Connect with Emerging Technology: Meet Michael Zeppieri
In a world where technology has the power to improve the way we work, Skanska’s Strategy department, home to Emerging Technology, is setting a new standard for how technology shapes construction and development. In this blog series, we’re sitting down with the leaders at the center of this movement. We want to know, what drives them in this work and how do they see it evolving?
We kick off the conversation with Vice President of Emerging Technology Michael (Mike) Zeppieri who joins us from Boston, Massachusetts.
How was technology used in construction when you joined Skanska?
When I entered the construction industry nearly ten years ago, conversations around technology and innovation largely centered around Building Information Modeling (BIM) and/or Virtual Design and Construction (VDC), and as a result, most technologists in construction had a BIM/VDC core.
While BIM/VDC still plays a large role in construction technology (contech), our universe is rapidly expanding to include other topics, technologies, digitalization and disruptions that do not necessitate a BIM/VDC background. I’m thinking about laser scanners, drones, digital twins, data analytics, robotics and industrialized construction.
It was a transformation in thinking similar to when we thought the earth was the center of the universe. There was a time when we thought BIM/VDC was the contech center. Now we realize that BIM/VDC is one of many enablers to a broader understanding of contech innovation.
How is Skanska’s approach to technology different today than in the past?
In the past, we gravitated toward what we thought were promising emerging technologies and then tried to get people excited about adopting them. The creation of Skanska’s Strategy function, and integration of Emerging Technology, shifted our thinking toward creating a culture of innovation.
Now, we’re starting with a problem statement or business opportunity and asking, who are the right people to solve for this? Then we form teams consisting of the right people, and layer in tools and technologies to enable those people to be successful and drive toward a business outcome.
Our approach is to also evaluate and validate the successful implementation of an emerging technology before we consider broad adoption and enterprise scaling.
Going back to the universe analogy, we’ve now placed people, not technology, at the center of the innovation universe. This shift is already yielding incredible results across our extended network of technologists, innovators, nerds, contech enthusiasts and strategic partners.
Construction as a space for the engineer and the creative
Taking a step back, were you always on a pathway to construction, technology and problem solving?
Growing up, I had two equally strong sides to my personality. One half was anchored in math and science, headed down the engineering path. The other half was very creative and nerdy, wandering a world of painting fantasy miniatures, building models, and of course, Star Wars.
Coming from an Italian immigrant working class family, and surrounded by a community of people who worked in the skill trades, I was drawn toward an industry like construction. Still, I had the privilege of attending a high school with an incredible art teacher who had a profound impact on my life, and who taught me everything from painting and drawing, to calligraphy, photography and quilting. My heart was in the arts.
Simultaneously, I also felt drawn to military service, inspired by the example set by my grandfather and uncle, who both served. There was a quality to their presence when they entered a room, and the worldliness and wisdom of their perspective, that I always attributed to their having served overseas.
My father’s down-to-earth nature always stuck with me too. He has a favorite saying, “At the end of the day, you have to put pasta on the table.”
The pull to expand my worldview and gain tools to problem solve won me over at the age of 17 to pursue undergraduate studies at West Point. I knew I could always keep up my passion for the arts on the side, which I continue to nurture to this day.
After graduating, I spent five years in the Army stationed in Europe, primarily supporting peacekeeping and nation building missions in the Balkans and Africa. I gained firsthand experience witnessing the societal impacts that construction can have. In my role I supported the construction of base camps, airfields, community infrastructure, and an HIV clinic in Botswana.
Living in Germany, I gained an appreciation for how European companies live their values. These experiences planted the seeds that ultimately led me to Skanska.
How did technology make its way into your career?
During my time in the Army, paperwork and manual processes were the backbone of our work. We were in the infancy of digitalization but I loved it. Along the way, new digital tools like spreadsheets and databases were becoming available to simplify and automate some processes.
My increasing interest in solving problems with technology ultimately inspired my decision to pursue graduate studies through MIT’s Leaders for Global Operations (LGO).
After MIT, I landed in a rotation program at Boeing, a partner company to LGO. One of my managers introduced me to a treasure trove of experiences in Information Technology (IT), even though I had no IT background. During that time, iPhones and iPads were just coming out. The “cloud” was suddenly a thing. Agile project management and “big data” were emergent.
I was at a massive company trying to figure out what to do with all these disruptions and technologies. I got this crash course in tackling large-scale digital transformation challenges.
How would you describe your day-to-day work in Emerging Technology?
One day I could be exploring the use of robotics. The next, I’m exploring industrialized construction and prefabricating wall panels and factories. Another day I’m discussing how to leverage technology to reduce our carbon footprint.
Layered over everything, 100 percent of my time is spent serving others. West Point instilled a servant leadership mentality in me that is core to how I approach my role.
My best day is when there’s a problem we’re trying to solve and we can’t quite crack it. You get creative and find someone in a completely different part of the organization who has this amazing idea. My job is to unleash the innovative talent we have hiding in every corner of our company, celebrate their amazing accomplishments, and help connect them to their like-minded peers.
Embracing technology and its transforming power
How is Skanska thinking differently about technology right now?
Everything we do in Emerging Technology is centered on uncovering and responding to organizational challenges. For us, innovation in construction starts with asking, what are the problems that the company needs us to solve? Or, what business opportunities do we need to seize to remain competitive in the future? And then asking, how do we address those problems or opportunities with technology?
That’s the journey we’re on right now. We’re defining problems and identifying what addressed challenges would be truly transformational for Skanska.
How does Skanska stand out here?
I always go back to our values. Across Skanska, Care for Life and Commit to Customer keep us laser-focused on what’s important. We build with others in mind, and a goal of shaping our future in a lasting way.
We’re leveraging technology to make the world a better place, in a safer way. Anytime technology can prevent one injury, or make our world a bit more sustainable, our leadership gets genuinely excited about it. The culture here is authentic and true.
Whatever we invest in from a technology perspective is always tied to a greater purpose—making a job site safer, driving societal impact, accelerating our sustainability goals, you name it. Our focus on technology is always related to improving our world. As the father of two young girls, I worry about the world we are leaving for them, but I feel in some small way through Skanska I can help make that outcome a bit brighter.