GOLD, SILVER, BRONZE
Find out what companies stand out as technology leaders in the second annual Vision Awards.
It’s been an eventful year in the construction community, to say the least. Both commercial and residential builders enjoyed relatively strong markets despite the overall downturn in the nation’s economy. However, technology vendors did not escape the consequences of the declining economy. In fact, several vendors in the AEC (architecture, engineering, construction) market fell victim to the ongoing dot.com shakeout and were either acquired or went out of business. Others kept their doors open, but only after reducing the size of their workforce.
But despite the economic uncertainties, some progressive construction firms forged ahead this year and added technology tools to their operations. Some adopted project-management systems, others implemented accounting packages, while still others found ways to integrate the two. These companies came upon the realization that they could not move forward in an efficient manner without adding technology to the mix. They recognized that they were wasting too much time and energy using outdated manual processes. Competitive advantage and the ability to win jobs were on the line, so these forward-thinking firms took a risk and automated their business processes.
Constructech’s second annual Vision Awards acknowledge 19 such companies for recognizing the advantages of modern technologies and excelling at using various hardware and software applications to automate their businesses.
The 19 gold, silver, and bronze award winners are in the categories of architecture/engineering/design, multifamily builder, single-family builder, general contractor-residential, general contractor-commercial, government, and owner.
Entries were judged on the success of Windows-based technology in meeting a challenge or solving a problem, the innovation exhibited by the application of technology, and the benefits that have been realized as a result of the implementation. An independent panel of distinguished construction, architecture, and technology industry research experts judged the entries.
Here’s your chance to check out the automation efforts and achievements of this year’s leaders.
Edwards and Kelcey
When Edwards and Kelcey, Morristown, N.J., a 55-year-old planning and construction management firm, became involved in the Manchester (N.H.) Airport Improvement Program, it began seeking innovative ways to manage the more than 50 projects included in the expansion program.
The $300 million project was extensive and included construction of a terminal extension, parking garage, pedestrian bridge, runway additions, and an aircraft taxiway as well as relocation/demolition of private property and rerouting roads.
The coordination of the various projects, contractors, designers, government agencies, and clients in addition to maintaining effective communication with project participants and preventing costly errors were the primary challenges facing the Edwards and Kelcey staff.
Prior to assuming the airport project, the firm coordinated activities through the use of spreadsheets and databases, which required a fulltime employee to understand, arrange, and update materials. Documents were typically sent to the firm’s office, copied, filed, and distributed by fax or overnight mail—a time-consuming process. In addition, faxed copies of designs were difficult to read, and tracking multiple copies of plans was time consuming and inefficient.
To resolve these issues, the firm began searching for an administration and contract-management solution and eventually selected Expedition by Primavera Systems, Bala Cynwyd, Pa. Edwards and Kelcey as well as the clients, engineers, consultants, contractors, and governmental agencies with whom it works, also use Expedition Express, the Web-based client version of Expedition. For planning and scheduling tasks, the firm uses Primavera Project Planner (P3e), which is especially helpful in managing the Manchester airport’s large-scale, multi-faceted projects.
Edwards and Kelcey uses Expedition as the repository for project documentation. As a result, field staff has saved approximately one hour a day, as the amount of time needed to process questions and retrieve documents was greatly reduced.
By using Expedition Express, engineers are able to access documents and post responses without involving the company’s administration. In addition, project managers have realized improvements in communication, collaboration, and scheduled project delivery. In fact, project managers have saved five to 10 hours a week as a result of more effective contractor interactions and focused biweekly meetings.
Edwards and Kelcey’s management has also realized the benefits of the software. The system’s document-management capabilities led to a reduction in costly errors. For instance, the firm completed the airport’s climate-controlled pedestrian bridge with an error rate of less than 1%, which is significantly lower than past projects.
Through the use of software, Edwards and Kelcey continues to keep the eight-year airport expansion program under control. In addition, the client has been satisfied with the on-time, on-budget completion of projects. As a result, Edwards and Kelcey has implemented the project management system on other large-scale programs.
Maricopa County Dept. of Transportation
Maricopa County, Ariz., is in the midst of a significant population boom. Maricopa is the second fastest growing county in the United States and led the nation in total population growth during the 1990s.
Not surprisingly, the population increase has forced the county to improve its roadway system in an efficient and cost-effective manner, while striving to meeting public demand.
To meet this considerable challenge, the Maricopa County Dept. of Transportation (MCDOT) encouraged ideas and programs that would not only improve the way it did business but also create a better working environment for its employees. As a result, MCDOT created the Project Management Information System (PMIS).
As part of PMIS, two point-persons from each MCDOT division were trained for the program and the appropriate software was installed on their computers—a decision that promoted employee ownership and acceptance of the program as a non-traditional way of doing business.
In addition, MCDOT implemented the Expedition project-management system developed by Primavera Systems, Bala Cynwyd, Pa., and expanded the use of the program from traditional construction operations for use within the various units of the governmental operation, including planning, engineering, right-of-acquisition, and government relations. By combining Expedition and Primavera’s Project Planner (P3e), the expansion of the project-management system into a non-traditional role within the organization was accomplished.
