LATEST NEWS Engineering
March 25, 2013
Technology makes inroads with construction firm
Site supervisors at Wales McLelland are pulling the plug on their laptops, digital cameras and printers and picking up iPads to document what's happening at their worksites.
Since last fall, the Burnaby-based company’s site superintendents and foremen have used iPads to relay daily updates to head office on everything from job progress to the current weather.
“This system is bringing us up-to-date,” said Doug Scott, president of Wales McLelland.
“We’d been stuck in the past.”
Using what’s called a smart system, the software developed for the iPads allows superintendents to manage all of their data on the highly portable devices.
They enter timesheets, employee data, project details, weather conditions and take photos on their sturdily encased iPads.
This online daily activity log is shared with head office, where staff access information that’s pertinent to their job.
Processes are streamlined.
Previously, superintendents filled out time sheets and then had them couriered to head office.
They also took photos and uploaded them onto a laptop, sometimes encountering frustrating and time-consuming computer glitches.
Superintendents welcome the new system.
“They have far less gear to drag around. It’s easier to secure at night. And there’s less wasted time,” said Scott, a civil engineer who purchased Wales McLelland in 1994.
All submitted reports are consistent and current.
Office staff love the system, Scott said.
Often accounting and clerical staff weren’t fully aware of project details. Now, with real time updates, staff have a handle on what their company is doing, making for a more efficient and engaged staff.
When unexpected changes occur at the site, response time is quicker.
“It’s helping us internally. It’s a win-win,” Scott said.
The brain behind the system is James Faulkner of Faulkner Brand, a Vancouver company whose speciality is creating business images.
In the construction industry, the focus is getting the project built, Faulkner said.
Wales McLelland wanted to use technology as a way to position itself as a forward-thinking company within the traditional industry.
“We are doing that,” said Faulkner, who has 15 years of brand development experience.
The second part of the strategy is to install at least two, large flat screen displays in hallways at the head office.
Using an interactive dashboard, information that comes from the superintendents will be displayed on the screens, which will cycle through current projects.
Now office staff will know that superintendent “Ron” is working in Richmond on the Fridge Building, for example and that the project is 80 per cent complete.
At the top of the screen, a “ticker tape” will continually run, providing nice snippets of information about other Wales McLelland activity, Faulkner said.
Future plans include providing clients with such screens so that they can see in real time exactly what’s happening at their multi-million dollar worksites.
Wales McLelland has clients based throughout North America, so having the ability to instantly see what’s going on provides some comfort for the far-flung customers, Scott said.
“We’re taking daily information and using it to engage the entire culture of the company,” Faulkner added.
What’s also significant about this system is that with a flurry of young, digitally-raised employees looking for work, having such a system becomes an attractant.
“Build it, and they will come,” Faulkner quipped.
Cutting edge technology draws younger employees so less time is spent seeking staff, he added.
Even now, younger employees view the company’s keyboard BlackBerrys as old technology, Scott said.
Developing the system cost about $50,000, Faulkner said.
That figure doesn’t include the purchase of about 25 iPads at roughly $400 each and the large screens.
However, Scott expects the return on investment to be quite rapid.
Not only will there be savings in time, but the need to purchase cameras, laptops and associated hardware has been eliminated.
While not aware of any other companies that have embraced the versatility of the iPad at a construction site, Faulkner said there are third party companies that provide daily on-site reporting services. What distinguishes his product are the “add-ons” such as the dashboard and ticker tape data.
“If there’s a tie out there, this will be a tiebreaker for us,” Scott said of Wales McLelland’s foray into a fully connected workforce.
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