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Technology implementation: Q&A with IFMA Scholar, Mahnaz Ensafi

The following is a transcript of IFMA's Podcast Connected FM episode 7: "Procon Consulting - An Interview with Mahnaz Ensafi, IFMA Scholar."

Stephen DeVito: Hello everyone. This is Steven DeVito with ProCon Consulting. I'm the Director of Technology for our company. We are a construction management firm that does owner's rep work. So we manage design and construction projects. We have estimating, scheduling commissioning, inspection services, and my group specializes in improving processes through the building life cycle so that we can achieve a better future together. And that involves a lot of technology. Technology including building information, modeling, virtual design and construction, GIS digital twins, and Internet of Things. We are very excited to be here at IFMA.

This is my first time and I'm here with Mahnaz Ensafi, who recently became a ProCon employee and I'm just so proud of her because she's an IFMA scholar this year and in the past years I believe. And we're going to have Manaz tell a little bit about her story. Mahnaz, thank you for doing this last minute, by the way this is fun. Introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about who you are. 

Mahnaz Ensafi: Okay. Hello, I'm Mahnaz Ensafi. I recently defended my PC dissertation in work order maintenance and work order prioritization. I joined ProCon in July in the tech division, and I've been involved with different projects, implementing technology as well as processes as Steve discussed.

Stephen DeVito: That's great. So what got you interested into the building life cycle and building-centric area of study? What drew you into that? 

Mahnaz Ensafi: So my background is in architecture, but through my Ph.D. and my advisor research, I got involved more with facility management. I got interested in that topic because it directly impacts occupants and everything, services, and businesses, and that's why I chose to continue with that rail.

Stephen DeVito: That's interesting. When you look at the facilities management part of it, how do you see that relating to the other life cycle phases of a building? Like a building changes over time? Can you talk a little bit about how you think of that? 

Mahnaz Ensafi:  80% of the cost of a building is after it's built, after construction, meaning operation and maintenance. So that's the biggest part of the building. And obviously, anything that is done in design and construction directly impacts the cost and the service that is provided and the quality. Basically anything.

Stephen DeVito: That's a great way to look at it. So maybe understanding your vision a little bit more, how you're thinking about the overall industry. I just wanted to touch on the IFMA Foundation and how you have been involved with that. You've been a scholar at least this year and maybe you could talk a little bit about how you came to be involved with IFMA Foundation and your experience. 

Mahnaz Ensafi: Sure. I joined IFMA the second or third semester of my Ph.D. being introduced by one of my committee members who is involved with IFMA, Dr. Denise, and that was when I was introduced. I joined the Capital Chapter as well. Getting the scholarship was a great opportunity. It allowed me to attend IFMA, get to know more about this industry and meet amazing people. Everyone tries to help you here. You get connected with the industry and what's going on. That is basically the support that we get from IFMA Foundation. I have been trying to give back a little by being more active in the Capital Chapter as well as the young professionals, which I invite any students to join. I'm sure it's gonna benefit them. 

Stephen DeVito: That's great. And so how long has the IFMA Foundation been doing this scholarship program and about how many scholars graduated and where are they today? Are they working in the industry for the IFMA Foundation?

Mahnaz Ensafi: I don't have accurate information on that. This year I think there were 26, 27 students who got the scholarship, which was amazing. But, it depends, obviously if you're doing an undergrad, graduate, or a Ph.D. I think people go to different directions. I think they stay in touch with the industry, obviously. And I'm not sure if they're specifically involved with the Foundation or not, but absolutely IFMA.

Stephen DeVito: That's really good to know. So maybe what we can do now is shift to some of the work you did with us during the Virginia Myers Lawson School of Construction Grant program with our research into the use of legged robots for construction progress monitoring. How you were involved with that project? I can tee it up a little bit by saying that ProCon Consulting, we really view the future of building management and life cycle management as reality-based first. Reality first. And that means that we have the opportunity not to use $40,000 scanners to do, months-long laser scans of buildings. But because of the way that technology has advanced, we can simply put $400 cameras on the hard hats of people who are already walking a job site and capture those conditions.

Instead of having a camera on the hard hat of our inspectors, could we send a robot dog, namely Boston Dynamics spot robot into the field and that is the research we did generally, but maybe Mahnaz you can talk a little bit about your specific involvement in that.

Mahnaz Ensafi: That was obviously not my main project, but I was fortunate to be involved through research with Dr. Kra Shaster at Virgina Tech and mostly trying to help with the experiments as well as doing research on what has been done and what needs to be done moving forward. So I think that was my main involvement with that project, which is amazing. I know we tested more for construction, but it obviously has applications for facility management as well. 

Stephen DeVito: Yes, absolutely. What was the larger research project that you were involved in? Maybe you can touch on the specifics of your Ph.D. 

Mahnaz Ensafi: My Ph.D. research was focused on automating maintenance work order prioritization. It was three years of research interviews with industry experts. I did survey collecting information of how the existing process works what are the challenges and gaps, and try to address some of them hoping that it would help the industry. 

Stephen DeVito: You've automated the prioritization of work orders in some fashion. Maybe you can talk about how that's been accomplished?

Mahnaz Ensafi: As we all know, automation comes right now all from AI. Artificial intelligence. So that's what I also use to automate this process using historical work order schedules and some new information from the facility.

Stephen DeVito: Great. That's very exciting and Mahnaz we really appreciate you being on the ProCon team.

Mahnaz is the very first Ph.D. at ProCon. We couldn't be more thrilled and proud to have her on board. And as we go forward, we're gonna make sure that we can position you in ways in the work that we're doing so that you can apply all this great expertise you've developed in your academic career, in your involvement with IFMA. I just wanna say thank you, Mahnaz, and it's been a really fun time interviewing you. Thank you. I appreciate it.

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