The PMIS program coupled with the use of project-management software helped the county keep consultants, shareholders, agencies, and contractors headed in the right direction. Now all shareholders can easily access information, communication flows freely, and multimillion-dollar projects are completed in a timely fashion.
By stretching the boundaries of the program, all interdependent project information is now directed to the same electronic location. In addition, new employees can quickly grasp the concept and progress of a particular project by merely accessing the information via the PMIS system.
PMIS is Maricopa County’s vision for transportation in the 21st Century. Through MCDOT’s innovative use of technology, services have been streamlined and public demand satisfied.
($251 million & up)
The Haskell Co.
The Haskell Co., Jacksonville, Fla., is one of the nation’s leading design-build and construction management firms, with annual sales in excess of $800 million. The organization provides architectural, engineering, construction, and real estate services. Projects include manufacturing plants, distribution centers, health care facilities, shopping centers, office buildings, and hotel and resort properties.
When Haskell made the decision to implement a single hosted solution on an enterprisewide basis, the firm chose ProjectTalk, the online project-management and collaboration tool designed by Meridian Project Systems, Folsom, Calif.
Haskell has derived many benefits from the system, including the elimination of numerous business processes. In the past, Haskell’s project managers used a variety of personal tools to manage their projects. In many cases, multiple applications were required to accomplish many tasks. But online project management allows these tasks to be handled by a single application, which reduces time for entry. In addition, previous business processes have been reduced or eliminated, project timelines shortened, and communication between project teams and owners is improved.
Prior to adoption, Haskell’s project-related documents resided on numerous servers, drives, and directory folders. Now, the majority of documents is kept in a single data store and information can be easily archived to CD or tape.
Fast-track project management, consistency, repeatability, and scalability are the benefits to the firm’s overall business processes. In addition, accountability is improved and the “chain of custody” process helps keep project teams on schedule.
Meridian’s collaborative, Web-based tool provides the essentials of jobsite management and cost controls and allows the owner to interact with the project team during all phases of the project. In addition, Haskell maintains a public site that allows customers and prospective clients to email a division leader to ask questions or receive materials.
Haskell’s primary technology goal was to install and integrate a robust network that connected all regions and, ultimately, all jobsites. ProjectTalk provided the foundation to incorporate new solutions and technologies that plugged into that foundation.
Kansas City, Mo.
When HNTB Corp., Kansas City, Mo., was chosen by the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) to provide inspection services during the construction of the longest bridge in the state, the company realized that it needed a project-management system that had the ability to track all of the activity related to the $115 million project.
HNTB is a multidisciplined firm that does work in transportation, bridges, aviation, architecture, urban design and planning, environmental engineering, construction services, and design-build.
When it assumed the bridge project, HNTB developed the Construction Information Management System (CIMS), proprietary software designed to ensure the efficient tracking of the tons of steel and roadway fill, the thousands of cubic yards of concrete, and the hundreds of laborers needed to build the Croaton Sound Bridge, which was designed to provide a quick and easier route between Manteo and Manns Harbor, where traffic flow is expected to double by 2020. In addition, the bridge will ensure a safer trip to the mainland in the event of a hurricane. The existing bridge, which was opened to traffic in 1957, was deemed insufficient to handle the increased traffic volume. Construction of the new bridge, which began in 1998 and is scheduled for completion in March 2002, also required wetland mitigation.
CIMS documents, manages, and tracks all information generated during the bridge construction project. The software program has been used to capture project data, correspondences, contractors’ daily activities, materials, submittals, subcontractors’ activities, and supplemental agreements generated throughout the life of the project. So far, more than 2,000 documents have been generated. In addition, the software has been instrumental in researching potential claim issues.
The system was customized to meet the specific needs of the NCDOT bridge project. For example, reports were customized to mirror NCDOT’s standard forms, and the agency’s project logo was added to the forms for easy recognition.
The software streamlines record keeping and provides realtime access to relevant information. Project managers no longer compile information by hand. A workbook database and daily diaries are at the heart of the system. The workbook tracks quantities and costs, automatically updates cumulative figures, compares totals against bids, and generates reports for contractors to reconcile.
One of the greatest benefits of the software centers on the automation of the inspector’s daily report. Inspectors can make detailed entries on the use of labor, materials, equipment, pay items, deficiencies, inspections, and tests. It links these daily observations directly with project-management scheduling codes, and critical path method schedule information can be updated over the life of the project. The system eliminates the need for paper notes by allowing the inspector to enter information into a personal digital assistant (PDA).
The information revolution has been a double-edged sword in the construction industry. Project managers have access to more information that ever, but even the best data may be useless unless it can be obtained quickly and efficiently. For clients of HNTB, however, CIMS is helping turn information into results.
Clark Realty Builders, Bethesda, Md., was in search of a way to improve communication between employees in the field and the home office. However, the dispersion of project teams coupled with the industry’s nomadic nature hindered the multi-family builder from investing in heavy technology infrastructure and LAN (local-area network)-based management systems.
In addition, Clark wanted to enhance communication between owners, architects, and vendors as well as increase brand recognition and promote the company to both existing and future stakeholders.
