By Lee Toop, Associate Editor
In contracting, as in most things, the devil is in the details; it’s hard to get the job done right if those details aren’t properly considered and managed. For construction contractors, getting the details wrong can mean the difference between red and black on the bottom line.
Devlin Construction has been part of Alberta’s roadbuilding industry since 2003, when it was founded by owner George Devlin as a Bobcat grading business. In its 15 year history, it has grown to be a major player in the sector, employing more than 300 people at its peak in jobs that range from patching parking lots to paving entire new subdivisions.
Needless to say, when a company is growing at that speed there are a lot of details to manage. For Kim Zurowski, manager of estimating and business development, the advent of new technology has helped to keep those details in line – in sharp contrast to previous methods of operation that weren’t quite as easy to work with.
“Before, we were basically spreadsheet-based. It was very repetitious,” Zurowski described. “As our company grew, we got to the point where we would go through seven or eight spreadsheets and a lot of repetition just to get the bids out the door to accounting. It was taking hours and hours of time we just didn’t have because we were growing so much.”
Growing is right – the company has expanded from its early days to handling a range of operations that include asphalt, concrete, snow removal, road maintenance, underground work and more for both private and municipal customers.
“There’s nothing we don’t do, basically, and if we can’t do it, we subcontract it out – we provide a total package deal for owners, if they require it,” Zurowski described.
As Devlin has grown, so has the paperwork involved in every aspect of the business, from bidding to payroll to equipment maintenance, which made life different for everyone in the office and the field.
“We couldn’t keep up with the growth – everybody in the office, where we had seven to ten people, was doing ten different roles just to try to keep us above water,” Zurowski said. “We had to make a change.”
That’s where construction software solutions came in, reducing the time and effort that staff need to put into the paperwork aspect of the business. For Zurowski, who had joined Devlin after working with large civil contractors, finding the right fit meant exploring several different systems before settling on Bid2Win, now known as B2W Software.
“These systems are spreadsheet-based to a certain extent, but they are built for construction, especially B2W – I find that’s probably the most user-friendly,” Zurowski described.
Solutions offered separately or packaged
B2W offers construction contractors a number of different products, either rolled together into the company’s ONE platform or separately as the business needs. The separate products focus on estimating and bidding, scheduling, tracking job progress and material requirements, fleet maintenance management, and data capture and analysis for improving profitability. It’s a broad base of products that, in many combinations, improves efficiency and cuts down on challenges for staff.
From Zurowski’s perspective, B2W has helped streamline the bidding and estimating process, ensuring that Devlin puts its best foot forward on every contract. Once the initial setup has been done, the time spent on preparing a tender is far shorter.
“You’re always tweaking things, but you can spend a lot of time on that when you’re working on spreadsheets. The software is dissecting things a lot better than just having a team of estimators or clerks building spreadsheets and formulas,” he said. “We have a database that has all of our labour and equipment, and the equipment is separated out by piece and classes . . . that database is extensive.”
In the software, Devlin’s team can set up templates for various jobs that allows them to quickly pull forward a package that suits the request at hand; it automatically completes most of the background work, and with changes to quantities and other numbers that vary from job to job can have a bid ready in short order.
“What took two to three days by spreadsheet, we can do in two or three hours, and then the extra time can be spent on finding where we can save some money,” Zurowski said.
Once the bid is completed, it can then be pushed to other B2W units like Track, he added, which means that everyone involved in the project is up to date and ready when changes occur. “It’s very easy to clean up information, code it and push it through to Track, then on to accounting – it’s a one-step flow,” he said.
Software products like B2W’s are often a challenging sell when it comes to experienced team members, but Zurowski said that once they get an understanding on how the software can help them out, the buy-in becomes much stronger. Devlin has been working with B2W products for several years, and staff members have come around to it quickly.
Experienced employees often “just want to work hard – they can read plans and specs, and get things done, so to switch over to tablet-based systems . . . took a while,” he said. “We had to do a lot of training and there were some hiccups, but once they were on board it was just like black and white – they can do a time sheet in five minutes where before they would hand write it and it would take a half-hour. Once they started getting comfortable with it and it was working properly, they were the happiest people in the world.”