In this episode of “Solving Problems with Technology,” Xalt Solutions’ Josh Cranfill interviews team members from Corbins Electric and NOX Innovations to define what digital transformation is and what it really means to an organisation. They discuss what is required for an organisation to go through a ‘digital transformation’ and what that looks like from the inside out.
JC: Hello and thank you for tuning in to this episode of Solving Problems with Technology on HxGN Radio, H-x-G-N Radio. I’m your host, Josh Cranfill, and today’s topic is what is digital transformation? In this episode, I’m talking to JD Martin, a partner at Corbins Electric, and Nate Unruh from NOX Innovations. First of all, welcome to the show, JD and Nate. We’re also joined by my counterpart, Geoff Wakefield. Why don’t we start out by explaining, what is Corbins Electric? What’s NOX Innovations? What are you guys’ roles? What do you do there? What do you care about?
JDM: Sure, yeah. Hey, guys, thanks for having us. I’m JD Martin. I’m the Vice President of Business Solutions at Corbins Electric and we’re a large electrical contractor and specialty contractor in the southwest: Arizona and New Mexico. We focus on large industrial projects, high-tech manufacturing, and we’re having a great time doing it. We’ve really seen a lot of growth in the last eight years.
My responsibilities, obviously, among a lot of things is to help our business find solutions as the economy changes, and as new problems arise. Basically, everything that doesn’t fall under normal, like go and do construction, I kind of oversee as part of the business to help support the go and do construction part. So, that’s Corbins Electric in a nutshell. We’re probably going to finish this year at a $155 million in revenue. We have about 750 employees and are doing great, just trying to create a good company for awesome people to earn a great living, and I believe we’re fulfilling that. But overarchingly our purpose at Corbins Electric is that we are empowered thought leaders that are boldly changing the construction industry. So, not only how construction is done, but how people think about construction getting done.
JC: Mm-hmm. Awesome. Nate?
NU: I’m Nate Unruh, Business Solutions Manager at NOX Innovations. Thanks again, guys, for having us on today. Primary responsibility is that I manage the mobility sector of NOX Innovations. We are a company that offers different solutions to construction customers primarily, which includes everything from fabrication to mobility and technology consulting, as well as helping individuals with VDC and labels. We provide both, as I said, consulting and products, kind of depending on what that falls under, most of my responsibilities are with process improvement, process optimisation, and anything that falls in line with kind of technology and how that works in.
JC: Good. Well, thank you, guys, for joining.
JDM: NOX is the sister company of Corbins Electric. Just to piggyback on what Nate said, Corbins does construction and they do contracting. NOX offers all of the services and products that Corbins uses, that other contractors also need. So, we decided to break out NOX Innovations to bring those things to market to help other contractors with the speed of doing their work.
JC: Awesome. Now we’ve had the privilege, my team of watching you guys go through a ‘digital transformation’ which as you know, was a four-dollar word and now, I would call it a two-dollar word because you see it everywhere, in everybody’s marketing materials, and yet everybody has a different definition. We’ve also discussed, when you digitise a process, you maybe turn it into a piece of paper, right, and then you can digitalise, which some people use that word a lot, and then you can digitally transform. So, you guys are doing it well. Corbins Electric has become really a quintessential example for us to observe. And it’s like you said, it’s been really fun, but let’s get into that a little bit. What is digital transformation? How do you make that distinction between, digitising, digitalising, and digital transformation? What does that mean?
JDM: Yeah. I think you kind of hit it on the head, like the difference between digitising and digitalising basically just is taking what was an analog, maybe a piece of paper into it, making it digital and then turning that form into a process, and then how it gets routed through different people. That’s the digitalisation part. But the digital transformation, although there are a lot of definitions, people are kind of backing into or creating their own definition based on their vertical industry. For us, it’s the integration of digital technology in all areas of the business, you know, truly changing the business, and for some people, that means you’re creating new lines of business. Digital transformation helps them create new lines and new revenue streams, for others it maybe has some cultural implications like it has for us and we can get into that. But basically, it’s a new way of bringing value to the business or to the customers that you service, and we’ve seen that. So, our digital transformation, I mean, going back, let’s see, how long have we been using Xalt platform solutions? It’s been almost six years, I think, Josh.
JDM: Does that sound about right?
JC: Just about, yeah.