As a result, Clark implemented a variety of technology tools including: Microsoft Outlook Exchange, which offers employees email, calendars, tasks, and contact lists; SwapDrive, a Web-based intranet that provides standard forms and contracts to employees; and Citrix Systems’ NFuse, application portal software that gives organizations the ability to integrate and publish interactive applications into any standard Web browser. The company uses NFuse to make its accounting system available to remote users.
In addition, Clark integrated project-management systems developed by Meridian Project Systems, Folsom, Calif., and Constructware, Alpharetta, Ga. The project-management tools provide Clark with better access for field employees, standardized business practices, and realtime, detailed management reports.
Vendors also benefit from the new technology. For instance, vendors can log into the Clark intranet to find out what checks are on hold and why and print the appropriate forms that must be submitted to remedy the situation.
The company’s Website, ClarkRealty.com, was designed to improve the company’s promotional efforts. The site offers interactive features including e-newsletters, email referrals, and form-based contact systems that route email based on the type of inquiry. The site also offers a searchable project database where clients can query the Clark project portfolio based on state, project type, construction value, or number of units. The results link to detailed project descriptions and photos.
Multimedia features include a slide show and a progress photo archive where project managers can upload digital camera images of their jobs, and owners can view the status of projects.
Orren Pickell Designers & Builders
Orren Pickell Designers & Builders, Bannockburn, Ill., a designer and builder of luxury homes in Northern Illinois, has developed a corporate culture that spawns technological innovation at every level of every department.
As an example, the firm’s architects developed proprietary animation software to help clients better visualize the blueprints of their homes. The software gives clients a virtual reality presentation of their homes complete with landscaping topography, exterior and interior views, stones on the driveway, plumbing fixtures, countertops, furniture, and even books on the shelves.
From design to closing, custom-built luxury homes often take years to complete. They involve the work of numerous departments including estimating, architecture, sales, marketing, financial, and legal. There are also dozens of subcontractors involved and numerous decisions to be made regarding tiles, cabinetry, fixtures, and appliances.
To manage these complex projects, Orren Pickell uses customized software developed by Primavera Systems, Bala Cynwyd, Pa., to develop timelines for the work. The software tracks the progress of each project participant at every point in the process and alerts participants to timeline changes. It is designed to minimize delays and eliminate many potential cost overruns.
However, the process of selecting amenities is one step in the project that can wreak havoc on deadlines and budgets. The Pickell team recognized a need to solve this problem and helped invent a solution. Orren Pickell, the company’s founder and president, was the founder, beta tester, and will be the first client of Solutions on Site (SOS), Lincolnshire, Ill., a firm that will use the Internet to deliver the selection process to the client’s computer.
SOS is a turnkey service designed to increase customer satisfaction with no investment in computer software. Manufacturer product information is centrally maintained on behalf of the builder so problems associated with maintaining catalogs and pricing are eliminated. Builders have the opportunity to choose which manufacturers’ products they would like to offer and can set their own prices. They can track each of their projects, communicate with homebuyers, and manage customer selections more efficiently and effectively.
Homebuyers can keep a journal of notes and pictures, set a target mortgage payment, make selections, and maintain a schedule. This creates an interactive selections process that makes the client feel more empowered while giving the builder more control.
This new service will also instantly alert clients to changes in the budget and timeline based upon their selections. The system will also include a photo database to further aid clients in the decision-making process. SOS will eventually be available via the Pickell Website.
“The selections process is a major stumbling block in our business,” says Tony Perry, vice president of Orren Pickell. “We are confident that by offering our customers that process will become easier and more convenient for our homebuyers. It is a tool that takes the building industry into the 21st Century. It provides a way for us to offer our clients the most cutting-edge technology in homebuilding.”
H.J. Russell & Co.
Ten years ago, H.J. Russell & Co., Atlanta, Ga., a construction and real estate development firm, faced a variety of challenges that led to the exploration of project-management systems.
The company no longer wanted to wrestle with multiple formats of documents and inconsistent messages. Instead, it sought consistency across all reports, forms, and contracts. In addition, employees needed to access project databases whether they were at the company headquarters or at a job site.
To meet its needs, H.J. Russell implemented Expedition, the project-management system developed by Primavera Systems, Bala Cynwyd, Pa. As the company has grown over the last nine years, it has strengthened its relationship with Primavera. The firm is preparing to adopt Expedition Mobile, which will allow employees to access project information on demand, wherever they are located, via handheld devices.
H.J. Russell’s IT (information technology) department realized significant cost savings after upgrading to Expedition 6.0, allowing the software and project data to be placed on Citrix Winframe. The platform reduced the company’s need for field support and equipment as well as the need for one full-time IT support position. In addition, the technology is designed to continually backup the company’s data, eliminating the need for other networking equipment.
Employees use the centralized data repository to store project documents and materials in one place for appropriate parties to access. All paperwork, purchase orders, contracts, and other forms are already input into the project-management system, eliminating unnecessary data entry and threading consistency throughout the company.
