Growing from just a handful of employees 10 years ago up to 50 workers today makes following processes much more of a priority than it used to be. Yet, how to create efficient processes for a budget-conscious, mid-sized company is not as easy as one may think. That’s the scenario Westcor Construction Ltd.’s president and CEO Bob Robinson says his company came to face after serving the Greater Calgary area as a full-service contractor and construction manager for the past decade.
“When we started off as three or four people, processes weren’t that important because we talked to each other all the time,” Robinson says. That’s not the case anymore.
He says it’s clear that success resides in a company’s grasp of information and communications technology (ICT) but achieving that success on its own is where Westcor hit a roadblock. “There are a handful of large guys that have IT folks that are employed full-time,” Robinson says. “And then there is a whole pile of guys that just don’t have the company size to be able to afford something like that; it’s not something that fits into the business plan.”
Westcor, like many other small- to medium-sized construction companies, needs ICT assistance and it was Robinson’s board involvement with the Calgary Construction Association (CCA) and Alberta Construction Association (ACA) that paved the way for that help.
A concept Robinson helped generate from his own tribulations with IT led to a pilot ICT Adoption Program for construction companies in Alberta. The program’s content was created through a partnership between Productivity Alberta and the CCA. “We ended up being one of the companies that took part in the pilot and we were extremely pleased with the results,” Robinson says.
Throughout the pilot course, Robinson brought two company partners to join him: his team leader administration and team leader operations. It was one thing for Robinson to believe in the program, but to have the buy-in from other company leaders was even more important to him.
“It was a lot of time commitment,” he says. “We were away for the workshops and then, of course, we had to commit the time when Productivity Alberta came to our office – but it was well-worth the time.”
Via a Productivity Alberta-led “navel gazing” process within the program, Robinson and colleagues needed to explain the ins and outs of Westcor to those on the outside who knew very little about them. White boards were covered with details of the company’s process flow, which made areas of improvement relatively easy for the program facilitators to then point out.
Based on the feedback received from Productivity Alberta, Westcor leaders determined the company’s key goals for the future. Ultimately, they want to free up employees’ time so less time is spent at a desk buried in paperwork and more is spent face-to-face with customers.
Another goal regarding improved ICT efficiency is to have an integrated product delivery system that Robinson says should enable Westcor to double the company’s volume – with the same number of employees – and not feel overwhelmed. “I know it sounds like a big number (doubling volume), but our business is all about communication – being a general contractor and construction manager – so it’s all about having systems talk to each other,” Robinson says, adding that if systems become more unified he thinks their volume goal is achievable three to four years from now.
Robinson says that a big learning point during the pilot program was that introducing and implementing new ICT processes isn’t a quick change, nor is it a one-person job. He took the advice from the Productivity Alberta to keep employees in the loop of plans, even though Westcor postponed implementing anything until this fall. They wanted to complete the leadership team with a CFO first, and on September 24 they officially did. “Now that we have a team together and a CFO on board, we can forage through this thing and our plan is to roll this out and really start engaging employees over the next four or five months.”
Westcor executives have offered employees updates of where things stand and given them time to warm-up to the idea, for example, of taking a tablet device to site to complete checklists with – something quite different than what they already know and do.
Part of the communication to employees is to reassure them that the upcoming changes are good and nobody will be thrown into something without proper training. “We (leadership team) know and appreciate that we have to be open minded,” says Robinson. “I think we’ve got some really good people and we have to be smart about how we implement (new processes).”
For the time being, Westcor will still out-source its IT support and follow its slow-and-steady approach to growth that got the company comfortably through the last industry boom and bust. Their two-year-old building has built-in capacity for growth with areas they currently lease out but can take over themselves if need be.
The changes over the next few months and years aimed at improving Westcor’s ICT efficiency are geared to benefit their customers’ satisfaction. Robinson says the real driver to all of this work is to have customers feel and notice his company’s efforts as well.