April 8, 2022
Estimating and Operations Platform Keeps Vortex Companies Collaborative, Efficient and Data-Driven Across Multiple Business Units
Trenchless infrastructure specialist, Vortex Companies, experienced rapid growth which created exciting new opportunities for the company. That rapid expansion, however, also produced consistency, visibility and efficiency challenges. This prompted Vortex to embrace a software platform approach to manage its estimating and operations functions more cohesively.
Headquartered in Houston, Texas, Vortex is a leading provider of advanced trenchless water and sewer technologies and provides turnkey services to cost effectively renew municipal, industrial and commercial infrastructure. Since its inception, the company has expanded significantly through organic growth and acquisitions. Business units now operate throughout the United States, Mexico and Europe.
This robust expansion resulted in business units using many different legacy systems to manage similar work. The disparity and, in many cases, lack of specialized enterprise-class technology limited collaboration and created inefficiencies within and across the business units, according to Vortex Companies’ Chief Information Officer, Ram Vela.
“The business problem we addressed with the B2W estimating and operations software platform was project-level visibility and consistency from a systems perspective,” explained Vela. “For individual business units covering a small geographic area, you may be able to get away with using Excel spreadsheets for scheduling or tracking, or you may be able to rely on reports as they come out of your accounting system. As we grew, however, we realized that we needed to bring together all the systems we were working with and consolidate them so that everyone could have similar visibility and consistency in the way they operate.”
Vortex also desired to reduce its equipment maintenance costs. Vela said the company wanted to improve its processes in this area and increase access to valuable data to optimize decisions concerning when to rent, retire and purchase assets.
Vortex inherited the B2W Estimate system following an acquisition in 2017. Impressed with the features and capabilities, the company implemented it across its business units and successfully standardized its estimating and bidding processes.
“B2W provided Vortex with the backbone and software needed to achieve consistent processes and procedures by allowing us to develop and maintain a detailed database, track actuals vs estimated production quantities, while also pulling historical productions for current bids,” stated Brandon Gerber, Chief Estimator, Vortex Companies.
“Once our estimating and operations teams reached a level of comfort with that system, we were drawn to the additional B2W solutions and the software supplier’s platform approach,” said Vela. “We mapped out a gradual, sequential rollout and implementation plan by service and geography for the applications for field tracking, resource scheduling, equipment maintenance and e-forms.”
The switch to a common, online scheduling application provided real-time visibility into the location of Vortex crews and equipment as well as their activities. That information is now available to crews, crew leaders and operational managers as well as managers and executives at the corporate level.
Vela said the software also allowed Vortex to pivot away from a central scheduling and dispatching approach to a more efficient system. Dedicated schedulers now handle assignment of resources for each region or business unit and coordinate with each other through the centralized system.
Recording labor hours and production data daily with a company-wide field tracking solution has helped Vortex proactively manage project-related production performance indicators. Reporting allows operations team members to analyze how production metrics compare with the estimate for each project. They know what the focus for the following day or week must be to address any challenges and meet the target.
“The electronic field logs and reporting are close to real-time,” said Matt Timberlake, Chief Administrative Officer, Vortex Companies . “This has resulted in significant project cost savings where we may have missed some early warning signs from a production or materials standpoint.”
Leveraging maintenance management software has allowed Vortex to establish a company-wide system for routine, preventive maintenance. Using data to become more proactive and increase adherence to the recommended intervals has driven significant cost savings, according to Timberlake.
Daily vehicle inspection reports are now completed with electronic forms. When the forms indicate repair work is required, the information is transferred to the maintenance software and a repair request is generated automatically. This eliminates redundant data entry, speeds up the repair process and ensures accuracy.
With one system for maintenance, it is simpler and easier to analyze what is being spent on each piece of equipment and to make data-driven decisions about maintenance and ownership.
Achieving buy-in for the new software solutions has been an evolving process, according to Timberlake. Vortex has invested time during implementation to ensure users are not only adequately trained but also appreciate how the software benefits them and the company.
Business units white-boarded critical business processes such as time entry, production tracking, scheduling, and job cost reviews as well documents used. After defining the current state, they were able to cross off processes and documents where redundancy existed to consolidate and gain efficiency as well as better access to data.
“Once end users can visually see how the system reduces the time it takes for them to do their job, we have found that buy-in happens almost immediately,” stated Vela.
Additionally, Vortex has hired a dedicated technology implementation specialist that focuses on implementation, training, reporting and enhancement roadmaps.
Beyond the consistency and process efficiency improvements, Vela explained using a unified software platform has enabled the company to benefit from a real-time, data-driven approach to managing operations. Senior leaders and operational personnel now have streamlined access to timely, consolidated data without the need to tap into disparate data stores.
“In the past, we were trying to fix things that had already happened,” Timberlake said. “Now the mindset is being able to fix things as they’re happening.”