Connect, Protect and Prosper
By Brian Turner
The intelligent adoption of technology is a big topic in the construction industry today and will be even more important in the post-pandemic era as construction contractors seriously evaluate their current and future organizational and operational needs. For contractors looking to maximize their business potential and improve fiscal performance in this new era of distributed workforces and lean operations, the cloud is more attractive than ever before as the place to move data and applications so employees can work from home and at the job site effectively and securely. Readily available and cost-effective technology tools can help organizations prepare, protect, and prosper during these uncertain times.
Before COVID arose, Western Specialty Contractors identified the need to innovate both on the construction site and in technology driven management at the home office. Western prioritized job estimating as a great place to focus innovation since that is at the core of bringing in new business. Western needed to connect its sales teams across the country with tools to quickly estimate job costs and prepare proposals.
Chameleon was asked to analyze Western’s technical environment, define technology goals that match their future growth plans and design contemporary systems and architecture that provide the basis for greater integration, mobility and continuous process improvement. After studying Western’s situation, the Chameleon team developed a new architectural roadmap utilizing Microsoft’s cutting-edge development software stack that provides the foundation for both on-premise and cloud-based processing and system integration. This included the redesign of Western’s job estimating software into a web-based tool that is the basis for all system integration and a vital part of Executive Management’s strategic view. Chameleon then connected this new tool via Microsoft Azure Cloud to Western’s internal Engineering Resource Planning / Customer Relationship Management (ERP/CRM) tools. This involved integrating data into the Cloud from ViewPoint and Salesforce, the construction Industry’s leading project management and CRM systems, respectively.
This redesigned job estimator now allows Western to build a job proposal from any location with internet connectivity and enables the creation of fine-tuned job estimates and automated custom proposals that incorporate all legal and contractual requirements as required by law and prudence. This allows Western to more accurately estimate job costs, quickly provide customer quotes and plan business pipelines getting an instant snapshot of jobs in progress across the country at any time.
Little did anyone know a crisis like coronavirus would arise that would provide the ultimate test of this new architecture – working from anywhere during the pandemic shutdown. Western’s easy-to-use, cloud-based system has streamlined processes, enabled mobile construction site computing, provided a cohesive strategic dashboard view for company executives, and improved fiscal performance. This system allows them to continue office operations across the country from home, which has improved their efficiency during the pandemic and enabled work to continue on business planning for when their contractors can get back to construction.
The Cloud is the Place to Be
Making data and applications accessible to a geographically dispersed workforce from anywhere and from any device can be best accomplished through migration to the cloud. As data speeds continue to increase and more secure cloud environments are available, access to the cloud is something organizations can no longer afford to be without. More information and detailed data can be added to applications running in the cloud, while greater security and cost efficiencies can be achieved. Security can also be enhanced through a role-based security framework and identity management tools that ensure end users have access only to the information they are approved for and that an audit trail of their activity exists.
When applications and data are cloud-based, infrastructure becomes both more manageable and cost effective. Defective systems can be handled via shipping to a repair center, and if you carry adequate spare inventory, you can minimize downtime. Requiring employees to store all their work files in the cloud using tools such as Microsoft OneDrive means that changing laptops is a minor inconvenience, rather than a major disruptor. Refined process yields better results. A formalized process to help migrate business applications to the cloud has enabled us to help our clients while keeping our costs exceptionally competitive.
The next consideration for a remote workforce is how to take care of the infrastructure in a remote environment. When you don’t have to worry about a server center (because you have moved to the cloud), support becomes more manageable and cost-effective. End users can be supported via phone, email, video conferencing, and remote desktop control to solve the majority of IT issues that arise. Our strategic partner, IBM, has dealt with the issue of managing a remote workforce for several years. We have partnered with IBM to provide our customers with off-site service desks utilizing Watson technology to create automated and cost-effective solutions to tiered help desk challenges.
The final challenge to overcome is enabling effective and secure face-to-face meetings with co-workers, partners and customers from home or in remote locations. Video conferencing tools allow for easy sharing of documents and virtual face-to-face communications. There are many tools available to do this, and some work better than others. For most organizations dealing with sensitive but unclassified data, this can be protected using readily available software tools such as VPNs and data encryption on laptops.
Western is Post-Pandemic Ready
Most contractors weren’t as lucky as Western when the coronavirus pandemic hit. Today Western’s sales team across the country is generating faster and more accurate new business proposals, making better revenue projections, utilizing resources more efficiently and generating more revenue. This in turn enhances the company’s ability to plan for strategic growth, manage key growth factors and provide all levels of management with the information they need to track progress against plans.
What started as a consulting engagement to develop a better cost and job estimating tool turned into a way to bring geographically dispersed sales staff together with management in a way that not only accomplished the initial objective but improved how the company does business before, during and after the pandemic.