Behind the Build: Interview with Ed Launt, Information Technology System Administrator at HESS Construction

Keeping pace with the latest advancements is vital to staying competitive in just about any business environment. This holds especially true in the realm of tech and information technology. With new tools and security threats emerging constantly, firms must stay ahead of the latest developments and best practices to ensure they're using the latest and most secure solutions.

No one knows this better than Ed Launt, Information Technology System Administrator at HESS Construction. As the only IT person in the company, Ed looks after software adoption, tech configuration, security, and more. 

In a recent interview with Ed, we explored his path to becoming the IT administrator at HESS, and the key takeaways he's picked up along the way. 

Check out what he has to say. 

Tell me a little bit about HESS Construction and what you specialize in. 

HESS manages the planning, design, and construction for public and private clients in the Metropolitan area. With 45 years of experience, HESS is the premier regional builder. Founded in 1978, HESS has gone on to deliver more than 500 new and renovated facilities. While HESS initially focused on educational facilities, in recent years we have diversified our portfolio and expanded into new market sectors. We have provided preconstruction and construction services to a variety of facilities including government, educational, community, research/training, and cultural institutions like museums and libraries.

Regarding my role, I specialize in IT and I've been in the construction realm for almost ten years. I started at another general contractor, working my way from the help desk to networking infrastructure, all the way to management. HESS had an IT headhunter who reached out to me for several months trying to get me to interview as they were trying to transition off an MSP and go back to in-house IT. I eventually met with HESS and the rest was history. 

So I came over and started doing IT for them. I've been here for three and a half years. I'm the only IT guy here, and I look after all things information technology. From the acquisition and set up and configuration of technology, and security, I am IT for them.

Walk us through your career and what led you to become IT System Administrator. 

I've been doing IT-related work since the mid-nineties. Well, I actually started before that. In my youth, my first computer was given to me, a COMMODORE 64. I did some programming and played some games on it, which then carried into the early nineties when we were starting to get into the information superhighway, starting with AOL’s dial-up, and eventually RoadRunner’s broadband. I dabbled in how to fix things, how things work, and how they operate. I took apart many computers in this decade just to understand their components and how they work and what makes them better. 

Then that took me into the twenty-first century. I was in college, and I was still heavily involved with IT-related tasks. The funny thing is I went to school for civil engineering; I got a degree in that first, and then an automobile accident happened, which put me back into school because I didn't want to sit around and do nothing. So I went back to school for IT. I got my degree in 2007 and my first job was working for Dell as a technician. 

My career picked off from there. I worked my way up the ladder, and here I am now as an IT system administrator for a construction company. It's been fun, and it's been a good ride. 

IT is constantly evolving and never stagnant, so you're always learning new stuff. It's definitely keeping me busy. 

What is your proudest accomplishment in your career at HESS? Why? 

I can't say I have a single greatest accomplishment because IT is ever-evolving. You can't just implement something and say you're done with it because it's always going to change. You have to learn with it, and that's never going to stop. 

So there isn't just one accomplishment that shines. I would say as long as you're keeping your company engaged and involved—while keeping up with the latest technology—then you're doing as best as you can to make sure the business can thrive. 

As construction evolves, how do you see the role of IT System Administrator changing?

I don't know if the day-to-day function will change because you'll still need people who configure networks and systems and a general help desk. But as technology changes as a whole, I'm sure in the field, you'll be getting better equipment, better sensors, better ways of doing things in general by ways of IoT (Internet of Things). But from an IT standpoint, again, I'll go back to the evolution of how things change. Every six months, every year, things are continuously updating and coming out and you have to stay on top of that. 

One of the biggest things I've learned in my career is networking, keeping in touch with vendors or people who reach out via cold calls to try to sell stuff. It's always good to have those lines of communication because while you may not need the tool sets now, you never know what the future holds, you say, "Oh, I remember talking to such and such; they have connections with here, here, and here."

Then that opens up the communication for you to learn more about what's going on in the industry.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your role? How does technology help you overcome those challenges? 

