We spoke with Dean Doige, CIO at Clark Builders, and member of the National Board of the CIO Association of Canada, to find out how he utilized mobile technology to enable workers in the field and learn more about his ongoing enterprise-wide strategy.
ME Mobile Enterprise: What cultural challenges did you face when mobilizing your workforce?
DD Dean Doige: The nature of the construction business is such that most of the workforce is away from the office most of the day. As technology evolved it became clear we had to apply new tools to help people in the field.
I’ve always been a fan of application virtualization, especially when supporting distributed, mobile and remote workforces. I think it’s important to create a consistent experience for the end user, regardless of their location. Virtualization enables higher levels of support and increased scalability and security. At the same time, virtualization helps you keep total cost of ownership down because resources and data can be managed centrally.
Technology aside, we had to address some cultural issues to gain acceptance among stakeholders. Few of those people who are away from the office are technology enthusiasts. They just want to do their jobs, and the last thing they need is for IT to get in the way.
We knew that the first hill is always the hardest to climb, and that adding new technology can have significant positive and negative effects on a culture. Construction tends to be an industry of tradition, so changing the way people operate takes time, commitment and patience.
The key in any change management effort is to ensure stakeholders appreciate the value the new technology is intended to bring. You do this through education and communication. You have to let people know how the company will benefit from the innovation. You also have to let people know how the individual will benefit.
In our case, as stakeholders began to see the value, and as they understood how they became more efficient in their jobs, the culture began to shift from being apprehensive of new technologies to one that embraces innovation. These cultural changes were more about the belief in innovation than about the acceptance of technology itself.
ME Who is using what devices?
DD The majority of our users are enabled to be mobile and can access the corporate environment from any Internet location and on nearly any device. Project managers and superintendents use laptops and iPhones. Our safety staff uses iPads, deployed with online forms. iPads are also being used by foremen for functions, such as punch lists.
ME What are the measurable benefits of mobility?
DD Clark Builders is realizing significant benefits in mobile technology in the elimination of paper- based processes. For example, we’ve improved the timeliness of project committed costs by over 97% by replacing paper-based purchase orders (PO) with a mobile enabled PO app.
We’ve also realized benefits thanks to speed and ease of use. Safety inspections are now reported immediately, and the process is easier for everybody involved. We used to have delay of days. This speed and ease of use has had a positive effect on Workers Compensation Board (WCB) reporting and premiums.
ME What about intangible benefits?
DD Because Clark Builders’ architecture is device agnostic, employees can use devices that they view as more functional and easier to use while they are out in the field. Currently, there is a heavy deployment of Apple devices, including iPads, iPhones and MacBook Airs. These devices have helped attract and retain employees.
ME Does mobile technology provide a competitive advantage?
DD Absolutely. The key competitive advantage for most construction companies is human capital. The better you enable project and construction management staff to perform their tasks, the better the project will be executed. One good way to enable them to get things done quicker and more easily is to get them timely and accurate information out of the centralized project and financial management system.
Without technology to provide mobile and remote accessibility, information is delayed, inaccurate, and unreliable. People can’t make good decisions without good information. Bad information leads to poor project quality and cost management, which in turn, translates to a decrease in customer satisfaction, erosion of profits, and ultimately a loss of good project and construction management employees.
ME What surprises have you run into during implementation?
DD When Clark Builders began the journey into mobile technologies we anticipated a significant requirement for end user training as the environment changed significantly. At first our assumptions were correct. We spent a substantial amount of time on training people on the new way of doing things.
Once end users began to experience the benefits of the new technologies, and once they saw how rapidly new apps and services could be deployed, the user community quickly swung from being unsure and skeptical to being believers and drivers. This was, of course, a pleasant surprise, but it was a double-edged sword. As the pendulum swung from IT driving solutions to the business driving solutions, the demand on the IT group grew significantly and we had to adjust our governance model to accommodate. This was a good problem to have, but a problem nonetheless.
ME What’s next?
DD Clark Builders’ infrastructure is well enabled for mobility from nearly all end-point devices. We are now working on application layers to make the mobile and remote experiences even better and more streamlined.
One example is time sheets, which are currently done in Excel. Clark Builders will be deploying a centralized timesheet system to optimize the time capture process, which could not have been done without the implementation of remote and mobile infrastructure. We deployed the infrastructure layer first, since that’s the foundation.
We’re also working on application modernization and business process reengineering. Those things are made possible by the centralized architecture, and they are made available to workers in the field through the remote and mobile technologies.