4 Benefits of Automating Field & Safety Processes – Q&A with Burns & McDonnell

construction-onsite-inspection-managementFilling out paperwork and chasing it up. It’s the bane of most construction and engineering projects, especially when it comes to inspection management around health, safety, permits, hazard identification, and defects.

That’s why we built new ‘Forms’ functionality into Aconex Field – our cloud and mobile app for onsite inspection management.

The new capability allows companies to digitize any PDF form, making inspection data immediately available for reporting and analysis. To make it as user-friendly as possible, we worked with our existing customers to design a more efficient, simple and seamless solution.

One such customer is Burns & McDonnell – an international engineering, architecture, construction, environmental and consulting solutions firm based in Kansas City, Missouri. The firm employs around 5700 people in the US, and internationally.

We recently spent some time with Patricia (Patty) Sullivan, Project Manager and member of the ‘Strategic Initiatives’ team at Burns & McDonnell, to reflect on our partnership together.

Aconex: What advice would you give a company looking for a technology partner in the construction and engineering space?
Patty: Flexible and easy-to-use system
Well for starters, if it doesn’t work for the end user, it doesn’t work. That’s why you need an interface that’s super intuitive for the end user. One of the challenges for us here at Burns & McDonnell is that no two projects are ever the same. So you need to find tools that are flexible, easy-to-use, and configurable – but can also scale across your enterprise.

Trusted partnerships
I’m not just buying software; I’m building a genuine partnership with that company based on trust – working with a company that’s going to listen to our ideas and respond to them, as opposed to just selling stuff.

Aconex: What do you think makes Aconex unique?
Patty: Easily configurable
I think the easy configurability of the system is great, far better than anything else on the market. It’s one system to do a task, but each project can be configured differently.

Also service and the way Aconex has built a strong relationship with us. We have a motto that our job is to make our clients successful. I think Aconex has that same philosophy and so our two corporate have married very well. Your in-tool help menu was phenomenal, and so was your ability to help us train our employees.

Aconex: Before you used our Field solution, how did you manage the onsite inspection process?
Patty: Paper and duplicate data entry
It was all paperwork. More than half of our business units have some sort of need to stand out in the middle of nowhere and collect data into a paper form. We had cases where people were filling out paper, taking a photo of it and texting it to somebody in the office for entry into the database! Clearly there was a need to get the data from that form into a database in a simpler way.

Multiple versions
It wasn’t just that we had 1000 forms, we had multiple copies of the same thing. Staff were supposed to pull the latest copy of that form from our online library – but usually, they just stored it on their hard drive. Then Corporate Safety or Corporate Quality would publish a new version of that form and it would all go pear shaped, with different versions floating around and incomplete information being captured.

Aconex: What value have you seen in automating your field processes using Aconex Field Forms?
Patty: Insights / Accountability
When a form is electronic, I can do something with that data. I think companies are starting to realize that data is an asset, it’s not a by-product of doing business. I can then search for it, track it, workflow it or even keep somebody accountable. Did that task get done? Did they go back and do the re-inspection? That’s really hard to tell from a piece of paper.

Easy change management
Our industry is very slow when it comes to change. If I can give my teams a form and it’s electronic, simple and instant, half the job is already done and it’s easier to get the enterprise to shift. When we opened the Field app and everyone saw the same forms on there that they’d always used – we had their attention.

We’ve been able to get standardization without it feeling like a dull ‘change management’ drive.  We’re quite entrepreneurial and we don’t like heavy handed, top-down processes. The key is providing tools that are easy for staff to use.

Better client service
We also have inspection forms for specific tasks, but sometimes clients say, “No, you have to use my forms.” Now, when a client can give me their forms I can put them into the system overnight and have them functional the next day. It’s a genuine game-changer for us. And clients love it too.

Aconex: What’s been the feedback so far from the Field Forms pilot?
Patty: They want it
“When can we have it?” is the number one thing they say. They’re so ready for it.

Smooth implementation
I initially did the Aconex implementation myself, before getting an IT person to help me implement it across the entire business. That’s impressive by any standards.

Aconex: Do you have some examples of how you could use that form data for reporting?
Patty: Take safety for example. If we have a Task Safety Observation form and we have incident reports, I can get answers to questions like: “Of the tasks in which a TSO was completed, how many had incidents? Are incident rates dropping because we’re collecting this data? Are we now sure that we are collecting this data?”

If you’re responsible or required to fill out a TSO, you are 100% accountable. Being able to take data from something like an incident report or a daily report and mix it with data from a TSO is just super smart.

Aconex: What will success look like when moving from the pilot to rolling out Aconex Field at Burns & McDonnell?
Patty: Adoption
We were desperate to have this functionality, so we had multiple practices trying to do in-house development on mobile tools. Now we’ll simply be measuring adoption and expect resounding success.

Data capture = Learning
In terms of efficiencies, we ask: ‘Does it make the data more reportable? Can I learn something from those reports? Can I pull data that’s going to maybe help me get on the road? Does it help me keep people accountable?’

Aconex: Why is standardization important and how has Aconex helped you in that area?
Patty: For me, it’s about efficiency and risk mitigation. If I have people move from my energy practice to my transmission practice, I’m not having to retrain them on different ways of doing things. It’s all the same with Aconex.
Aconex: Can you talk more about the service Aconex provides to Burns & McDonnell?
Patty: Traditionally, you talk about some of the larger software companies in the industry, you write a multimillion dollar check and then you never hear from them again or the system they sold you doesn’t really do what it’s supposed to do. That hasn’t happened with Aconex. It’s quite unheard of when you’re doing corporate-wide implementations with software vendors.

I put it down to the team Aconex has built. When you talk to people from Aconex, there’s a pride that they have in their company and their purpose of transforming the industry. It’s the same pride that you hear at Burns & McDonnell, and it’s why this partnership is so successful.

See how Aconex Field can help streamline your business and save your team time and effort. If you have any questions, get in touch for a no-obligation demo.

Jeremy Gaedtke

Jeremy Gaedtke

Product Marketing Manager at Aconex
Jeremy Gaedtke is a Product Marketing Manager at Aconex, the world's leading collaborative construction and engineering management software.
Jeremy Gaedtke