One of our clients, Sachse Construction, will be featured in next month’s issue of Construction Business Owner magazine in an article on modernizing contractors’ operations through technology. As part of that article, I interviewed Andrea Wright, Sachse’s former director of empowerment, who helped lead the company’s technology transformation before starting her own company to help other contractors do the same.
We wanted to share some key highlights of that interview:
Andrea, explain what your role at Sachse was and what your new role is now.
Wright: At Sachse, I was the director of empowerment, handling training, processes and the company’s ERP software. I did that for just under seven years. Several months ago, I went off on my own to form my own company, CTP Solutions, LLC. I do coaching, training and strategy for ERP solutions and other areas, helping contractors modernize their own operations and maximize team member potential. Sachse is currently one of my clients.
How important is it for contractors today to be modernizing their operations?
Wright: It’s imperative. Construction is way behind in terms of technology. If we want to attract new employees, the younger generations, we’ve got to get in the game. We’re also required to do things quicker and have more mobility – do things at the office, at the jobsite, on the go. If you are not leveraging technology to do that, you’re not going to get it done. It’s just not possible anymore.
It’s pretty clear that businesses in pretty much every industry are moving to some form of cloud-based operations/management. How important is it for contractors to follow suit?
Wright: I think a lot of contractors don’t have the ability or resources on site to manage the IT infrastructure that would be required to host software on premise. So, being in the cloud allows them to have the technology that they wouldn’t be able to have otherwise. It’s about resources, it’s about efficiency. The resources in an IT department in a construction company are not always big enough or savvy enough to host the kind of software that construction companies want to run — from the latest ERP to BIM to business intelligence solutions — they are just larger and more technical and difficult technologies to put in place.
Sachse recently underwent a significant technology transformation, upgrading its ERP software and moving to the cloud. There are still quite a few contractors, however, that say they’re not ready for the cloud or resistant to technology shifts in general. In your mind, what are the biggest reasons for this and how do you overcome resistance?
Wright: I think it’s change. Change is hard. So many contractors don’t get started down the path of transforming their operations because of the resistance to the unknown. This fear and resistance to change does not sit in a particular age group either, as many think. People that have been in the industry for one year vs. 20 years can and do have the same fear of change. They like knowing how to do their job and don’t understand why it should be any different tomorrow.
People don’t like change because they often don’t understand the why. It’s important to communicate and let them know it’s coming. Let them come in and see the software, get them involved in the process and let them know what’s in for them. Have them try it out and test it. It’s important to be an open book to them.
It’s also helpful to talk with people or companies that are similar to them. Similar sized construction companies, companies doing similar work, so that they can see what they use and how they use it. Sometimes, when we see our peers and what they’re doing and how they’re successful with it, it might help them to realize, ‘oh, maybe we can do this too.’
What kind of tools, processes or other technologies did you leverage to educate about the benefits of modern technologies?
Wright: One of my favorite communications we did was a series of silly videos. We did everything from explaining what an ERP is to how we’re simplifying processes. We showed the difference with things like approving an invoice – how it was done the old way versus the new way.
Especially now that we’re starting to get some business intelligence tools up and running through our new system, people are really seeing the positives. It’s like ‘holy cow, look what I can have … look what I can do!’ Right now, we’re building dashboards for the project managers, for accounting, for VPs, for safety managers, etc. The idea is to provide a great snapshot of what’s going on in real time. If I’m a project manager, I can look at my dashboard and see at a glance what’s going on with my jobs — from dailies to submittals, to changes to unapproved invoices. That way, I can tell right away where I need to dig in for that day and get stuff done. That’s a huge difference from having to go form by form or merely guess.
What are two or three tips you can give to other contractors that might feel lost or overwhelmed when it comes to modernizing their own operations?
Wright: One of them is: Get help. There are people out there that can help you go through the process of evaluating and picking new technologies. It might seem like it’s expensive, but your return on investment for this will be ten times what you’re going to spend. This is a commitment that you’re going to make for a long time.
Another tip is: Plan for the right amount of resources from your company. It’s not one person that can implement this and be done with it. You’re going to need people from all over the company to come in and really rethink and restructure how you’re doing this. Take this opportunity to reimagine, simplify, fine tune and modernize your processes.
A third, and very important tip: Don’t modify the software. That means don’t take your processes — the routines you’re used to — and try to morph the software to fit your processes. Instead, take the software and change your processes to use the software as it was meant to be used. If you try and change the software before you truly understand how to use it and realize its features and functionality, you’re going to ruin it before you start. Then you’re stuck with it forever. Go in at the beginning with a less is more approach. Then, a year or so later, once users are using it the way it was intended and savvy about the software, you can decide if you want to make changes and make them smartly. Nine times out of 10, you’ll find you won’t need to make any changes.
Don’t forget to look for the full article on Sachse Construction’s technology transformation in the December Construction Business Owner. In the meantime, check out our informative buyer’s guide: A Practical Solution to Selecting Construction Software.