JDM: It’ll be six years in August. At the beginning Corbins Electric, we were operating at around a 40 million dollar a year kind of revenue, with about 200 employees., and we had a lot of processes, a lot of paper processes. Strike that. We didn’t actually have a lot of processes, but the few processes that we had were very, very paper based. Everything had to be printed, our timecards, our safety observations, anything that needed to be turned in to our customer, the general contractors or the owners were on paper. And that was going to be unsustainable for the future as we saw it with the business. We knew we needed to change the business. We wanted to increase revenue and we wanted to grow. We didn’t want to grow for the sake of growing, we needed to grow to meet the needs of our customers. Our customers were growing, and their needs were expanding. We also saw a need in the marketplace to go serve other people who we were not already servicing. So, there was an opportunity to grow there also. And we knew in order to grow or to scale, paper processes weren’t going to be the way to do it. We had to start digitising. Right? And so, of course, we did. We created some forms, fillable PDFs, and we created Excel templates, with drop downs and rules, some macros, and things like that. Maybe we were trying to make an Excel form, like a single source of truth for a particular—maybe we were creating databases in Excel. That very quickly became unsustainable. There were lots of broken processes. So, like many companies, what we did is we hired people to go manage the data and—
JC: And collect it, too, right?
JDM: Collect it somewhere else, store it, move it, analyse it, report on it, all those things, but we realised that’s unsustainable. And as much as we love people, that’s not a really good value add for a construction company or a contractor because we’re adding a lot of cost to our overhead, not a lot of value to the end thing, which is actually building stuff. So, if we needed, if we wanted to increase, if we’re increasing revenue, but we weren’t increasing margin at the same or at a decent rate also, then what are we doing? How valuable is this data or these processes?
So, we realised there must be a better way. At that point, our Vice President of Operations, Justin, who happens to be my brother, and our CEO right now, and Tim and I were actively looking seven and a half years ago for project management software. We are focused on increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of our project teams to deliver the thing that we’re ultimately getting paid for. Construction is really simple, and I’m going to oversimplify it, but we basically get paid to install electrical material. I mean, that’s oversimplifying again, but that’s the value. We tell a customer that we can do that electrical installation for a certain amount of money and then it’s up to us if we want to increase that. I mean, we obviously build in there a nominal profit and then our goal is to increase, or I should say decrease our labour and material and other costs of installing that stuff so we can increase our profit margin on that project. And you do that enough times and now you have a business that has a profit. So, we needed to find solutions to replace paper processes to help us be better at doing the work that makes us money.
JC: So, from one perspective, it’s 2021 and I can transfer money to Asia on my phone, but I can’t order materials on my job site, right. So, from one perspective, it’s obvious, why can’t we make this easier? But from another perspective, you’re describing processes that were broken. What were some of the biggest bleeding cuts that were coming from those broken processes? Aside from the fact that it just takes more and more overhead to get more people to get the right information into the right people. What were some of the other things that were popping up that really motivated you or inspired you to start this journey
JDM: Well, in construction, not unlike manufacturing, there’s this wave of lean thinking, right, in being more efficient at doing the thing. I oversimplified our business of just ‘we install electrical material’, but it really comes down to humans using information, tools, material and equipment to go install a thing. The killer in our industry is rework, rework, rework, rework. So, if our single focus was to help eliminate rework, that was going to be a win for us. We don’t want to do the work twice, we certainly don’t want to install material twice, we don’t want to order twice the material, and we don’t want to have twice the labour rate. All of those things dig into our ability to make money, which ultimately affects how people earn a living in our business.
NU: Yeah, to kind of piggyback on the right lean concepts, right, I mean, that’s been around for over 10 years in terms of every company wants to be lean and every company wants to adopt those principles. But a lot of times we found that there’s a lot of frustration in how much we could optimise our processes. Right? And even if you had a really great team that is focused on that without the ability to use digital solutions or, right, digitise and even use some of those concepts, it was really difficult to get to the point of really eliminating a lot of waste and applying some of those lean principles. So, we had a lot of individuals, especially some of our high-level thinkers, our guys that, you know, really come up with all the great ideas and processes that they were feeling really held down and really weren’t feeling like they were empowered enough to be able to really optimise and do what they wanted to do to make us the most efficient and lean company that we could be.
