Data is becoming the most important ingredient in concrete. The more information concrete dispatchers have at their fingertips—and can share with their customers—the more streamlined, accurate and profitable the process becomes.
|Many concrete producers equip employees and customers with mobile apps that provide real-time data and “mobile office” capabilities. The quoting system developed by BCMI can be used on a mobile device, while integrating with a producer’s dispatch system.|
|Users may prefer viewing certain features, such as a project opportunity map, on tablets instead of smartphones. The larger screen makes it easier to view information and enter data.|
We are living in a digital world in which the average person can use their smartphone or tablet at any given time to check their bank account, book a trip, shop for supplies and then track the status of their orders. As a result, many concrete contractors are expecting more from their ready-mix suppliers than in years past. They want to place orders from the jobsite without having to make lengthy phone calls. They want to know, to the minute, where concrete trucks are and when they will arrive. They want to review their order histories, change volumes or reroute trucks as jobsite conditions change—with just a few swipes of a finger.
Many concrete producers are answering this demand for enhanced service and data by placing mobile apps directly into customers’ hands—so they can view the information they need, when they need it, and make any necessary adjustments. Some producers are taking this visibility to the next level by implementing a fully integrated, cloud-based concrete dispatch system. By giving both dispatchers and customers real-time access to order information, the entire process of placing and fulfilling orders becomes more collaborative.
“We all have supercomputers [smartphones] in our pockets. With them, we can now use one application to pull all the information we need to keep customers updated and concrete deliveries running smoothly,” says Doug Smith, president of Smith Ready Mix Inc. in Valparaiso, Ind. The producer has already given many customers access to a mobile app developed by BCMI Corp. that allows them to request and track orders as well as view and download historical information for their own reports.
To further improve customer interactions and its own operations, Smith Ready Mix is currently rolling out an integrated dispatch system from BCMI that stores data in a secure cloud server (note sidebar, page 52). Because the new system is fully integrated, it connects with other software the company uses to harvest all sorts of data—from product and pricing information to concrete mix designs to truck tracking and plant activity to customer history. With all relevant information immediately available, dispatchers have a 360-degree picture of each job, so they can schedule load deliveries and troubleshoot issues more efficiently.
However, since Smith Ready Mix customers can keep an eye on their own orders via mobile app, dispatchers can now spend less time troubleshooting.
|Producers and contractors can also view an order timeline on a smartphone or tablet.|
“The new dispatch system frees up our staff,” says Smith. “Instead of spending valuable time hunting down job tickets or relaying information on truck and load statuses, which customers can see easily through the app, we can spend more time building meaningful client relationships. They can focus on educating customers about our various mix designs and value-add services or alerting them about bid opportunities. They can even perform predictive scheduling, in some cases, based on customer history.”
“MODERN” DISPATCH SYSTEMS
Clyde Companies Inc., based in Orem, Utah, owns several construction and building materials companies in the Intermountain West, including ready-mix suppliers Geneva Rock Products and Sunroc Corp. In 2017, the company replaced its legacy customer relationship management (CRM) system with an integrated, cloud-based system. The new CRM solution retrieves data from other systems used by Clyde subsidiaries to streamline internal processes and provide better access to customer activity and history. As a result, ready-mix sales teams can respond more quickly and accurately to customer needs, create quotes based on customer “score cards” and maximize new sales opportunities. The company is considering implementing similar technology to improve concrete dispatching.
|With integrated mobile apps, producers can satisfy customer demands for up-to-the-minute project statuses and performance.|
“Our dispatch system cannot easily integrate with new technologies, and our scheduling process is manual, as compared with other industries,” says LaNette Andrews, production systems director for Clyde Companies. “Many of our customers are anxiously waiting for more robust, mobile solutions. They don’t want to wait to have their questions answered during normal business hours. They are requesting fast, accurate, intuitive information 24/7.”
Like her customers, Andrews expects to see mobility, simplicity and integration in a modern dispatch system. Those three features are largely missing in many legacy systems, says Craig Yeack, president and co-founder of BCMI, a software development company serving the construction materials industry. The firm designed Clyde Companies’ new CRM solution and has been working with Smith Ready Mix to develop and implement its new dispatch system.
“Many of these dispatch systems are around 25 years old,” explains Yeack. “They were developed before smartphones came into existence and installed before internet access and Wi-Fi became common on jobsites. Even with updates, they are not equipped to seamlessly integrate with mobile technology, much less other stand-alone systems.”
Like most software solutions of the 1990s, legacy dispatch systems were built as stand-alone entities to exist on office hard drives. They weren’t intended to communicate with other systems or to be accessible from a jobsite. Their isolated nature turns them into information silos, making it difficult to share the most up-to-date data between different teams and departments—not to mention with customers.
Yeack says add-ons can be installed to help some systems “talk” to each other, but the data-transfer process often becomes a headache that results in additional time spent on data entry and redundant information living on multiple systems. When duplicate data becomes out of sync, employees must take steps to determine which database has the most current and accurate details.
The value of a more modern dispatch system that was built with integration in mind, rather than as an afterthought, is it can easily connect with other systems—i.e., accounting, inventory management, truck tracking, quality control—to give dispatchers quick and easy access to production, delivery and customer data. This improves their decision-making, and ultimately makes operations more efficient and the company more profitable. No more time is wasted chasing down the details.
