How leading producers are influencing the fate of the technology they use.
By Victoria K. Sicaras
With so many technology options available these days, end users expect a lot from their software providers. This is especially true in the concrete industry, a niche market that requires specialized solutions and on-demand user support. Yet even in an increasingly digital world, many concrete and bulk materials producers are frustrated by a lack of modern, industry-specific solutions.
As a result, more producers are investing time, talent and treasure into creating the cutting-edge technology they need.
“Remote working conditions during the pandemic have put a spotlight on technology for us and our customers, and it’s even more critical that we have the right tools for our business,” says Jay Ritchie, president of Geneva Rock Products, a Clyde Company based in Orem, Utah.
The materials producer uses internal staff as operational “focus groups” to evaluate new systems. The focus groups collaborate with technology providers to ensure their solutions will be as tailored as possible to the unique needs of concrete, aggregate and asphalt production.
In the Seattle metro area—one of the most competitive construction markets in the U.S.—Miles Sand & Gravel’s in-house experts spend time educating their technology partners and advocating for better solutions. They also have been known to turn away software vendors who won’t use open APIs to share data.
“Investing in technology for us means investing in efficiency,” says Miles VP Lisa Kittilsby. “We want to partner with the right vendors who will really listen to what a concrete producer needs, and who will work with other vendors to create solutions that make sense for us.”
For Geiger Ready-Mix Company of Kansas City, Kan., an investment in technology goes straight to the bottom line. “Our team is constantly working to make improvements across the business, and lately that means looking at new technologies available to our industry,” says Todd Geiger, president and CEO. “We are very hands on with trying new processes or tools that can help us—and our customers—work smarter. Even if it seems like a small adjustment, shaving minutes and hours can add up to big results.”
All three companies are part of a unique network of producers who has partnered with a technology company to develop tech tools that benefit all producers.
THE BULK CONSTRUCTION MATERIALS INITIATIVE
There’s a lot of lip service from providers about turning customers into “partners.” For most, this means increasing their focus on relationship-building and customer service. One of the few examples of a true customer-provider partnership is BCMI Corp. The software development company actively works with customers to provide a cloud-based dispatch platform and mobile apps for all producers.
The BCMI acronym stands for Bulk Construction Materials Initiative, because the company began as a collaborative process between materials producers and expert software developers in 2014. A group of eight producers contributed input that led to the BCMI platform, a fully integrated, end-to-end software system for analytics, operational management, customer relationship management, quotation, dispatch, quality control and invoicing.
Although BCMI’s network of producers has since grown, customers using the BCMI platform still directly participate in setting software design and development priorities. A formal Producer Advisory Board meets regularly to review designs for new tools and features and weigh in on prioritization. Often, advisory board members participate in extensive breakout groups, during which they work closely with the software design team.
Second, each producer designates “champions” who meet with the BCMI support team weekly by phone and bi-annually in person. Producers have the opportunity to discuss specific topics related to the software, implementation and new features as they relate to the individual company’s needs, but also—and often more importantly—as they impact the entire customer base.
“Producers bring unfulfilled needs that are often difficult to express. Through ongoing communication with our producer network, our software designers can channel what’s needed into actionable plans for functionality,” says BCMI President & CEO Craig Yeack. “The software developers then work in small iterations, or sprints, and their progress is continuously checked on by our Producer Advisory Board. This way, any misunderstandings can be caught and corrected and ideas can evolve into scalable solutions.”
BCMI’s producer network helps to create the best possible new tools for customers. For instance, in the past 18 months, Geiger Ready-Mix has rolled out two major initiatives: BCMI’s ready-mix quoting system, which automates repetitive processes and improves collaboration for the sales team, and eTicket+eSign for paperless ticketing and job tracking through BCMI’s Material Pro and Material Now apps.
