deborah: Well, I really think that everybody needs universal design because it’s really designed for all of us. It’s not designed specifically for anyone in particular although I think people that probably have a little bit less mobility might benefit more from it, but you also have to stop and think like for example some of the features in a design that features universal features would be your route of travel.
You would have a stepless entrance and you would have a roof over that entrance. You would make sure that your door was at least three foot or at the minimum two foot ten and that you would make sure that you would have a three foot six minimum hallway. You would have your key function areas on one level.
Now the reason that the stepless entrance is great is because let’s say you’re a woman with a child and you’re using a stroller and you’re carrying groceries and it’s going to be easier for you to just roll like from the garage with that stroller up to your front door and come in that way or even coming in from the garage or somebody using a walker or somebody using a wheelchair. So it benefits everybody because you’re not having to step up. You can just walk from the front sidewalk right into the house.
Cesar: Okay. Yes, it makes sense. My wife is an occupational therapist and one of the things she does is to go into people’s homes and assess them for accessibility after they’ve been in car crashes. Nine times out of 10, there’s some remodeling involved to accommodate. So I guess what you’re saying is there’s a benefit to start from the beginning with the universal design because it just benefits everybody.
Deborah: Yes, absolutely. In fact universal design should be thought about at the very beginning of the design phase of a project in order to more easily incorporate it into the construction. It’s my belief that in the not so distant future, universal design will automatically be used because it just makes more sense to use universal design in whatever it is that you’re doing whether it be commercial or residential projects although a lot of the commercial projects are already mandated regarding the ADA, Americans with Disabilities Act. It also is mandated for a percentage of any multi-family unit housing projects as well.
Cesar: Okay. So, as far as adoption in the construction sector, where is it being used right now?
Deborah: Well, I would say that there are people that are incorporating this into their houses. There are a few places that are incorporating universal design into their multi-family housing projects. I get quite a few trade magazines and it’s always interesting to me to look through there to see where people are doing this and it’s cropping up little by little here there and everywhere across the United States.
It’s actually being accepted in other countries as well, I think. People are just starting to realize that with our ageing population, it just makes sense to basically plan for the future but also be able to do something that everybody can use right now. You don’t have to be someone who has got a physical disability in order to appreciate the aspects of universal design. You want to have more usable kitchen and bathroom configurations and easier to use controls in hardware and reachable locations.
So it just makes sense to think more about the functionality of everything in your house and what makes more sense. Let’s raise up the dishwasher. Let’s bring down the microwave oven. Let’s put the controls in the front where people can easily reach them. Some of these things just are common sense things to me.
Cesar: I never thought about it. It’s true. Why do we always have to bend down to do the dishes?
Cesar: It’s just how it is. We just go with it.
Deborah: You want to save your back as much as possible so you’re going to want to have those pull-out drawers. Stop and think about how many times your children want to help you doing chores or how many times you want to have – maybe grandma is doing something with their grandchild and so grandma might want to sit at the sink and peel the potatoes for potato salad. You can have your grandchild standing there helping you while grandma is sitting and you have your armoire style doors underneath your sink that can get pushed back so that someone can actually pull a stool up to the sink and do something as simple as preparing a meal. People don’t really stop and think about these things.
Cesar: Right. So, I’m pretty sure, I’m very sure that this is going to become more and more mainstream. Now is there a regulatory body that creates standards for universal design? So …
Deborah: Right now there is nothing that is mandated regarding universal design. I think it’s more of an idea that is becoming more prevalent and now I don’t know that it’s not going to be mandated somewhere down the road. It just would make sense to me that it would be just easier for everybody if we started doing some of these things automatically. Then everybody would have the visibility aspect of coming to your house to see you whether it’s somebody that has got two children and a stroller or it’s grandma that unfortunately has to use a walker now because she’s not able to get around as easily.
Cesar: I see. I see. So, let’s say there is a new building being designed and one of the requirements that the project sponsor has is that universal design principles are used. If you were the company involved with the design of this project, where would you go to make sure that you are in compliance with universal design?
Deborah: Well, there’s actually Universal Design Institute. It’s located in North Carolina and they have a wonderful website that everybody can go to and it’s www.UDInstitute.org. There are also several books that I have that I think are very good books that focus on accessibility which is a big part of what universal design is.
One of them is Accessible Housing by Design by Steven Winter Associates and another one is called Building for a Lifetime by Wylde, Baron-Robins and Clark and both of these have a lot of information, as well as Universal Design Institute, on different layouts of kitchens and bathrooms and those seem to be the areas where you’re going to probably see more universal design than not.
A couple of real easy things as far as universal design goes is using lever handles on your doors so if somebody maybe got something in their hands or they can’t use their hands that well, they can still open the door. Automatic faucets are becoming more normal in regular residential housing projects as opposed to just having them in commercial projects and those are really great. Having flooring that is no higher than a half inch, just similar things like this; and a lot of these features are shown in these books and on the website.
