With Whistler roots, a local technology company is helping shape the future of construction
words :: MJ Castor
The construction industry is notoriously slow to change, but big data is everywhere now—and when it comes to capturing key information on exactly how your home (or school or hospital) came together, the industry leader is Multivista, a local company with ski bum roots.
In the late 1990s, Luis Pascual was an electrician living in his pop-top Volkswagen van and skiing all winter. “I had wired a baseboard heater into my van and would plug in at the jobsites and just live there, so it was quite comfortable,” he says. Living on the jobsite, hiking for his turns, and working on the big hotels being built at the “new” Whistler Creekside, Pascual began to notice inefficiencies in the process.
“A lot of the time my work, or the work of the plumber or another trade, would get inadvertently boarded over with drywall, and we’d have to tear down a brand new wall to find or fix something.”
Pascual was reminded of this waste of time and materials a few months later when his work as a maintenance manager required him to, again, tear down entire walls to find and fix a small issue in a precise location.
“Between doing maintenance and having to cut holes everywhere to find things, or being called back to tear open the walls of custom homes I’d wired—that was the genesis,” Pascual says. “I figured there had to be a way to make a permanent record so guys like me don’t have to go around cutting holes everywhere to find work we’ve already done.”
By this point, digital cameras were available but Pascual knew that keeping thousands of photographs of construction sites on hard drives was impractical, given how long it would take to find the right image. The photos would only work if they were tied to a digital version of the building’s floor plans, making it easy to locate the image of the exact spot. It was time to call in a tech genius. Luckily Pascual’s high school windsurfing buddy, Graham Twigg, was an aeronautical engineer studying in Vancouver at the time.
“Luis always had entrepreneurial ideas that didn’t work,” Twigg says. “He’d say things like, ‘I am gonna drill holes in river rocks and sell them as climbing holds’ and I would be the cynic asking questions about how long it took to do that, or how much it costs to ship rocks around the world. But with this, it wasn’t a terrible idea. I told him to give me a week—I didn’t really know how to program it but I was an arrogant engineer back then—we made something simple, tested it out, and pretty soon we had the first Multivista Documentation System.”
“I had a lot of ideas and I knew I would embarrass myself the least with Graham,” Pascual says. “My motto at the time was ‘Graham will figure it out.’ And he did.”
Multivista works like this: a trained specialist comes to a jobsite at pre-arranged key milestones—before a concrete slab is poured, or before the drywall goes up—and photographs everything. The overlapping photos are then uploaded to an interactive floorplan that can be used by owners, architects, general contractors, the trades, and inspectors—anyone with access. Users can flag issues, drop pins, create notes, share photos and stay up-to-date with exactly how their project is being built. After a few years working out the kinks, Multivista officially opened for business in 2003.
Selling the idea as a professional service rather than a DIY software solution quickly became the smart call, but convincing the notoriously old-school construction industry to buy a new service they had never needed in the past posed challenges.
“Neither of us knew much about selling,” Twigg says. “We thought, ‘if we build something great, they will come.’”
They didn’t. So Wade Shaw, a friend with contacts in Vancouver and Sea to Sky construction, joined the team to convince an industry that the ability to see behind the walls and go back in time to watch a build come together was an essential time and money-saver; reducing rework and avoiding litigation.
“Wade was a grinder,” Pascual says. “He’d stake out and prowl around jobsites waiting for the homeowner to come by and then he’d jump out and say, ‘Wanna see something cool?’ We gained a lot of early traction through his perseverance.”
That work ethic led to a solid business in Vancouver, then franchises in the US. Now, Multivista has over 70 offices and 500+ employees around the world, from South America to Europe and the Middle East. In 2016, a global information technology powerhouse called Hexagon AB purchased Multivista and further cemented the company—still run from Vancouver with Twigg and his tech team based in Victoria—as a powerhouse in the (finally happening) construction technology revolution.
Conceptually however, Multivista hasn’t changed much since those early days—it’s still shareable information designed to let everyone work more efficiently. Cloud-based from the get-go to make it more useful for people on the jobsite, the system’s the core photographic documentation has been beefed up with 3D laser scanning, UAV drones, video services, immersive walkthroughs, and measurable images—a feature Pascual and Twigg used to daydream about.
“We always envisioned being able to take measurements from photos, we just didn’t know how that would happen,” Twigg says. “Now with laser scans it’s a reality. Two-dimensional photos are still our core business but looking ahead at the next 15 years I see us working towards digitizing the entire jobsite in a measurable way. The future is exciting.”
Running an international business in a ski town comes with its own challenges however. “I thought we had a get rich quick scheme that was easier than working for the man,” says Pascual, who lives in Squamish and spends most of his free time biking and skiing with his family. “Then we sold it and it requires more work than ever. I sometimes think about those days living in the van, or wonder how stress-free serving burgers at the Roundhouse would be.”
Pascual still drives a fully camperized van, just in case. —ML