The company also uses the risk-management features to store and lock down contracts and purchase orders, preventing people from editing boilerplate language. The software’s locking features ensure that standardized company contracts maintain integrity, adding a higher level of confidence to the agreements. Contracts, purchase orders, change orders, submittals, requests for information, and transmittals are also automatically combined into an activity log for record-keeping purposes.
The long-standing relationship between H.J. Russell and Primavera allows the company’s employees to benefit from Expedition’s consistent graphical interface, project-management, and control functionality; updated technological platforms; and attention to the company’s unique needs. Project managers, IT staff, and management agree that employees experience increased output, which raises the bar of performance and adds a competitive distinction.
Alure Home Improvements
East Meadow, N.Y.
Alure Home Improvements, East Meadow, N.Y., entered a period of rapid growth in 1996 and, as a result, faced a variety of new challenges including improving reporting procedures and staff efficiency, eliminating errors that can arise as multiple and complex projects pass from one department to another, and continuing to offer stellar customer service. Alure was confident that technology could help it meet these challenges.
The residential remodeling firm discovered CompuTool, developed by Construction Computing Systems, East Meadow, N.Y., a developer of remodeling-specific management software. At the time, CompuTool was looking to improve and expand its product. Alure worked with the software firm for more than two years focusing on three key areas: improved efficiency and accuracy in the sales process, improvement in management’s ability to collect financial and marketing data and generate realtime reports, and a development of a fail-safe approach to prevent client concerns from falling through the cracks.
The Software addresses every operation within Alure. Easy-to-use screens prompt staff to collect the correct information from perspective clients. Sales representatives can access that information and are prompted to track every client contact. The estimating module allows the sales staff to accurately estimate small jobs on the spot or generate estimates for larger jobs in much less time than was required before CompuTool was adopted.
In fact, the software makes it possible to estimate larger remodeling jobs at the client’s kitchen table. The system then automatically generates a contract based on the accurate information entered. When the job is sold, production information is then captured directly from the estimate and automatically distributed to the production staff, subcontractors, and suppliers for quotes.
The software has led to advantages for Alure’s management team as well. Management can access inquirer information such as who called, the nature of their request, the promptness of returned calls, the type of project, and the demographics. This information, combined with lead-to-closing ratio data, helped Alure develop a more informed, responsive marketing strategy. As a result, production managers stay in the communications/information loop using Web-enabled handheld devices.
Reports tell Alure which jobs were most profitable and which salespeople are most productive. Because the system is Web-based, the firm can respond instantly to distributors’ price changes and integrate special pricing into the estimating database.
CompuTool has helped Alure address all of its concerns. Downtime is minimized, accuracy has increased, the staff is more efficient, clients are happier, and management has the tools to increase profitability.
Crown Services Inc.
San Jose, Calif.
Crown Services Inc., San Jose, Calif., is a regional consolidation of 10 roofing and related contractors. The firm provides waterproofing, roofing, and mechanical services in addition to a full-service maintenance department for property owners and managers. The company’s subsidiaries are spread across 15 locations in Northern and Southern California, and that presented a significant organizational challenge.
Each subsidiary operated on its own independent accounting system. As a result, financial reporting was difficult to perform since each subsidiary had different accounting structures, sophistication, policies, and procedures. The absence of centralized data collection meant that business reporting was difficult to produce, and implementation of best practices was nonexistent. Without timely and accurate information, the company could not take advantage of the benefits and synergies of a regional consolidator.
In addition to the business management and reporting issues, operation inefficiencies were apparent throughout the subsidiaries. Challenges included effectively managing, scheduling, and dispatching service calls on high-volume days; improving customer response times; managing, scheduling, and tracking warranty contracts and calls; completing billing in a timely manner; accessing realtime, accurate job information; and overcoming cultures skeptical and resistant to technology.
The numerous challenges led Crown to find a technology solution that would meet the needs of the day-to-day operations and management-analysis requirements. In addition, the company wanted an integrated solution that would lead to improved efficiencies and eliminate double entry of data. Since additional acquisitions were in the works, Crown needed a system that was scalable and could grow along with the company. Finally, the firm sought a solution that would attract new subsidiaries to the Crown Services organization.
Crown eventually selected the business system developed by WennSoft, New Berlin, Wis., based on accounting software developed by Microsoft Great Plains, Fargo, N.D. The system helped Crown overcome operation and management analysis challenges and allowed the firm to develop an attractive program for acquiring new companies. In addition, Crown has been able to improve internal processes, expand data reporting, capture and maintain customer relationships, and attract new companies to the organization.
More specifically, implementation of WennSoft has allowed Crown to centralize financial reporting and cash management for companies at its main office and gain a competitive advantage via the launch of WennSoft’s eCustomer Portal, which delivers a Web-based service that gives customers the ability to search Crown’s database to access realtime information on their property.
In addition, Crown was able to streamline operations by standardizing operational procedures at each office and eliminate inefficiencies in areas such as billing and management reporting. Finally, the company increased employee access to information. For instance, realtime access to job information has allowed project managers and superintendents to take corrective actions on jobs in progress. Additionally, access to customer billing, call history, and warranty information has generated goodwill with customers by providing answers to their questions at the first point of contact.
