Better Building speaks with Scott Polsen, managing director at mechanical services provider Benmax.
Scott Polsen has been working at Benmax since 1995, after starting in trade work and coming up through the business and project management ranks. In the early days he spent time in the drafting office, so had a lot of exposure to digital technologies like building information modelling (BIM). Benmax first began trialling three-dimensional (3D) modelling software in the early 2000s, but it was after the 2013 Christchurch earthquakes in New Zealand that Benmax was forced to review some of its operational support systems. Here Better Building learns how Benmax employs Procore's systems in its operations.
Scott Polsen: As a business, we've always been very keen to look at technology and how it can improve our ability to deliver for clients. We always look at technology in the context of our client, as opposed to just looking at technology for technology's sake. In 2013 we were asked to head over to New Zealand and have a look at some projects after the earthquakes in Christchurch. Not long after that, we decided to actually establish an office over there and try and help out in the rebuild efforts. The decision obviously forced us, to some extent, to review some of our operational support systems to allow us to operate in different locations and remain consistent with our systems. During that time I actually undertook an evaluation of a number of different software platforms. I think, even back in 2013, Procore was still exceptionally further in front than a lot of other organisations in handling more of the process-driven elements of a project.
It was interesting for us because, at the time, being a specialist subcontractor, not a prime contractor or a head contractor, the software was really written around a head contractor's point of view. So we really did try to adopt our procedures and practices to suit the software, to be able to take the biggest advantage we could out of it.
BB: How are you using Procore today?
SP: It's integral to our systems now. We're in six locations at the moment, very spread out geographically across three locations in New Zealand and three in Australia. We’re able to order projects and review documentation for people in any office to work on any of our projects remotely. Obviously, that's a huge advantage. As time goes on, I think, we develop more and more use for Procore. We were a little naive when we first started using it. What we found out was it was a bit better to slowly adopt the tools and educate the people as we went along. But, certainly, some of the projects we do now are exclusively in Procore, with zero printing – completely paperless projects. The guys on-site are using tablets. When you're doing remote projects from the head office or even from a remote office, that gives you a huge amount of benefit for management of documentation and quality control.
Would we be right in saying that a lot of firms are late to adopt this kind of technology?
I couldn't tell you, to be honest. There are a few companies that we deal with now that are actually Procore users, even head contractors, so they've come onto the scene a little bit later. But certainly, especially from a subcontract point of view, a lot of businesses that we deal with tend to get drawn into using whatever the head contractor is using. There's still, obviously, the manual old Excel- and Microsoft-based systems that are out there. [Early on], we had even created our own project management process software using macros through Excel, but as soon as we went to New Zealand there just wasn't the level of control we needed to be able to audit significant projects and review the documentation from anywhere.
What would be your advice to people looking to adopt technology like this?
My tips would be: you need a champion. You definitely need a champion. We had an Australian champion and a New Zealand champion – someone for people to go to, to ask questions. Research what you're trying to achieve and pick the best software for it – and don't go for what's popular.
Slowly adopt the technology into the business. Procore has [at least] 14 different management tools that you can use inside a project, and I think having all of them on day one was a mistake; we should have gradually worked them through the business and into our systems. Take it slowly and work the system into the business. The last thing I'd say is: don't try and edit the software to manage your existing systems if you don't need to. I think some look at the way they currently work and try to get the new technology to completely adapt, rather than reviewing the way that the software has been built and actually integrating the software's process into their own business.
The advantages of using a cloud-based system, regardless of whether it's Procore or any other, I think, is the ability to interrogate the data. We use a host of online software and, through its APIs, we can actually interrogate quite a lot of the data, using Power BI (now known as Procore Analytics). One of the big advantages for us is the ability to interact the softwares together and interrogate the data that sits there and be able to model certain scenarios and look for outliers. That's a real benefit for cloud-based solutions. I certainly see that as an advantage for us, having that transparency to be able to interrogate the data, to be able to make better and quicker decisions.