Cesar: Okay. Just so the listeners know, we will have links to the websites and the books that Deborah just mentioned as well as all the great suggestions that she has for universal design on the show notes. So just go to ConstructionIndustryPodcast.com and you will look for the show notes on this episode and all these links will be there. So, if somebody wants to learn more about universal design and about what you do and your organization, where should they go?
Deborah: Okay. Well my website is www.ADAMIOnline.com.
Deborah: Yes, and that stands for Adaptability Deborah A. Murphy, Inc. focusing on universal design and I’m also doing work for a not-for-profit organization called SHE Inc. which stands for Shelters for Healthy Environments and that was started to develop affordable, accessible housing. I’m going to be adding universal design of course to the designs going forward along with including green design and energy efficiency. This organization was started to focus on people with special needs and SHE Inc. can be found at www.SHEInc.org.
Cesar: Dot org, okay. We’ll have those on the show notes as well. Okay. Well, Deborah, this was a delight. I’m sure this is something that our audience will really enjoy learning more about and the resources that you gave us are really great. I checked out some of them and there’s really good information there. I recommend everybody to follow those links that you’ll find on the show notes and thank you again for your time.
Deborah: Oh, thank you so much. I really appreciate you giving the opportunity to let more people know about universal design. I think it’s what everybody should be using as far as their construction is concerned and hopefully we can get a few more people saying, “Aha! I want that.”
Cesar: Yes, and one of the main reasons that I wanted to talk to you is I think that this is a trend that’s just going to keep growing and if people start adopting it even before there’s an acceptable standard or mandate, I think they will be ahead of the curve and they will have that competitive edge in this market today that’s really competitive. So, I think universal design is a great thing for you to have in your – another arrow in your quiver.
Deborah: And another arrow in my quiver, yes. I have a lot of arrows in my quiver. I’ve got a background in construction management as well as a degree in that and interior design and I have been following universal design probably since the mid-90s. I feel that it’s going to start breaking through here real soon and I think it’s something that people should just start asking for and contractors and designers should just start doing it, realizing that it’s good design.
Cesar: I couldn’t agree more. Thanks again, Deborah and …
Deborah: Okay. Thank you, Cesar.
Cesar: … stay in touch. Okay?
Deborah: All right. Thank you. Have a nice evening. Bye-bye.
Cesar: You too. Bye-bye.
Cesar: Hello, Al. How are you?
Al: Good, Cesar. Thank you. How are you?
Cesar: So we’re here today to talk about web-based software, correct?
Cesar: What is it?
Al: All right. So in simple terms, web-based software is software you use over the internet with a web browser so you don’t have to install any CDs, download any software, worry about upgrades like you did with traditional software. Most people, they’ve never heard of the term or are unfamiliar with the term. They may not realize it but they’re probably already using web-based software. Anybody who does online banking, maybe has a Gmail account or a Yahoo! Mail account is already using web-based software so they’re already familiar with the way it works. That’s pretty much I guess in simple terms what it is.
Cesar: Yes, I certainly see more and more web-based applications everywhere in all aspects. Like Gmail is a good example. We use it all the time. Now, why is it better for businesses and in particular for the construction and field services industry?
Al: Sure. There are so many benefits to it and I’ll try to keep it short and straight to the point. Using a web-based software takes away worrying about the technical side of your business. So when you’re using web-based software, it’s more up to the application, the company to worry about all of the security, the backups, the different upgrades. So it really allows the business owner to focus on what really matters in improving their business using web-based tools to become more efficient and streamline their operations.
In particular, the construction industry, they can benefit from web-based tools almost more than any other industry because they have field technicians that are actually out of the office and what web-based tools allow them to do is to connect better with the backend of the office. So really what this is doing is it’s streamlining the business. It’s improving efficiency, productivity and now it’s putting more information in the field, construction or whatever it may be, more information in their hands than they ever had before so it’s really streamlining things in that way.
Cesar: Right, right. Now is it safe?
Al: Yes. Obviously you have to look into what you’re using but with traditional software, people are saving all of their data on their laptops, on USB drives, portable hard drives. They think that’s safe but it’s really not that safe. I mean their computer could get stolen. There could be …
Cesar: That’s right.
Al: … a fire, whatever may happen and you would lose all that information or if you don’t backup properly. A lot of people pay for automated backup service. If that’s not working properly, then you’ve lost all your information. So, web-based software, your data, obviously it’s a reliable source. It is always stored in a secure, updated, backed-up daily enterprise by servers and usually a very state-of-the-art data center.