As Crown continues to grow, the firm believes that the strategic advantages of regional consolidation and its choice of business systems will give it an advantage over its competitors based on convenience for its customers, pricing from vendors, growth for its employees, and profitability for its shareholders.
Schuff Steel Co.
When Schuff Steel, Phoenix, Ariz., was chosen to fabricate and erect the steel for the Denver Broncos new football stadium, the company quickly realized that it needed to implement a project-management system. After all, the new stadium, which replaced Mile High Stadium, required 12 million pounds of reinforced steel and 12,000 tons of structural steel. To manage the massive amount of materials as well as manpower, Schuff selected Expedition 7.0, developed by Primavera Systems, Bala Cynwyd, Pa.
It wasn’t long before implementation of the system bore results. Schuff’s project-management team realized a 50% reduction in administration time. In addition, they recognized the efficiencies gained by no longer having to search file cabinets for requested information.
“(Expedition’s) documentary control, standardization, and communications systems as well as its ability to centralize meeting minutes and data reports helped project teams exchange information and operate more efficiently than ever,” says Tracy Wilson, Schuff’s vice president of project management.
The technological expertise gained via Expedition during the stadium project served as an excellent launching project for the company. Schuff later won and began work on the design-build project for the retractable roof at the Phoenix Cardinal’s football stadium, which is scheduled for completion in 2004. Schuff’s responsibilities encompass all aspects of the retractable roof.
The company utilizes several subcontractors to assist with the rolling mechanics, fabrics, and steel infrastructure used to build the roof. To communicate with the subcontractors, Schuff gave them limited access to Expedition, providing sufficient entry to databases for individuals to complete their responsibilities. The firm also deployed two trainers to teach subcontractors how to effectively use the system.
As a result, Schuff soon noticed improvements in the request-for-information (RFI) process via quicker turnaround rates, tighter control, and prioritized responses. Also, the company streamlined billings and contact management, which led to improved record keeping and quickened schedules of value payments.
To lead the software-adoption process, Schuff had four individuals trained on Expedition. Afterward, two of the four individuals underwent Primavera’s Train the Trainer sessions to become Expedition instructors. Their influence as well as the application’s quick contributions helped Schuff minimize organizational resistance during its transition from a paper-and-pen-based culture to Web-based automation.
San Diego, Calif.
General contractor I.E.-Pacific (IEP), San Diego, Calif., is familiar with paperwork. The general contractor’s primary client is the Department of the Navy, and the paperwork and document requirements associated with Department of Defense projects are voluminous.
The steady stream of paperwork has caused IEP project managers and superintendents to devote a significant amount of time to busy-work tasks associated with processing contract documents, which cut into the time they required for revenue-producing tasks such as identifying cost savings and building projects under budget and on schedule.
Clearly, IEP needed to find a system that would coordinate project paperwork and documents and give project teams more accurate, complete information as well as sufficient time to complete a project.
IEP chose Prolog by Meridian Project Systems, Folsom, Calif., to streamline project paperwork and documents. The project-management system helped connect project teams and give them easy access to database information, images, and documents including design drawings, jobsite photos, project schedules, and reports—all via an Internet browser. This led to a seamless, realtime exchange of information. In addition, project teams have access to complete and realtime project information and reports.
Prolog’s inter-relational database helped IEP increase efficiencies by automating repetitive, time-consuming tasks, leaving more time to manage project schedules and costs. The system’s request-for-information feature helped reduce response times and allowed project photos to be attached. The drawings and specifications feature, meanwhile, allowed IEP to exert greater quality control. Team members can access the most current drawings, link drawings to requests for information, and redline drawings online.
Additionally, the submittal register feature allowed IEP team members immediate access to submittal status, which helped reduce review and response time. The meeting minutes feature improved decision making by allowing access to meeting minutes from anywhere, anytime.
D.L. Withers Construction
D.L. Withers Construction, Phoenix, Ariz., needed a technology tool to help streamline inefficiencies in an industry where miniscule margins and fast-track projects are the standard rather than the exception.
The company repeatedly experienced three key problems. First, the mobile and hectic nature of the project team resulted in uncoordinated communication. Relying on faxes and phone calls to communicate reduced workflow, and requests for information often required a week to resolve. Second, mistakes were made and deadlines were missed because employees did not always have the most current information available to them. Finally, the general contractor was spending considerable time and money on administrative tasks such as logging and tracking documents, rekeying data, and routing documents.
At the same time, architecture and engineering firms and subcontractors that worked with D.L. Withers resented management software being thrust upon them. They made it clear that they did not want to buy software, change their internal systems or have to go through extensive training in order to use a new technology. Therefore, the company needed a communications tool with low turbulence.
To resolve these issues, the company implemented JobSite, a project-specific extranet developed by IronSpire, Portland, Ore. The Web-based collaboration tool allows contractors to manage information flow across the construction team. It also provides centralized access to a project’s plans, documents, and schedules. The extranet is accessible by team members via the Web or a wireless device, enabling quick decisions based on accurate information.
D.L. Withers has garnered numerous benefits from JobSite. For instance, communication was dramatically improved. Project team members can respond to issues instantly rather than playing phone tag, and response times for RFIs (requests for information) were reduced from days to hours. In addition, accountability was increased. Knowing who received what information and when means that no one can “drop the ball.”