JDM: Yeah. You know, most of our employees, our workforce, the people who are actually going in and installing this material, and when it comes down to it, at the end of the day, what they feel, what they want to do the most is leave the day obviously safe but feel like their day was productive. None of our guys want to be standing around waiting for material or tools or equipment or information. Then also everyone who works in the office is supporting those projects, and they don’t want to feel like they are causing our field to have to wait around for all those other things. So, there’s huge cultural implications for, you know, being efficient across the board.
NU: Going back to the people thing, it really was that, when we look at who we wanted on our team, we don’t want to hire humans that are entering in data all the time or just, you know, passing data from one place to another. We want humans to be thinkers and analyse the data and make decisions off the data. And that really helps build our culture and helps us understand is when we say, ‘when we bring you on to help at this company, we’re bringing you on for your ideas and your ability to process information and to really be part of that fun, fast moving culture’. Now that’s not possible if we have half of our positions just doing, day to day kind of manual items that can really go away with a lot of the digital transformation items we’re talking about. So, it goes right along with that culture and how it affects our individuals and employees that work for the company.
JC: Yeah, we’ve certainly run into the scenario of you’ve got this guy with this great college degree and especially in manufacturing as maybe a process engineer or something like that, and we do studies on how much time they spend, like getting information and putting stuff in their Excel sheets and stuff. It’s usually 60 to 80 percent of their day right now, which is obviously, non-value added.
JDM: Yeah. I don’t want to pay a person to do something that could be automated, right. I want to pay people to use their creativity and their human potential to do things that automation can’t do. We’ve already seen this in manufacturing, I know with robotics. I think we kind of have gotten over the fact that humans aren’t putting cars together, robots are. Ultimately, I think that’s a good thing because now humans can go do things that robots can’t do. It’s the same in construction, right? I don’t want to bog people down and ultimately, doing data entry, there’s other value-added activities in our organisation that we could be putting that type of human capital towards.
NU: And we find that’s what excites people, right? I mean, like you said, data entry needs to happen, and sometimes that needs to be done by a human, but we try to avoid that as much as possible just because we want people excited to come to work. You always hear that people want to kind of have fun when you come to work, and that means a lot of different things for a lot of different people, but for us, we want to inspire the people that work for us or the ones that want to solve problems, and it’s not going to be easy. That’s not what fun means, but it’s usually those activities of manual entry and kind of items that can be automated, that’s not really rewarding. No, it doesn’t activate all those the fun parts of the brain that really gets you going in the morning and all that kind of stuff, and so that’s a big part. When we’re talking about cultural impact and what it’s inspired us to do is that is really part of what we can pitch to new employees is, ‘hey, we want you to be able to pivot, and this is how we’re able to make this possible’.
JC: Yeah, and I think we were talking about this earlier today, Geoff and I, where in every digital transformation, there is a lot of little digital transformations that make up one big one because it’s lean. And we were talking about how to be successful, it’s really one part culture which has to do with user adoption and gathering requirements and all that stuff, and defining your problems for that matter, in which are probably the most important problems to cover. One part culture, one part technology and one part execution; it’s the excellence of your team. So how in that respect, did your people respond as you started to land and expand. You started with two ideas. We’re going to, automate and transform, and validate a couple of workflows today that are causing us problems. And now you fast forward six years and you’ve got literally almost every process in your company running through a digital workflow that’s as efficient as you can make it. So, as you went through that journey, how did your people respond? Did you have to reconnoitre personnel? What did you do from a cultural perspective? How did the people respond and what did that look like for you guys?
GW: Yeah, great question, Josh.
JDM: Yeah, you hit on some things. We did start with two when we are vetting out different solutions that we are trying to, automate some of our processes or at least validate data, validate some of our processes. We started with the two that were the most paper producing, rework causing, time suck processes in our organisation, which was timecards, field timecards and material requisitions. We started with those. I bring those up because those aren’t going to be the same issues that bog down all other contractors, right? I bring that up because you don’t get very much pushback when you are presenting a solution for a problem that everyone hates. So, in that respect, it’s kind of easy to get some adoption. People like, I hate this current state. Right?
Now, I also say that with a little hesitancy because human beings, we’re creatures of habit. We tend to get comfortable with how things are done over time. The more we do it, the more comfortable we are with how they’re done.
NU: Especially contractors.