Security is the biggest challenge I face, especially with today’s technology. It's a double-edged sword. Technology creates security, and it can also pave the way for breaches. 

Take, for example, e-mail. If we didn't have it, we'd still be using the postal service to send and receive deliverables. But email was developed; it's now one of the largest communication entities anybody can use across any environment. But it is also the focal point for most cybersecurity attacks. Statistically, 75% of all breaches start with a malicious email. You click a link or open an attachment and that’s when all of the fun begins. 

So for me, the biggest challenge is security and making sure that, while secure, everyone has constant access to the files and tools across the environment. In addition, making sure you keep up with proper training to help identify phishing and scam emails. One wrong move could ruin it for a company for days if not weeks.

And as with everything else that I've said, it's an evolution. You can't implement security and expect it to stay the same because that also evolves. You're always looking at new threats and advancements and figuring out the best ways to secure yourself from breaches and attacks.

Why are you excited about implementing Autodesk Build over the next few months? 

Autodesk has been around for decades in the software space, mainly for design. Everyone knows you for CAD and the ability to design. But from the construction management space, BIM 360 is where that started with Autodesk.

I was already aware of it back then, and I actually learned about it from another company as we went through the vetting process for construction management software. While they didn't go with Autodesk back then, I knew it was only a matter of time before they made a name for themselves in the construction management space. 

Then, when the new Build platform was presented, I put meetings on calendars in front of some HESS personnel who I knew would be the platform's main users. 

They began the vetting process early and went through the steps and procedures to see how Autodesk could step in and what the platform could do. 

We had a huge list of deliverables that HESS does daily, including the "must haves" and "nice to haves"—Autodesk Build, was it. The company delivered a solid product, and we're just excited to utilize what we hope will be the next big software management platform in the construction industry.

What made you want to partner with Autodesk on your projects? 

It was the overall communication, how much my team got together, and how much Autodesk was willing to give demonstrations and provide the knowledge we needed. The Autodesk team answered so many questions—I can't tell you how many questions we asked about features and functionality. 

Because it's one thing when you see an out-of-the-box product, but then it's something completely different when they're willing to build something for us and show us exactly how we're going to use it. And that's what Autodesk did for us. 

In my history, I have never seen another company go out of their way to build an environment in such a way that the Autodesk team did. It was an amazing process to go through. It took two months worth of meetings and demonstrations, with dozens of emails and questions to get to that point, but the Autodesk team flew in and had that final meeting with material for testing in the environment and ask any final questions to ensure functionality was present.

I walked over to the President’s office with our Director of Administration to quickly discuss the meeting and how we felt, giving it our blessing. Confident, the President let us make that ultimate decision and gave us the green light to sign off on it. We walked back to our conference room and the rest was history. 

When you think about the future, what are your plans to advance innovation and productivity at HESS?

My plans are the same no matter what type of company or environment. And that's always to stay on top of the latest technology to ensure the hardware and software are up-to-date and that we’re using the best tools available. 

It's about knowing what's out there and what's available. It's important to keep open lines of communication with vendors that you might not consider today but might be at the forefront of technology tomorrow. 

LinkedIn profiles are a huge thing. Going on social media and ensuring all your contacts are up-to-date and you're always reaching out minimally, if not just to say hi and follow up with conversations. But it's good to have those open lines of communication to help make sure we have the best technologies available as a company.

What advice would you give to the next generation of men and women entering and preparing for the future of the industry? 

The absolute best thing I can tell anyone is to embrace change. I say this to many of the old-timers here in the industry. A lot of them are stuck in their ways, and they're going to retire that way. But if they are willing to embrace change, whether it's new technologies or new processes, that's the biggest piece of information I can give anybody in any industry, really. 

Kelsee Campbell

As a Senior Customer Advocacy Program Manager at Autodesk, Kelsee has the privilege of working with Autodesk customers to champion their stories on the Digital Builder Blog. Kelsee strives to create an engaging experience that amplifies customer perspectives, fostering a sense of community and connection.