Last year, Brett Ferguson and his team at Carlisle Homes created an iPad app that enabled construction supervisors to manage the daily activities related to building houses. The app allowed them to request supplies automatically, raise purchase requests and view construction drawings.
In the lead up to going live, the IT group identified two ‘low to medium but high impact risks.’ Firstly, the hardware that the organisation’s production system ran on was end of life and may not have been able to handle the load. Secondly, technical staff load tested the app in a user acceptance testing environment but this was not a true representation of how the app would handle traffic load in production.
But the “sponsorship group” agreed to go live despite these risks.
“My thinking at this time was that we’ve agreed on this course of action so if things did go badly, responsibility would be shared across the sponsorship group,” Ferguson tells CIO Australia.
“As you can guess, by this point things went pear shaped. Our ERP was not handling the increased traffic well so we implemented a series of band-aids over the course of two months and ultimately I had to make the call to take it offline so we could address the issues.”
After taking a verbal beating, Ferguson and his team learnt their lesson and since then they have created a test environment representative of production and have thoroughly load tested several scenarios with adjustments to how traffic is managed, each compared to a baseline performance test.
“We have also strengthened our core infrastructure, including alerts and monitoring, as well as our project management office and change control processes to ensure a ‘bullet-proof’ go live for any project,” Ferguson says.
“I have learned that high impact risks should be taken very seriously, even if their likelihood of occurring are low. I have also learned that ultimately, regardless of who has been involved in a decision regarding a technology project – I am and will be held accountable.”
The app has recently been successfully relaunched.
Real time pricing an industry first
But despite the hiccup, Ferguson and his IT team have deployed innovations that are not normally seen in the residential construction industry.
A big ‘bug bear’ for customers when they deal with volume builders is a lack of transparency around costs when they choose their house upgrades, says Ferguson.
To date, no volume builder has been able to provide real time pricing as customers make their selection. In most cases, pricing is provided days or weeks afterwards and usually comes as a shock that requires another visit to adjust their selections.
This damages the trust the organisation has worked hard to muster during the sales process, says Ferguson.
To overcome this issue, the organisation introduced real time pricing in what it claims is an industry first.
“Concurrently, we have launched Spectra Online, which allows customers to pre-select upgrades of interest before they reach the showroom floor. This not only improves their experience but reduces the time spent in appointments, which allows us to service more customers,” Ferguson says.
Ferguson and his team have also integrated digital signatures into the process, allowing staff to generate resulting variations to contracts and send immediately for signature.
This has reduced contract turnaround time from 1.5 weeks on average down to 2 days. It includes initial document generation, along with internal approval signatures which previously required manual document creation, printing, leaving the document on the approver’s desk, and the huge overhead of back and forth if it’s not approved, says Ferguson.
“Managers can now approve variations on the run via phone or tablet at any time. This also positively impacts our build times as site supervisors do not have to wait long for variations to be approved and resulting work to kick off.”
Carlisle Homes is now digitally processing nearly 2000 documents per month and saving more than 350 hours per month on warranty administration.
Ferguson and his team also introduced Tech Bar, a walk-up service to get staff tech issues resolved, which is particularly useful for staff who only get into the office once a week.
Business intelligence tool PowerBI also provides operations, construction, sales, permits and finance staff with near real-time insights into operational and sales activities via mobile or desktop. This enables them to forecast issues before they arise and adjust accordingly.
Finally, when customers call the organisation, the phone system recognises their number and presents the caller’s project on screen. This saves 3000 hours per annum in time wasted identifying and searching for a customer in the CRM system.
“While these achievements might seem less innovative than those seen in other industries, they are cutting edge within the residential construction industry,” says Ferguson.
“The last year has resulted in an ecosystem of technologies and associated processes that allows us now to attack machine learning, AI, virtual/augmented reality and the internet of things (IoT) with vigour. We have several projects on the go in these areas to further set us apart from the competitors.”