JDM: Especially—well, we’ve seen that, right? We kind of had a—especially construction has been underserved by the technology sector, not because the technology hasn’t been there, but because a lot of contractors lack the vision of how to implement something, because for a couple hundred years it’s been a very manual dexterity, nuts, and bolts type of environment.
Humans are reluctant to make change, but if that change involves alleviating burden or eliminating pain, like a painful process here’s what we realised; a bad process will beat down good people. It will win almost every single time, okay? We have good people that work with us, and we’ve told them to do this process, and it’s a bad process, a bad paper process, but they’re willing to endure a bad process because I’m paying them to do it. Now, say, “hey, I’m going to pay you to do something else that’s not as painful, and this is going to alleviate some of the headaches that you have,” most of the time people are for that. We have rolled out processes in a digital format and digital platform that didn’t add a ton of value and people weren’t particularly upset with how they were being done and that adoption is slower, harder, or maybe gets killed altogether, right? So, it’s kind of finding the thing that’s the most painful.
I know we have other topics we’re going to get into later in another podcast, like how do we gather requirements and how do we get user adoption and like some of the nuances that go along there, and how do you design solutions to optimise for human behaviour, things like that. I just want to say quickly, for user adoption, you’ve got to find the right balance of value and impact. In our business, we go through and plot out when we are thinking of new things that come up that other leaders in our business want to create a workflow for. Think of like an X-Y axis, a little matrix, and on your Y axis is impact, and on your X axis is effort; you kind of plot, hey, what’s the impact of this business versus how much effort is it going to take to get it done? And we’ll be talking about that in other podcasts also. But we’ve got to find the balance.
NU: Yeah, honestly, as he said, we started off with some really painful processes and all of a sudden, our individuals started really identifying. They started seeing more pain in their processes, things that they didn’t see before. So, we just started by starting material racks, but then all of a sudden, we started saying, hey, how do we communicate with our vendors? And it really inspired that lean culture that we were talking about where what we did, was nothing we ever set out to do. We weren’t like, “hey, we’re going to get digital solutions and that’s going to inspire our workforce to really look at our processes”. That was just one of those really awesome kinds of byproducts once we started creating lean warriors—
JDM: We made stuff that worked.
NU: Yeah, it was one of those things where you immediately get, and as JD said, eliminating that pain. People start identifying like, “hey, if we can change this,” and “I don’t want to be working on this all the time, when I can spend my time on more useful activities.” Suddenly, when that starts coming up from others, that aren’t the CEO, the C-suite executive level starts to look at that. That’s all the way from those guys that are just starting out their careers all the way up. When you inspire that kind of analysis and continuous improvement, it really helps further and inspire an awesome culture where everyone is challenging everything. Then you’re continuously trying to eliminate those inefficiencies in whatever process you’re doing. So, it was a big culture shift for us that we saw as a direct product of that digital transformation.
JC: Did you have… I’m just curious, did you have any of those resistant people at the beginning who turned into big fans of what you’ve done here? So, you take one process, make it as lean as possible. Was there any people that were saying, “heck, no, I’m not going to do that”? I’m going to do it as I always have.”? You know, and I’m sure some of those people will go find another company. Right? But were there any turnaround stories that you loved where you gave somebody an easier way to do something, and they then became a proponent of it and perhaps even a contributor to the next idea?
JDM: So, the short answer, yes. And I don’t want to get into too much on this one, Josh, because I know that was a topic that we had identified that would be its own half hour show itself.
JC: Sure, sure.
JDM: But, and I’m kind of smirking. The listeners can’t hear this, but yeah. And you can imagine in construction, you know, this is an environment where we have most of our workforce is ageing out of construction. Right? For lack of a better term, they’re old salty dogs, where they’ve been doing this their entire career on paper, very manual. So now I’m asking them to, here’s an iPad and I want you to do your requisitions in a digital workflow. You can imagine the resistance that goes along with that without giving too much away. Right? But, yeah, we’ll definitely talk about that.
JC: All right. We’ll dangle that carrot for next time.
JDM: Dangle that carrot, yeah. Listeners, there’s more.
JC: All right, so we talked about digitising, digitalising, and digital transformation. What you are doing now is digital transformation. What are the keys in that kind of more robust definition of digital transformation that make it more effective? And I use the mobile form example of, okay, I have a mobile form now. I’m going to save it as a PDF, in some file somewhere. And it’s going to be hard to retrieve. So, with a digital transformation, you have things like workflow, you have things like, reminders and scorecards and a lot of database work, and you’re feeding your ERP the right information. So, are those the things or is there anything else that you would add to that that’s important for listeners to learn? Like maybe somebody listening to this and is just now starting to think about going down the digital transformation path, what are those key elements that when you do it right, make it work?
