A Perfect (Virtual Reality) Storm

A Perfect (Virtual Reality) Storm

Balfour Beatty teammates across the globe recently collaborated together during a 24-hour Virtual Reality (VR) “storm” – a rapid collaborative sharing session. Nearly a dozen work teams across multiple time zones and continents including Asia, Europe and North America - advanced their understanding of VR capabilities and shared their experiences with each other. The storm - coordinated by U.S. chief of innovation, Mark Konchar, and senior director technology & operations improvement (California Division), Daniel Shirkey - started early morning in Hong Kong and India then transferred to teammates in the UK mid-day and ended in the U.S. late in the day.

Each of the work zone teams had three specific goals for the day: 1) incorporate Zero Harm into VR by examining “no zones” for the safety of our project teams when working on sites with construction equipment; 2) test viability of leveraging VR for improved site logistics planning; and 3) address VR projects and topics that are meaningful to each work zone.

Work Zone #1 included nearly a dozen teammates from Gammon in Hong Kong and Balfour Beatty Engineering in India. Led by Terence Lui, innovation project engineer, the team kicked off the Storm by creating 3D models of common construction equipment and by exploring a variety of model types for bringing site logistics into VR.

Work Zone #2 was led by Melanie Page, digital transformation manager for Balfour Beatty in London. She and three other teammates examined the work that the Hong Kong and India teammates had done and were able to improve the quality of the images by exploring the use of different software. They also discovered that the hardware shared between zone #1 and #2 was not standard and are seeking to develop a VR workflow that can be implemented easily by teammates around the world. 

Work Zone #3 was led by Zach Thompson, integrated projects manager in the U.S. Florida division. The U.S. team included more than a dozen Balfour Beatty employees in five cities on both the east and west coasts including partners from Penn State University whom Balfour Beatty has shared a long-standing relationship and interest in the advancement of construction-related technologies including BIM and now, Virtual Reality. 

“It’s amazing to see what had been done in 16 hours before it got to us,” praised Zach Thompson on the work that Zones #1 and #2 had pioneered before landing for the U.S. team to explore. One of the most remarkable experiences that took place in Work Zone #3 happened in California for superintendent Jason Plitz who had the opportunity to experience VR for the first time. “It is difficult to get a true sense of a building space or a site without actually being in it,” said Jason. “Looking at a Revit model on a computer screen gets close to reality, but this technology actually puts you there! A bird’s eye view from the top of the 300’ tower crane gave me goosebumps!” 

There were many key takeaways and lessons learned from this inaugural VR storm event including discovering that our teammates can work well together over a 24-hour cycle and that hardware and software issues can eat up a lot of productive time. Next steps include monthly leader touchpoints for continuous learning; sharing key benefits of VR with our field teams; sharing the results of the VR Storm with company-wide leaders ensure VR is a part of our on-going innovations strategy for 2017; partnering with IT leadership to help us identify and endorse a common platform that can be implemented globally; and spreading the news about our VR journey with other internal and external teammates, partners and stakeholders. 

“In a 24 hour cycle we made this huge company feel small,” said Zach Thompson. Now that’s what we call the perfect storm!