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Stop Waiting for Google

in Columns/Technology

“Access to fiber is going to be key to future economic development,” said Owen Graham, business development manager, Arch Fiber Networks. “There are amazing things happening in Kansas City, because of the fiber availability to services businesses and homes,” he said.

Arch Fiber Networks, a subsidiary of Edwardsville businessman Tom Allen’s American
Fiber Comm, has installed a fiber optic loop around downtown St. Louis, the near south side and Old North St. Louis. Telecommunications cable made from fiber optics are made of glass fibers instead of copper wires, and have a much higher capacity for carrying data. 

While some people lament Google’s and AT&T’s decisions not to install fiber optic networks in St. Louis, Graham said, “We don’t need them. We love them, but we don’t need them.”

What St. Louis needs instead is more entrepreneurial spirit. “We already have the
infrastructure,” Graham said. “We just need demand and internet service providers.”

Arch Fiber Networks fully redundant dark fiber (dark means it is not being used)
networks
  with a dual crossing under the Mississippi River 90-feet beneath the McKinley Bridge. It has direct connections to the telecom hotels at 900 Walnut, 210 N. Tucker, and 710 N. Tucker, and to the AT&T Toll Building at 2651 Olive Street. One network surrounds downtown between Carr Street on the north and Chestnut Street on the south. The southern loop runs from Chestnut and Market Streets in the north to Arsenal in the south and runs west to Grand Avenue, encompassing the neighborhoods of Lasalle Park, Soulard, Lafayette Square, McKinley Heights, Fox
Park, Compton Heights, and part of Tower Grove East. The northern loop runs up
Broadway along the Old North St. Louis neighborhood to the Hyde Park neighborhood, and returns downtown along N. 13
th Street.

“The system is there to serve carriers, enterprise customers, businesses, and homes
in the downtown ring,” Graham said. “We don’t care how much bandwidth you use.”

“Today our focus is providing fiber services along Washington Avenue,” he said. One
fiber cable runs up Washington Avenue to Beaumont and connects to AT&T. “We pulled laterals into the buildings so they are ready for customers,” he said.

“In our model, the infrastructure is there. We just need to pull fiber through the laterals and install in the buildings.

“From the standpoint of the end user, the difference is invisible. We will partner with internet service providers, who will put their equipment on the fiber distribution panel and go to a telecom hotel and purchase one or more gigs of internet to break up to buildings they serve,” Graham said.

Graham said fiber delivers faster, cheaper internet, that will enable office and apartment building owners in their rings to compete for Millennials and high tech tenants, he said. “At an apartment building, for example, instead of having the tenants all share 80 megs from Charter, they can share 500 megs,” he said.

Arch Fiber Networks donated a fiber connection to the T-Rex high-tech incubator on Washington Avenue.

“Start-ups are the ones that will need huge bandwidth, they need gigabit fiber,” he said.

Downtown, Old North St. Louis, and the near south side are now primed with fiber for
start-up IT companies and the Millennial generation. All they need now are developers with the entrepreneurial spirit to use and promote it, instead of waiting for someone bigger and powerful to do it as the characters do in Samuel Beckett’s play “Waiting for Godot.”

Utilizing Technology and Process Improvements to Gain a Competitive Edge

in Columns/Technology

By Frank Hogg & Ken Van Bree

More competitive bids…  Less backlog… Increasing costs of construction… Lower profit margins…

  

For every contractor in the construction industry, these terms have resonated since 2009. And with economic pundits continually pushing back the projected full economic recovery period for construction, the prospect of maintaining acceptable levels of profitability remains challenging for the foreseeable future.

Many companies have focused on cost-cutting measures, which include targeting overhead expenses or attempting to lower their costs of construction.

Contractors also should consider investing in technologies and process improvements that can assist them in being more competitive in the marketplace.

Companies focused on making tough, economical decisions before writing checks have a tendency to place priorities related to investing in technology and process improvements toward the bottom of management’s plans. That may not be the wisest choice.

Contractors should carefully evaluate the potential benefits that can be derived and whether these benefits exceed the costs involved. The “intangible” costs of lost productivity, lower customer satisfaction, and inability to properly execute project work should be an important part of the decision.

When considering an investment in technology, management typically has a few standard questions:

• Can we enhance the efficiencies of our operations?

• Can we improve the productivity of our employees?

• Can we improve the level of service to our customers?

• What will the technology cost and do the benefits outweigh the costs?

• What level of effort is required to implement the technology in terms of employees’ time and resources?

The most common concern is the upfront capital required (both in terms of time and money) in order to purchase these technologies. What many companies have found is significant capital outlays are not necessary for many construction technologies and process improvements.

Contractors should consider the following after evaluating each application’s costs and benefits:

Mobile Technologies

A majority of employee time is spent out of the office performing construction services at job sites and various other service calls for maintenance. Mobile technologies allow remote employees to communicate with the office.

Important information such as customer inquiries, work orders, change orders, service calls, etc. can be communicated in real time back and forth between the remote location and the office. This improved  communication allows everyone involved with a job to make quality decisions based on the most accurate and up-to-date information available.

Equipment Tracking Applications

Equipment is obviously a significant investment for most contractors. The efficient use of any purchased asset is critical. Certain equipment tracking applications track the location of assets through the use of GPS technology, providing for greater control of that equipment and helping to prevent theft or loss.

These applications can also track maintenance records as well as utilization data by job and employee. These applications can minimize downtime for equipment by proactively preventing significant future repairs. They also can help management determine where the equipment can best be utilized within the company.

Integrated Project Management Solutions

On a daily basis, project managers balance delivering a quality construction product, serving customers, meeting schedules and deadlines, and managing cost budgets. Integrating a project management system with a company’s accounting system is critical for any contractor that strives to manage costs of construction and drive efficiency higher.

Many project managers still do not have immediate access to accounting and project cost information while they are in the field. By giving project managers the tools they need to access real-time data and communicate with financial management personnel, decisions can be made that can improve overall project efficiency and profitability.

Business Intelligence Tools Driving Process Improvement

Do project managers ever mention that the reports they are given are difficult to understand, contain too much or too little data, or are not representative of their job’s status? Business intelligence tools aim to clarify the data accumulated within a company’s accounting system in order to improve management’s decision-making ability.

While applications such as Microsoft Excel represent the most basic business intelligence tools, many contractors have found significant added benefits in implementing more advanced business intelligence tools to their financial management systems. Such tools can be integrated with a company’s existing accounting system in order to:

• Query existing data and generate more meaningful reports for project management

• Generate alerts to users when certain triggering events occur (e.g. jobs going over their predetermined cost budgets)

• Conduct on-line analytical processing (OLAP) for large quantities of data

• Perform analysis to create graphical representations of underlying data or “dashboards”

Many providers of software and database solutions, such as SAP, Oracle, and IBM, have recognized the importance of such business intelligence tools and have created advanced applications that are designed to be integrated with a company’s current accounting system. They have done this in response to the growing demand for companies to better analyze and understand the information accumulated within their own accounting systems.  

In today’s challenging environment of excess capacity, it is critical that contractors remain competitive within the marketplace. In addition to cutting costs, companies should consider the potential benefits of certain technologies and process improvements. They have the potential to help a contractor gain an important competitive edge now while also building for future gains when the market fully recovers.

Frank Hogg, CPA, is partner-in-charge, and Ken Van Bree, CPA, is a partner & vice-chair of RubinBrown’s Construction Services Group. 

Contacts: 314.290.3413; 314.290.3429.

Website: www.rubinbrown.com

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