Early in Sandra Benson’s career, she was the only female in the company’s engineering department. She overheard someone say that she was going to be a “great booth babe.”
Benson laughs about it now.
“I said, ‘I will never be a booth babe,’” said Benson, Worldwide Head of Engineering, Construction and Real Estate with Amazon Web Services. “If anyone ever talked with me about any sales roles, I was a nope.”
But she wasn’t entirely sold on a path in building sciences either. Her father assumed she would pursue liberal arts and that her brother would get into engineering.
How it played out was much different: Benson graduated with her undergrad in Electrical Engineering from Georgia Tech. After school, she worked for an architectural and engineering company.
“I loved it once I got into it,” Benson said. “I enjoyed the design side but then I was drafted into a software project and found I enjoyed the business side of it. ERP (enterprise resource planning) was a new term to the AEC industry, and it was my goal to be a liaison between the architects and engineers with corporate finance. I had a lot of fun with it.”
After this, Benson decided to attend Georgia State University to obtain her MBA.
Benson’s career is filled with transitions through business acquisition. She spent more than 10 years with J.D. Edwards & Company before it was acquired by PeopleSoft. Eventually, PeopleSoft was acquired by Oracle.
Through each acquisition, Benson stayed on. She’s had the opportunity to travel all over the world for work.
Then she retired, figuring that she might do some independent consulting and continue teaching Pilates – a passion of hers for more than 20 years. But she quickly saw that retirement wasn’t much fun. So, she went back into the construction technology industry by joining Hexagon.
This is when Amazon Web Services found her, and where she’s spent the last couple of years. In her role, Benson oversees the strategy and execution of building specific solution areas across AWS’ largest global customers at the intersection of Operational Technologies and Information Technologies. She helps clients integrate digital technologies with their organizations and processes to achieve both qualitative and quantitative benefits.
Benson works closely with the AWS partner ecosystem and AWS software engineering teams to ensure joint development and delivery of capabilities across the sector.
It’s by far her best job.
“Cloud technology is transforming the construction industry, which is widely acknowledged to be the least productive and least digitized industry,” she said. “By breaking down data silos and the use of IoT, edge computing and AI/ML, we will be able to address the productivity issue as well as provide many other benefits such as worker safety, sustainability, and project predictability.”
She adds: “The ability to know in real (or close to real time) project data enabling analysis of where we are – it’ll be predictive and, ultimately, prescriptive.”
Transforming the Construction Industry
Benson says her mission in life is to increase productivity in the construction industry. She believes cloud computing is a strong reason the industry can and will transform.
“Cloud computing is how you can get things into one place -- it gives us a basis,” she said. “The cloud breaks up the silos of data so that it can be accessed and used to build a smarter building, a smarter city, smarter infrastructure and ecosystem.”
Benson has become known as a construction expert. She joined the Building Information Management (BIM) Executive Roundtable in February to discuss the need for a National BIM Program to improve the relationships, performance, and profitability of the increasingly digitalized AECO industry.
She also actively participates in the NIBS Women Executives in Building virtual leadership series, and the meetings take place quarterly.
“[WEB] is extremely important to me,” Benson said. “We’re facing a labor shortage. I think women can make a huge difference in construction, we just need to change the perception of the industry.”
But construction is a big industry, and Benson thinks some women may find that daunting.
“Construction is perceived to be a dirty industry,” she said. “I kind of think of the construction world as becoming defined more as dusty through the use of technology.”