Behind the Build: Interview with George Rodriguez, Director of Cost at Urban Atelier Group

George Rodriguez UAG

The advancement of technology is undoubtedly one of the most important aspects happening in the construction industry. As the industry continues to evolve and advance with technology, it is important to remember that the tools only work when the right people are using them. No one understands this better than George Rodriguez, Director of Cost at Urban Atelier Group (UAG). George spent a significant part of his career building tech-savvy teams and strongly advocates for embracing technology to empower—not replace—the workforce.   

We recently caught up with George and asked him to walk us through his career in construction.   

 Dive into our conversation below.  

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

Urban Atelier Group is a boutique construction management firm in New York City. As the Director of Cost, I implement and administer project management systems and cost control policies to ensure accurate and transparent reporting for the firm.  

Walk us through your career and what led you to becoming Director of Cost. 

Ever since I was a child, I’ve had a passion for architecture and New York City. During high school, I joined an architecture program that led to a college scholarship with a global construction management firm.   

While studying architecture, I was exposed to the construction management industry and quickly became intrigued by that side of the business. I found it so fascinating to work alongside key stakeholders, owners, architects, engineers, and contractors—while having my boots on the ground coordinating work and contributing to the design vision. It seemed like the perfect fit for me.    

So, I pursued and landed an internship with another large-scale construction management firm. Upon graduation, I was hired full-time as an assistant project manager.  During my second project assignment, I managed budget and cost controls for constructing a charter high school in the Bronx. I was fortunate to be assigned to the project during the early stages of pre-construction and remained a key player through closeout and turnover to the client.   

That experience showed me the life cycle of a construction project and the evolution of a project budget. The success of that project resulted in an offer with the Cost department at their corporate headquarters. In my remaining time at that firm, I toggled between the Cost department and Operations as a Project Manager to round out my skill set.  

Fast forward about seven years ago, I joined UAG as one of the first five employees. Today, we're a 150-person company with over 30 developments built and under construction.  

Currently, I lead the Cost department as well as provide direction to UAG's technological advances and data-driven enhancements to reporting, workflows, systems, and controls. 

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

My proudest accomplishment has been being an integral part of the growth and scalability of UAG over the last seven years. Even more so, I'm pleased that I've built a lean and efficient team of technologically keen individuals who understand the nuances of construction finance. My team can implement and adapt to new technologies as our industry evolves--all while building integrations between our operational and financial systems. These initiatives have been and will continue to be instrumental to the success of UAG.  

As construction evolves, how do you see the role of Director of Cost changing? 

While the ideals of how UAG operates as a firm won't necessarily change, how we approach construction management will undoubtedly evolve.    

We've proven we have a strong organizational structure and processes. However, there's always room for advancement as we continue to develop our practice. My role as Director of Cost is evolving, and my focus has shifted to further analyze and leverage the firm's KPIs and historical data as UAG plans for future work. I look forward to the continued enhancement, automation, and integration of our systems to streamline our workflows and reporting. 

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

Due to the fast-paced nature of our business, especially in New York, we must be able to make decisions quickly and intelligently. 

There is an overwhelming amount of data relating to all aspects of construction—including safety, productivity, scheduling, cost, resource planning, and the list goes on. Knowing how to leverage data to make timely business decisions has proven to be challenging.   

It's vital to have technology capable of organizing these data points while offering features like OpenAPI to connect the information between systems. Ultimately, our solutions should supply users with enriched analytics and customizable dashboards in real-time.  

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

We implemented Autodesk Build at the end of 2021, and the implementation of Autodesk Construction Cloud has been highly successful for UAG.    

In six weeks, we launched a platform across four of our newest projects, and due to Autodesk's focus on usability and interface design, the platform adoption was seamless. Our colleagues were and are still pleased to have powerful construction management and administrative software with a minimal learning curve.  

I look forward to Autodesk's continued product development to enhance our user experience while providing even more powerful technology toolsets. Having all the features in one place is the most significant change from BIM 360 to Autodesk Build. There's no moving in and out of modules, and the connection of things is easier to interpret. The usability and having everything selected in one login system are super beneficial for us. 

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

It's easy to feel intimidated by technology as it advances, and there's a natural fear behind technology replacing the human aspect of a job or trying to learn a new platform.    

With that said, the perception is shifting, and companies must advocate for technology within their culture because these advancements supplement the workforce, not replace them.    

The benefits of artificial intelligence and machine learning will lead us to more streamlined workflows, less human error, and ultimately a better working experience for our industry. 

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

I advocate for internships--what you learn in school is one thing, but internships offer the practical experience of understanding the potential of your career.  

One piece of advice that resonated with me early in my career is never to allow yourself to get too comfortable. When you find that you’re too comfortable in your role, it often leads to complacency. It’s essential to constantly challenge the norm and remind yourself (and your team) to reevaluate the process within your practice. There is always room for improvement, especially in the continuously evolving world of technology. 

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.