Calgary construction firm puts together admin software upgrade

A Calgary construction firm that builds concrete bridges, parkades and metal coatings is putting together a system that will allow it to better manage the progress of the 100 or so projects it works on at any given time.

Con-Force Structures Ltd. on Wednesday said it would deploy Crew, a software tool that will track the operation, administration and profitability of its projects. This data could include job costing, project management and pre-cast concrete product manufacturing. Developed by a Milwaukee, Ill.-based Et Alia LLC, Crew is based on SAP and will be rolled out in conjunction with Con-Force’s move to SAP’s ERP suite. The deployment is scheduled to go live on Dec. 1.

Steve Robinson, Con-Force’s manager of information systems, said the company had developed its own in-house legacy application years ago, but moved from that to Microsoft-Navision. Its long-term business goals, however, required more capabilities to manage the activities around various jobs, he said. This is a complex problem, he said, because Con-Force actually constructs the piece parts it manufactures. It would not only build a parkade, for example, but also manufacture the bits and pieces that go into the onramps.

“If you think of (a project) as a jigsaw puzzle, you might think that if 50 per cent of the pieces were in place that it was half done. In our case, the pieces aren’t uniform. I could have two pieces that constitute two-thirds of the puzzle, and 50 pieces that make up the remainder,” he said.

Robinson described CREW as the “food colouring” it would use to identify what’s being processed in the SAP back-end.

Et Alia founder and president Brad Nicolaisen said Crew was developed about two years ago and is aimed specifically at the construction and professional services business. Although Calgary’s building boom has created a sizeable market opportunity, he said the company is developing prospects in Toronto as well, though not necessarily within SAP’s installed base.

“These are net-new customers,” he said. “We’re competing against Oracle, JD Edwards, all the other products that are going in this area.”

Robinson said the Crew deployment would be used throughout Con-Force’s enterprise, from finance to procurement departments.

“Most products on the market do manufacturing, like widget production, very well, but  widgets are very uniform, and our projects are not,” he said. “A lot of software aimed at construction doesn’t care what’s been manufactured, because they look at it from a more holistic perspective.”

Conrad Mandala, Vice President, SME, SAP Canada, said in an e-mail that products like Crew are an example of what the company calls an All-In-One Qualified Solution, based on its eponymous platform but designed to meet specific business needs.

“It’s not so much about reengineering the (SAP) applications . . . developing customized solutions to each company would add tremendous cost and complexity to the end user, and that is something we are looking to eliminate,” he said.


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