One of our clients does industrial electrical work on projects around the country. One of our employees recently visited one of their locations in Iowa where they have built out the electrical power and control system for a large grain processing operation. During this tour he learned that there is quite a lot that goes on behind the scenes to keep a silo operating—it's much more than a simple storage structure.
As he was telling me about his experience, I started thinking about silos in our clients’ construction businesses. For those not familiar, a silo in business terminology refers to a part of a business operation that works in isolation from other parts of the business. It's hard to think of examples where this is a good idea in any business. In general, the more connected your employees are, the better, right?
The Office, The Field, and Technology
There's no better example of the business silo in construction than the separation that many companies experience between field operations and office management. Recalling our employee's experience in Iowa, I realized that, like grain silos, business silos are not simple structures—they are supported by technology and processes. So the way to break down the business silos would seem straightforward combine the technologies and link the processes that are used in the office and field silos.
This remedy is easy to state, and far less easy to achieve. Most technologies, software in particular, have been built specifically to support either the way the office or field operations work, not both. And for good reason, since the way accounting and business management use software is much different from the way construction operations and project management use it.
But the point at which the office meets the field - where job progress is tracked, profitability is calculated, invoices and change orders are processed - this is the point where bad (or no) communications between the field and the office results in diminished performance and profits. So construction companies and technology vendors alike keep hammering away at ways to better connect these disparate parts of a contractor's organization.
I personally believe that the technology does hold the key to more efficient operations and better collaboration between the field and the office. For example, web-based construction software that can be accessed as easily by a PM using a tablet in the field as a Controller in the office is a big step toward leaving silos to the agricultural industry.
What technologies have helped you bring your teams closer together?