JDM: Yeah, that’s a great question. You did actually hit a lot of it there, Josh. Like in construction, this is where technology has been underserving our industry is we have ERP’s or accounting systems, and most of them were built on legacy kind of format. And they’re just now getting to the point of allowing contractors to start gathering or keeping track of the information they think is going to help them in their business. Because before it was very much money in, money out. Right? It was just basically the ERP or your accounting system was just taking a look at your cash position by project or by sector market or however you had that defined. And we have always known even early on that we wanted more information. Even before we found Xalt, we were trying to define, we were trying to standardise the types of work that we did, like the types of insulation, conduit versus and not just conduit. We would even break down, you know, a small conduit from big conduit, PVC from steel, you know, things like that, because we wanted to know what parts of our business we were missing the mark on, right? Estimation versus installation actuals. And the ERP doesn’t capture that. It just captures how much labour and material cost we put to a project and then how much money we billed for and how much money actually came in.
So, our digital transformation ended up being, we started defining the information that we wanted to gather and then we could start gathering it and then we could take that information and analyse it visually, represent it in a way that makes sense, filter, search and sort to help us—here’s the big part—to help us make decisions on our business.
NU: Yeah. And honestly—
JDM: It drives the leading indicators for the next thing that we’re going to go do.
NU: Right. To summarise that up when you’re talking about those three different terms, the way I see digital transformation is digitalisation with a purpose. Right? A lot of people go out and that’s, what JD was talking about, where they digitise a process and now, we have it in a digital format. But a lot of, I guess, failures happen when you don’t start with the core root of the problem. What are we trying to solve? Are we just digitising to digitise? And, you know, everything’s in a digital format. We can feel great about having all that stuff in a digital database. Right? So, one day we might use that data to drive—
JDM: Look at all the data I gathered.
JDM: How useful is that? What are you going to do with it?
NU: And so that’s where—right. It’s taking that next step of having that, it’s digitalisation or the purpose in terms of hey, when I’m collecting material stats or, tool stats or payroll information, what do I want to do with that? And I guess starting from that end goal and working backwards is really where you create those and where you start having a digital transformation, where people can see where you’re going at that. Right? There’s nothing more frustrating than rolling out an application that does the exact same thing as your old process and doesn’t really solve anything besides putting it in a digital format. I mean, if nobody—everyone’s going to ask the question, hey, why the hell did we switch from the paper processes, if we’re doing the same thing, the same outcomes, it hasn’t solved any efficiency issues? Then again, we’re just putting everything in a digital format. And really, I guess it goes back into kind of user adoption to buy in a little bit as well. But it frustrates people, right, especially when they’re not involved in some of the, and they’re just handed a process, and they don’t feel like they’re part of that. They feel like it is. It’s not a transformation. It’s just, hey, we’re changing up how we’re doing things. And if that purpose and end goal is not super obvious and if we don’t have that purpose of where we’re going, it gets lost pretty quick.
JC: And if you don’t measure it and celebrate it, too, right, you have to go back and measure it, and say, did it make a difference? On a high level, JD, we can get into this more later, or Nate, whomever wants to answer this question, what has the overall benefit, you know, we talk about your differences in profit per man hour. We talk about certain cultural things that have happened. How would you characterise the actual impact in a tangible or intangible way? Obviously, people are happier. You guys have a happy, great culture. People want to go work for Corbins Electric, right? That’s well known. And you’re excellent in and among your peers and things like that and a great example of what people should do. But what has the impact been on your business for this digital transformation? If you can highlight a little bit of tangible and intangible, as much as you like.
JDM: Yeah, great question. So actually, you know, I’m going to let Nate answer this one. I have some ideas. We’ll see how aligned we are on this one.
JC: This is a test.
NU: There you go. So, sorry. Can you say the question again?