Al: So obviously when you’re unfamiliar with it, it appears to be unsafe but more and more, as we could see especially with banks, are moving over into that …
Cesar: That’s right. Now, it seems like it creates like a string attachment to the software provider there because you – depending on them. Now how does pricing compare to that of traditional desktop software?
Al: Yes, I think that this is really the most exciting part, really when I started really implementing web-based software into my service company a few years back. This is what really struck me as like – I saw the change. I’ve seen – wow, this is big because I can remember the first software program I bought. I had to pay several thousand dollars upfront. Now once you buy it, it’s yours. So it’s a big commitment and oftentimes, people will make this investment and it turns out to be that either one can’t implement it or if they do, it doesn’t turn out to be exactly what they need.
So with web-based software, typically, it’s called software as a service. By the way, many of them are free applications but if it is a paid software application, you actually – typically you don’t have to pay any money upfront and if you do, it’s a very little amount and you pay as you go. So it’s a monthly base subscription model and pay monthly and guess what, if it doesn’t turn out to be a useful tool for your business, you just stop using it. There are usually no penalties of course unless you pay upfront for the year but if you’re paying monthly, you use it as you go along, as you need it.
So that’s really attractive for the business owner and it keeps them honest because if you’re not happy, you’re going to stop using it so they want you to continue to be happy so you stay as a paying customer.
Cesar: That’s right. I use a web-based application for mind mapping …
Cesar: … called MindMeister and it’s a very low monthly fee and I think it’s great because whenever they do upgrades, I don’t even know about it. It’s just automatic and it works fine and I access it from anywhere, from my iPhone, from home, from the office and …
Cesar: … it’s just – it looks like that’s the way things are going.
Al: Oh, yes. That’s where everything is heading.
Cesar: Now, back to the construction sector, what are some good web-based applications available right now to the construction and field service industry?
Al: There are so many and I want to keep this, like I said, to the point. I think staying basic. There are tools out there that people aren’t realizing the capabilities of them. For example, Google Docs is obviously a free web-based tool.
Cesar: Oh, yes.
Al: People can upload documents. All kinds of collaboration features Google Docs has for teams to share information real time from anywhere with an internet connection. I think Google Docs alone is one tool that people could use to definitely streamline operations for free unless, I think, if you’re using the enterprise version of Google business apps and you might have to pay a little bit but Google Docs is a very, very effective web-based tool for free. More specifically there’s one that I was just reading about that came out called Mozeo and it’s actually – have you ever heard of that?
Cesar: It rings a bell.
Al: Okay. What they are, they actually provide a text messaging, a web-based – I guess it’s like a mobile messaging software specifically for the mobile workforce. So this service allows companies to communicate with their workers. It could be a two-way text messaging actually from their computers, saving time and saving money by making phone calls. I guess this tool, from what I understand, it’s designed for companies that are as few as five employees all the way up to 500 but it is directly targeted towards the construction industry and for use – for contractors working away from the office.
Cesar: Well you’re telling me that and the gears are turning in my head thinking of all the possibilities of how this could be used.
Cesar: Everyone has got a BlackBerry or an iPhone and in projects, 90 percent of project management is communication. When you have multiple job sites and if you have that centralized so you can communicate with all your trades and all the people involved from your desktop or from your BlackBerry, that’s just really powerful.
Al: Very powerful. It definitely adds capabilities. You can manage more employees, a wider variety of roles. You know, subcontractors, drivers, whatever it may be and it just improves communication. It helps things move smoothly.
Cesar: Okay. Now the link to that specific tool will be available on the show notes. Now Al, if we want to learn more about what you do and your company, where should we go?
Al: The current application right now that we’re working on is called ServiceTask. The website is www.ServiceTask.com. Currently we are still building. We’re anticipating launching the tool in late September, early October. So as of right now, you can go to www.ServiceTask.com and you can sign up for early access.
So what we’ll do is we will allow users to get into the application and test it out for free and definitely welcome feedback and even allow them to have a say in some of the future features of Service Task. We’re really targeting small service-based businesses so that could really be any type of field service business, construction, property management, electrical, whatever it may be, a wide variety of industries that needs to schedule jobs with employees out in the field.
So it’s really an integrated app. It’s a CRM. You can fully manage your customer base, schedule jobs and at the same time, invoice them so it ties everything together nicely. It’s a real simple, easy-to-use application, fully web-based.
Cesar: Yes …
Al: We’re very excited because like I said, we’re targeting the small business that traditionally had to spend a lot of money, which small businesses don’t have a lot of money to spend on technology. It’s going to allow them to have a powerful tool to streamline things so yes, www.ServiceTask.com. Sign up for early access and be the first to test it out.
Cesar: I will do that right now. Thanks again Al for being on the show. Can I count on you again for a future episode?
Al: Absolutely, Cesar. I love it.
Cesar: Fantastic. Thanks again.
Al: Thanks for having me.