In the past two years, Oracle has acquired Textura for $663 million and Aconex for approximately $1.2 billion. The software heavyweight's nearly $2 billion spend is part of the development of a business unit dedicated to construction technology.
Last week, Oracle Construction and Engineering unveiled the first phase of its Innovation Lab in the Chicago suburb of Deerfield, Illinois. Phase two is in the permitting process in the hopes to open by the end of next year, according to Andy Verone, global vice president of product and industry strategy at Oracle Construction and Engineering. The lab was designed as a place to foster project-based industries' introduction to and development of tech solutions in a hands-on, demonstrable physical environment that mimics real-life applications.
Oracle started thinking about the Innovation Lab last year after asking itself how it could best get customers into a space that simulates their worksites, said Verone.
Often, a product's value is articulated in a conference room rather than through demonstrable applications, he claimed. "We created an environment [in which] we could showcase our products to our customers, as well as bring other parts of the ecosystem into that environment because we don't do all things for all projects — there's a large ecosystem of tools and solutions out there we want to, and do, integrate with."
Visitors can interact with connected devices, autonomous vehicles, drones, augmented reality, visualization and artificial intelligence tools. Participating technology providers include Assemble Systems, Bosch, Daqri, Here Technologies, Jovix, Reconstruct and Triax, which each made what Verone calls a "significant investment" in the lab, including installing a site-wide mesh network, equipment for materials tracking and a complete tool setup.
As the lab continues growing, Verone anticipates adding more partners as the list of interested third parties continues growing. "We'll definitely add providers as we see fit for the ecosystem."
Intended to welcome existing and new customers, partners, educators and the community, Verone explained how guests answer a series of questions prior to their visit so Oracle can customize their experience.
"A key piece of this is giving our visitors an opportunity to participate as soon as they say they want to come visit," he said. "We ask them what their biggest pain points are and tailor their experiences for their visit." Verone also points out that the lab allows visitors to see and experience technology in a safe environment without interrupting work on a live construction site.
Phase one, which officially opens Sept. 4, has eight hands-on experiences. Phase two will be a two-story, configurable indoor facility big enough to drive a concrete mixer truck into.
"Our goal is to be able to change it based on what's hot in the market at the time for construction and engineering or even other industries like utilities, communications or oil and gas," Verone said. "We have the ability inside phase two to really construct or demonstrate whatever the customer wants to do inside the facility."
The Innovation Lab is located right behind Oracle's Deerfield office so guests also have full access to that facility, which can include conference room use, among other amenities.
For Verone, the most exciting potential of the Innovation Lab lies in data. "The amount of data being generated and captured on a site today is amazing," he said. "How do we harness the power of that data so we can help the industry be more productive, be on time and be under budget? That, to me, is exciting."
The ability to get immediate feedback from a larger ecosystem also is notable, Verone said. Whether it relates to various elements of the user experience or environmental conditions, immediate feedback will allow Oracle and its partners to make appropriate adjustments. "That user experience is critical," he said.
As a third-generation construction engineering professional, Verone is enthused about the Innovation Lab educating high school and college students. "If I could fast-forward five years, I'd want the various academic communities in the region to feel like it's a place they can go experiment," he said.
That's already happening. College students recently visited the lab to demonstrate a rover they built that scans the construction site. "They were very proud of the rover they created and were demonstrating it indoors," Verone said. "When we took it outside, it was an incredibly bright day. The rover wasn't working as well because of the color of the material on top of the rover. The guys would have never been able to experience that unless they were outside.
"A lot of times we're indoors as we’re creating our systems and solutions," he continued. "For us, that ability to have high school and college students feel at home and really want to be part of a tremendous industry I love would be fantastic."