Connect with Emerging Technology: Meet Danielle O’Connell

In this Q&A conversation, we’re sitting down with a pioneering individual working at the intersection of construction and technology: Senior Director of Emerging Technology Danielle O’Connell. Let’s get to know Danielle’s path and vision for navigating the industry in this present moment.

1 / 3 As a leader within Emerging Technology, Danielle is helping Skanska tackle some of its biggest challenges and reach its ambitious targets. The work is something that energizes Danielle. “When we can find the value of a solution and communicate that value out to others and be energized by what’s possible, that excites me,” she says.
2 / 3 Danielle speaks at Geo Week, the leading event for the geospatial, 3D and built world.
3 / 3 After studying architecture in school, Danielle stepped into the world of construction. Her work began to focus on leveraging BIM and VDC in construction out of necessity. Here, she uses a laser scanner on our Deerfield Academy project in Massachusetts.

You were just named one of Construction Dive’s 2023 Construction Champions in the Up-and-Coming Leaders category. As you’re recognized for your role as a change agent within Skanska, how are you thinking about your own journey in construction?

First and foremost, I’m cognizant of how I'm surrounded by so many great people that have helped me succeed throughout my career.

Without my team, not just within Emerging Technology but across Skanska, I know I wouldn’t be where I am today.

I joined the industry 15 years ago, having studied architecture in school. Through my degree program I was exposed to construction, however, in my senior year I started wondering if I should have pursued civil engineering. I had heard that that was the pathway into construction.

Looking back now, I laugh when I remember being unsure about my exact path even earlier on in school.

On one college break, I came home and told my mom I didn’t think architecture was for me and that I wanted to be an eye doctor.

I thought my optometrist was super cool at the time. She told me to sleep on it. Needless to say, I didn’t go down the optometry path.

Once I returned to my senses, I knew that one dream I had was to design skyscrapers.

So, you’re making your way in the world after architecture school. Why the shift to construction and technology?

I was naive in thinking that my architecture pursuits would immediately result in a building coming to fruition.

I soon learned that I would be sitting behind a computer modeling or drawing the designs of others for several years before anything really came to life.

As I was going through these tough realizations, our industry was starting to become interested in exploring technology in construction, specifically Building Information Modeling (BIM).

Working at Consigli Construction at the time, my role as a project coordinator started evolving into a BIM/Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) role out of necessity.

Our clients were asking us to leverage these tools, and we didn’t have anyone who knew much about this space because it was so new.

Skanska was further ahead in this space. My manager at Consigli had come from Skanska and shared learnings around what we should be focusing on.

Construction technology involves many things. What are some of the lesser-known examples of technology aiding construction right now?

Maybe not lesser known anymore, but Artificial Intelligence. For example, there are around eight vendors in the progress tracking space using either laser scanning or 360-degree photos in conjunction with models, schedules, and drawings to provide progress tracking. Done well, it shows how we’re really doing on a project.

It’s not something that’s necessarily required on every project, but if we’re leveraging it right, it’s a way for us to go above and beyond for a client. It allows us to take advantage of data we are already collecting and making it actionable.

While progress tracking appears simple, it’s very complex and expensive. You must have the right data inputs from several people behind the scenes to make it worthwhile.

We are already seeing it now, but likely going to be a bit longer before it’s being fully utilized in our industry. It will be immensely impactful to construction work once we get there.

Internally, a group of subject matter experts built out a progress tracking dashboard in PowerBI that links Assemble models with a project’s schedule.

It connects schedule and model data in a way that could produce the same result we’re looking for in other vendors, for less financial cost.

You mention that we need the right data inputs for a technology to be effective. How does this reality impact how we approach technology at Skanska?

It impacts and guides everything. Thinking about a tool’s integration and interoperability is central to all our discussions from the outset.

We always ask vendors if they integrate with Procore because our company uses that platform across our projects.

Operations team members regularly input and track tasks in Procore databases. We’re always trying to use tools that integrate with the software our teams are already using.

There’s also this notion of app fatigue, right? Limiting our use of new technology just for the sake of using new technology is a real consideration in our overall approach.

Can you paint a picture of some of the ways that technology is a game-changer for our industry?

I’ll give three examples.

Take process automation. We have people who are exceptional at developing tools to transform workflows. They’re designing low-code, no-code solutions. This replaces the need for us to hire a developer to create an application for us.

To do this, we’re leveraging technology already in our toolkit, like Power Automate, Microsoft’s solution for empowering everyone to build automated processes using drag-and-drop tools.

Power Automate enables us to write scripts between systems and create workflows for teams across the business.

For example, if accounting and project management need to “talk” to one another, we can set up a workflow that allows them to do that more efficiently.

Example two. Using robotics, we have a real opportunity to automate layout. Our robot dog Spot is still in testing but already showing promise. Imagine if we could equip Spot to take project progress photos, instead of putting that on a person?

Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM) technology could be a game-changer too in how we map and visualize progress.

It’s an alternative to traditional terrestrial scanning which relies on a tripod being stationary for about 10 minutes to complete a scan.

SLAM allows you to walk and scan at the same time as you capture a 360-degree view of a site. It’s like walking with a selfie stick.

In the safety realm, utilizing auditing technology like Arrowsight gives us more eyes on a job site.

Cameras set up from different vantage points can provide better insight into jobsite risks and opportunities for hazard avoidance. We’re already implementing this technology on some of our sites and seeing its benefits.

Why is this work personal to you?

Similar to my fellow Emerging Technology colleague, Mike Zeppieri, I would say that my time is spent serving others.

I love helping people and solving problems. Everyone in Emerging Technology would align with this, I’m sure.

Early on in my career, I helped people by way of technology. If it wasn’t through VDC, it was helping someone in our office figure out how to use their iPhone or fixing our printer. So, I’ve always gravitated to this work and felt it’s a worthy cause to be a part of.

At the end of the day, I love seeing people get excited about a technology that could change, or better yet, improve things for them.

When we can find the value of a solution and communicate that value out to others and be energized by what’s possible, that excites me.

Finally, as a woman in this industry and in contech, I love seeing other women entering this space. At the beginning, I didn’t have many women like myself to look up to.

Today, I actively find ways to be a resource for other women starting out, whether that’s through being a part of Skanska Women’s Network or mentoring other women.

The pathway into this work isn’t clear cut, but there’s plenty of opportunity for those who are interested in a contech career.

Enjoyed this conversation? Check out the first Q&A blog in our Connect with Emerging Technology series where we get to know Vice President of Emerging Technology Michael (Mike) Zeppieri.