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Tower of Babel: What’s the REAL Issue in Roofing Technology?

There is a lot of talk in the roofing industry these days about the problem of getting technology applications to “talk to each other” and effectively work together. In fact, in a recent industry Roofing Technology Think Tank (RT3) meeting, they focused on this issue.

When I was asked to help introduce this topic to the group, I thought it would be important to first understand how we got here and then frame the problem in such a way that would help us penetrate to the root cause.

Within the past decade, the roofing industry has experienced somewhat of a technology revolution. A traditionally paper- and manual-based business, the industry started to adopt technology en masse much later than most other industries. When tech companies started seeing how they could help contractors get better and more efficient by solving certain problems in their business using technology, roofing contractors were quick to jump on the bandwagon.

Suddenly, the proliferation of apps began to accelerate. Contractors went from working inefficiently on pads of paper to managing upwards of 20 apps to perform a plethora of discrete functions, E.G. accounting, estimating, etc. Now contractors are faced with multiple apps and devoting up to 50% of their time manually pushing and pulling data from each app in order to run their business.

If you think the issue is software not talking to each other, you need to go beyond that. Think about the infamous Tower of Babel. Everybody could talk to each other, but because they were speaking different languages, there was a lack of understanding.
The deeper issue is one of meaning and understanding. Technology companies use API (Application Programming Interface) to address the translation issue by standardizing data sets and file formats.

A good example is Google. It asks for a huge API that requires a certain format from the user to experience the benefits of Google’s search engine. Google search does a great job at content and form but lacks meaning. Think about it: what happens when you do a Google search? You need to interpret the meaning of the results; it’s not automatic.

Similarly, in the roofing industry, one contractor’s “estimate” is another contractor’s “proposal” based on their business model and specialty. Even architectural terms within the industry vary by region. We cannot solve this problem with technology alone. Technology apps can only work with the terms and instructions given to them. It’s well known that the roofing industry lacks the standardization it needs to reach its true potential. We are seeing that the challenge is not just technology and APIs, it’s actually a common language for how the whole industry communicates with one another.

The consensus reached by the RT3 is that, in order to truly solve the technology issue, we have to solve the issue of total industry standardization to bring a common language and framework that the technology companies can help reinforce and propagate throughout the industry.

One thing that contributes to a lack of standardization in the roofing industry is education. Accounting, technology, medicine — they all have standardized education formats where people come out of and they can learn the latest standardization formats. Roofing does not have that. Companies are starting to work with the Roofing Alliance to get technology curriculum into major universities, but that is just the start.

Organizations like the National Roofing Contractors Association and Roofing Alliance have started the industry standardization process with professional certifications and even new college curriculums focused on roofing.

So as we frame up the problem, let’s make sure we think about the local level and think about it at the larger, industry level, because some industries have mastered that. For example, the healthcare industry did a great job of this with HL7 protocols that allowed everyone in the healthcare ecosystem to call everything the same thing — medications, hospital processes, etc.

We need to get back to the basics where we are able to understand each other first. Understanding how we communicate within our business will then help us communicate within the ecosystem with a fundamental base-line terminology and software that connects all areas of our business and ecosystem.

-Steven White

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