The series: We look at decision makers among Canada’s mid-sized companies who took successful action in a competitive global digital economy.
Jayman Homes was building 100 houses a year until it decided to go fast – now it builds 1,000.
“We invested in software called Fast Management to handle all of our purchasing and scheduling of our work,” says Jay Westman, chairman and CEO of the Calgary-based home-building firm.
“It basically turned our superintendents, who worked in a rough-and-tough, command-and-control world, into modern project managers,” he says.
“It doesn’t save a lot in terms of the number of people you need to work, but saves time and improves accuracy,” Mr. Westman adds.
Jayman Homes, founded in 1980, is Alberta’s largest home builder. The company, with 270 employees, started in Calgary and has built homes in Edmonton and the United States and at one point, it shipped homes in containers for assembly in Japan.
It was an exponential leap to increase house production tenfold. “It wasn’t easy,” Mr. Westman says. “It took us almost a decade to perfect. We started the whole process in 1995.”
While today there are cloud-based project management systems that builders use, software in 1995 was, well, in the last century. There were no smartphones or tablets, and the big tech breakthrough that year was the launch of Windows 95.
Jayman’s supervisors now walk around with laptops, smartphones or tablets, or they input data at the building site office into computers using Fast Management’s up-to-date software.
Fast Management is a division of Constellation Homebuilder Systems Inc., headquartered in Markham, Ont., which now owns and manages a number of construction software companies and has more than 125,000 customers in 100 countries. Using Fast Management adds about $150 to the cost of each house, but it more than makes up for this in time saved and the ability to track construction progress and supplies, Mr. Westman says.
The field of construction management software is competitive now in the age of startups,” says Lauren Hasegawa, co-founder of Bridgit, a Canadian construction software company.
“Several companies are catering specifically to the residential construction industry and are focused on workflows like managing deficiencies, pre-installation checklists and pre-delivery inspections. The options for construction collaboration software are plentiful and include Canadian products,” she wrote in Home Builder, a Canadian trade publication.
“Moving forward, communication practices that allow people to get all of the project information and updates they need, on the go and in real time, will be a non-negotiable in construction,” she added.
Maybe so, but Mr. Westman said when Jayman started with software at the dawn of the digital age it was quite negotiable – and lots of workers had trouble adjusting.
“It was a whole behaviour change for us. It changed the whole way we do purchasing for our projects,” Mr. Westman says. “Before, when we did purchasing, we would cost every element of the project separately,” he explains.
The growing pains meant that Jayman eventually needed to hire new project cost estimators who could adapt to computers from clipboards and pens.
“We went through just about our whole accounting department as well, and then we even had trouble hiring superintendents. They had to use computers,” he says. “I championed it for our company, but I had to learn, too. Today it’s part of our culture but it took a long time to get efficiencies.”
It was worth the trouble. Putting everything into a software system allowed Jayman to keep track of the materials being ordered so they would be paid for and arrive to sites more regularly and at the right times.
Making the orders and the work flow more smoothly and evenly “is what enabled us to move from 100 to 1,000 homes per year,” Mr. Westman says.
The company kept track of the effectiveness of moving to software by benchmarking different indicators such as costs and time and talking with other builders to determine what the best practices are for going digital.
“That took about five years. You start as a student and you end up as a teacher,” Mr. Westman says.
The home-building industry will likely include even more forms of technology in the near future.
The U.S. Building Safety Journal says that, “according to a Construction Technology Trends report by Software Connect, 26 per cent of small to mid-size construction professionals in North America are already using drones or plan to use them by 2020 to survey sites and inspect construction.
“Goldman Sachs estimates that the construction industry will adopt drone usage more rapidly than any other commercial industry.”
Mr. Westman says that the future tech he’s watching is 3D modelling of projects and virtual tours of homes that have not even been built. “But the technology is still not there yet,” he says.
Even with innovation, “the home-building industry is still relatively low tech. It’s not that we’re not trying to be high tech, but we have to keep the pricing down for our customers to afford homes,” he says.
“I’m definitely sold on using certain types of technology,” he adds. But in a boom-and-bust place like Alberta, a builder has to be careful, because the business cycles can be wild.
“Right now we’re in a time of high supply and low demand. Before the 2008 financial crisis we were in high demand. It was just tough to get things done,” he says.
His advice for leaping into technology in 2018 is based on his experience as something of a tech pioneer 23 years ago.
“Be patient, don’t bet the farm on technology. And learn how to read those business cycles,” he says.