Every construction job involves a web of interdependent components that—with myriad departments, pieces of equipment, and outside variables—is notoriously difficult to organize. A single missed gravel delivery or equipment malfunction can throw off a day’s schedule and cost thousands. And when you factor in outdated communication methods, you have yourself a very expensive game of broken telephone.
Bill Borger, CEO of Calgary’s Borger Group of Companies, is quick to admit that the company’s 102-year history generates a lot of inertia when it comes to outdated business practices. “It’s easy to get caught in ‘This is how we did it yesterday,’” he says. But there’s a bulwark against entrenched inefficiencies: an annual innovation fair that rewards workers for thinking outside the century-old toolbox.
Employees come up with ideas to improve the company and present them to coworkers—sort of like the grown-up version of a grade-school science fair. Votes from peers and senior management yield the top six most impactful innovations. Winners get a cash prize, and there’s even a gamification element—people whose ideas get implemented, and those involved in the implementation, get “innovation coins” for use in a company-wide game. “Ideas that come out of that fair change the way we do business about 50 different ways every year,” says Borger.
In 2016, an employee pitched a plan for software that would automate scheduling, which placed in the top six. The idea took a few years to gain traction, but in 2018, the firm started developing it in partnership with a local software developer. The project quickly grew from a scheduling app to a comprehensive software platform that manages nearly every aspect of a construction job—and perhaps most importantly, forecasts into the future to predict problems before they drain money. The software works so well that it’s now licensed to other construction companies under its own corporation, Vizzn Inc.
Vizzn is essentially a smart scheduling and dispatching platform. The software—accessible to workers via mobile app—keeps real-time track of everything from labour schedules, equipment maintenance, and materials deliveries to the activities of everyone on the team. It then filters this information and updates everyone who needs to know about it, based on their role.
Move a crane from one place to another? The transport team enters it on the app, and all the relevant parties get an update. In an especially nifty feature, the site map automatically updates to reflect the change, yielding a real-time map without the need for clunky GPS trackers. Forget to order locates (ground markings for infrastructure) for an upcoming job? The software will alert you before it becomes a problem. Want to know the perfect route for fuel trucks running between sites? Vizzn can calculate that, too.
“This might be the single most impactful innovation we’ve ever implemented,” says Borger. It’s spurred a seven-digit annual increase in profitability, not to mention a collective 2,500 fewer minutes on the phone each month. This is for the best, since it turns out broken telephone is only fun when you don’t have millions of dollars on the line.
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