JC: Yeah. What has been the overall impact? You have gone through a digital transformation. I said at the beginning of the podcast, it’s as good of an example as I can find, regardless of the technology, regardless of the fact that we have a business relationship with you guys, you’re doing it right from what we can tell. So, what impact has that made on the business? And I don’t care if the answer is sort of intangible or tangible, you know, profit margin, whatever you guys are comfortable sharing. What’s the real impact of all of this work that, Nate, you’ve been really spearheading, and JD’s been overseeing for the last six years?
NU: Yeah, sure. So—
JC: Eight years, actually.
NU: Yeah. And starting with the tangible, really, I guess the first thing that comes to mind is scalability. Right? We obviously have scaled up as a company very quickly, but and we owe a lot of that to our ability to continuously improve and look at our processes and understand where they’re going to break. You know, and we can tell a little bit, I mean, even going back before that time, you know, this isn’t the first time Corbins has tried to scale, as most companies do. Right? They’re always trying to grow. And a lot of times that doesn’t always equal an increase in revenue and doesn’t always equal an increase in profit. Right? And so, scaling with purpose, and being able to scale effectively was I think one of the biggest—or like, you know, it was profit directly, but it allowed us to really pivot. And when we did want to go after that, we had extreme clarity, not only with our individuals, but also with the information that was coming in our business that, yes, we could go do that or no, we couldn’t. And it helps us kind of monitor those responses.
And on the intangible side, again, a lot of it comes down to the people and really inspiring and empowering the people to be able to, you know, when they want to make a change or when our leaders want to go after something different, we not only have the data to back up those decisions, but we also are able to understand at a core level, hey, this is how we’re doing business, and it helps keep the culture consistent. So, everyone’s kind of running on the same track rather than each geographic or division feeling like they’re doing their own thing. By standardising some of these processes, we’re able to continue to move forward in a uniform, consistent way where that culture isn’t, right, it’s not an Arizona culture, it’s not a New Mexico culture. It’s, hey, we have a consistency that is clear from our standardised processes and how we do business across, no matter where we are. So those are the first kind of things that come to mind, I guess. J.D., what’d you have to add—
JDM: No, that’s a good answer. And it’s also true. I mean, yeah, there’s really, the tangibles, the scalability part, Nate hit it. Like we would not have been able to go from $40 million, we actually, so what we did when I started in 2013, we were operating at $40 million and we actually took a dip in 2015 to $28 on purpose, $28 million because we needed to redo all of our processes and basically build a better foundation so we could scale. We would not have been able to scale like we did without standardising processes and workflows and digitalising, which led to our digital transformation. So, we would not have been able to scale. The profit that we make as a business is really that’s a consequence or a symptom of the type of work the customers we’re aligned with, the markets, the type of work that we’re doing. But we’re using the data, to Nate’s point, to make decisions on whether that type of work we did or that customer in this geography is historically something that has been successful. And if not, let’s make a decision not to do that.
We don’t tie ourselves down into this sunk cost fallacy of like, oh, well, we spent so much time building a relationship with this customer or, you know, building up our people and skills to do this type of work. Listen and the bolts on paper. If it’s not a winner, we must move on. We must be willing to reinvest human capital as well as actual money into pivoting and doing something else. And that has proved successful.
Some of the intangibles of a digital transformation is culture, culture, culture, culture, culture. We talk about—it’s kind of a symbiotic relationship. Right? I know Josh, you and Geoff have been, you guys talk to customers all the time, manufacturing, construction, and others and in order to implement a digital transformation, you have to have the culture. Well, it’s symbiotic in that a digital transformation can help reinforce a culture, right, and it actually helps people feel more grounded, especially as the newer workforce comes in and we’re talking about people who, you know, we’re hiring 30-year-olds and they can’t remember not ever having a phone or an iPad, you know, growing up. So, they’re very comfortable with digitalisation and processes and things like that. And then people also want to be, they want to hitch their wagon to a train that has legs, right, that’s going places, that’s changing and has a purpose. And, you know, it’s cool and cutting edge and innovative and all the other buzzwords that go along with that. And we don’t just give lip service to that. I think we don’t really even talk about it. We live it. Right? And I think people like that.
And one of the biggest constraints in our ability to service our customers is, because we need to scale in order to service our customers, one of our biggest hurdles to that is talent, attracting talent to our business, attracting talent to the industry in general as far as our field workforce, but also attracting talent to the rest of our business operations. Accounting, Nate’s group, business analysts, marketing, all of those things. We just need to attract talent. So, I feel like we’ve set ourselves apart in this process of being innovative, digitally transformative, boldly changing, just like our purpose statement, boldly changing the construction industry, and people get excited about that. And it also helps fuel all the same innovation and ideas and promotes the same thing within. Yeah.
