First-of-its-kind cyber research center demands unique approach to construction

Jan. 10, 2019

This paid piece is sponsored by Journey Group.

Even the moniker – MadLabs – suggests there’s something extraordinary brewing in the building under construction at Dakota State University.

And there is.

The Madison Cyber Labs, or MadLabs as it has come to be known, is a first-of-its-kind project for Dakota State, for construction manager at risk Journey Group and for the students, faculty and other researchers who will use it.

“It’s one-of-a-kind,” said John Reiser, Journey’s project manager. “Some of the uniqueness of the building adds different elements and criteria that are not typically found in any project.”

The $14 million building is the vision of DSU president José-Marie Griffiths, who sees it as a way to bring applied research and development to the campus for each of the university’s four colleges: the Beacom College of  Computer and Cyber Sciences, the College of Education, the College of Business and Information Systems, and the College of Arts and Sciences.

Each will build upon and grow its research in the 40,000-square-foot space.

“It’s a watershed moment for the university,” said Josh Pauli, DSU’s vice president for research and economic development.

“It’s our first building dedicated to research. It doesn’t have classrooms or faculty offices other than some small administrative office space and a big briefing room. The heart of the building is an open concept, very flexible with very few walls, and we did that on purpose so we have cross-pollination of research ideas.”

Some of the labs included in the building will be:

  • Adapt Lab: Research in Adaptive Technologies.
  • C-BAR Lab: Center for Business Analytics Research.
  • CAHIT: Center for the Advancement of Health Information Technology.
  • Campus IT Living Lab: Campus digital technology, digital test environment.
  • DigForCE Lab: Digital Forensics for Cyber Enforcement.
  • Cyber Education: Expand cyber education to K-12 teachers and students across South Dakota.
  • PATRIOT: Protection and Threat Research for the Internet of Things.

Other future research will focus on areas such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, threat monitoring and simulated attacks.

“It’s really a test bed for technology,” Pauli said. “We’ll be doing research on things like smart appliances, smart water heaters, things like Alexa and smart door locks. We really want the MadLabs to be hands-on. I joke that we want their research to be a spectator sport, but we do want people to come in and have it be readily available to be viewed and have it explained. Much of this work is applicable to everyday life, and it’s even fun.”

There also will be many areas that very few people will experience. That’s because there’s significant interest in the space from specialized clients, which is what makes the building so unique from a construction standpoint.

“We have an extremely secured construction site. We have to do background checks to make sure we’re clearing whoever works on the job site. Gates are always closed, so scheduling and on-time deliveries are critical,” Reiser said.

“We have a badging system to get into the job site. And we have to make sure our communication is clear and intentional because only certain people are aware of what’s going on in each section of the building.”

Dakota State highly values and takes extreme care of its relationship with its specialized clients, “so we’re probably being overly cautious, but that’s OK,” Pauli said. “We don’t want anything to jeopardize the outstanding potential this has for our faculty and students to conduct really cutting-edge research in that building.”

Journey was brought on early in the project, during the design and pre-construction phase, to serve as construction manager at risk. Throughout the process, the team has heavily utilized lean techniques to ensure work remains on time and on budget.

“As with previous Journey projects, we’ve found that to be extremely valuable,” Reiser said. “With the uniqueness of this project, it pulls out any constraints that might be roadblocks in front of us, so we can come to a solution before it becomes an issue on the schedule. Right now, the project is on schedule to be complete by the end of August if not a little sooner.”

Journey has remained flexible with changes while keeping the project on track, said Dave Link, program director of the university’s Dakota Rising initiative, which includes construction of the MadLabs building.

“I think Journey has been great to work with,” he said. “Their experience in doing large facilities has worked really well. They do a great job coordinating all the activities and have a rigorous meeting schedule to make sure everybody understands the deadlines involved. And from a customer perspective, they understand needs change from initial design to the day you open, and they know that’s part of the process and are very helpful thinking through those issues.”

It’s not Journey’s first time working on a project at DSU. The firm also built the Beacom Institute of Technology and renovated the Trojan Center and Courtyard Hall.

“The Beacom was the first new building on campus in about 40 years, and there was not a lot of institutional knowledge about building new buildings on campus, and Journey was very helpful,” Pauli said. “But they understand this is a fundamentally different building. And what I really like is I can’t think of one time they referenced the Beacom for comparison. They understand the project and the people involved are different, so little things like that from my perspective help a lot.”

For Journey, working on a building that will be used for specialized cyber work is a good experience given the expected growth of that industry, Reiser added.

“We know there’s more of this type of work to come, projects involving cybersecurity, so to be on the leading edge of that with Journey and to be doing the first project of its kind in this area is very exciting for us,” he said. “As more opportunities come, we feel we’re well positioned with the experience we’re gaining. And we’re excited for our ongoing relationship with DSU. They’re bringing new things to this area, and we look forward to continuing to help bring their dream to fruition.”

Have you seen DSU lately? Prepare to be amazed by the changes

First-of-its-kind cyber research center demands unique approach to construction

Even the moniker – MadLabs – suggests there’s something extraordinary brewing in the building under construction at Dakota State University. And there is.

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