Also, mistakes decreased by 10%. Team members were able to work from the most current set of drawings and documents, greatly reducing the opportunity for error. The elimination of some administrative tasks also helped save a significant amount of time. The logging and tracking of documents, which was performed manually in the past, is completed automatically through JobSite. Also, the ability to post documents eliminates the shuffling of hundreds of pages of papers.
Finally, the relationship between the company and the project owners has been strengthened. Owners now have complete, anytime access to project information and can monitor progress and assist when needed.
Implementation of JobSite streamlined the workflow process at D.L. Withers. The combination of faster response times and reduced paperwork has led to a timesavings of 15 hours a week across the project team. More importantly, the successful use of JobSite has increased the company’s competitive advantage when bidding jobs.
The challenge for Coleman-Adams Construction, Forest, Va., a general contractor specializing in commercial and industrial construction, was to improve its invoice approval and entry process. A manual system had been in place for several years and provided several checks and balances. However, the system had several drawbacks as well.
The manual process required incoming invoices to be distributed to the appropriate person in the accounting department. That individual would stamp and code the invoice using a custom rubber stamp that included spaces to write the job number, cost code, general ledger account, vendor number, invoice number, and proposed payment date.
Once the invoice was coded, it was sent to the appropriate project manager for approval. The project manager verified the job, cost code, and pay-date information by checking the written entry against job lists and budgets. The project manager then initialed and dated the invoice.
The invoice was then routed to a second member of the accounting team for verification of the general ledger account, vendor number, and a general review. The invoice was then returned to the original accounting person for entry into the system.
This process was especially time consuming. The stamping and coding process often required budget and cost-code information to be looked up manually. Project managers also needed to manually access budget information. In addition, the routing of invoices through so many hands increased the possibility of a document being lost or misplaced without being logged or recorded. The process also caused invoices to be entered hurriedly, immediately prior to the check run in many cases.
Finally, the information on the stamped invoice was sometimes entered into the system incorrectly due to keying errors, especially when the accounting representative was pressed for time due to delays in the process.
Coleman-Adams’ objective was to retain the manual system’s checks and balances while addressing its shortcomings. To achieve that goal, the company adopted Timberline Gold, the accounting software package developed by Timberline Software Corp., Beaverton, Ore.
The automated system allows Coleman-Adams to enter invoices as “pending” immediately upon receipt, which allows immediate system lookup of job, cost code, and vendor information. The system, in conjunction with Microsoft Access, prints the equivalent of the stamp used in the former system.
The stamp, or label, allows the project manager to immediately confirm that the job information is correct. The invoice is entered when it arrives. Even if the invoice is misplaced, the information is recorded. If the approval process is delayed, the invoice can be marked “approved” via a checkbox, rather than being entered in its entirety immediately before the check is produced—a step that has reduced stress in the accounting department. Finally, keying errors have been virtually eliminated.
Konover Construction Corp. (KCC), Farmington, Conn., is a $250 million, single-source commercial construction firm that has served the Eastern, MidAtlantic, and Southeastern regions of the United States for more than 42 years. KCC’s experience includes educational facilities, state and municipal buildings, office buildings, retail stores, and warehouse and distribution centers.
The company is no stranger to technology. It implemented the Timberline Gold accounting package six years ago and the Prolog Manager project-management system, developed by Meridian Project Systems, Folsom, Calif., two years later.
Eventually, however, KCC’s staff began to recognize inefficiencies developing between the operations team, which was using Prolog, and the accounting teams, which were entering and tracking some of the same data into Timbeline Gold, which is developed by Timberline Software Corp., Beaverton, Ore.
The initial concern was the way in which the company was tracking vendor information. KCC realized that it needed to synchronize vendor information between the two systems. As a result, a manual entry process was developed that ensured that vendor information was entered into both systems identically. Over time, the company wrote its own custom application that allowed it to enter vendor information once and automatically update both systems.
The efficiencies KCC realized from that enhancement alone helped the firm recognize the need to examine other areas where double entry was still being performed. The company identified six areas where it continued to track and maintain data in both systems: vendors/companies, budget codes/cost codes, budgets, contracts and commitments, change orders, and costs.
To resolve these problems, KCC contracted with Event Electronics, Santa Barbara, Calif., an authorized Timberline developer, to develop a custom software program. The program, Event 1 Integrator, provided an automated integration between the two software packages
Event 1 Integrator runs on the Microsoft SQL Server platform. It interfaces with Prolog Manager and Timberline and provides a two-way synchronization of vendor and company information; a one-way integration of budget codes, budgets, and costs; and a one-way integration of contracts and change orders.
The results of the integration have been significant. KCC has streamlined workflows and increased efficiencies and productivity without making a significant sacrifice in business practices. By examining existing business practices and processes, the company uncovered inefficiencies despite the technology that was already in place.
For instance, the two systems were maintaining different levels of detail for the same data. The operations teams maintained summary level data, while the accountants maintained more detailed data and were asked by the operations teams to supply reports whenever necessary. By modifying business practices and maintaining the same level of detail in both systems, everyone has the information they need at their fingertips.