DATA-SHARING CREATES LOYAL CUSTOMERS
|The BCMI dispatch system incorporates data from a producer’s entire operation, including customer history, plant activity and billing.|
|The BCMI product suite includes Truck Demand (middle) and Materials (above) modules, and can run on any computer with Internet access. Its mobile apps give producers, their customers and vendors access to companywide data from smartphones and tablets. SCREEN CAPTURES: BCMI Corp.|
On the customer service side, adding a mobile platform to a legacy system may provide contractors with some visibility into their order statuses, says Yeack, but many times it will not allow them to place or adjust orders. “They would still need to make a phone call to communicate changes and troubleshoot delivery issues. And they won’t be able to take advantage of current and future advancements like BIM, self-quoting or artificial intelligence.”
When that information is stored in “the cloud,” it can be accessed from anywhere via desktop computer or mobile device. This allows producers to give customers more insight into their order activities than ever before, thus reducing unnecessary phone calls to dispatchers.
“Concrete producers who provide their teams and customers with easy access to their data offer customers real value,” says Clyde Companies’ LaNette Andrews. “Value that can increase our customers’ revenue or help them cut costs. We’re confident that this enhanced level of service binds our customers to us. They will see us as their go-to materials supplier.”
Doug Smith of Smith Ready Mix agrees. Although the producer is still rolling out its cloud-based dispatch system, he has already witnessed customers using BCMI’s mobile app to improve their performance, adding: “We’ve seen general contractors with multiple crews use the mobile app to benchmark their performance and ensure they are working efficiently. They can view when loads are ordered, when trucks arrive, if trucks have to wait or be turned away and if more loads are ordered. All this information can be easily analyzed to determine whether crews are measuring and ordering concrete correctly, and if sites are suitably prepped for pours when trucks arrive. From there, they’re making adjustments to their own schedules and workflows.”
FUTURE OF DISPATCH, TECHNOLOGY
Some concrete producers envision the future of dispatch as mirroring the airline model; the price you pay for concrete depends on demand, with peak and off-peak prices. Some expect customer self-service to be the next step, with customers placing orders online. One thing is clear: Data is becoming the most important ingredient in concrete. The more information dispatchers have, the more streamlined, accurate and profitable the process becomes. Investments in technology will need to be made to effectively deliver that data.
“Integration is key,” says Andrews. “The previous trend has been to continuously invest with one vendor or jeopardize workflow capabilities. But we need to be able to take advantage of all new technologies without being limited to the offerings of one software vendor.”
To be truly impactful to all producers, she adds, technological innovations also need to require fewer hardware investments and more virtual solutions. “Producers are wary to invest in expensive hardware roll-outs that could easily be outdated before achieving full return on investment.”
Smith sees cloud-based software solutions as a game-changing alternative to the more expensive in-house systems. “It’s much easier to tap into technology when you don’t have to buy hardware or pay somebody to maintain it,” he says. “The barrier to entry is much lower.” Instead of large fixed costs, producers can budget for monthly subscriptions and maintenance fees.
Smith also sees mobile technology as a critical next step for producers. Eventually, he says, operations will go completely paperless and mobile tools will be used to eliminate invoicing and calls to dispatch. “As we see generational changes in our customers, they will demand it more.”
Armed with more ways to tap into and share their data, materials producers like Clyde Companies and Smith Ready Mix are ready to meet this demand. — BCMI Corp. (Bulk Materials Construction Initiative), www.bcmicorp.com, Bellingham, Wash.
Victoria K. Sicaras is a freelance writer based in Countryside, Ill. She has 13 years of experience as a writer and editor serving the construction industry.
Easing the data-transfer headache
“We streamline our processes and eliminate paper wherever possible,” says Doug Smith, president.
But even this tech-savvy company was somewhat hesitant to switch to a new, cloud-based dispatch system. “We had years of data in our legacy system that needed to be transferred,” Smith explains. “We were afraid it would be a painful process.”
Software developer BCMI Corp., which programmed Smith’s new dispatch system, is helping to make the transfer as smooth as possible. “We reduce the data-transfer headache by installing our analytics platform months before the actual technology transition takes place,” says Craig Yeack, co-founder of BCMI. “The producer’s operational data, and customer information, are populated into an industry-standard database housed on a secure cloud server. This database, filled with all of the producer’s information, is what our dispatch system taps into.”
The platform also accesses information from other software systems used by the producer including ready-mix-specific as well as general ERP, fleet maintenance, and vendor replenishment, and integrates that data into the database. Producers choose how much historical information is added (i.e., three, five or 10 years), and that data also is verified, cleaned up and populated via BCMIs proprietary data transport system.
By the time the dispatch implementation date arrives, the company’s data has already been vetted and transferred. Connecting the system to that database is as easy as flipping a switch. Going forward, the analytics and dispatch components of the platform seamlessly access the same operational data, including any new information that’s entered.
|Smith Ready Mix Operations Manager Dave Mestrich uses the fully integrated, cloud-based BCMI dispatch system to schedule deliveries. PHOTO: BCMI Corp.|
INTEGRATION FOR ALL
Because BCMI employs cloud computing and uses an open application programming interface (API), other software systems can access the database as well.
“The data flows like water from other approved systems, whether they are BCMI products or not,” says Yeack. “Our goal is to gather information from the various systems within the company, which may not communicate that well with each other on their own, and combine their data into one, comprehensive database that all systems can use.”
By providing one cloud-based database and designing software solutions that can each tap into that database, the technology provider enables users to access companywide data no matter which program they are using. There is no need for employees to run multiple reports because they’re working with separate systems.
PRODUCER OWNS THE DATA
After the data is transferred to the cloud, Smith Ready Mix will have full use of the database regardless of what technology tools they choose in the future. BCMI’s suite of products is organized in modules, like building blocks, that can run individually or in combination for optimal data-sharing performance. However, the technology provider does not place restrictions on database use for clients who choose to use other software solutions or mobile apps.
“Our clients—the producers—own that data, not us,” affirms Yeack.