Driving efficiency in construction
By RACHAEL PLANTConstruction Equipment Equipment Technology Software
Fleet management software is helping construction fleets maintain safety, improve employee engagement and retention, and maximize productivity.
Within the fleet industry, the construction sector has been one of the slowest to adopt new technologies and digital business solutions. A lot of that has to do with the difficulty around finding a cost-effective and scalable solution that’s easy to implement and use.
A scalable solution doesn’t just need to grow and adapt with your business, it needs to be able to integrate with your business solutions to provide a more comprehensive — yet easier — way to manage your fleet and business operations. Choosing a Fleet Management Software (FMS) package that aligns with your systems is just as critical as ensuring that you have the right equipment in your fleet and on your jobsites.
BUILDING A CASE FOR SOFTWARE
According to the 2020 FMI report, Where Construction Firms Are Finding Value, the leading software being used in construction includes project financials, project management, safety/risk management, equipment management, and field/labour management. While 51.4 per cent of firms are using construction software to maintain safety, fewer than half the firms surveyed were using software to tackle two other leading industry concerns: skilled labour retention and maximizing field productivity.
Communication and data transparency are huge when it comes to keeping employees engaged and reducing turnover. Communication bottlenecks are not only frustrating for employees; they also slow down productivity. A cloud-based FMS with a mobile app, integration features, and an open Application Programming Interface (API) facilitates real-time communication while consolidating data onto a single platform for more impactful insights.
Data transparency makes it quick and easy to find out who’s assigned to a vehicle or piece of equipment, who performed service on an asset, the current status of an asset (active, inactive, in the shop, etc.) and helps promote accountability at every level. Additionally, FMS takes on the role of equipment management and aids in safety, risk and field management.
Alberta-based Barmac Contracting, a company with roughly 60 pieces of equipment and 35 employees, recently adopted a new FMS, and the company did not take the decision lightly.
Management there had previously implemented payroll software that they discovered came with a major financial catch. When they needed it to scale up, the company found out that it was going to cost upwards of $30,000 to do so, and that was on top of a monthly fee. Considering the difficulties the company had when implementing the payroll software, it should not be surprising that it took a cautious path when looking for a digital fleet management solution.
“I almost lost a bookkeeper. She was getting so stressed trying to work through it,” explains Norma Block, the company’s CEO, about the payroll system implementation. “Anyway, got it done and that was fine, and it worked for a while. But then once we started needing [something more], it was $10,000 here, $20,000 there, plus there was a monthly fee. We started realizing this was going to bankrupt us.”
Construction businesses are all too familiar with this scenario. It’s hard not to be hesitant when it comes to adopting a new technology when faced with the potential for implementation failure, loss of money, and a huge waste of time trying to figure out a new system. Luckily, with the right understanding of what your business, and specifically what your fleet, needs to reduce expenses and maximize productivity, it’s easier to determine what software might be right for you.
For Barmac, the initial thought was to build a solution that fit their fleet and business, but a proprietary or bespoke system is not without risks either, so they were open to an existing product, but it had to match to their needs. They also knew the system had to be intuitive and easy to use, otherwise it would not get the necessary buy-in from its staff. Their research-based cautious approach has paid off so far.
“Everybody has loved it,” says Block. “I haven’t had one complaint from any of our workers about the ease of use and just the way that the information is presented. They’ve all really bought into the program.”
A key takeaway from the process for Barmac was that when researching a new business solution or technology, it is critical to determine your needs as precisely as possible, and to get buy-in from end users. Advice from peers and other industry professionals is also beneficial as is, ultimately, the software’s ability to scale with your business.
WHY FMS IS AN ASSET
Fleet is a large expense for construction companies. Between asset procurement and management, adhering to safety and other regulatory concerns on the road and on the jobsite, reducing liability in the case of accidents, improving the lifecycle of assets, and increasing asset ROI, there’s just a lot to manage.
A cloud-based FMS doesn’t just help with these issues, it improves productivity through real-time communication, automated workflows, and data transparency. Properly implemented FMS should make a fleet manager’s job easier as it helps them address safety, accounting, maintenance and data tracking.
“We use [our FMS] for daily inspections because that’s a must… We have to be able to supply the operators with information on the units that they operate,” says Block about the integration of safety inspection forms into the system. “Our safety coordinator loves them.”
And the benefit of the use of digital forms doesn’t stop with the safety checklists, she explains.
“We have the drivers do a daily check in,” she says, adding that Barmac’s accounts department then uses the forms. “Before we would wait until the drivers dropped those forms off, they would leave it in a dropbox by the shop and within two to three days, somebody would go pick them up. Now we get that information instantly, daily, from the drivers.”
That allows the company to more easily track hours worked, and who worked.
“In this world, a lot of things happen between 11 at night and 3 in the morning. Weather changes everything; people get sick. I have to know who’s onsite. I love that I can just go in and watch who’s doing their inspections, so I can confirm that way who worked and who didn’t work,” she says.
And with the ability to digitally pull up service histories, the FMS makes life easier for other departments as well.
“The mechanics love the fact that if they want to know, ‘Hey, when was the last time we did anything on this engine?’ it’s information at their fingertips,” says Block. “They don’t have to rely on somebody else to weed through huge, horrible spreadsheets or papers.”
It also lets operators know whether items they notice have already been reported.
“They can have real-time conversations with the mechanics over ‘When is this going to be fixed?’” adds Block.
CONTROLLING ASSET MAINTENANCE
For Barmac, a major issue that needed to be resolved was how the company went about maintenance. It got to the point where work orders weren’t being filled out and trying to be proactive seemed a thing of fiction.
“We really set out on a path to get to that point where we change from a business that just fixes things… to being a company that actually starts being proactive and predicting and preventing things,” she explains. “I can’t even predict the amount of years that it has put us ahead of the game to getting to that final goal. Are we at that final goal now? Not quite yet, but I see where we can get there.”
While construction is trending toward the adoption of more technology, it’s clear that old habits die hard and there’s still a stigma about software and solutions that are hard to ignore, which was illustrated when Barmac leased some of its equipment to another company.
“I was trying to track our hours and I was trying to convince them to allow me to set up the app and invite their operators using our equipment as guests, but they pushed back hard,” says Block, explaining that the company didn’t want to confuse its operators with new technology. “Next time that’s just going to be a must — that they have to get the app. We [will] bring them on as guests so I can watch the equipment.”
Block and her team are already looking toward the future with the company’s chosen FMS. With the goal of bringing their parts inventory in line within the software using its barcode feature, plus adding in a GPS integration, Block hopes even more fleet elements will fall under easy management.
With a history in automotive journalism, Rachael Plant is a content marketing specialist with Fleetio, a developer of fleet management software that helps organizations track, analyze and improve their fleet operations.
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