General Contractor

Software Selection

A large, not-for-profit, health care organization owns an $80 million, for-profit, general contracting business that performs much of its own trade work and specializes in doing its own electrical and mechanical work. In addition to performing lump sum and cost-plus-fee projects, the construction company has a significant work order requirement, and a large inventory used in their millwork shop. Seven other companies, for-profit and not-for-profit, also fall under the same corporate umbrella. This organization also is accountable to a parent corporation with its own software.

The Situation

The company had a small accounting system running on a Novell network that they needed to replace because support was being discontinued. They had been pressured by their parent corporation to adopt the Lawson software being implemented there. They had also done a preliminary search of available construction systems and were having difficulty deciphering the literature and narrowing the list down from eight potential vendors.

The Challenge

Many of the processes had been off line and poorly defined. It was necessary to define the processes as the requirements were being refining. It was also necessary to prove to the parent corporation that the company was adequately evaluating the software and that the solution found was a better fit than the Lawson system. Finally, the solution needed to be client/server and compatible with the overall Windows NT based corporate network.

Solution

BCG conducted planning sessions and interviews with each group from operations and accounting and developed a set of technical specifications. BCG also helped them narrow the list of eight vendors down to five, adding two that were not on their list and eliminating several others that could not have met the requirements. Through a Request for Proposal (RFP) process, the five vendors were narrowed to two and demonstrations and vendor visits resulted in the selection of an Oracle based client/server solution that met their technical and functional requirements.

Result

With BCG’s help, the client narrowed their alternatives and clarified their needs. BCG helped develop consensus, prepared detailed specifications to compare and contrast the vendor features and functions, and facilitated detailed presentations of the software. The client then had a clear vision of the best solution for their business. They were also able to identify areas of procedure improvement that were needed and begin their implementation with a clear picture of their objectives.

Lessons Learned

  • System selection in a large company is a complex process when all technical and functional requirements are viewed with the parent company in mind.
  • Selecting the most technically state-of-the-art system can present surprises during implementation.

This general contractor has grown from a firm of modest revenues to $1.2 billion in volume over five years. The company conducts business from 11 offices throughout the world. Doing highly specialized work, the company employs more than 2,000 people, including 1,500 field tradesmen. Payroll requirements include multiple unions and multiple states.

The Situation

The company had purchased a network based system several years ago when it was smaller. They had more than outgrown the system and were having data integrity problems as well as performance issues in spite of the thousands of dollars they had invested in Citrix Winframe servers and custom programming.

The Challenge

Due to the dispersed operations and the size of the company, it was clear that a traditional system selection was not practical. Management believes strongly in empowering their people and getting broad participation in significant decisions. Due to the widely dispersed operations, it was necessary to carefully coordinate and plan meetings and presentations so that travel could be minimized and personnel time could be used effectively.

Solution

BCG assisted the client with a two-stage system selection that involved both a technical compatibility and a functional compatibility examination of available software. Once the short list of vendors was determined, a system selection was conducted with a detailed Request for Proposal (RFP) prepared with the involvement of personnel from most of the eleven offices. Two vendors, both Oracle based, were short-listed and detailed demonstrations were conducted. A single vendor was then selected to conduct a weeklong conference room pilot (CRP) facilitated by BCG. Following the CRP, final custom requirements were determined, an implementation plan was developed, and a fast track implementation proceeded using a core team approach.

Result

The client selected a state-of-the-art client/server Oracle based system and has implemented it using fast track methodology. The system went from planning to being live in under six months.

Lessons Learned

  • It is possible to get organizational commitment and participation from a large geographically dispersed team with careful planning.
  • Users are an important part of the selection process, even in large firms.
  • Fast track implementation can save money if it is conducted properly.

A large residential apartment developer with offices in the West and Southwest comprised of many different legal entities. The company is a developer, property manager, and contractor.

The Situation

The existing system’s Payroll application was no longer meeting the company’s needs and did not offer a Human Resources application. Further, because of the many separate corporations and partnerships, it needed strong intercompany transaction processing capabilities that the current system did not have. It also needed a sophisticated financial statement formatter for monthly consolidations. The company has employees in several major cities around the country that need to be able to access the system to get information or change benefit elections.

The Challenge

While the company needed a high-end enterprise software system with sophisticated applications, they were not prepared for a system that ran between $1 to $2 million dollars to purchase and implement. They were also very concerned that a system of that magnitude would require too much staff commitment. When they looked at several stand-alone payroll and HR applications, they were impressed by the systems’ sophistication but quickly realized that a non-integrated solution would be more maintenance down the road.

Solution

The company has settled on an Application Service Provider (ASP) in the West that provides service bureau services for a large ERP-style system. This made the use of such a system far more attractive, less risky, and less expensive. The implementation will be handled by the ASP rather than internally, which will also keep organizational commitment reasonable.

Result

A plan is being put in place to implement the Payroll and Human Resources applications by December 31 on the service bureau. From there they will implement the financial applications and job cost suite. Once complete, management will decide if it is necessary or economical to bring the service in house.

