Mobile Technology & Decentralized Crew Management

A case study of deploying emerging tech for efficiency, control and compliance!

 

Written by Paul DelFino

We need an app! This phrase is one of the most current vogue responses in business. There is little question that mobile technology has changed the way we think and act each day. But – in the surge to be contemporary many of the customized business apps developed sit lonely and underutilized in the cloud. Their failure is not in code but in not solving a business need or making things easier.

In 2012 CTECAG an emerging construction repair firm in central Nebraska identified needs for efficiency, control and support in documenting compliance to a multitude of safety regulations. After the needs analysis the hot phrase was eventually deployed around the conference room table – “we need an app!” And this time – they were correct and executed with perfection while teaming up with a developer, “LogicalEngine” who enhanced the vision by helping CTECAG understand the capabilities and therefore increasing the app functionality to improve customer service.

THE BUSINESS NEED

CTECAG manages up to 13 construction crews around the US primarily repairing agricultural facilities such as silos. This specialized work requires intense project planning, materials control and has crews continuously in hazardous environment often working 90 ft in the air. The company was seeking a methodology to:

  • Prompt Crew Supervisors through a work day planning discipline requiring documentation of: crew deployment, equipment to be used, material to be used and confirmation of required daily safety briefings and checks.
  • Provide Crew Supervisors with a tool and template to completed end of day reporting of project progress, material used and hours worked by each crew member for seamless interface to a centralized payroll system.
  • Provide management and centralized project managers with an automated report consolidation tool that would auto email a daily comprehensive report to key personnel daily wherever they were.
  • Provide the company with project alert tools where incidents that stopped work or represented a major change in the daily plan could be communicated to all management personnel instantly with the need for telephone calls throughout the company to notify the proper individuals that follow-up action was required.

THE SOLUTION

CTECAG was introduced to Tom Droste and Steve Johnson at LogicalEngine, an emerging tech firm specializing in customized business app development. The LogicalEngine team approached the project with a diagnostic methodology. They interviewed multiple layers and potential users of a crew management app and introduced a mapping/wire framing process to share what CTECAG could expect and what feature functionality was possible. The framework selected included the pre project set up by CTECAG where project schedules, goals, budgeted materials allotted and the actual personnel assigned to a project were preloaded. The preloading of assigned personnel allows the app to serve as a digital record of hours worked and a direct interface to the CTECAG payroll system was developed. With hundreds of hourly workers decentralized within 13 crews the daily transmission of and digital input of time cards had everyone at the firm excited about the efficiency at the start.

Another design element was the consideration of the daily work life of a supervisor. The app was designed to assist not to be a requirement. Prior to launch crew supervisor were required to:

  • Call into project managers daily with a work plan
  • Document and record safety training daily
  • Call in material orders which were purchased centrally
  • Call in at end of day with a complete report of all work, hours, and a preliminary plan for the day.

The actions above took each supervisor 2 + hours per day and an equivalent amount of time was spent by project managers documenting the information. The final step that also required a solution was the compilation of all this information into and executive report summary by end of day/beginning of next day.

The app developers replicated the traditional reporting into screens which prompted supervisors through the morning work plan process. An additional benefit was the capability of supervisors to add digital photographs of jobs at the outset of the day. The before / after photo capability introduced a new dimension to the reporting and records at CTECAG while also providing a capability to visually report to customers on job progress whenever desired.

The end of day report was also designed as a prompting template which allowed significant free form writing when detailed data had to be shared.

End of day reports are compiled automatically from supervisor input and auto emailed to project managers and executive management in evenings and mornings for follow-up when required.

IF IT IS IMPORTANT INTRODUCE IT IN A UNIQUE WAY

Through development CTECAG management had a latent fear that the technology would be intimidating to selected crew supervisors. They determined that the introduction of the system and the apps had to be unique leaving the impression that compliance was now a requirement. A two day meeting was conducted and all supervisors were brought in CTECAG’ headquarters where:

  • They were provided with a project overview
  • Each was issued a IPAD with 4G capability
  • App Training was conducted

Surprisingly the supervisors were among the systems biggest champions. It made reporting easier, faster, and improved overall communication with the central office and project managers. They now had the capability to photo a problem and instantly communicate with engineering and project management for solutions. The app helped them anticipate material needs and minimized payroll errors.

IS EVERYBODY HAPPY?

The CTECAG Crew Management App has been in use for over 8 months. The result:

MANAGEMENT – Faster, better information and expansion of crews without adding administrative overhead. Automatic digital record keeping and the capability to improve customer communication with digital project updates.

PROJECT MANAGERS – Faster, better communication with crews and significantly more time in addressing project problems vs. collecting information.

SAFETY REGULATORS & INSURANCE CARRIERS – Unparalleled documentation of safety requirements and digital prompting of safety briefing mandates. (OH – the system was designed so that payroll hours cannot be entered until safety reporting is completed!)

CREW SUPERVISORS – Less time on the phone reporting. Less supervisory and project requirements forgotten since the system prompts them daily. Instant alert capability with the central office when assistance is needed.

CUSTOMERS – Better information on project status’ and faster project completion.

WHY NOT?

The CTECAG story of introducing APP technology to the management of decentralized crews is a story book success. It begs the question: If you have decentralized service operations – why aren’t you doing this?

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