The assortment of disconnected point solutions your business currently uses might seem good enough for now. But sooner or later that siloed environment can become infested with “digital squirrels”, as Kitchell construction technologist Andy Lane calls them, hoarding up valuable knowledge and data.
As companies grow, they often turn to a patchwork of different systems and programs to keep things running efficiently. While this may temporarily help a business get through some of its growing pains, it’s not a sustainable long-term solution. Inevitably, problems start to emerge as different leaders impose their own systems, which leads to everything feeling disconnected. This can wind up stalling your growth, and even create problems more serious than the ones the systems were put in place to resolve.
Point solutions may require a lower upfront investment, but buyer beware: their total cost of ownership over time can be significantly higher once you factor in hidden costs. Many of these solutions lure in customers with low licensing fees, but when you consider the added cost of training and implementation, it stops looking like a bargain pretty fast. Additionally, as your business needs change, you’ll have to keep stacking point solutions on top of each other just to stay current. Not to mention all of the time (and money) you’ll be hemorrhaging by having to re-enter all of that data.
When systems aren’t integrated, the data they generate becomes questionable, and any automatic process that depends on that data can become corrupted. The more disconnected solutions you have across your organization, the harder it is to find the information you need to keep everyone on the same page, and the more work your people will have to do to provide those connections. Ultimately, a lack of connections between systems can cause serious financial, operational, and stakeholder experience consequences.
Point solutions often create more problems than they solve. And while we all might understand this logically, sometimes making the best business decisions can be difficult when feeling the pressures of rapid growth. Sometimes we’re so invested in the potential of an imperfect solution that a sort of cognitive bias sets in. One that convinces us it’s “no big deal” to have to manually move data from one system to another. Or that it’s fine if these solutions’ shortcomings have to be bandaged over with human effort. These illusions tend to come crashing down once you actually try to get the team to move that data at scale.
At any given time, Kitchell’s project portfolio includes 30-50 buildings across the Western U.S., at sizes of up to $600 million. More than half of them are complex healthcare and higher education projects. Even with so many large-scale, high-value projects on their docket, the company primarily relied on siloed point solutions to keep it all straight. This meant unwinding a complex web of offline documents was one of Andy’s first orders of business.
Kitchell found themselves with 12 or 15 different versions of the same spreadsheets across the organization that project managers used. Each month, a project director that had six project managers, would have to look at six forecasts in six different formats. There was a lot of inconsistency.
We recently sat down with Andy, who shared these and other insights he’s picked up to avoid the pitfalls of solution bundles.
Identifying the Problem
When Andy joined Kitchell as a construction technologist, he knew he was stepping into a big role. Kitchell is a highly successful commercial general contractor, with offices in Phoenix, San Diego, Austin, and Houston. Over its nearly 75 years in operation, the firm has grown its portfolio to include a construction management and development business.
But despite this wild success, their tech stack was sprawling, and their construction technology adoption numbers were unacceptably low. It was in this climate that Andy took the helm of driving Kitchell’s technology efforts with the goal of aligning Kitchell’s team on processes, tools, and outcomes.
“We are of the philosophy that transparency breeds accountability. But with so little transparency between silos and systems, it was hard to create that accountability,” he said of his early days with the company.
The project management tool Kitchell used at the time was so cumbersome that just 20-30% of its employees were actually using it. Many ditched it altogether in favor of spreadsheets. This created company-wide data silos that made establishing accountability virtually impossible.
“We had a lot of point solutions to try and help compensate for that. We had a lot of what I like to call ‘digital squirrels’ that are just kind of hoarding knowledge and data. We wanted to eliminate those. And we wanted to fix the ease of use, which would hopefully encourage more timely and accurate data. In the end the goal is to make more data-informed decisions,” says Andy.
Vetting the Solution
With the search for a better project management system officially underway, Andy and a colleague co-developed a “requirements matrix” after soliciting feedback from project teams about their biggest needs. This created a framework that enabled them to home in on more promising solutions while eliminating others that didn’t make the cut.
