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By Erica Sweeney
October 30, 2017
Construction business owners embrace technology because of the efficiencies it creates. But implementing new technologies companywide isn’t always easy; staff may resist, rollout may be hectic, and plans may fail.
“We often spend millions of dollars on figuring out and developing the technology, but we don’t spend enough time and resources on how to actually get it rolled out and how to get people to use it,” says Helge Jacobsen, Vice President of Operations Excellence at equipment rental company United Rentals.
“We have a saying at United Rentals—and we learned the hard way—that the hard part is easy and the easy part is hard. The technology part that we often spend a lot of time on—the hard part—often tends to be the easiest part. Whereas, rolling it out is actually really hard.”
Christian Burger, President of Burger Consulting Group, which provides information systems consulting for the construction industry, says the industry hasn’t raced toward technology the way other sectors have, nor has it devoted as much time and money to technology. These days, he says, there are more solutions available to the industry than ever before.
“Too many people enter into solutions with the mindset that they have bought a toaster,” Burger says. “When you put bread in a toaster, you expect toast. You push the button down and out comes a toast.
“Software doesn’t work that way. You have to be patient and mindful of not necessarily building the toaster but a lot of settings and configuration. Some systems are more complex than others. But, no matter the complexity, I prefer to see companies spend the time to get the solution modified to fit the situation and make it as bug free as possible before you roll it out, so that the users do get toast.”
A successful rollout of technology takes careful planning and a solid strategy. It includes defining expectations, adjusting processes, and highlighting long-term value. Jacobsen and Burger share their secrets for how construction companies can implement new technology.
1. Designate a technology ambassador to define the value.
Burger says construction company leaders often don’t define clearly their expectations and requirements for new technology or ways to measure its success.
He claims what the leaders do is they look for a better platform to do the same things the previous solutions had to offer. “They don't really think outside the box; they don't think ahead; they don't think about change; and so, they basically look for a system that does what they do today or will allow them to continue, rather than breaking old paradigms.”
Goals and expectations should be communicated to the team during development and implementation, and company leaders need to check in continuously to ensure that the desired outcomes are being achieved long term.
“I would sit down with the team when we are done and say, ‘We have just spent $50,000 or $100,000 and six months getting it up and running. What have we got? What do you see as better today than it was when we started?’” Burger suggests. “They should be able to answer that question.”
Having an individual or team set the tone for new technology can go a long way in having a smooth launch. Burger recommends having an executive sponsor. This role is accountable, has authority to make decisions and sets the tone and goals for the new technology. They get the message out about why the organization is bringing on new technology, and what value it brings to the company.
2. Technology is not a stand-alone endeavor.
Refining processes is just as important as the new technology itself, Jacobsen says, explaining that companies often don’t take the time to figure out ways to create efficiencies before applying technology. This can cause headaches during implementation.
“Really understanding the process and taking the waste out of a process first before you automate, it has proven to be a big deal for us,” he says. “It’s been a great tool for us because we get a better view of what’s truly going on. and together we develop great processes.”
Technology introduction should not be a stand-alone project. Instead, it should be part of an overall movement where everyone is engaged in making the business better, Jacobsen says. Otherwise, technology projects can be siloed and may be resisted by the team.
“It just becomes a natural part of making everything better,” he suggests.
3. You don’t need 100% buy-in.
Company-wide buy-in of new technology depends on a clear discussion of its value for an organization and the desired outcomes. Burger urges companies to focus on how the organization as a whole will benefit, rather than how individual jobs may become easier.
“Sometimes, we find that one person's job is really not made that much easier,” he explains. “It's not harder; it's just a different role. But then, downstream, there's a whole lot of improvement.”
For example, Burger says, if the operations team in the field issues purchase orders, it may create more work for them. However, the accounts payable and invoice approval process becomes more streamlined and efficient. It benefits operations in the long run.
“What happens is when you streamline processes, the direct beneficiary may not be evident,” Burger says. “So you just want to make sure that what you're doing is for the greater good. We're all going to benefit in different ways at different times.”
Some pushback is common. Burger urges company leaders to not let the vocal minority rule when it comes to new systems and processes, because a hundred per cent buy-in isn’t necessary for a successful launch.
“Too many companies feel like, ‘Oh, Joe won’t like it. He hates technology.’ So we basically stand still because Joe won’t go along with it,” he says. “We need a handful of other people who are willing, ready and able, and get them going.”
4. Roll out technology strategically.
How technology is rolled out to the team is an important consideration when launching something new.
One option is to phase in certain functionalities. For example, with a new accounting system, a company may launch its core tools first, and then gradually add on inventory, equipment management, and other features.
Another approach, Burger says, is the trickle effect where the same technology is doled out to certain groups one at a time. It is a more controlled rollout that enables ongoing modification. For example, let one jobsite try out a new system and give their feedback. Make modifications and roll it out to another jobsite. By the third rollout, the system is pretty well ironed out.
“The noise level and resistance is way down,” Burger explains.
Doing a full company-wide rollout can be overwhelming for the information technology team and costly for companies if the launch fails because they may have purchased several licenses and equipment that may not get used, he says.
5. Channel a feedback loop.
The process doesn’t end once the technology is fully rolled out. Company leaders need to continuously check the pulse of the organization’s processes and technology and make adjustments as needed.
Jacobsen says companies sometimes want to check the technology implementation off the list and be done, but not continuously following up can be costly.
“Now, we have feedback loops when we roll out new technologies where we’re constantly getting feedback, constantly updating the technology and making sure that we take everybody's feedback seriously,” he explains.
“We keep iterating on the technology. Even if the technology is not perfect when it gets rolled out, because we are responsive to feedback, people will be way more tolerant as they know that over the next 12 months we'll get it right. That feedback loop and having the resources and timeline to improve and act on the feedback has proven to be incredibly important.”
Burger says taking stock of systems and satisfaction should be an ongoing, all day everyday thing. “You've really got to be paying attention to the user community,” he says.
6. It’s OK to fail.
With anything new, things may not always go smoothly. Accepting that fact and learning from it can be tough, Jacobsen says.
“As a practical industry of practical people, it’s taken us a while to learn that it’s OK to fail, especially in developing technologies,” he affirms.
“The first version rarely works the way you wanted it to. Being able to culturally accept that it’s OK to fail, that it was a great learning experience for us, and then iterate the next one has been hard. It's not a natural part of our DNA to accept failure and to say it's a good thing, and it's a learning opportunity for you to make the product or the technology better. That whole idea of incorporating innovations and failing fast or failing forward is proven to be really hard.”
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