Driving Engineering through Process Optimization
Sometimes the technology landscape can seem overwhelmingly diverse and challenging. As an IT leader it is important to observe the IT landscape, identify technologies or services that fit our business needs, and develop a strategy that leads to a solution. There are two demands that have increased precipitously since 2012 at Terracon. The first is rapid delivery of quality services, resulting in a re-invention of how our employee-owners conduct business and the second, is a demand for the IT group to be more engaged with our various business units as they evolve to meet our client needs. Each demand presents its own unique challenges to the IT Group.
The proliferation of handheld devices, tablets, Smartphones, and cloud technology are primary contributors to an increased demand for enterprise capabilities and information accessibility. Technology leads businesses forward as opposed to running the organization from behind the scenes. Technology also provides the communication, marketing, and collaboration capabilities for our company that enhances the delivery of services to our clients. In many cases, technology becomes the “face” to the clients.
"Technology leads businesses forward as opposed to running the organization from behind the scenes"
As an example of this idea, consider our company’s internal development of a program called the Construction Materials Engineering and Laboratory Management System (CMELMS) that electronically connects our field professionals to our office staff and their clients. This technology has benefitted our company and clients in the areas of speed, efficiency, quality, and standardized deliverables to the client.
CMELMS was developed with four major objectives:
1. Create internal organization and efficiency by maintaining a central company-wide database for all field and laboratory test data, observations, and reports that can be easily accessed and managed by our staff.
2. Provide a reliable process to get critical information to our clients and other related parties quickly.
3. Create ease-of-use for our clients by providing a tracking system for material performance, report distribution, and nonconformance items.
4. Allow for real-time management and communication of our project scopes, information, and budgets by being able to digitally connect our field staff, office personnel, and clients.
As one can imagine, there is an extremely large quantity of items that must be inspected and data that must be collected, in addition to the written documentation, tracking, and communication that is required by all parties on a construction project. This is a paperwork-intensive business where tracking and delivery of timely information is critical for success. The construction industry as a whole is often slow to change and is being commoditized with a low-bid mentality. Thus, finding ways to create efficiencies, add value, and outperform competition on quality and timeliness is critical if a company wants to rise above being a commodity in the industry.
For this reason, Terracon has developed and implemented processes and technologies that provide a competitive advantage for our clients that have focused our attention on quality, speed, and accuracy.
• The field staff recorded project data and test results on paper at the jobsite and verbally reported information while on-site.
• This information was then delivered manually or via fax by our field staff to a member of our administrative staff, who would enter the data/results into a project report.
• A draft of the report would then be printed and given to our project manager for review and editing.
• When the preparation and review of the report was complete, it was then printed, physically signed, compiled, copied, bound, and finally sent by mail to our client and other parties on the project.
Now, with our CMELMS technology:
• Data is collected by our field personnel on the jobsite and entered into a database through a laptop computer that is connected to the Internet via cellular technology.
• These results are then transferred over the Internet to the project manager in real-time.
• Project managers can then review the information on their computer, communicate back to their field staff if needed, and then finalize, digitally sign, and transmit the report directly to a client via email or our client website. No paper, no driving, and no mail–just rapid, efficient, and accurate delivery of information through the use of technology.
Delivering technological solutions like CMELMS required the IT group to have strong alignment and understanding of the business, and to be actively engaged with the organizations operations. However, business engagement doesn’t just happen. It is something that needs to be cultivated and emphasized at all levels of the organization.
Strong project management capabilities, continual communication with key stakeholders, fiscal responsibility, and standardization are keys to establishing and keeping the confidence of the organization. You cannot be a business partner if you are not trusted, so it is critical to honor and deliver on the technology commitments made. Just as important, you must still provide reliable, stable, and available systems to maximize business productivity. Our IT strategy centers on the concept of responsive, resourceful, and reliable systems, and is highlighted by the statement: “Our systems are always up and running; they are accessible to Terracon’s employees from any device, from anywhere, at any time; and are efficient, consistent and intuitive in their use.”
To be successful, the business organization also has to want to partner with the Information Technology group. I work closely with our business units and executive teams to ensure technology solutions are incorporated into the initiatives for the business units in Terracon’s Five-Year Strategic Plan and reinforced within the annual Operations Plan. The goal is to look at changing business landscape and identify opportunities where technology can be leveraged to grow and transform the business. Our Information Technology Group now spends more time understanding business initiatives to ensure the needed capabilities are delivered successfully.
Technology is changing at an ever-increasing pace, driving the need for responsive and rapid delivery of quality services. The technology focus needs to be directed toward leading this strategy forward and the role of the CIO is to accept the challenge while also providing the organization a competitive advantage through the development of capabilities optimized to leverage the diverse technology solutions available.