Kathy Wells is the editor of Construction Business Owner magazine.
Field teams at Wanzek Construction are increasingly reliant on mobile capabilities to work smarter, faster and safer, and the company is leveraging mobile technology to capture and access data more effectively. Juli Munro, director of IT and systems at Wanzek Construction, has focused her career on identifying areas of the business that need improvement and applying technology solutions that will add value and efficiency. She has led numerous construction accounting and finance, project management and estimating application implementations, and has experience in lean process improvement, project planning and coordination and documentation and training. Munro presented a session on the subject of implementing technology in construction at CFMA’s Annual Conference & Exhibition in June 2017, which covered the Wanzek’s initiatives and roll out to mobile technology. CBO sat down with Munro after the conference to get her thoughts on the challenges, accomplishments and advantages. Read her responses below.
CBO: What are some of the challenges that led Wanzek Construction to implement mobile technology?
JM: We had been sending laptops out to the field for quite some time, but the way our employees were working, their expectations—whether it was real-time information, visibility into that information so that they could make decisions or working across devices—had changed. Also, the expectations of our clients and our executives were changing. They were looking for that real-time visibility and real-time information. It was no longer acceptable to know the health of a project at the end of a month. They really wanted to know it, not weekly, but on a daily basis. That’s sometimes referred to as the millennial effect, but in today’s world, that is the expectation for everyone.
We also found that, in general, our construction teams were relatively disconnected from what was happening in the office, and it was difficult to communicate important information to the field and across divisions.
We also saw an opportunity to improve process efficiency. Time keeping was a good example. We were still dealing with paper at most sites, and this was really a time-consuming, inefficient way of capturing information. Integration of applications was also a challenge. Where we were getting electronic data, it was often put into silos and only available to a few people, not the company as a whole. That lack of visibility or ability to analyze and report on information limited our ability to collaborate across departments and deliver critical data to the field in a timely manner.
CBO: What kind of strategy did you employ for implementing mobile technology in the field?
JM: We came up with what we call a Mobile Vision Project (MVP) and focused on four key areas. Capturing data was the first. We wanted to get to the first person that knew that data and establish a single point of entry so that we weren’t having duplicate data entry efforts across multiple people. We also wanted to make sure the electronic forms and the applications, such as our field log tool that we use to capture data, were smart and intuitive.
The second goal was to standardize integration of mobile technology with our accounting/ERP system. For us, that means being able to pull information from Viewpoint and push information into Viewpoint. We also wanted to communicate information in a more consistent way and improve the reporting we send out to the field so our employees could make timelier, data-driven decisions.
Finally, we wanted to ensure that the information we were delivering was easy to understand, results focused and actionable.
CBO: What are the key advantages that mobile technology has delivered?
JM: We have definitely improved mobile access to our applications, forms and documents. It’s much easier now to share documents and collaborate on them without all of the email traffic, phone calls or confusion over various versions.
We’ve been able to develop a consistent communication of information across departments and we’ve improved our efficiency in completing tasks. Using B2W Track, a solution for field tracking and analysis, the electronic field log enabled us to capture labor and production quantities in the field daily and integrate that into our ERP system, saving time on the data entry and the transfer of paper. This also increases the accuracy and the structure of the data collected in the field, which leads to better quality cost projections and forecasts.
We’ve also been able to take that data that we’re collecting with mobile technology in the field, analyze it, and get it back to the people that need to make decisions through actionable reports, notifications and dashboards. Finally, we’ve enhanced accountability and performance because we now have real-time visibility into what’s happening on a project and the health of that project.
CBO: What are the benefits of switching to an electronic daily field log?
JM: Our crew leaders now access the field log on their tablets and enter in specific data points including employee time, equipment on the job and production quantities. Superintendents review it, and that information is imported directly into Viewpoint.
As a result, we’re getting better visibility into our performance daily, whereas in the past we were lucky to get that information weekly. We have reduced manual data entry, errors and corrections with our payroll team, because the labor information is imported directly. We are also able to provide actionable reports to the field team on a daily basis. That’s improved their ability to make better decisions and it’s increased their accountability for the results.
CBO: How else are you using mobile technology?
JM: We’re leveraging a platform that incudes Skype, SharePoint Online and One Drive that allows us to access and share documents remotely using mobile devices. An application for building and managing electronic forms has allowed us to migrate our most critical paper forms to a digital format. This has brought more efficiency and accountability into forms related processes, as well as more data capture and analytics capabilities. We use Procore for mobile document control and to conduct our quality inspections and complete punch lists.
Wanzek also has a GPS solution for equipment which is accessible via mobile devices, and we designed a custom application that is used for a wide variety of employee communication and engagement functions.
CBO: Do you have any tips to offer for implementing mobile technology?
JM: As we’ve rolled out mobile technology, we’ve definitely learned some lessons along the way. Executive support is crucial. The executive team needs to recognize the competitive advantages and be committed to the mobile initiatives. We also take a Lean approach and try to make sure a process itself is good before we apply technology to that process.
We’ve found that a deliberate approach to implementing specific pieces or modules of the software sequentially can be more effective than rolling everything out at once and expecting users to figure it out. It’s also a good idea to work out any kinks in a pilot project before implementing something company wide.
On-site training is preferable to remote training, whenever possible, especially in the beginning. We also create and communicate the training and roll-out plan, so that not only the project team, but also the whole company, understand what’s coming and can see the bigger picture. I would also recommend a mobile device management solution to track and manage the use of devices and data companywide.
Finally, we like to do an assessment after each technology roll out to evaluate what went well and what could be improved, so we can apply those lessons learned to future roll outs.