McCownGordon Construction Empowers Remote Teams with Cloud-Based Software
Dustin Burns, Director of Information Technology (IT) at McCownGordon Construction, wants to make his company truly mobile. "My strategy is to get everything out of this office," he says.
The Kansas City, Missouri-based construction manager, which provides commercial construction services throughout the Midwest, is considered one of the highest-tech construction companies in the region-so it only makes sense for Burns to take operations to the next level by moving all technology out of the office and into the field.
As part of this effort, McCownGordon is using cloud-based project management software and mobile devices to virtually eliminate overhead costs related to keeping in-house servers and maintaining equipment. Cloud computing is fast becoming a critical component of software platforms that keep project teams connected while in the field. Remotely hosted, cloud-based software allows users to access and share the most up-to-date documents, plans, drawings, and photos from anywhere.
With increased mobile access, additional savings are also being realized in reduced travel time and project downtime, says Burns. Team members do not have to commute back to the office-or even spend time in a trailer logging onto an oftentimes slow VPN (virtual private network)-to access vital project information such as RFIs and change orders.
Empowering Teams in the Field
The key to making the company mobile is to provide remote team members with instant access to the most current project information and documentation. This includes project costs, estimates, payroll, and other accounting data.
For instance, if a project manager runs into an issue while on the job site, and estimates that it will take a given number of man-hours to complete a task, he can use a mobile device to look at the project budget and retrieve labor costs. From there, he can decide if the task can be completed within budget, or if a change order is needed.
To facilitate this type of access, McCownGordon uses Procore cloud-based project management software, which now integrates with Sage 300 Construction & Real Estate (CRE). Cost data from the accounting software automatically feeds into the project management software's cost management tools. This function gives project managers control over project budgets, allowing them to accurately forecast project costs and monitor project health from the field.
"The forecasting aspect is saving time, and the subcontractors whose time we're saving are people that bill us at pretty high rates," says Burns.
In 2012, McCownGordon switched from project management software that resided in-house to the Procore platform that allows mobile access through the Internet and dedicated mobile applications. It provided immediate improvements by:
Replacing the "spiral notebook": Superintendents previously used pencil and paper to jot down issues, and later logged the information into a software program or in an email to team members. Now they use their mobile devices to digitally log issues, snap photos to illustrate them, and issue RFIs. The software then enables that information to be immediately shared across the team.
Enabling mobile document and photo sharing: Team members no longer need to locate a computer to access contracts or emails with attachments. Nor do they need to use a digital camera to take project photos, which would then require uploading images to a computer to share with team members. "Now we just use Procore's mobile app," says Burns.
Eliminating printing costs: Many of McCownGordon's projects generate up to 1,200 new sheets of drawings over the course of 12 to 14 months. To cut costs and ensure the most current drawings are being used, the construction manager uses Procore's Drawing Tool to organize drawings into one master set. Procore automatically names and numbers every individual sheet with automatic version tracking to prioritize the most recent drawing set. Users can review and mark up drawings, approve changes, and distribute updated plans to their entire team-all from the mobile app.
Supporting a digital plan table: Burns' team has developed a digital plan table, which is a 60-inch TV mounted onto a mobile cart with an iPad locked into a kiosk mount. The iPad is logged into Procore, and subcontractors on the job site can get the drawings and documents they need without a hard-line Internet connection. A more rugged and secure version of the digital plan table can be rolled around the actual job site.
Allowing unlimited users: With previous vendors, one user license had cost the company from $3,000 to $3,500. "With our increased headcount, we would be spending $60,000 in internal staff licenses a year, and at least the same amount with external licensing," says Burns. The high licensing costs meant not all team members had access to the software.
Procore charges a flat fee for unlimited users, so the company can provide access to all project partners-without having to pass on any licensing fees to subcontractors. "The foreman for the concrete subcontractor can get in there now to get the latest drawings and all the documentation he needs to get his job done," Burns explains.
"Procore has raised our game to the point that we compete with companies 10 times our size, because we can deliver the same type of client experience as companies with a huge IT staff and custom-developed software," says Burns.
The software allows him to focus less on troubleshooting the technology and any associated hardware, and more on using the technology and its features to improve operations. For example, "If the electric company cuts my fiber line, like they have a couple of times, and we lose power, the work at the job site continues because we don't host the software and haven't lost access to project information. Or if somebody's computer dies, they do not need a specific machine to get back to work-they just need Internet access."
Although many sites do not have hard lines for Internet access, all that's needed for connectivity is a 4G LTE broadband card and a router. "Couple that with a streamlined mobile app and a website that's easy to navigate, and it's completely changed the actual job site," says Burns. Case in point-the company's portable digital plan table.
"It truly does differentiate us from our competition, and we've won projects against those bigger companies because of it," says Burns.