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The theme of Procore's Groundbreak 2023, held in Chicago on Sept. 19-20, was transformation, which is something you'd expect from a construction technology company's annual event. Less expected: what Procore is interested in transforming.

"We're not just talking about digital transformation," Procore founder, President and CEO Tooey Courtemanche said during Groundbreak's opening session. "In order for you to attract and retain top talent, to improve safety outcomes on our jobsites and to meet this ever-increasing demand, we must focus both on digital as well as cultural transformationfrom empowering your employees by providing them with the best technology so they can deliver their life's best work, to improving diversity and inclusion in the workplace, to prioritizing mental health just as much as physical health."

Construction Executive was there for the entire program, which sure enough balanced gee-whiz products and solutions with a candid, consistent focus on mental health. From main stage to exhibit hall to breakout rooms, here are five of our experiences at Groundbreak 2023:

AR in action: Contech isn't only fun new toys, but there's no denying they're a big part of the appeal. On the show floor, we tested out one from XYZ Reality, whose augmented-reality rig offers engineering-grade quality control and performance trackingin real time, right on a jobsite. Staring through the XYZ visor, the user is immersed in 3D BIM plans that are projected directly over the real-world equipment, craft work or other project component they're looking at, making it easy to identify and flag mistakes. It's fun and highly intuitive, with a seamless, anyone-can-do-this kind of vibe, although on an actual jobsite, a trained XYZ field professional handles everything.

The 5 forces: During an insights-packed keynote presentation, Michael Steepfounder of Stanford Engineering's Disruptive Technology and Digital Cities Programexplored trends and innovations in construction technology, including five forces that are driving change:

  1. Unprecedented, unrelenting and powerful exponential explosion in global tech innovation and data production
  2. Everything and everyone continuously connected and driven by machine intelligence
  3. Power of convergence and AI creates enormous opportunity
  4. Continuous skill set training and development
  5. Disruption of the traditional corporate innovation

Speaking up: Get Construction Talking is a new initiative from The B1M and Procore aimed at raising awareness of mental health in construction. The program had a prominent space in Groundbreak's exhibit hall and was mentioned regularly from the stage. From Get Construction Talking's website: "If we can all become more aware of mental health, normalize conversations around it, look to spot the signs in our colleagues that something might not be right and point them in the direction of support, then we can collectively start to move the dial on this issue at the grass-roots level."

Homegrown solutions: Conversations with two different exhibitors on the show floor underlined the organic nature of many contech solutionsmeaning they evolved directly in response to the experiences of industry professionals. Josh Levy, for example, has an undergraduate degree in construction management as well as a law degree, and drew on his extensive hands-on background in both fieldwork and construction law in co-founding Document Crunch, an AI-powered contract-intelligence platform whose functionality (as was announced during Groundbreak), will be directly embedded within Procore's digital workspace. "The contract is like a black box for this industry," Levy said. "We saw an opportunity that technology could make that more transparent."

Similarly, Steve Dell'Orto spent 26 years with Clark Construction Grouprising from intern to regional executive officer and senior vice presidentbefore leaving to start ConCntric, a preconstruction platform that doesn't do anything new except bring every aspect of precon together in one place. Dell'Orto got the idea for ConCntric after realizing that, when it came to precon, "anything you do or touch usually involved a made-up, ad-hoc spreadsheet," he said. "I wondered, how do I build a platform that is comprehensive and based on digitized best practices?"

Matters of the mind: Groundbreak's second and final day featured a powerful one-two punch of keynoterssomewhat literally. Laila Ali, daughter of boxing legend Muhammad Ali, shared her journey from teenage entrepreneur manicurist to female boxing champion to TV host to lifestyle and wellness advocate. Speaking about her undefeated record in the ring24-0, with 21 knockoutsAli said: "When you're #1, to stay #1, you've got to get tougher."

In a way, that was also the message from closing keynoter Michael Phelpsexcept, for the record-smashing swimmer, getting tougher has meant being honest with himself and the people around him about how he's feeling. Phelps, who has won more Olympic gold medals than anyone in history, struggled with anxiety and depression for years before finally opening up about it. Today, he's a vocal advocate for mental health and wellness. "It's okay to not be okay," he said. "Become vulnerable; get out of your comfort zone.... It's just important to find someone to talk to."


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