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August 10, 2016
About Pepper, Virtual construction & technology

What does it mean to be connected? In the world of IT, our job is to make connections, whether linking software platforms, making jobsites mobile friendly or setting up employees with the tools they need to do their jobs. Last week, those of us in IT made connections of a different kind – with each other, at the AGC IT Forum Conference.

This was my eighth year to attend the AGC-IT forum. Four years ago I joined the AGC IT Steering Committee, and this year I was elected Chairman and I chaired the event. The theme was See IT. Learn IT. Build IT.

So what were the highlights for me?

  • Keynote speaker Brent Darnell kicked off the conference and spoke about building and leading higher performance teams. He was motivational and reminding us to set a positive tone when we first enter the office, every day.
  • Our great sponsors who represent the products we use every day. They provided some really nice giveaways too - gift cards, an Occulus Rift and a Knnack box. Since I was the chair, I got to draw the names.
  • Making the sessions interactive with Poll Everywhere. Speakers posed questions to the audience in the middle of their presentations, and the audience voted with "live" results. It's a way cooler version of a "show of hands."
  • Our Affordable Solutions session was an open-mic forum for attendees to share with each other solutions they have found. It could be anything from an app, to hardware, to a big system. As people were talking, we searched online and displayed the products on screen for the audience, and then another committee member served as the scribe to capture all of the solutions that were suggested. We will be posting them on the AGC site.
  • Our Fab 4 panel spoke about the changing role of IT. They showed the path that IT has taken over the years and discussed some of the new challenges and pressures we face. Our panel members were transparent, and you could see the audience hanging on every word.
AGC speakers panel

In my introductory remarks, I told everyone we wanted them to walk away inspired with new ideas, new friends and new contacts. I consider the conference a great success, and the real value for me goes beyond what we learned during those two days.

I have a great steering committee, and they have become trusted friends. Throughout the year we've talked with others in our industry to understand the real pain points. We've shared some of our biggest technology challenges - which is way cool because I love to talk about technology – and it turns out that we all experience the same issues.

The AGC IT Forum Conference is a place where we can come together, ask ourselves how we can get better and present our industry challenges to our technology partners so they can help us improve as a whole.

When I started at Pepper, technology solutions were born out of IT. Today, IT is no longer the primary incubator. Ideas come from other departments, like virtual construction. That's not to say IT is less important. On the contrary, it's more integral to everyday business.

This is the role of technology. IT keeps us connected on our jobsites and, more importantly, to each other. Last week was about using our people connections to improve business connectivity.

VR demo

If you’re in IT and you missed out, I encourage you to join us next year in Chicago. 

Photos courtesy AGC.

About the Author

Howie Piersma, VP of IT Pepper Construction Group

Howie PiersmaVice President, Information Technology

Howie has been with Pepper for 33 years. He started when the company had only two personal computers and now directs information technology (IT) plans, schedules, policies and programs for the Pepper organization’s infrastructure, network communications and IT support. 

Utilizing his management and technical skills as well as his years of experience, Howie is committed to the continuous improvement of IT innovation, initiatives and employee productivity.

Each year, Howie lectures at Northwestern University McCormick School of Engineering to the Master of Project Management students. His expertise makes him a sought-after expert for industry conferences and events, primarily focusing on technology adoption related to project and document management collaboration. Howie has served on the steering committee for the Associated General Contractors’ IT forum for the past four years and is the current chairman, and he is a member of the Technology Executive Network (TEN).