By Shawn Conner, Special to The Vancouver Sun
Doug Scott remembers the advent of a once-revolutionary piece of technology, and how he thought it was the greatest thing to happen to construction since the hard hat.
“I remember standing around in awe when a fax machine came into play,” the owner/president of Wales McLelland Construction said. “That was a huge leap forward for the industry. But it hasn’t changed that much since then.”
Perhaps the next step for the construction industry is SiteMAX. A construction project management system app devised by James Faulkner of Faulkner Brand Inc. and pushed forward by Scott, SiteMAX lets clients follow their project along in real time, as project managers and other on-site workers update their progress.
“Most sites are remote from the office, and transient,” Scott said. “You can do work for six months or a year and then move onto somewhere else. The challenge we’ve always had is, how do you keep track of what’s going on at the sites?”
An engineer by training, Scott has spent his career in construction. He’s seen digital cameras and laptops added to the technology mix, but it hasn’t been enough.
“We had all these pieces of equipment, but nothing ever quite synced properly. Our superintendents would spend hours trying to download pictures onto their PCs off the digital cameras, then have to get an Internet connection and so on.”
To develop and promote SiteMAX, Scott teamed up with Faulkner to form a third-party IT group, SiteMAX Systems.
According to Faulkner, “SiteMAX works with Wales McLelland to develop new features and utilizes its seasoned field professionals to test and provide feedback in a real environment.”
Early on in the app’s development, Scott and his team decided they wanted one specifically designed for use on iPad minis. The device’s ease-of-use was key, he says.
“You have people on-site charged with running construction projects, and they don’t have time to be doing a lot of computer work,” he said. “The beauty of the iPad is that it’s basically touch-screen. And it slips easily into the pocket of a safety vest.”
Site superintendents can take and automatically upload pictures so that they can be seen immediately at the office.
Daily prompts, such as safety considerations, come up on the screen, and worker time-sheets are easily accessed.
“And all that information is tracked,” Scott said.
“We’re no longer counting on somebody running from site to site with an envelope stuffed with random pieces of paper.”
Wales McLelland has had SiteMAX running for just over a year.
Scott said his company has seen unintended benefits from the new tech.
“The big thing I’ve noticed is the engagement between our office staff and field staff,” he said.
“Our accounting people know a project by a name, perhaps it’s 235 East 12th Street. Well, they would have no idea what that project is — it could be an office building, it could be a warehouse, it could be a food-processing plant. Now, in our office we have big screens that go through a carousel of pictures and information. There’s a picture of the superintendents who are on-site, they know what the project is, they know of any kind of event or social get-together. Instead of the disconnect that there’s always been between the office and site, now they’re familiar with what’s happening.”
Greater engagement with clients is another byproduct.
“We realized, we have all this information we’re keeping track of, so why not make it transparent?” Scott said.
Now, Wales McLelland can set up their clients with real-time info.
“Instead of driving out to a site or looking at some piece of paper they can log in or go into their boardroom and have a look at what’s happening that day. They’re involved. It creates a bit of excitement about the whole process. Some of our clients are using it on their marketing websites.”
For homeowners or retailers buying or leasing into properties sight-unseen, this can be a selling point.
“What we’re seeing now is, if someone is building a space for lease, the real estate groups will develop a website specific to that site. We can put a button on that website so someone can go in and see the construction as it’s happening. They find that helps with their selling abilities. It’s not just a project in theory, it’s being built.”
As the industry becomes more sophisticated, more young, tech-savvy people may look at construction as an option.
“One of the things I’ve noticed over the years is that, working in construction, it’s almost like people talk about it as in, ‘I worked construction until I got a real job,’” Scott said. “There hasn’t been a lot of desire, particularly in the last number of years, for younger people to get into the business and make a career of it. I think this whole improvement in the technology side of things is appealing to younger people, as well as being cost-effective and helping our productivity.”
Matthew Walmsley, a 26-year-old project coordinator at Wales McLelland, comes from a family background in construction.
Yet, he said, “What really piqued my interest as I grew up, and especially when I finished my schooling, was Wales McLelland’s advancement in technology, and in putting something like SiteMAX together. I looked at that and saw they had a unique product and spot in the industry.”
The opportunities are limitless when it comes to integrating technology in construction, he notes.
“The industry is still fairly behind the times. Up until this program, we were essentially waiting for a return call or email to respond to things. The ability to have something like this really makes it a lot more efficient.”
Scott would like to see SiteMAX widely adopted, as much as a sign that the construction industry has moved beyond the fax machine as for its efficiency and transparency. So far, SiteMAX Systems has seven clients, including Wales McLelland.
“For most people, there’s some real interest in any of these i-devices,” he said.
“Now that we have these, and that any information that would normally be written on a piece of paper is now accessible on a touch-screen — it’s just a much more professional and modern way to do things.”