Technology has completely changed the way construction companies do business. From powerful, cloud-based integrated software platforms and business intelligence solutions in the back office to collaborative data sharing platforms across entire project teams to feature-rich mobile applications, drones and wearable tech in the field, the industry as a whole has evolved dramatically. The end goal, of course, is that these changes are positive and add value to the business.
Now that more and more contractors have made the move to adopt technology throughout their organizations and projects, we’re curious — how have contractors seen their businesses evolve over the last five to 10 years? What are the biggest challenges they are facing today? Which improvements can they attribute to technology adoption? And finally, has technology taken away from the human aspect of business?
We asked three panelists — Paul West, CFO of Middlesex Company, Rebecca Free, Controller at Progressive Plumbing and Asa De Armas, CFO of Jr. Davis Construction Company, Inc. — these questions at our recent Digital Contractor Roadshow event in Orlando. Here are the perspectives they were kind enough to share.
How has your business evolved in the last five or 10 years?
West: For our company, I mean, we basically doubled our employees, 500 to 1,000. We’ve taken the technology to a new level. There is a tablet in every foreman’s hand everywhere that you go. Just trying to implement and integrate all the different applications … then, trying to get employees engaged, I think that’s been the biggest issue. We developed a 14-course training session for all project management that is attached to SharePoint, so you click on purchase orders, you click on it and it tells you how to do it. We hold training sessions over and over, so reinforcing and making sure people are falling in and believing has been an effort.
Armas: For us, it’s almost the same as what he just said about 500 to 1,000 employees. I mean, I would say that every single person’s job has completely changed, even in the last year and a half. A year and a half ago, we had paper checks and all-paper invoices, and it was impossible for us to have satellite offices. Everything had to be right there in Kissimmee. Invoices were carried from one end of the office to the other, put in a bin and carried back a couple weeks later, maybe. In that regard, I mean, it’s a completely different world, the day-to day-life in our company.
What are the biggest business challenges and opportunities you’re facing right now?
Armas: He (West) already mentioned one of our biggest challenges, which is getting people on board. With the changes that we’re trying to put in place, especially because it’s all the way down to the field. Everyone has to buy in or it doesn’t work at all. That’s one of our biggest challenges. As far as opportunity goes, there’s an unbelievable amount of work out there right now, so I mean, obviously, that’s an opportunity. Also, that is a challenge in itself. How do we scale efficiently? Are we ready to take on more work?
Free: Our biggest challenge is the labor shortage. Trying to find good workers, people who have the same vision that you want for your company, to take care of your customers. It’s a huge problem here to find that and gear them. You know it doesn’t matter what you offer them. You just got to find those right people to have the same vision.
West: I think the biggest challenge is communication. We’ve grown so much. We’ve gotten so many parties involved that sometimes we don’t really connect. Just being in Orlando, the diversity of the community is a good thing, but we’re definitely having issues internally training different people. I know there was a project manager that started, and he had all the degrees and everything, but maybe didn’t use software systems in the past, so you’ve got to have patience. You’ve got to have a good training staff and really be able to identify the issues that are going to cause you problems if you don’t address them sooner than later. We want to make sure our employees stay long term if we’re going to make that investment. That’s why we have a learning and development team now as a part of HR.
Can you give one or two examples of success and processes that have greatly improved due to technology adoption?
Armas: One recent one for me is going through our financial audit. We didn’t have to drive down to the storage unit and find invoices. Yeah. It used to be quite terrible searching through several storage units. But, now, since last April, I have every invoice and notes, tickets, emails, everything attached to all invoices, and getting the backup for this audit was just a pleasure, honestly.
Free: The scanning aspect is a pleasure when you have audits and you’ve got to pull documents for customers because you have it all attached where it needs to be. Iit’s really a click of a button, know where you’re going, and be able to print everything out. I can second him on that.
West: I think from the technology perspective where we used to have project managers with their files, and contract admins with their files, we now use the Work Center. We actually teach, “you start in the Work Center, and you finish in the Work Center.” For subcontract change order processes, the project starts the subcontract change order. It’s a status of open until they’ve got their scope of work and other information, then they change it to pending and then it becomes a purchasing group’s authority. They have to review it, send it out and it tracks when it’s sent. The contract admin reviews it after it’s returned and approved and they do their checks and balances before they post it. But, when we teach that class, we say, “If you’re calling someone and you’re sending them an email, you’re doing it wrong,” because everybody can see the Work Center. We’re using it as a workflow, so if I go to your project right now — whether I’m the president, or I’m the project engineer — I know which ones are open. Work Center’s a primary tool that we use, that’s a Vista product. Everybody can see what the workflow is. To me, Vista is a communication tool and people can transparently see everything if you’re using this system to move things forward.
Audience member: I guess my question to the panel is have you lost part of the human side of the business? Nobody needs an office, right? You work from your house, right?
Free: I can if I need to.
Armas: I do work in an office. The only way that our transition would’ve succeeded is us meeting regularly together, going over our processes and how it works. I don’t see a difference at all, really.
Audience member: but it’s all electronic. Is there an erosion in the human culture? Nobody’s physically communicating face to face. You really don’t need a work space anymore. Is there an erosion of the human element?
Free: I don’t think so. I think, to speak for myself, I work out of my office every day, but the benefit of having the remote is because we’re 24 hours a day. I need that access to provide the quality of service to our customers that they expect from us when we took them in as a customer. Losing our entire software system made me realize that even with the benefit of all the things that we have, I never lose my paper aspect. You could come in and ask me and I have a hard copy paper of everything we have scanned in that system.
Do you have questions about technology solutions that could help your business become more efficient? Visit our website, www.viewpoint.com today to learn about products and technologies that could help you. You can also check out our free guide for selecting the right construction software.