By Paul Gillin
When your product encompasses tons of steel, concrete and iron pipe, it turns out little bits can make a big difference.
Kiewit Corporation is one of North America’s largest and most respected construction, mining and engineering organizations.
With more than 30,000 employees, the company leads hundreds of projects each year that span the transportation, water/wastewater, power, oil, gas and chemical, building and mining markets.
Typical projects often involve hundreds or even thousands of people. They range from engineers to construction workers, along with thousands of pieces of equipment and countless materials and parts.
Equipment failures cause costly downtime. Just keeping track of inventory in a construction site that spans 500 acres creates unimaginable complexity.
Kiewit is applying digital business principles to transform the way it works. These principles are delivering insight on its operations that would have been unimaginable just a few years ago.
Over the last six years, the company has developed a suite of mobile applications that integrate with its core ERP. The mobile applications replace error-prone and inefficient paper forms and processes.
“We’re on a big push to become a data-driven company rather than an experience-driven company,” says Chief Information Officer Kris Lappala.
Data is notoriously difficult to maintain in a business in which projects may encompass hundreds of thousands of unique parts, ranging from piping to power generating jet engines.
One example of Kiewit’s applications uses scanners, barcodes and RFID equipment in the field to capture inventory and location when it enters the project site.
Prior to the use of this technology, junior engineers could spend a full day looking for a single pipe with a particular bend or shape, Lappala says. Now a handheld appliance directs them to the exact location in minutes.
A typical morning on a Kiewit site now begins with Play of the Day, an iPad-based planning app that project foremen use to plan their work and schedule resources for the day’s tasks. Actual quantities are claimed at the end of the day and reconciled against the master project management system. The result: Kiewit has profit and loss data for each project every day.
A portal site provides detailed information on hundreds of ongoing projects, enabling managers to evaluate cost efficiency on a per-task basis. They can also drill down on individual projects to find out which teams are operating most efficiently and share their tactics with others.
“If the project manager sees that a crew on another job is performing the same task more efficiently, he can reach out to them and see what they are doing differently,” Lappala says.
iPads have replaced clipboards and pencils for daily equipment checks. Engineers now log inspection data using a simple iPhone app that synchronizes the information with master maintenance and procurement systems.
If a part is broken, the engineer can send a photo to the mobile work order app. The photo kicks off an order in Kiewit’s ERP system to replace it.
Another app evaluates the need for scaffolding based on location, work required and safety considerations. Photos of the location can be shared for further verification of the request. That’s another example of an efficiency gain in Kiewit’s operations, driven by their mobile solutions.
Clients appreciate the Virtual Design and Construction Portal, a 3-D modeling application that ties the construction of the structure with their scheduling software.
“It gives our customers an even higher level of confidence in our schedule, costs and quality. It’s one more method of communicating effectively with clients of all types,” Lappala says.
The construction industry has made little progress in the past two decades against the standard efficiency metric of $1 million in revenue per man-year. Kiewit believes its digital business initiatives can improve their ratio by 50% by 2020. “We’re talking potentially incredible savings and efficiencies in the not-so-distant future,” Lappala says.
Paul Gillin is a writer and senior consultant at B2B social media training firm Profitecture.