construction document management

Student Interview Provides Valuable Insight on ConTech Possibilities

At DADO, we’re interested in learning from students across the construction industry. Whether they’re entering the industry out of high school, changing careers, or advancing their knowledge and skills, students help us examine our assumptions and think bigger about what’s possible for construction technology. We met Michael Hickey at the 2020 NECA Live Virtual Convention and asked him to share his thoughts on the ways students are being prepared for the challenge of construction document management and search.

Michael Hickey is a journeyman electrician with IBEW Local #134 in Illinois, and a dual Bachelor/Master degree student at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT.) Mike worked in the construction industry for over 25 years, and is now studying for a Bachelor of Industrial Technology Management with a concentration in Facilities Management and a Master of Industrial Technology and Operations degree with a concentration in Green Technology. 

Read our interview with Michael below:

Tell me a little about your background:

I started my apprenticeship with IBEW Local #134 in 1996, and got really lucky with my timing, I was in my apprenticeship for four years and nine months without interruptions. I got into the trade just as the dotcom boom was happening and the economy was really strong from 1998 until the recession in 2008. In 2001, I started working for the Cook County Government, and, at the time, I had some reservations about going to work for the County. There wasn’t overtime available in the same way it would have been if I was working for private companies, but it turned out to be more structured and more predictable. It was great for a person raising a young family, and I missed out on all the unemployment that happened in 2008. 

I worked on all the Cook County Courthouses, the Cook County Jail, pretty much every building owned by the County. More recently, I worked on public clinics and a hospital owned by the County. Between working at the Cook County Jail and the medical facilities, I had a lot of exposure to social inequality in our community. It motivates me to want to continue my work through the County and help people who can’t help themselves. 

I’m also really involved with volunteer opportunities through Local #134, including an initiative called Rebuilding Chicago, where Local #134 members donate their expertise to low income seniors and help with home repairs. I’m also involved with scholarship programs through the Local that benefit member families.

You’ve been an electrician for 25 years, what are some of the biggest shifts you’ve seen in the industry since you entered it?

The tools are really different. They’re much more advanced now. The lighting types and computers have changed a lot, and prefab is a lot more prevalent. The communication tools have really evolved, too, and the use of BIM and AutoCad has really changed the industry. When I started with Cook County in 2001, they were installing more servers, more cameras, and moving to wireless internet connectivity. Right now the big change the County is implementing is moving away from a digital phone system to VOIP (voice over IP), which is a huge shift.

What made you decide to go back to school at this point in your career?

I talked to people who had gone through my program [at IIT] and I was good friends with the Local #134 apprenticeship program director who had also been through the program and he recommended it. I’m also motivated to continue my own professional development. I want to do better for myself, be an example for my kids, and do better for the industry. There’s also a lot of opportunity for improvement with the County, and I can bring them information they don’t have yet related to budgeting, presentation methods, communication tools, etc. I’ve been exposed to a lot of different things, for example, I didn’t realize that climate change was as much of a problem as it is.

Do you use tech in your Masters program? If so, which tools?

We use 3D cameras, light meters, digital tape measures, and then software tools like Excel, digital planning tools, and a Gantt chart tool [project management tool]. We also have a BIM class and an AutoCad class; I learned a lot from those.

At DADO, we live, eat and breathe construction document management and search. What are the primary ways you search docs at work, and then also at school?

At work, we use Google for public/general information and for project documents we try the servers, folders, and our phones. We are mostly on paper at the County. At school, we use Google Drive cloud storage. When I saw DADO at NECA Live, I was impressed. It looks like a great tool for finding documents. 

When it comes to search, what do you think is effective? What isn’t?

At the County government, we always joke that we’re 10 years behind everyone else. The fact that we’re using paper is hard. People move on, they move to different buildings, and no one remembers everything one hundred percent. For me, I try to leave things organized for the person who is going to come in behind me. Ultimately, some people are organized, and some people aren’t. Organization is critical, especially when it comes to warranties, you may not know how long ago something was repaired, or what work was performed. Once, I was reviewing contracts after a renovation and I had a PDF sent to me that was 700 pages long. It took me a long time to pull out what was relevant to me. The same thing happened with a generator project, but I was working with a contractor who was using a software tool. In three taps, he had what he needed, and it was a big contrast to my process with the PDF.

As tech changes the industry, what are you looking forward to?

With regard to green technology, I’m really excited about residential solar prices coming down, there will be a big market for that. I’d also love to get away from paper, we don’t need a filing cabinet full of crap. I can’t search and find right now. And with safety, there’s so much more attention paid to safety now. For example, we do high-voltage work with the County. In the past couple years, there has been a lot more attention on FR rated clothing. If a high voltage suit gets a hole, there is now no problem immediately replacing it whereas 10 years ago, they may have let that slide. So, I’m excited about all of those things.

Did you enjoy this article? You may be interested in reading When Tech Hurts.