Lessons Learned

  • Get confirmation on which direction you are taking early on and stick with your plan. Remain flexible but don’t vary unnecessarily.
  • Outsourcing companies and service bureaus have a special place in today’s fast moving and increasingly costly computing environment.
  • Payroll is a complex application (especially in construction) that should not be underestimated by the client or the software developer.

A $150 million general contractor and construction management firm headquartered in Michigan with two remote offices specializes in large commercial and institutional projects, and self-employs several of the key trades.

The Situation

This contractor had been successfully using an older version of the Concord software in a traditional, centralized environment on proprietary hardware. They had some custom programming work done but felt they had outgrown the software and were no longer getting the support they needed. Remote office personnel could dial in to use the accounting system, but the operations personnel were rarely using the system. Users complained that the system was cumbersome and slow.

The Challenge

While the information system software was a priority, several other issues and initiatives were being evaluated at the same time. These included a wide-area network to connect all offices, an e-mail server, project administration software, and estimating software. There was not a unified focus on the information systems. Personnel at each location were focusing only on the needs of their own office. There was little coordination of the various products and directions being pursued. Each office has some form of network, though not the same, and many individual software licenses. There was a degree of frustration as one system was not able to exchange information with another. With so many initiatives and software products to evaluate, purchase, and implement, the company’s management wanted to be sure they knew where they were going with technology (vision) and how to best allocate their resources to get there (strategy).

Solution

Burger Consulting Group facilitated an information system planning process with a steering committee consisting of both operations and accounting personnel from each office. Using an initial workshop for the planning team, individual interviews at each location, and a second workshop, BCG helped the client develop a clear vision of where they stood and where they wanted to go. BCG then assisted with the selection of vendors and the implementation planning of each initiative.

Result

With BCGís help, the client developed a clear plan for their information systems and communicated it throughout the organization. They also selected their new information system software, project administration software and network provider. They have implemented their WAN, a company-wide e-mail system, and a new accounting and management information system software. Once these two initiatives are completed, they will begin implementing their project administration software. Each of the components being implemented is designed to work together and will ultimately exchange data easily, making for a more efficient operation and broader access to information.

Lessons Learned

  • Good planning means that a project can go forward in stages with a clear map to the future.
  • If all of the systems issues seem overwhelming and complex, they probably are.

A small general contractor in central New York operates from a single office with an experienced staff of project managers.

The Situation

The company had been operating with an old proprietary accounting system and used it for little else. They were faced with a Year 2000 problem and a small budget and were torn between acquiring a popular graphical PC network based system and a host based package that would afford them an easier conversion and more robust software but keep them in a character based environment.

The Challenge

The company was leaning toward the graphical system because they were convinced the industry was moving in that direction and it would be necessary to be in that environment to stay competitive. Nobody at the firm had been through a system conversion and they believed that data conversion was an important part of the criteria on which a decision should be based. The firm had no IT staff.

Solution

BCG worked with the client for a day, interviewing key personnel and establishing a base line for their computer knowledge, their operations approach, and the general functional requirements. Through this process, the organization was determined to be rather conservative, relying on a centralized management style. There was little desire from project management staff to use the system, relying instead on a clerical staff. It was determined that there were no IT personnel and that reliability was a key need for the system. BCG also learned that the company had been looking at only two packages seriously and felt that either product could meet their needs functionally. The interviews confirmed that there were no unusual requirements. At the end of the process, the more traditional product was chosen over the network based product. BCG reviewed the proposal for reasonableness and the client negotiated a contract with support for its existing system through 2000 with an implementation set to begin on the new system immediately after the first of the year.

Result

A very small investment in consulting services provided the client with guidance in the final selection and prevented them from buying the more popular system that would have ultimately proven to be more costly and difficult to implement for no functional gain.

Lessons Learned

  • Host based stable software is sometimes a better solution than the high-tech PC networked systems.
  • The way a company operates has a big impact on the type of software they should select.
  • A small consulting engagement can help avoid significant mistakes down the road.

Implementation Planning and Project Management

A large diversified CM/GC in the Midwest was performing more than $300 million per year in design-build contracts, mostly negotiated work. The corporation also owned numerous properties and hotels.

The Situation

The company had acquired a new software package for its construction division. Implementation had been underway for some time and had been going poorly. Some factions in the company were suggesting that the software was not adequate for the company’s needs. Other groups simply refused to accommodate the requirements of an integrated system. Many users could not get on the system at all due to hardware constraints that were not being resolved because the technical services group was busy installing systems in their properties. Personnel turnover left portions of the implementation team leaderless.

The Challenge

Though the software selected was a good package and had many beneficial features, it was not, perhaps, the best choice for this particular company. The implementation team needed to be restructured to take a new tack and to take ownership of the project. Also, procedures needed to be established to let the new software work effectively. Some custom software needed to be tested, but nobody on the implementation team knew how.