NU: Yeah. And I think certainly the construction industry, more than any other, has always been super elastic. It’s always been easy to add people or subtract people based on what the market’s telling you. Right? It’s actually not true anymore.
JDM: Not true.
NU: And so, we’re forced to automate and innovate like they have done in other industries. I’m excited about the things that are coming in the next 20 years in this industry. But I love the value that you guys put on culture. You can’t just act as though you have robots working for you. You still have people working for you and they want a job.
JDM: I do want to say something about that. Like I grew up in the industry. My stepdad was an estimator for an electrical contractor in Sacramento where I grew up, and he’s still involved in that business and shout out to Royal Electric in Sacramento, and kind of literally grew up in the industry, like pulling weeds in the summer in the yard, sweeping the warehouse to stocking shelves and making deliveries when I was 16 and all of that stuff. A lot of times people get into construction because it’s cool. Building stuff is fun, okay. The more time you spend in this business, though, you realise this is not about pipe and wire. This business is about people. This is a people, people, and I know other industries they say the same thing. Banking says, oh, this is people. You know, I get it. This—it’s almost counterintuitive, that construction would be a people business. And it absolutely is, because there’s nothing—although there’s hardly a process in our business that doesn’t run through Xalt in some way. Right? Whether it’s gathering, processing or just or showing information, it’s the human beings that are gathering, processing and analysing that to make decisions on behalf of our business with relationships we build with customers and vendors and with each other. This is a very dynamic business and it’s fun. and there’s no stopping construction either. There’s never going to be a point where we’re like, yeah, we built all the things.
NU: We built all the stuff.
JDM: So, it’s always, yeah, we built that. We did. We did it all, right? It’s kind of like people used to joke even like ten years ago, like finding the end of the Internet, you know, it’s like the universe expanding constantly. And when you think you reached the end, you’ve got to go back and rebuild the stuff that you first built anyway, so.
JC: Right. All right, good, we’ve done a good job. One last question, what would you do differently next time?
JDM: I think I’ll answer this both for Nate and myself. Well, first of all, if I could clone Nate, that would be great. There’s a whole story. Maybe we’ll get into a different podcast, like how Nate has grown into the position that he’s at right now. But I get asked this all the time for lots of different reasons. Some of it is about digital transformation stuff and some of it’s about our culture, our scalability, all of those things.
What would I do different? If I could go back and do it over again, what would I do different? And the answer is always the same. Find somebody who’s doing it better than me and freaking copy them, okay? There’s nothing groundbreaking about anything that we’re doing. I think one of the things that keeps other contractors and by contractors my extension, it’s the people, the decision makers of going down a road like this is well, it might be a little bit of fear, but it’s usually a fear of making a wrong decision or wasting money. Right? I mean, we’ve literally Corbins Electric, we have been on the bleeding edge of digital transformation in the form of building apps and workflows and gathering and analysing data. It’s been worth it to us, and I certainly wouldn’t want other contractors to have to reinvent the wheel, right? That’s part of the reasons why we spun off NOX is to provide services and products to other contractors that they don’t—it helped them accelerate their own business. So that’s the short answer is I’d freaking copy people. There’s no harm in that.
NU: Yeah, and—
JC: Yeah, sorry to cut you off, Nate, but Geoff and I were talking about today. It’s like it’s such a privilege to be able to pursue excellence, achieve some sort of excellence, which is a moving target. Right? It’s about the journey. Right? But achieve that excellence and then share it. It’s shared for free. Like I went through all this. I paid the price to get this. Now we’re going to raise the tide for everybody else and I think that’s sort of by osmosis what you’re doing.
