A commitment to communicate pays off for Skanska

August 11, 2010

All the hardware and software in the world won't make a company more effective if the implementation falls short. That was the case at Skanska USA Building in early 2002.

The Parsippany, N.J.-based construction giant had the latest high-tech gadgets, including PDAs, laptops, and cell phones, but was seeing less-than-desired results.

After growing through acquisition throughout the 1990s, the U.S. business unit of the Swedish contractor consisted of a handful of wholly owned subsidiaries—each with its own unique conglomeration of networks, servers, and software systems.

When the company decided in October 2002 to consolidate all business units under a single name, the bigger decision was what to do about truly integrating the information technology systems.

According to Chris Stockley, Skanska's chief information officer, the decision came down to either integrating the existing, disparate systems or building a new, centralized IT infrastructure. The company chose the latter approach in hopes of improving production and cutting costs.

Initial efforts focused on getting the newly centralize company operating on a single network, single e-mail platform, and single finance and accounting system.

Over a 10-month period, 100-plus applications were consolidated to just over a dozen. Key applications of the centralized platform include: J.D. Edwards for enterprise resource planning and financials; Prolog for project management and accounting; Timberline for estimating and other preconstruction activities; SalesLogix for customer relationship management; and Remedy for IT help desk support.

Supporting these applications is a core of Microsoft server products, including Windows 2003, BizTalk 2004, SQL 2000, and Office SharePoint 2003.

Skanska also specified Office InfoPath 2003 to help deploy applications that work both online and offline and two Microsoft .NET products for building websites and web servers.

With those changes in place, field worker automation was the next challenge. The first step involved outfitting every senior manager, superintendent, and project manager with a BlackBerry-powered Nextel cell phone. Stockley says this device helped seasoned field personal that may be techno-hesitant get connected without facing an overwhelming learning curve.

Initially, about 1,000 of the firm's 4,100 employees carried BlackBerrys and other handheld PDA devices. The goal was to ensure that every decision-maker had instant access to both voice mail and e-mail communications.

Today, wireless PDA/cell phone devices are standard issue for every Skanska employee, says Stockley. He says many job sites also utilize wireless networks, including tablet PCs, which enable construction workers to access drawings and other vital corporate data.

Designing a software platform to support these wireless devices was another challenge. The company required a system that would enable employees to remain productive when working offline, and that would automatically synchronize any offline data with the company's central database from any location with an Internet connection.

Offline productivity was addressed through the use of InfoPath forms, which can be downloaded, completed offline, and saved back to the central servers when a user reconnects online. To enable syncing from any location, Stockley specified Web-based services rather than a direct interface with the company's central database.

Skanska leveraged its new central technology platform by developing three key company-wide reports:

  • Project status/construction work-in-progress report. Field-based users interface with an Excel spreadsheet that draws J.D. Edwards data. More than 900 project management and project accounting employees use the reporting system.

  • Executive scorecard. This Web-based report consists of color-coded graphical indicators that help Skanska's 70-plus senior executives manage the financial health of individual projects and the overall company. Drill-down capabilities give users more details behind each indicator.

  • Safety report card. Tablet PC users can access and download safety forms from wireless networks at each job site. Once completed, the form is uploaded and integrated into the company's overall safety database, which is available to all employees.

The end of 2005 marked the completion of this massive IT centralization initiative, and the results have been noteworthy.

Management's ability to monitor performance and make better business decisions has translated into an improved bottom line of $150 million since the initiative began, according to Stockley.

Each department now has central, standard operating procedures and applications. Each job site has standardized hardware and software, allowing employees to collaborate more effectively with each other and with customers. In some instances, the company is seeing increases in operational efficiency of more than 20%.

Most significantly, Skanska's IT organization has improved its customer satisfaction rating to over 94%, while slashing its annual budget by $10 million to $12 million.


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