Toronto contractor turns to technology to keep projects moving

With the construction industry having to adjust to even tighter timelines and more fast-track projects, one Scarborough, Ont.-based contractor turned to technology to get his team communicating more closely – and more quickly – than ever before.

Silvio Santos entered the construction trade after earning a degree in civil engineering from Ryerson University in 1982, beginning his career as a superintendent and project management. As the president of Blue Line Contractors Ltd., he oversees a mid-sized contractor focusing on structural work in commercial, homes and residential renovations.

In an interview with ITBusiness, Santos said he turned to technology to streamline the flow of information within his company.

“We get a lot of fast track jobs and everything is on the edge now. Communications is where everything falls apart – from the designers to the site plans go through a lot of hands and there’s lots of room for miscommunication,” said Santos. “Now we can fast track communications right to the job site and catch things before something has to be redone or pulled out.”

Blue Line’s past was a lot of paper, a lot of phone calls, and a lot of travelling. Santos said last year he decided it was time to modernize a lot of the equipment, bring everything online, and set an expectation for his staff to buy into a more modern communications system.

At the heart of the new system is a centralized server infrastructure with a Lenovo ThinkServer powered by an Intel Xeon processor E3-1225 v3, which is the central repository for all of Blue Line’s project files.

“Everyone can draw information from the server – drawings and documents – and get the information without having to wait for an individual to email this or that,” said Santos. “That speeds up everyone and takes the load off everyone too – especially me.”

An Intel Xeon E5 v3-powered workstation allows Blue Line to review drawings electronically instead of having to drive around the city and pick up hard copies, and field staff have been equipped with Intel Core i5-powered Lenovo laptops for site supervisors to be able to communicate issues, access documents, and deal with changes on the fly.

They went to QuickBooks for accounting, Microsoft Office 365 for their office suite, and even leverage their new network infrastructure to implement a GPS-backed smartphone timekeeping app for employees to check in and out of job sites – the GPS ensures they’re actually on sit when they check in.

All in all, Santos said his team has bought into the system although there were some growing pains, particularly around the timekeeping app.

“Some didn’t want to be connected or felt like big brother was watching, but most of the guys had no issues with it,” said Santos.

In fact, the new technology has already proven its value. Santos was taking a few days off last week when he had an emergency project come in – a commercial client with a site downtown needed a wall removed for new tenants. The client sent Santos photos and the engineer sent drawings, which he was able to get to his engineers to get the project started and drawings ready.

“By the time I came in Monday the shop guys were already getting approval and fabricating materials, and within a week we managed to get that job done,” said Santos. “Before I’d have had to go to the site, then run the drawings to the engineer, and it would have been a three-week process. We got it done in one week.”

It’s always interesting to see how small Canadian businesses are leveraging technology in different ways to enhance their own unique business processes said Elaine Mah, director of marketing with Intel Canada.

“Santos was looking to refresh his technology to attract talent, but the GPS to make sure people are on site and trigger time cards was unexpected and pleasant to see,” said Mah. “SMBs are looking to technology to solve problems and make them more efficient in the field.”

When it comes to bringing new technology into a small business, Mah said it’s important to recognize you may not know what you don’t know. Since most small businesses don’t have a large internal IT staff, a channel partner can be a valuable trusted advisor who should understand your legacy platforms and where you want to go, and map that against a plan that will make a difference.

“Work is now what you do and not where you go to do it, and that opens up world of opportunities and possibilities,” said Mah.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras is a technology journalist with IT World Canada and a member of the IT Business team. He began his career in technology journalism in the late 1990s, covering the Ottawa technology sector for Silicon Valley North and the Ottawa Business Journal. He later covered the technology scene in Vancouver before joining IT World Canada in Toronto in 2005, covering enterprise IT for ComputerWorld Canada and the channel for Computer Dealer News. His writing has also appeared in the Vancouver Sun & the Ottawa Citizen.

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