KCC developed a tight integration between its project-management and accounting systems without making a significant sacrifice in business practices. As a result, the company has realized significant productivity and efficiency gains as well as an increase in data accuracy.
Hoffman Construction Co.
Construction of the Experience Music Project, Seattle, Wash., was unlike most other building projects. Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen and his sister, Jody, envisioned the concept for the building. However, nothing quite like the 140,000 square-foot interactive music museum had ever been built.
The museum’s structural shell is composed of 280 undulating structural ribs, each with a different configuration. Layered on the ribs are a steel mesh, shotcrete, and a protective membrane topped with metal panels that are fitted on pedestals protruding from the ribs. Nearly 20,000 metal shingles, each cut and shaped individually, make up more than 3,000 panels, none of which are alike.
Hoffman Construction, Portland, Ore., realized immediately that technology would play a key role in constructing the museum. The key was a software package called CATIA (computer-aided three-dimensional interactive application), developed by Dassault Systemes, Paris, France, to design fighter jets. CATIA made construction of the Experience Music Project possible.
The building was designed by architect Frank O. Gehry. After he produced numerous sketches of the building, a model was built, shaped, and revised several times. Eventually, the physical model was transferred to a computer model. It traced the model surface and translated it into the computer so that the coordinates of each point could be recorded. Then the process was reversed so that the computer showed the dimensions and images of what the physical model looked like.
In some cases, data received from the design was very abstract, with components depicted as single lines or groups of points. It translated Gehry’s curvilinear design of structural elements, metal, wood panels, and glass into construction documents that subcontractors could use.
The building’s enclosure, structure, interior elements, and mechanical, electrical, and plumbing components were combined into one computer model to resolve interference issues before work was fabricated. The software helped provide more accurate quantity takeoffs and better understanding of the scheduling required for assembling inter-related elements.
Hoffman placed stations on the site as well as among key team members including design-build subcontractors. Operators could translate data from the model to other computer systems for scheduling, fabricating or detailing. The software was especially helpful locating elements not on the drawings.
The software has saved the owner millions of dollars in design and construction costs. In addition, the museum met its grand opening date and stayed within budget, which would not have been possible without CATIA.
HITT Contracting Inc.
HITT Contracting, Fairfax, Va., was founded in 1937 and is one of the largest general contractors in the United States. The company has experienced significant growth in recent years, with annual volume growing from $145 million in 1997 to $407 million in 2000.
The backbone of HITT’s contracting information systems consists of accounting and project-management systems. The project-management systems are configured to each project manager and typically consist of custom-built spreadsheets. As the company has grown, the lack of integration between the project-management and accounting systems became burdensome. In addition, the significant growth in the number of employees as well as jobsites has magnified the inadequacies of the current systems. In fact, there have been countless times when information had to be entered into separate systems or managed entirely in paper form.
HITT realized that in order to remain competitive, it needed to make its operation more efficient. Therefore, the firm incorporated the best-of-breed products in the industry including Denver, Colo.-based J.D. Edwards’ OneWorld accounting system and Prolog Manager, developed by Meridian Project Systems, Folsom, Calif. The AMX Application Adapter developed by AMX International, Idaho Falls, Idaho provides a realtime interface between the two systems. HITT was one of the beta customers for AMX and provided input into the development of the adapter.
The benefits of integration were significant. A customized job setup function allows project managers to set up a job once, complete with budgets, in a matter of minutes. One centralized database of customers, vendors, and subcontractors can be shared by both software programs. The new system also eliminates duplicate entry of data between the software and improves the quality and speed of reporting to clients by allowing data to flow between both systems.
In addition, the system provides more integrated information to management for overseeing the business and decreases the workload involved in gathering this information. The system also allows for future invoicing and payment status by subcontractors and suppliers online. Greater access to more timely information has enabled HITT to fine-tune its business processes and strategies for maximized profit.
The benefits of the system have led to a more efficiently run company as well as better-handled projects and reduction in the amount of time to perform work, which allows for a more proactive approach to project and accounting management. All of this leads to an ability to run more work, more efficiently, and with a greater focus on a quality product at a greater profit margin.
Kiewit Construction Co.
Greenwood Village, Colo.
Relera, Denver, Colo., a managed networking telecommunications service, approached Kiewit Construction, Greenwood Village, Colo., with an idea. The company wanted to expand the boundaries of the Internet and bring “Silicon Valley technology and solutions” to 11 underserved U.S. markets by building state-of-the-art Internet data centers. The centers would provide reliable, high-performance Internet infrastructure, data centers, and managed hosting solutions to businesses.
Kiewit Construction accepted the challenge. The Relera Project was extremely complex, and Kiewit knew project management and communication would be crucial to its success. Kiewit would serve as the construction manager on the design-build project. There were architect-engineers on the project as well as 11 construction managers and 11 project managers on the jobsites, which were located throughout the United States.
The centers range in size from 10,000-50,000 square feet and are similar in design. Locations include Richmond, Va; Memphis, Tenn; San Antonio, Texas; Charlotte and Raleigh, N.C.; Las Vegas, Nev.; Sacramento and San Diego, Calif.; Salt Lake City, Utah; Cleveland, Ohio; and Denver, Colo.
