Let’s talk about VDC feat. Katie Montag, VP of Technology & Innovation at Knutson Construction
NewCrew sat down with Katie Montag, the current VP of Technology and Innovation at Knutson Construction based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In our Q&A, Katie breaks down the importance of VDC technology for modern construction companies, qualities she looks for in a potential team member, and discusses her unique path to working in VDC.
The VDC role isn't super well known, even amongst people that have been in the construction or engineering industries for a long time. Can you explain what a VDC engineer does and how it differs from a more traditional CAD or BIM technician?
VDC (Virtual Design and Construction) is a constantly evolving space. Your traditional BIM or CAD position, especially on the design side, is primarily focused on content-creation. That is creating Revit families, creating standards, being able to provide those to another project team that is modeling, doing construction documents, and or drafting those details day-to-day.
On the VDC construction side of things, I think the key differences [are] probably looking at how the technology is adopted and implemented to more than just your project team.
Can you elaborate a little more on that?
On the design side, maybe you have a group of five individuals who are working on a project and you're providing your Revit content to them. On the construction side, you are not only implementing technology for your VDC team, but you're also bringing it out into the field. You're trying to get a superintendent, you're trying to get a project manager, you're trying to get an owner to adopt technology and to leverage it, and then that stems all the way down into subcontractors. I would say there's a lot more touch points that you get to have, and you provide a service as well as the tools and technologies that get used by others. VDC is not just based off of an internal use, it's used for external-facing adoption as well. Then, I would say the gamut of software varies greatly between projects. On the architecture side of things, there's a few key softwares that get used, where on the construction side, on any given day, we're probably touching 10 different softwares to be able to bring it out to the field. We can take the design model [and] elevate it to be used for true construction in the field of visualization. We find this convergence of the design and the construction with that technology that we have.
Can you talk about the importance of the VDC division at Knutson and the impact that that your team has on the company as a whole?
The VDC team is involved from pursuit and early early project phases -- all the way to final closeout. We have the opportunity to build a relationship internally with those project teams throughout -- and it's also a big part of our culture of innovation and collaboration that we have. There's very few projects that go without at least some form of VDC support. It may not be your $160 million project that has just about every service out there, but we do use our 360 cameras, we use our Matterport scanners on there, as well. We get the opportunity to leverage that on a whole scale of uses; it has become part of who we are. No longer do we go into a project without planning to use some of that software. Our pre-construction department relies on it and takes that VDC skill that we have and continues to use it for their process as well. It's not an ancillary service, as it maybe used to be, it's really integral as part of our process and how we pursue and build projects.
So you guys have integrated VDC into a lot of your projects. Are you finding more and more companies are bringing on VDC departments? Where would you say you’re a leader in the space?
I would say what we're spearheading is that we're tailoring our technology to the projects. We don't just throw technology at a job simply for the sake of throwing technology on it. What you may experience in us on one job, you may not see on the other job. We have the ability to adjust and tweak our tools based off of the right fit for the project. We want to be very concentrated in our efforts, and that's the unique differentiator about Knutson – we use the technology on all of our projects but in very different applications.
Whether it's hard tech skills, or softer skills, like leadership or adaptability, what do you look for when bringing in a new member of your team?
One of the most critical skills that I see is being able to have influence and being able to convey a new approach or a new technology. I think technical skills can be learned over time, but having the innate [ability to] influence, share, teach, and train is one of our most successful traits that we have. A self-starter habit is another big component. In construction, you're going to be faced with a little bit of adversity to technology because it is traditionally done, [with] more of the boots-on-the-ground, in-person experienced tools that the teams know well. You have to be that self-starter to meet people where they're at. They [the construction teams] may have gone through a different experience but you need to kind of elevate and show them where they need to go. That's where the empathy, the compassion, and also the soft-skills really come into play.
I'd love to hear about your path to VDC and about your path to Knutson. Could you talk a little about that?
I went for [a Master of] architecture degree. My background is in project architect role. NDSU is where I completed my studies… I actually did the traditional architecture path for the first seven years of my career. I did all the drafting, being able to create that content, learn Revit deeply and understand the software, and then moved into that project architect role. But through that whole process, I always really gravitated towards the use of 3D modeling, and that's really where I found my passion. When I was learning Revit, I had a really great opportunity to help transition one of my first firms I ever worked at from a 2D environment, a CAD environment, to a 3D [one]… And that kind of sparked that interest for me to continue to grow that 3D modeling side of things. I just saw a different application for it than just the drafting… And that led me into a BIM manager role in the design firm, being able to lead their standards and more of that traditional BIM seat as well.
How did you find yourself at Knutson?
Eventually, I was asked to come join Knutson to help lead, or reinvigorate, their VDC team. Our market is very competitive in that space. We've got some national firms here as well that we're trying to compete against on projects, so they wanted to be able to really compete on some of those with our technology. I came to Knutson, making a jump from the architecture side to the construction side, and then was able to help build up their VDC department along with the rest of the team. The applications for the technology is endless – there's always room to be growing and evolving. What we looked at yesterday, is not what it's going to be tomorrow. It's been a fun space to try and to stay on that leading edge of our software.
So what has been your favorite part about working for Knutson?
The team, hands down. We challenge each other, we have the opportunity to be able to push each other, but not with questioning, with really wanting to advance our company and advance each other. It's fun to see everyone get involved in that process, working alongside our superintendents, working with our project team and project managers, and then working with our pre-construction. This company has that culture of investment into its own people, and that really reflects how we've been able to also invest into our innovation and our technology space as well.
Can you explain how investment into people leads into investment in the company?
I'm a product of investment into people 100 percent. I came to Knutson a little over five years ago, and they took an investment into me to be able to build up this VDC team. Over the course of five years, they have continually been able to provide opportunities for me to grow. Moving from the manager position, to the director position, to now our VP of Tech and Innovation -- that reinvestment into our own staff and our own teams really allows us to continue to grow that next generation. It also shows how we are invested in that technology because I wouldn't have a job if we weren't investing in both people and technology. I'm a walking, talking example of how Knutson has invested in both the technology and the people.