Trading Center Stage for VR Goggles
Dana Erdman’s once Second-City-inspired career plans landed at the corner of Hermitage and Armitage. This pivot led her down the path to become B&A’s first Technology & Innovation Director. Learn how she became the first of her kind at B&A.
Let’s start from the top. How did your career begin?
I graduated with a degree in theater arts management, specializing in play writing and management. What can I say, I have a passion for theater. However, for me, maintaining work in the Chicago theater scene was difficult. I found that taking odd jobs here and there suited me better than waiting for my big break.
When I came to B&A, I was given the opportunity to put my roots down and explore other talents. I felt like I had found a home rather than just the next “gig.”
Tell us about your first role at Bulley & Andrews?
When I was hired, I was tasked with coordinating contracts and insurance, which was a labor intensive, data entry process. That job led me to my first foray to technology. I converted that manual process to a paperless one by leveraging scanning capabilities. This was not only a sustainability improvement, but also, an efficiency improvement, as it has saved staff valuable time.
Next, I worked with project accounting and billing, helping with subcontractor invoices and documenting projects’ economic impact achievements. As the company grew, I did too, ascending to Paul Hellermann’s Assistant, B&A’s President Emeritus. This was a life-changing experience for me. Paul was someone I will always remember as a highly-respectable human who led with dignity, patience, and good nature.
Before he passed away in 2017, Paul encouraged me to research and expand B&A’s technology practices. At the time, B&A was looking for a new project management system. Because I had been involved in so many different facets of the organization, I was asked to be a part of a group that researched, procured, implemented, and evaluated the new system. From there, we needed support in the office with technology and I was designated the “go-to”.
Take us through a day in your shoes.
My alarm goes off at 4:00 a.m. First order of business is my dog, Peanut, who’s a mut-mix of hound and shar-pei. She is six years old and runs the house. After Peanut is walked, fed, and settled, I usually spend an hour on my Peloton bike, which is how I get myself mentally prepared for the day.
My favorite part of my morning routine is my commute. I enjoy having my first cup of coffee while listening to the news or music. By the time I pull into B&A’s parking lot, I am ready to face the day. Then, from 7:00 am to 5:00 pm, it’s everything from troubleshooting computers, to researching a new product, to talking to management about a project’s technology strategy. No two days are the same.
How do you describe what you do for a living to others?
I identify and implement the best technology-based solutions to proactively solve B&A’s current and future problems. I am responsible for moving our firm forward in the most efficient and innovative manner possible, while strategizing how to best serve our clients. I view this process as a holistic one – there’s not a “one size fits all” solution for the challenges we need to overcome. I am constantly looking at ideas and strategies from multiple angles.
Being present and coming to the table with ideas that put B&A at the vanguard of the industry, on the construction and the technology side, is another large part of my job. Staying ahead of the curve ensures our employees can produce their highest quality work. An example of this is the Knaack Data Vaults. Populating jobsites with this technology equates to teams spending less time in a trailer and more time onsite with the information necessary to inform decisions and drive solutions.
Lastly, I collect feedback. There’s a game called, “Yes, and…” in improv. The game challenges players to continue scenes and embrace other cast members’ ideas. Listening to what people have to say, what they want, what’s working, and what’s not, is a lot like this game. Feedback helps me avoid problems down the road and enables me to make informed recommendations and decisions about what the organization needs most.
“Yes…and” what are your goals as B&A’s Technology & Innovation Director?
My goals are to keep B&A current and relevant. What’s special about this place is that it’s still family-owned and it feels like it when you’re in the business, every day. Allan E. Bulley, Jr., Executive Chairman and the firm’s third generation leader, says good morning to me everyday when I see him walk into his office, which is kitty-corner to mine. The Bulley family supports each employee, influencing us to do our best work. They have helped me celebrate my achievements in equal measure to helping me overcome challenges. This caring nature is passed down in the firm and because of it, colleagues look out for each other here.
Taking this family-owned business spirit and molding it with everything that’s happening, technologically speaking, is my source of motivation. I want to keep B&A moving forward while also keeping the family-business mentality intact. It’s a hard balance to maintain, but it’s what makes us so unique.
Other than waking up at 4 am every morning, what are some of your accomplishments of which you’re most proud?
Writing and publishing B&A’s first tech newsletter is my latest. With technology, it can be easy to overwhelm employees with details. Because of that, I was hesitant to issue a newsletter. At first, I didn’t want to broadcast everything I was spearheading, but after the idea was well-received, I implemented the effort with the goal of being more transparent. As a result, employees know what B&A is doing on the technology front. This has also opened the doors for people to provide feedback, which is key to my success as a director.
I am also proud of how we’ve embraced Virtual Design and Construction (VDC), particularly virtual (VR) and augmented reality (AR). B&A has been able to weave both into our business practices, seamlessly. From our early RFP responses, to when we are selected as a partner for a project, our team is taking full advantage of what VR and AR have to offer our clients and how they are valuable to our continued success.
Where do you find inspiration?
Well, I just finished a two-month bathroom renovation at my bungalow, which was two months too long if you ask me. After going through that process, I am really inspired by just about anything. (I should have hired B&A!)
From a professional standpoint, I recently visited the Rush Copley’s NICU addition site to give a VR presentation. I spoke with the nurses, directors, and administrators in order to learn what they needed most to plan their spaces. When I am directly involved in making sure spaces are developed and built to fully-support our clients… that, to me, is the biggest inspiration.
What are the keys to a successful day in your role?
Time management, collaboration, and getting away from my desk to visit project sites are essential. Technology should not be a barrier. It’s a tool of efficiency, so having face time with employees and project teams is key to my success. Simply put, a successful day is when I can find a solution to a problem.
What is your favorite part about Bulley & Andrews?
The best part of B&A is the opportunity to grow. Employees can start from an entry level position, where they might realize they’d like to take their talents to different avenues of the organization. Being supported to carve your own path at B&A is incredibly encouraging. It is a large part of why I am in the position I am in today.
Another great aspect is that B&A is family-owned. To be able to work directly with senior leadership and management teams here is a huge bonus. While other companies might go through additional channels to get approvals for decisions, I am able to come to the office everyday and walk into Tim Puntillo’s office, B&A’s President, to share an idea and receive direction on how to move forward.
What do you wish B&A had?
“Bring Your Dog To Work Day.” I would also be open to an office fish.
What is most important to you?
What matters most to me is being an ally for our staff and others in this industry.
Construction was never an industry I pictured myself in. For a while, I thought I was going to be an actress, a tornado chaser, or a volcanologist climbing on top of volcanoes. Having spent the last third of my life at Bulley & Andrews, it’s important that I am someone who can give back and help other people experience success. It can be a challenging industry, but I want people to have the same chance to succeed as I have.