“Before we even consider a new technology solution, I have to check those boxes,” he says.
Andy’s requirements matrix was designed to put any technology solution being considered to the ultimate test. Any technology candidates were scrutinized to ensure they met, at a minimum, 5 essential characteristics:
User-Centric: The solution must be easy to use, and have an explicit understanding of its users, tasks, and the environment in which it operates. It must be collaborative and accessible by stakeholders at all levels, and require minimal on-site training.
Mobile: Andy’s matrix dictates that any tech solution be cloud-based, platform-agnostic, and natively mobile.
Minimal Customization: Any solution considered must be ready to use out of the box, with open APIs for seamless integration. It must also be agile enough to respond to changing demands, and future-proof so it never becomes obsolete.
Manageable: Security is a top priority of any technology professional, so the matrix spells out exactly what safety measures need to be in place. This includes requirements like SSL encryption, access control, and data loss prevention. Andy also wanted something with features like an enterprise licensing model and single sign-on (SSO), along with logging and monitoring controls.
Improves Processes: No technology Andy looked at remained in the running if it didn’t benefit an entire department or the company as a whole. Solutions must also increase productivity while being efficient and cost effective.
After putting multiple platforms up against the requirements matrix, Procore was the only one remaining that checked each and every box. After adoption, Kitchell was able to eliminate or combine 3 of their existing point solutions: PlanGrid, legacy quality solution, and legacy safety solution.
Once the implementation was complete, Andy says Kitchell’s new primary criterion for a piece of technology was simple: Does it integrate with Procore?
“After we onboarded Procore everything clicked into place. From then on the only thing we really had to consider before adding another tool or module was ‘is this compatible with Procore?’ if the answer was no, it didn’t go into our tech stack.”
Building for the Future
Thanks to Procore’s user-friendly platform, Kitchell’s field teams were able to get started using it right away, without needing to pull the IT department in for technical help.
“We got to spend more time talking about business processes and how we actually wanted to use this tool rather than about how we’re going to connect this with that, etc.,” Andy says.
Given the poor user uptake numbers of their previous solution, getting significant buy-in from the team was an essential part of the rollout. Fortunately, much of the field was already familiar with Procore, and they were just as eager to start using it as the rest of the team. That excitement, coupled with making them part of the evaluation process, ensured a painless onboarding process.
Given Kitchell’s ethos that transparency breeds accountability, the ability to seamlessly share information across every stakeholder group was a high priority. After adopting Procore, Kitchell was able to break down the silo walls and foster a culture around sharing data. This empowered teams with the confidence that the data in their dashboards actually meant something, and could reliably provide actionable insights to those in the field. Procore helped Kitchell close the communication gap between field and office.
“Previously our field and office teams talked, they just weren’t talking the same language. Before, a lot of time was spent gathering and creating information. Since implementation we’ve become more data driven and are really starting to talk the same language.”
Andy says striving to create a data-driven culture is important, but emphasizes that doing so successfully requires a combination of technology, and good old-fashioned construction worker instinct.
“You do need that balance of wisdom and experience and a data-driven culture. You can’t just be one or the other.”
Virtually everything in Kitchell’s tech stack now runs through Procore, bringing every solution under one unified dashboard. Procore’s open API allows them to integrate every new tool they acquire, which keeps things streamlined and organized.
“Gone are the days of our PMs having to compile from five different systems or spreadsheets and then uploading it to a SharePoint site,” says Andy.
“A few of us get on calls with project teams for monthly reviews, and we use Procore Analytics to find any potential hot spots or risk areas in the project. The analytics allows us to green key metrics and identify nonconforming quality items, safety observations, scheduled data revenue and fees over time, and much, much more. All of those metrics become talking points, and the goal is to help our projects become more successful by looking at that data monthly.