“Electronic ticketing has really been a catalyst for our customers to dive into the digital age with us,” says Todd Geiger. “The paperless ticketing option has been extremely well-received in our market, and we’ve been able to get away from some time-consuming manual processes as a result.”
Miles Sand & Gravel is working toward integrating their ready-mix dispatch, sales, invoicing and bulk materials data management systems into one cloud-based platform with BCMI.
“At BCMI, we welcome producer customers who will share the time and talent of their staff to contribute to new ideas, refine current functionality and relentlessly push our organization forward,” says Yeack.
Partnering with the tech provider is a less intensive option than building in-house, custom solutions. That is an expensive path that has, historically, only been available to large or otherwise well-funded companies and requires a significant amount of time and resources. Plus, it could take years to roll out. Once a custom system is in place, in-house staff or a third party will be needed to provide user support (i.e., a help desk) and upgrade the system as needed.
A NEXT-GEN PARTNERSHIP
Recently, BCMI reached a new milestone by allowing customers a minority stake in the company. Co-founder Bernard Benson retired and exited the company in late 2021, leaving room for investors. Instead of seeking outside financial support from private equity firms, BCMI gained new minority shareholders including Geiger RM, BARD Materials (Dyersville, Iowa) and principals of Miles Sand & Gravel. All three producers are privately held and family-owned.
Co-founder Craig Yeack remains the majority owner and will continue to lead the company as president and CEO, and serve on the board of directors. He stresses that bringing on producer customers as investors will have no impact on other BCMI customers and their business data, citing that the company follows strict anti-trust measures.
“Our customers’ data belongs to them. Period,” Yeack affirms. “Data is strictly segregated from all others by something called single-database tenancy. It is safeguarded and will never be shared with any other customers, regardless of shareholder status, without explicit, case-by-case consent.”
NO PRIVATE EQUITIES INVOLVED
The vast majority of software companies are funded by private equity firms. Typically, a private equity firm will purchase a company and make enough investments to sell it in three to four years for five times their invested capital. The process then repeats itself with the next owner.
The time frame for growing speculative value is so short and the returns so high that the process is often augmented by “rollups” (purchases of allied companies to present a well-rounded portfolio), but with little time or desire for integration, observes Yeack.
“Hopping from one owner to the next in this manner does little to create actual, useful functionality for our industry,” he explains. “Our philosophy is BCMI belongs in the hands of the construction materials industry, and not the private equity industry.”
The construction materials producers involved in BCMI, either as investors or customers, he adds, are shaping the ongoing growth of a partner of choice as well as sharing in the richness of ideas from fellow producers.
LOOK FOR INDUSTRY PARTNERSHIPS
Construction materials producers have opportunities to shape the future of our industry’s technology landscape. One way is through exploring trade associations’ technology initiatives or through industrywide partnerships, including the National Construction Materials e-Ticketing Task Force.
Launched in October 2021, the e-Ticketing Task Force is comprised of state transportation departments, producers and contractors seeking to promote the use of electronic ticketing and facilitate the digital transformation of the construction industry. The goal is to eliminate paper tickets along supply chains associated with hot mix asphalt, aggregates and ready-mix concrete for all public infrastructure construction projects nationwide.
Producers who work in multiple states or even counties may find themselves well-aligned with task force goals. A company doing business with various transportation departments usually deals with different format requirements for electronic data transfer. If your company is using digital tools to push information to DOTs, it would be much more efficient to follow a standardized format across jurisdictions—or to have DOTs capable of accepting whatever format you use. Plus, when DOTs can push information back to producers electronically, pay requests can be processed with no time delays. Quality control data could flow immediately.
The eTicketing Task Force provides the support necessary for the public and private sector to work together to establish best practices, overcome challenges and facilitate an honest dialogue to embrace a digital transformation. They are welcoming new members: visit e-ticketingtaskforce.org.
Victoria Sicaras is a freelance writer based in Countryside, Ill. She has more than 15 years of experience working as a writer and editor serving the concrete and construction industries.