Management by Design: Two construction professionals say technology, productivity are driving business

Special to the Journal

Being successful in today’s business environment demands much more than marketing. It is important to keep clients happy by doing a good job. I interviewed two prominent contractors, focusing on how the right technology and increased productivity helps their firms do well.

Exxel Pacific

Geoff Stodola is president of Exxel Pacific, a regional contractor with offices in Seattle and Bellingham. He said construction activity in the greater Seattle area is outpacing the national average and his firm feels fortunate to have its services in demand.

How do you stay ahead in your industry?

We look for innovations to maximize our efficiency and enhance the quality of our product. We have to be savvy about the leading technology trends to stay at the forefront of our industry.

How do you use technology in different phases of the construction cycle?

At Exxel Pacific, we have created and integrated several new technology-based systems. For example, in pre-construction, we now electronically record all “red-line” comments on design documents for constructability and design coordination using a Bluebeam based software system that is used collaboratively with the owner and the design team members.

In estimating, we use an on-screen quantity takeoff program that enables accurate takeoffs and provides quality color graphics that nicely display our assumptions for our clients and the design consultants.

During construction, we have incorporated an electronic plan management system where all on-site plan revisions such as Requests For Information and Architects’ Supplemental Instructions are incorporated. Details are hyperlinked, creating “as-built” and up-to-date plans in real time. On site team members and subcontractors can then use this electronic plan set — viewed in the field office on a large monitor, or on tablets in the midst of construction activity.

Further, both our interior and building envelope quality control and assurance programs are managed using software that tracks outstanding correction and punch list items using electronic documentation and status tracking, which results in an efficient closeout process.

At the business operations level, we use ViewPoint, a software system that integrates our project management systems, including site related logs, job cost analysis and change management, in real time, with our accounting system. This makes our firm more efficient.

What technology pitfalls should you avoid?

If you are not careful there can be a dichotomy between advancing technology and the core values we hold close. We encourage our employees to be innovative thinkers and to take advantage of these systems and tools. However, this requires a balance with the key qualities we work so hard to find in our employees. We want to see a high level of personal engagement, connection with what is happening on our job sites, and an emphasis on building and maintaining strong relationships with those we interact with. If we lose sight of this, technology may pull us away from those critical personal interactions. The benefits that can come from a simple walk around a job site, a phone call or the value gained from a face-to-face meeting can be significant.

Andersen Construction

Joel Rohrs is regional vice president, Washington, at Andersen Construction, which has offices in Seattle, Portland and Eugene, Ore. and Boise, Idaho. He said productivity is a prime focus at his firm.

How do you get greater productivity?

We have seen a push into LEAN construction principles. Our health care clients are at the forefront of this, and we are moving the envelope together with them. The efficiencies that these design and construction principles provide can be staggering, and what starts as a mindset quickly becomes a way of business.

LEAN is another way to be socially responsible through our built environment. It saves time and money, driving efficiency, while decreasing waste. We are developing a training regimen for field and office professional staff to further our knowledge and practices of LEAN principles.

What tools do you use to support your productivity?

Our superintendents and field engineers are using mobile devices in the field. But, driving for improvement, we are now looking at ways to enhance and streamline these tools. To do this, we are purchasing tablets for our field superintendents and project site teams to enable us to mobilize our integrated project management and accounting software in the field. This will increase our productivity by allowing our field teams to act immediately and proactively with quality control and schedule management. In addition, these devices will allow us to communicate field issues as they arise, and rapidly apply solutions. This real-time interaction with other project team members will allow construction progress to continue virtually without pause.

Where are you headed this year?

Andersen Construction’s Seattle office is poised to grow our business in the Puget Sound region, and we are focusing on getting our ‘brand’ out in our core marketplaces — in health care, housing, higher education and high-tech. To accomplish this, our 2014 objective is to continue to develop our technology and our people, and remain operationally excellent in this region. We focus on our client base and their satisfaction, not on chasing a bottom line profit.