By Jas Saraw
Pre-construction tech helps Canadian electrical contractor accelerate its business
By Jas Saraw
January 11, 2022 – There is one question that often comes up in our industry, no matter the size of your company nor where you are located: Why is it so difficult to control costs once a project begins?
While there are many factors that can impact budget, the primary facets of profitability and predictability live (or die) in pre-construction and estimation.
Pre-construction costs typically range between 1% and 3% of the total project value. While that sounds like a pretty significant investment, it’s one that can pay off greatly. Poor planning and poor implementation can affect the outcome of a project well before you even set foot onsite and result in issues that can continue over the course of the project… and end up being more costly than the initial investment.
Pre-construction is really the time to lay the foundation for a successful project.
In 2018, there was an estimated $500 billion US lost in construction related to rework; about half of that rework (52%) was related to poor project data and communication. The handoff between pre-construction and construction teams is extremely important. Beyond the obvious issues miscommunication can cause onsite, when there is any data loss or when something gets missed, someone has to cover the cost of that error.
Technology continues to play an increasingly important role in how electrical contractors can manage these sorts of complexities and, in turn, accelerate their business. Grimard is one Canadian company that is growing and innovating and, through its own transformation, has found key considerations for others in the industry when it comes to estimating and pre-construction technologies.
Challenges and changes
A family business based in Quebec, Grimard has more than 450 employees and has been in business for more than 75 years. Serving clients across Canada, it offers specialized construction services, and maintenance and manufacturing for the industrial, energy and infrastructure markets, and also designs and manufactures low- and medium-voltage switchgear, as well as control and protection systems.
Grimard’s executive vice-president, Sébastien Grimard, says he always envisioned working with streamlined processes, which he believed would help address some of the challenges the company was experiencing, including complexity.
“When involved in multiple projects where there are multiple stakeholders, risk management and planning is more important than ever,” he explains.
Complexity was not the only challenge Grimard faced. Like many others in the industry, dependency on multiple stakeholders is an issue. “This requires real-time communication to address; more agility is also needed,” he says. “In this fast environment, you need good processes and standards, otherwise gaps are created.”
Sébastien notes that another challenge, which is very common to many small- and medium-sized businesses, is that a lot information is only found in people’s heads. There is no documentation, nor any way to access any details. “You then rely on a few key people with no backup, which is a big risk.”
Finally, the construction industry as a whole, says Sébastien, is slow to make the progression toward digitalization.
“By comparison, manufacturing made the move much earlier. It’s always surprising that even some of the world’s largest EPCM [engineering, procurement and construction management] firms are still using paper and spreadsheets to manage projects. Clients are demanding more detail; they are lifting quality requirements, and all of that for the same cost, obviously. It’s putting a lot of pressure on our people… on the engineering companies, construction companies like us, and our people.”
To support the company’s growth and address all of these challenges head on, Grimard focused on the very start of its business process, where it knew a big impact could be made: Estimating.
Investing in the right tools
Grimard investigated options and selected an estimating tool to begin its journey of documenting processes digitally. There were a few factors the company took into consideration when evaluating what would work best for them, including speed and accuracy.
“Speed was key, and remains key. Everything has to be fast and accurate. Information flows constantly and rapidly, and this is even more true today,” he says.
While Sébastien admits he could talk for hours about lessons learned along the way, here are some key considerations Grimard believes are important for anyone looking to implement a pre-construction and/or estimating solution:
• Define your business needs. “Do not go with the flavour of the day,” he warns.
• Have a dedicated team to support and coordinate this project, keeping the company’s needs clearly in mind.
• Don’t neglect a good change management strategy. Training and support are critical.
• Don’t change something just for the sake of change. If something is working for you, then leave it alone.
• Strategize and plan for how interfacing between new and legacy platforms will work, where possible.
His final piece of advice for companies looking to improve their processes and take a leap to a pre-construction solution? Don’t expect an easy path.
“Is it easy? Not at all. Is it worth it? Absolutely.”
Jas Saraw is the vice-president of Canada at Procore, where he is responsible for all Canadian revenue and customer-facing teams that reside in the Canadian offices, including Business Development, Customer Success, Sales & Marketing. Jas joined Procore in 2017 and has over 20 years of technology and leadership experience, specializing in SaaS, ERP, CRM and eCommerce solutions.