Influential Interviews: Tannis Liviniuk digitizes construction

Learn how to comb through construction tech solutions and become a better communicator.

* Editor’s Note: This piece is part of a series of interviews conducted with winners of SiteNews’ recent awards program, Construction’s Most Influential People. Get tickets to our winners’ event in Calgary, May 15, here.

Tannis Liviniuk, digital advance executive for Zachry Group, has been on an epic professional journey. Her construction career started on the job site where she spent more than a decade as a tradesperson and doing construction planning. While her friends spent their weekends socializing, she was learning how to mobilize and demobilize cranes, rig material, and manage logistics.She went on to start a consulting firm Trillium, Advisory Group, which was eventually acquired by Zachry Group.

Liviniuk is also an outspoken voice in the industry. She regularly offers up her construction knowledge as a keynote speaker and podcast guest, giving her thoughts on leadership and technology. We spoke with her about her thoughts on digitization in the construction sector and how one can improve their communication skills.

SiteNews: As someone who started their career on the job site, how does this hands-on experience inform your digital strategies at Zachry Group?

Liviniuk: The great thing about having spent so much of my career on-site is that I am comfortable putting on a pair of work boots and sitting down with crews to have genuine conversations about digital opportunities. These conversations enable me to better understand the perspectives, needs, and expectations our employees have of or digital project delivery solutions.

Having worked on site, I have empathy for the challenges of on-site work (network access, changing project conditions, weather, etc.). Our employees who manage these challenges everyday have the best viewpoint for technology opportunities. No one wants to do a job in 10 steps when it can be done in 3. By spending time with these skilled professionals, and gaining their input, I can help identify timely and practical opportunities for digital enhancement.

Ultimately, my hands-on experience doesn’t drive our digital project delivery strategies at Zachry Group; the hands-on experience of our employees does. My focus is on helping our project teams identify and capture digital opportunities, then on building bridges with our technology teams. These bridges enable all of us to co-create strategies and solutions which help us continuously deliver the best value for our customers on every project we execute.

What is your advice for companies that want to sort out the “tech hype” from the real business solutions?

It’s so easy to get caught up in technology hype. In fact, it’s difficult not to. The technology space is moving so quickly; it seems almost daily I’m sent an article or video by someone which makes me say ‘wow, that is impressive!’ But some teams get too caught up in the hype and adopt a ‘whatever’s exciting’ approach to technology investment. This hype-focused approach can result in large expenditures with little noticeable benefit, and a team left wondering what went wrong.

Companies need to balance tech evolution with tech experimentation. Technology should augment business processes. Teams should be consistently refining their processes, identifying automation opportunities, defining business requirements to support those opportunities, and evolving their technology architecture to support. This is a defined process and one that most large organizations (and many mid-sized ones) already employ and execute well.

However, teams can be too rigid in their focus on evolution as well. To be competitive in today’s market, companies must be consistently scouting new and emerging solutions, and experimenting with new technology to identify the value potential. Teams can’t appropriately evaluate technology if they aren’t familiar with the technology that’s available. In some instances, team members may not even realize that there’s technology available to automate a process. Experimentation is a critical step in advancing the evolution of technology at a pace that doesn’t leave the team in the stone age.

My advice to teams is to be active in the technology ecosystem to be become better informed. Develop strong relationships with technology companies, attend industry events, seek out user stories to understand the experience of others, and read industry news updates. If your technology approach is to wait to explore until you need it, you’re going to be so far behind the industry knowledge base that it will be almost impossible to make good technology decisions. Being well informed is the best way for teams to sort out the ‘tech hype’ from real business solutions.

What sort of new or emerging digital tools have you excited?

I feel like the answer everyone wants to hear is AI. And don’t get me wrong. AI is going to have a big impact on our industry. But there are still foundational elements that the industry is working on establishing and deploying to support AI, and other advanced technologies.

I’m excited about technology that has the potential to positively impact teams today, addressing real pain-points through the application of practical software and hardware solutions. First is the significant shift toward platforms. The multitude of point solutions that teams are deploying is causing tech fatigue. And trying to tie them all together, and keep them connected, can be costly and create a resource strain on IT. The industry is moving heavily towards deploying platforms that serve as the foundation for project operations, where platform ecosystem applications can then be deployed or even developed. This approach supports the standardization of project management and execution processes, while enabling specific app deployments and citizen development to support each unique project’s needs.

The second technology I’m excited about is Bluetooth enabled tools, such as torque wrenches, hydro gauges, and handheld equipment. These tools, and their associated mobile applications, provide users with step-by-step coaching on each task, with visual aids. We keep hearing about skilled labor shortages, and the projected increases in resource shortages in North America. Bluetooth-enabled tools help support resource upskilling at scale. Further, these tools measure and record each action taken, therefore eliminating manual observations and paper-based workflows.

Third is incentive-based performance solutions. There is a startup working on aligning construction craft incentives with those of project contracts, thereby driving faster completion of tasks with improved quality and reduced safety incidents. This is the first organization I have seen really trying to tackle this incentive alignment challenge that is structurally rooted in the construction industry; they are making some bold moves in both the financial technology (fintech) and construction technology (contech) spaces.

And fourth is robotics. The advancement in the robotics space in the past two years has been remarkable. While I don’t see robots taking on full-time jobs on construction sites anytime soon, I am a huge advocate of their application in environments that pose hazards to people. Those are the activities that I expect to see robots tackling on a large number of construction sites very shortly.

As a keynote speaker and a podcaster, what would be your advice for someone in the industry who wants to improve their communication skills?

I do a lot of public speaking; I get asked this question often. And my answer probably sounds quite non-traditional. My first piece of advice to anyone wanting to improve their public speaking skills is to practice storytelling. Your entire presentation needs to tell a clear and succinct story if the audience is going to engage with and remember it. Start planning your presentation by framing a story (beginning, middle, and end) and then fitting all your highlighted key points onto a story board. Once you have all of that together, read it to someone and ask them to summarize the story back to you. If all they took away was a few key points and stats, and they can’t thread them together to summarize your story, then you need to keep working on your storytelling skills.

My second piece of advice is to take acting classes; improv classes are the best. I grew up on stage. I went to a performing arts school in junior and senior high. One of my most foundational communication skills is being able to speak to a live crowd and react to an audience on my feet. Whether you’re comfortable with public speaking or not, everyone can gain confidence, improve enunciation skills, and hone their ability to think and react in the moment by taking acting classes. Channel your inner thespian!

My third piece of advice is to just be yourself. Too many professionals think they need to create a public persona to be an effective communicator. Trust me; your audience wants to get to know you, not a carefully crafted version of you. Tell your story, be vulnerable, and share your real thoughts on topics that matter in your industry. The level of engagement in a presentation that is genuine is exponentially greater than a presentation that is canned or scripted to the point that you don’t feel like you’re getting to know the real presenter.


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