by Craig Yeack
We’ve all seen those neon cardboard ads stapled on telephone poles at intersections: “Work from home and make BIG $$$.” This is now a reality for the ready-mix concrete industry, along with countless others. We are actually better suited than most for going mobile. After all, ready mix is not a desk job.
EVOLUTION OF TECHNOLOGY IN THE WORKPLACE
In the age of industrialization, skilled workers were all pulled into one building and deployed much like a military cavalry formation. Picture Henry Ford’s burgeoning operations in Detroit in the 1920s. In close proximity, they organized into groups of expertise, exchanged ideas and collaborated to produce cutting-edge designs and products. For most of the business world, this model remained unchanged through the 1970s.
The 1980s saw the advent of computers to assist with many calculation intensive tasks, like ready-mix plant batching controls. Repetitive tasks followed in the 1990s and soon gave way to the automation of entire workflows like dispatch. Skilled workers formed a co-dependency with their computers, much like horse and rider of the cavalry, yet still came together in a common space to share, think and be managed.
June 29th, 2007 changed things. The original iPhone appeared. It could do calculations, repetitive tasks and workflows anywhere you went, albeit in a simple manner. With the iPhone came mobile tools running in the “cloud,” or remotely hosted servers. Our lives have never been the same.
Thirteen years later, with advances in computational power and software, the mobile ecosystem includes a huge range of devices spanning phones, tablets, phablets and laptops all kept connected via cellular signal to common, cloud-based tools. The ecosystem brings us together with VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol), chat and screen share tools that let us collaborate as if we were sitting next to one another. Now almost all office work can be done without the office.
Consider dispatch. Most systems in use today are on premise and were designed well over 20 years ago. They require a constant banter within the office to run efficiently, like grease on squeaky wheels. Modern cloud-based platforms with more complete features and workflow from providers like BCMI Corp. (www.bcmicorp.com) require less, if any, banter and can be run from anywhere. Further, advanced chat systems like Slack and Flowdock, and VoIP like Skype, allow workers to be “together” in different locations.
Mobile technology has revolutionized labor intensive activities, such as quality control. Fresh tests must be done in the field but now, instead of delivering results to the office, they can be immediately entered and shared on a mobile device. Hardened tests can be done with digital sensors placed in the pour. The thermal maturity method from companies like Giatec (www.giatecscientific.com) allows accurate, real-time strength analysis online; no samples, no breaks, no problem.
The way we handle customer disputes has also changed. Historically, someone in the office had to go the file cabinet and dig out tickets, where all the tickets had to be filed in the first place, and establish the truth. Now all billing information—statements, invoices, tickets and payments—is online in real time. Accurate, accessible information diffuses most disputes before they ever get started, and those that remain can be evaluated on a phone, tablet or laptop with speedy resolution.
Truly not everything can be done outside of the office. Equally true, much more can be done outside than we currently do. Our industry’s approach to the technology that’s available to us will determine the extent to which we make the “big $$$” working from home.
Craig Yeack has held leadership positions with both construction materials producers and software providers. He is co-founder of BCMI Corp. (the Bulk Construction Materials Initiative), which is dedicated to reinventing the construction materials business with modern mobile and cloud-based tools. His Tech Talk column—named best column by the Construction Media Alliance in 2018—focuses on concise, actionable ideas to improve financial performance for ready-mix producers. He can be reached at [email protected].