Solution

Both the client and the vendor called BCG to investigate the status of the project and suggest solutions to resolve a situation that had deteriorated significantly. BCG met with the implementation team and with individual groups and recommended some revised implementation procedures. A new punch list was developed so all groups would be working on meaningful tasks and the implementation could proceed. BCG worked with the technical services group to establish a method to ensure that all users could get onto the system when needed.

Result

With new targets, specifically identified goals, a restructured team and assigned responsibilities, the implementation was completed and has been a success. The vendor preserved a client and the client saved a large investment.

Lessons Learned

  • Good software is not the only requirement for a successful implementation.
  • Top management must be fully behind the project to ensure success.
  • The best project manager cannot motivate an unwilling team without top management support.
  • Staff turnover can hinder an implementation.

Systems Evaluation

This large GC/CM firm provides commercial building services for their public and private customers throughout the West. They perform both large and small projects ranging in size from a few thousand dollars to over a hundred million dollars. Several remote offices and nearly a dozen job sites have been linked into the central computers through a wide area network.

The Situation

The company had been using one computer system for about 10 years and was wondering whether it was time for a change. Recent developments in client/server software had left them uncertain whether significant benefits could be obtained with a new system.

The Challenge

The company had wide ranging needs in its different divisions. The accounting department was happy with the system but operations people were feeling that a lack of integration with the field systems was resulting in lost efficiency and redundant work. Procedures in the company had not been seriously addressed in some time.

Solution

BCG met with members of different departments and facilitated interdepartmental discussions that helped the client realize that their issues were not, chiefly, with the software vendor, though there were some items that needed addressing. Specific approaches and objectives were set forth to improve procedures and a list of open items was submitted to the vendor to ensure that those items that were uncovered were addressed appropriately.

Result

The client saved a large investment in a new system and training. The vendor is saving a good client. The client is investing in improvements to a system that works and plans to improve productivity as a result of incremental changes to its system.

A general contractor with a small office and a talented staff performs primarily negotiated GC/CM projects in New England for a select group of clients.

The Situation

The firm had grown and had been using the same software for over 10 years. Both the software vendor and the construction company have changed substantially over the years and they were wondering if they still were right for each other. There had been a growing use of side systems not linked to the core accounting. The hardware has not recently been upgraded and performance on the system was preventing people from making good use of it. Many users were using their own PCs because they felt performance on the system was prohibiting them from making use of it.

The Challenge

Each time the client requested something from the software vendor, the software vendor suggested a study to see what issues needed to be resolved and then promised to address them with additional fee based services. As the contractor hires new project managers who have experience with PC based software, the pressure mounts to discontinue using the existing software and install a PC network based system that has a more graphical user interface.

Solution

BCG met with management personnel and key personnel from various operations areas of the company. It became relatively apparent that replacement of the core accounting software would not solve all the problems and would likely create additional ones. BCG developed a list of issues to raise with the software vendor and also helped the client develop a plan of action to upgrade its hardware and acquire some software components to fill certain gaps. BCG also educated the client’s personnel about competitive software and helped them address the perception that new software would solve all their issues.

Result

The client has upgraded their hardware with an approach that will position them so they can either stay with their present software or replace it without needing to redo all the hardware again. By addressing performance issues the company will be able to get users to do more work on the system and reduce the dependence on individual PCs and non-standard software.

Lessons Learned

  • It is important to continually provide training on software to the user community.
  • Hardware performance is critical to keeping users happy.
  • Software developers need to do a better job of selling new features to their existing users.

A medium-sized GC/CM contractor primarily performs negotiated projects for a number of important clients.

The Situation

The contractor had an older system that had been installed for some time. The contractor and vendor had been ignoring each other to an extent. The contractor was not aware of the vendor’s latest enhancements because the system had been customized and had not been updated in some time. The vendor assumed the contractor was satisfied with status quo because there was seldom any discussion about client satisfaction, vendor direction, or user requirements.

The Challenge

The company had not been using systems all that effectively so most of the users really did not have a good feel for what was realistic to expect. The old system had chiefly been used for accounting, so some members of the accounting department users who were good friends with the vendor didn’t want to change software. The project managers all had differing ideas about what they needed to do their job better. The company was resisting the notion of project managers’ spending all their time on the computer and becoming data entry clerks.

Solution

BCG assisted the client by conducting a planning project initially, involving a significant cross section of the company to help determine needs and establish direction. Following the planning session, a series of needs analysis workshops were conducted with the users and a specification was developed for the requirements. The specification was presented to the existing vendor for review. The vendor responded and a series of meetings ensued resulting in upgrading the software, reworking necessary custom programs to carry forward, scheduling additional training, and developing an integrated project administration package based on the contractor’s requirements.

Result

The contractor re-implemented his old system with renewed interest from the vendor. The implementation went very well and the users are now satisfied with the new system. The overall benefit to the vendor was saving a good client and the benefit to the contractor was obtaining a new system, substantially tailored to its unique needs for substantially less cost than an entirely new application.

Lessons Learned

  • Vendors and their clients sometimes take each other for granted.
  • Staying abreast of software development is important.
  • Vendors should not assume a contractor is satisfied just because they have stopped complaining.