JDM: Yeah, I would like to say I have—a couple of months ago I was listening to some other podcasts and stuff and getting into some philosophical podcasts. And there’s one guy, a new fan of this idea that there’s no such thing as altruism, right, because the altruists really what they’re doing is providing their servicing to other people, but it’s actually making them feel better. So, you know, that negates the definition of altruism and the same would be true of what we’re doing as Corbins Electric. Like we didn’t treat NOX, we’re not giving away services for free, certainly, but we’re trying to maybe we do charge a nominal fee for some of the services that we do, but it’s really to help other contractors accelerate. And I could keep all that to myself. Right? I’m providing it for a nominal fee, not because I’m an altruist. It’s because our goal in Corbins Electric and NOX is to change the construction industry, not ourselves. Like we’re empowered thought leaders, boldly changing the construction industry. The entire industry needs to move forward. Corbins can’t be it. We could gobble up all the market share we could possibly get here in Phoenix and New Mexico and Albuquerque. But that wouldn’t do us any good if the mechanical guys weren’t able to scale and in the process, piping guys and the steel guys. Right? It’s because all of those are components that go into making a project. So, when have you ever seen a construction project that was 100 percent electrical? Right? That doesn’t happen. Right? So, yeah, we want to help change the industry as a whole and none of the things that we’re talking about are specifically electrical. They apply across the board to anybody. If anybody has employees that, have you know, they apply labour to a project with material, tools, equipment, and information, I mean, I don’t know if I need to even expand that. It’s like, you know, think of one. Yeah, you’ll hit one that deals with all of it.
JC: Anybody making stuff. Right? Nate, what we’re going to say before? Do you remember?
NU: Yeah. So, I think a lot of what, you know, JD touched on in terms of impacting the industry and other things like that is and you hear this, you know, this isn’t a new concept, but teaching is the best form of learning. If you teach something, you master it and you’re able to learn it. But by teaching other individuals and expanding your network and other things like that, you automatically get some learning in that. Right? And we’ve seen that over and over again where we think we’re teaching somebody a solution and all of a sudden, we got more out of it than what we are actually teaching. And so that’s been I think one of the biggest things we realised recently is, whether you’re copying someone or learning from someone, whatever that looks like, that’s really the best, best way to go forward, right? So, whether that looks like peer groups or networking opportunities or whatever, that is, again, that’s the quickest way forward. Right? No matter how many smart people you have in your company, you’re never, ever going to get anywhere if you’re trying to work in a silo. Right? No matter what industry you’re looking at, whether it’s technology, whether it’s construction, whether it’s anything else, if there’s no other individuals challenging those ideas and learning and then expanding on those, it’s never going to move at the pace that we are today and as we continue to grow.
So, I guess that was the biggest thing that we learnt is as much as we would come up with the cool idea and we’d talk about it to somebody else, they’d have five different ideas that would spawn off of that. And just continuing that, you know, learning circle has really been and, not having that be a pride thing. Right? I mean, when you have an idea, it shouldn’t be attached to any ego or anything like that. It’s the coolest idea until you get squashed by another awesome idea and then you should be just as excited to embrace that same idea. Right? You always hear about the, the term, the old timers who, you know, go down to their grave clutching their pearls. Right? It’s the same thing where it’s if you hold on to an idea and you say, hey, this is what makes me who I am, and somebody comes along and makes it better, and you’re not ready to embrace that, you going to be left in the dust pretty quick.
And so that’s been the biggest thing we learnt, especially in the last couple of years that we wish we would have, is sharing it and kind of creating a little bit more of a learning environment where we bring on more people that don’t think the same as us. Right? You hear that all the time, but you can’t surround yourself with a bunch of—
JC: An echo chamber.
NU: Yeah, an echo chamber. Because, you know, no matter where you are in the industry, whether you’re at the top or the bottom, you’re never going to move anywhere if you’re not being challenged by the individuals in your organisation and individuals outside your organisation, whether that’s competitors, whether that’s people we work with, whether that’s peer members, it doesn’t matter. All of that moves individuals forward as long as you’re willing to sit there and teach and learn. Right? And I kind of like that. It works so well together in those two kinds of contrasting, seemingly contrasting ideas.
JC: Yeah, beautiful. All right. I think that’s a good place to wrap, guys.
So, first, thank you. I know you’re busy. We’re busy. Everybody’s busy. That’s a good problem to have, but I really appreciate you guys taking the time. We’re going to have some more for the listeners out there. We’re going to have some more where we go a little bit tactically into how do you gather requirements when you’re trying to transform a business process? How do you drive user adoption so it’s the best? And, you know, a plethora, if you will, of other topics. So, for everybody listening, you can find this and more podcasts on hxgnspotlight.com or on Spotify. Just search for either Hexagon or Solving Problems with Technology. So, thanks for tuning in. We’ll see you next time. Au revoir.