Kiewit realized the limitations of the LAN (local-area network)-based project-management software it had when it accepted the project and knew it would have to pursue another type of project-management software to be successful. The company needed an application that would: help project teams easily access data from any of the 11 sites without maintaining servers at each site; help it share “instant building knowledge” with other project teams so that similar pitfalls could be avoided; make realtime information available for all projects in one place; and track documents to ensure accountability.
To meet those challenges, Kiewit chose the project-management system developed by Constructware, Alpharetta, Ga. The software helped Kiewit create a customized implementation plan. Kiewit quickly grasped the benefits of the software including tracking design-change documents and a fast response time for requests for information (RFIs). For example, when a problem occurred on the jobsite in Charlotte, the designer could issue a design-change document into the system and notify others instantly before the same problem surfaced at another jobsite. By sharing knowledge so quickly, Kiewit was able to keep the project moving.
In addition, RFIs were responded to quickly. In fact, 85% were responded to within 1-3 days. Designers gave preference to RFIs issued into the project-management system because the tool made responding so easy. This also helped Kiewit keep the project moving forward on time and on budget. Kiewit employees admit they were able to deliver a high level of service during the Relera project with the help of the software.
Ohio Schools Facilities Commission
The Ohio Schools Facilities Commission (OSFC), Columbus, Ohio, provides funding, management oversight, and assistance to all of Ohio’s 612 school districts for the construction and renovation of school facilities. The vast number of school facilities needing attention resulted in an increased amount of data, paperwork, and personnel required to manage the process.
To tackle this enormous undertaking, the OSFC had to either create a large bureaucracy or hire consultants, including architects, construction managers, contractors, and other construction professionals, to assist with the workload. The OSFC chose the consultant approach, however this presented a new challenge: how would the organization effectively manage the process, which included multiple partners throughout a wide geographical area?
The OSFC turned to the Internet to improve communication, minimize paperwork, and keep its staff at a minimum while effectively managing a growing number of school construction projects and consultants. But the projects continued to be waylaid by communication delays that were caused by geographical distances.
To solve that ongoing problem, the OSFC implemented a centralized database and project-management Website developed by ProjectGrid.com, Columbus, Ohio. No client-side software was necessary, and the site is designed to display on any browser. As the OSFC’s collaborative Website became a reality, the communication gaps were bridged. The system allowed school districts, OSFC project managers, architects, construction managers, subcontractors, and board members to access and share information 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The Website displays the latest validated project information and promotes a positive impact on workflow collaboration. In realtime, financial information, project photos, file management, bid calendars and announcements, building assessments, and master-planning activities are managed and available via the Website. Furthermore, the site keeps the public informed with limited access to certain areas of the site.
The online management tool has been a success. The OSFC’s Website receives nearly 20,000 hits daily from 2,000 users. The greatest benefit of the system is that it allows the OSFC, with a minimum staff of 45, to manage numerous construction programs and projects for 612 school districts throughout the state. Currently, nearly 400 projects—$3.5 billion of construction—are managed via the site. Additionally, paperwork has been minimized, shipping and travel charges reduced, less data-entry hours required, communication errors diminished, and issue resolution expedited. The OSFC plans to add online bidding, e-commerce, and GIS mapping capabilities to the site.
Hilton Hotels Corp.
Beverly Hills, Calif.
Hilton Hotels Corp., Beverly Hills, Calif., selected Bricsnet, Portsmouth, N.H., to launch the Hilton franchise development Websites, which include a comprehensive collection of information needed to build and furnish franchise properties in the Hilton family of hotels including Hilton, Hilton Garden Inn, Doubletree, Embassy Suites Hotels, Hampton Inn, Hampton Inn & Suites, and Homewood Suites.
The franchise Websites were created to provide a Web-based solution with a user-friendly, paperless method of accessing the most up-to-date development information for owners, consultants, and contractors, and they are an essential tool for the ongoing expansion of the Hilton family of hotels.
Hilton engaged Bricsnet to leverage Internet technology to create greater efficiencies in the process of managing more than a thousand Hilton franchises around the world. The Websites contain essential information for franchisees, including CAD (computer-aided design)-based prototypical drawings; online, downloadable license applications and other forms; design standards; branding information; photo galleries; overviews of franchise fees; and, for some brands, furniture, fixtures, and equipment standards.
Prior to implementing the software, Hilton’s process of disseminating information was mostly paper-driven. In order to update a single specification or data point, many documents had to be reprinted and redistributed. However, using Bricsnet, information can be updated in realtime and is instantly available online. This eliminates printing and shipping expenses and ensures that all parties have access to the very latest data available.
“Bricsnet solutions are designed to help us stay on target with our growth goals while giving user-friendly tools to our owners to assist them in adhering to brand standards for their new properties,” explains Bill Fortier, Hilton’s senior vice president for franchise development. “By placing the owner at the center of the construction and development process, we are in greater control of our brand standards and, therefore, in greater control of the final product to ensure consistency across each brand.”