Manually dealing with around 9,000 project progress claims each year was becoming untenable for Australian construction firm, Built.
Administrators working with 2000 sub-contractors were grappling with the clunky, time-consuming and error-prone task of processing progress claims for work completed on building projects.
These claims are submitted for a range of services on building sites from pouring concrete floors to completing electrical work and installing air conditioning and lifts over a period of time.
“It’s a very manual process using Excel spreadsheets and other documents… and there are rules for each state from the point in time of a sub-contractor raising the process claim to you actually being able to respond to that and act in a certain amount of time,” said CIO, Chris Clarke.
Built is currently building a new shopping centre at Warriewood in Sydney’s northern beaches and two staff were recently on site until 8:00pm on a Saturday night processing progress claims to meet statutory requirements to complete them in a timeframe.
The $300 billion construction industry in Australia is also sometimes marred by contract disputes that can hold up infrastructure projects. Clarke said although Built hasn’t been embroiled in legal rows over work, there are many conversations around whether jobs have or have not been completed within a specific time.
“You can be claiming for the work that you’ve done but there’s another part of it called a ‘variation’. Through the month you may have agreed with the client that there’s an extra $50,000 worth of work to be done – but a claim can come through and all of a sudden there are all these variations in it.
“It’s a tenuous area and something that can bring accuracy to improve the time and lessens tensions that could arise, is highly regarded,” he said.
In NSW, the builder has 10 days to respond that it accept contractors’ progress claims or indicate that it disagrees with the amount of work that has been quoted and needs to initiate a discussion with the contractor.
“We’d end with lots of people in rooms having discussions or phone calls or chasing things up trying to find out where that variation came from. Once a month, you're bringing out the fire hose and trying to sort everything out instead of being in a pre-emptive state,” said Clarke.
Given all these factors, the need to automate the claims progress management process was a high priority for Built.
Over the past 12 months, Built has been rolling out web-based claims software developed by Australian firm Progressclaim.com under a pilot at 15 of its sites around the country.
The cloud service has been integrated with the Jobpac ERP system – which is used by Built – and will be rolled out to 100 contract administrators and senior managers, and 2000 subcontractors at 80 sites by the second quarter of 2016.
Sub-contractors use the software on their mobile devices to submit and share their job information, which eliminates the need for complex spreadsheets and email trails.
According to Clarke, people want small, light apps for their iPhones that do exactly what they want them to do.
“The philosophy behind Progressclaim.com is exactly that. Other applications in this space are old and complex.
“There are 2000 subcontractors with 9000 claims – not all of them are used to sitting at a computer and [entering information] – they are used to delivering on something. It has to be as simple as someone picking up the phone or looking up the weather,” he said.
Already, the deployment has improved the quality of information being submitted around jobs and reduced the time it takes to complete progress claims by 40 to 50 per cent.
“That gives us a productivity benefit – we don’t have people sitting at computers, they can get on with other jobs. It also means that we can do more jobs with the same amount of people,” said Clarke.
“It’s a collaborative approach with us and the sub-contractors and they are loving it because they are getting their progress claims in sooner with more accuracy.
“Imagine your paperwork has gone from having to sit at a computer to sliding your thumb across a scale or your iPhone to indicate that you have completed 20 per cent [of a job] and then say ‘submit.’ That’s how simple it is,” he said.
Chris Clarke is chairman of the board of the CIO Executive Council.
Follow Byron Connolly on Twitter:@ByronConnolly