Tuesday, July 9, 2024

Integration is King: Exploring Enterprise Resource Planning Solutions in Construction

The construction industry is in a state of technological transformation. From the emphasis to embrace remote working, to the integration of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and advances in automated Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP). Naturally, the demand on technology to deliver greater performance is ever present in an era where advancements reshape work environments.

In this piece, I explore ERP solutions from experience and the type of Return on Investment (ROI) you might expect from a Housing perspective. A sector where risk management drives performance culture, the bottom line is still a mark of sustainability and public reputation can sometime forego quality of service. A well-integrated solution can help maintain consistent good practice in construction management but it is not a silver bullet. Technology is only ever as good as the user’s capability, so comprehensive and considered implementation and training are essential for greater ROI.

I have worked on various projects spanning across, fire and structural, mechanical & electrical to major remedial elements of building construction. With a focus on compliance and asset data, I have come across a variety of ERP solutions from problematic Application Programme Interfacing (API) to labour intensive asset management. In my experience Orchard Information Systems and Microsoft 365 have made their mark with smooth automation.

A plug and play dream – Orchard Information Systems

Orchard is a system I came across early in the built environment. It is a robust resource management platform, which integrates operational processes with accessible asset information. From a client perspective it has a user-friendly interface that allows for a simple plug and play experience. Working for a social developer of homes, as the portfolio grows so does the demands for greater module integration and more flexibility. Orchard has a good handle on the market and aim to provide workable solutions particularly through its web based Promaster software.

An Integrated Solution – The Promaster Module

Promaster is certainly one of the most impressive aspects of this solution. It has a dynamic appointment system tailored to suit specific business needs. Particularly evident for responsive repair services, who can benefit from efficient integration with other reactive maintenance modules. Job allocation is easily manageable for site-based staff and clearly auditable for management teams (i.e. Planned Capital works) to readily consider approaches to workload flows. A key benefit is also the time released for compliance and finance focused teams to track project costs that support customer consultations (i.e. Section 20 for leaseholders in the UK). I have not been privy to many solutions that give you this type of return all while sustaining a proficient level of asset management.

Growth Capability – The Promaster Upgrades

With intuitive expansion capability you can expect a solution that will evolve from initial set up, if you choose to explore that intently. These days with newer versions like Promaster 4 you may even have more integration with other stakeholder areas of construction, from Legal to the Estate teams at the forefront of everything positive. Orchard makes ERP management consistent allowing for greater opportunities to get jobs completed in the first instance, where there is a good operational structure in place. If you are looking for ways to improve asset management efficiencies that can help you deliver a better service while reducing the total cost of ownership, I would seriously consider how you can best use remote integration in the new age of agile work. This is a solution that can help you improve consistency and reduce labour costs.

The All-Consuming – Microsoft Dynamics 365

I have had the privilege of experiencing digital transformation programmes in the new era. I have been a Digital Champion, User Acceptance Tester and part of Integration Project teams supporting transition from legacy systems to Microsoft Dynamics 365. Theres certainly questions around its user friendliness if you are not a fan of excel inspired formats but then again, this can be tailored to suit. No doubt a costly solution but certainly one with the capability to be all consuming and I am a huge fan.

A Master of Combinations – Resource Planning and Customer Relationships

The assembly of applications that combine Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and ERP capabilities, alongside the Housing Property Management (HPM) asset data module, make this a very impressive solution. The HPM module provided varied operational elements that helped centralise our Building Safety function by giving us the ability to track and pull data directly from construction projects. The ERP module allowed staff to manage business expenses, invoices and payments, while interacting with the CRM module which enabled customer facing teams to manage queries, complaints, and tenancy information with visibility of multiple work streams. There is clearly an enhanced cost benefit here if your structures encourage a smooth resident experience.

Growth Capability – The Add Ons and Much More

Like me if you like ‘add ons’ then options like Power Apps and Power BI have revolutionised application creation and data visualization, without the developer costs that usually follow. Microsoft 365 is a highly collaborative ecosystem that also incorporates instant organisational chat with collective document editing via the popular Microsoft Teams and SharePoint elements. I have personally used Power BI to help review building safety performance more holistically with a focus on highly interactive business intelligence data. Microsoft also have AI-driven insights that offer a view into customer behaviours, while recommending optimal responses and spotting patterns/trends in customer engagement. I have only scratched the surface of this tool, but you can research openly the wide-ranging uses that relate to Sales, Field Service Operations, Marketing, Project Automation, Supply Chain Management, Commerce and Human Resources.

Conclusion

With all that said it is important to remember there are real world challenges to ERP solutions.

The Right Solution The perfect software does not exist; it cannot fix everything. A good ERP solution will use and align your current business processes to ensure consistent information is readily accessible to everyone under a central system.

Spread The Cost – A phased approach where software modules are purchased separately according to business needs are an effective way for staff to acclimatise progressively. This can also save major investment if your aim is to systematically understand each of the ROI benefits.

Integration Is King – In my experience the best software usually enhances what you already have in place. Coming from a Building Safety perspective, I would rather focus less on cost and more on solutions that provide strong business intelligence capabilities to allow for holistic asset management.

About the Author:

Alozie Ohuonu, a 10-year built environment expert specialising in Building Safety, Mechanical & Electrical services for some of the UK’s largest social housing providers with annual turnovers of £800m-1 billion. Brings holistic building safety expertise as a enthusiastic international speaker having delivered presentations on fire, structure and technology at some of the largest design and construction shows in Europe. If interested in sharing best practise feel free to contact Alozieatwork@gmail.com.

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