Cometh the hour, cometh the system

Cometh the hour, cometh the system

Probuild Constructions had some very specific IT needs as it moved west.

When Justin Williams kicked off in the role of group operations manager at commercial builders Probuild Constructions in 2004, his task was simple: create and implement IT systems to give the company an advantage over rivals in the sector. Famed for spacious airy designs, straight lines, sharp edges and lots of glass, Probuild management was looking to capture some of the growth in Western Australia, and to expand in the eastern states.

Williams was charged with commissioning and implementing a new web-based enterprise resource planning software, and the network infrastructure that would support 300 staff, and 25 temporary remote offices located at building sites around the country.

"We wanted to become a truly national builder and needed to improve our business systems to support that," Williams explains. "I was given the mandate to set up and integrate project and cost management software, as well as develop a network that could sustain a more centralised model, where everyone was working from a core system."

But before such a system could be designed, Williams needed to figure out what Probuild's administration staff were actually doing, and what was worth changing.

For three months, Williams went from construction site to project office, identifying which processes needed to be changed, and pinpointing areas where productivity could be enhanced.

"We were keen to do away with Excel spreadsheets where a single change would have to be copied and pasted into 25 different locations. We needed to implement continuous workflow through the company so that data would only need to be entered once," Williams says. "At the same time we needed to try to keep things as familiar as possible, and not change things that didn't need changing."

With the scoping project out of the way, Williams was left to seek out a software package, but found most packages fell short of the company's most basic requirements.

Instead of shifting the procedures to fit in with an off-the-shelf package, Probuild opted for a collaborative development approach to build web-facing applications, and improved project management functions on Timberline ERP software.

"We used an external IT consulting company called Jasco who already had experience with Timberline, as well as a web-based application, as well as all the systems integrations and networking solutions knowledge we needed to get going," Williams says.

"The idea of the project being a collaboration is that the developer can sell on to other companies, while we have first-mover advantage of using an industry-leading project management tool."

Once design and implementation of the ERP system were under way, Williams was left to ensure Probuild's wide area network (WAN) and multiple wireless local area networks would be up to the task.

"We've got some enormous sites, where we run a mixture of desktops, laptops, hand-held devices and phones," Williams says.

"A key driver is mobility, and getting real-time data out to the people that need it to make decisions at the sites."

In an effort to tap into a more stable wireless network, Probuild shifted from Macquarie Telecom to Telstra, and centralised its computing resources to a Melbourne data centre.

"We had been running about six servers in our head office which used to be at the centre of the WAN, but we replaced these with 12 servers in a secure site in the Melbourne CBD," Williams says. "Now all the remote business units still maintain their data links, even if there is a problem at the head office, the rest of the country can keep on running."

By April 2006, four months after it was commissioned, the custom-built web-facing ERP system was rolled out and as the systems started to become popular Williams was faced with a whole new dilemma: too much demand.

"In the first 12 months demand for electronic data storage increased eightfold, and the number of users on each site increased by two or three times," Williams says.

"As uptake increased exponentially, the next phase of the rollout was looking at overcoming the bandwidth bottleneck."

Turning again to Jasco consultants for support, Williams installed an Exinda 4800 appliance at Probuild's head office in South Melbourne and three Exinda 2800 appliances as a trial at a couple of the company's remote offices.

Suffice to say, the boxes that had been installed as a test were never removed, and Probuild Constructions now uses the technology throughout its network.

"So much of our operations depend on the corporate network we have to be smart with the resources we have available," Williams says, pointing out that the whole system now allows for projects to be closely monitored, and for potential problems to be highlighted before they become too serious.

"Ultimately it's about creating data access systems that lead to time and cost efficiencies for the client, and using IT to create a commercial advantage for ourselves, and for our customers."

© Fairfax Business Media

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