General contractors work in a unique and highly specialized industry, and software tools built with other domains in mind don’t always measure up when it comes to the construction business. We sat down with Amanda Canfield from Wieland Corporation to hear about how her experience led her to combine the strengths of an ERP with those of Procore’s construction management solution.
Wieland is a seasoned general contractor that works on “everything from banks, warehouses, manufacturing, hotels… almost everything you can think of, we’ve touched it at some point or another,” said Canfield. And having worked at Wieland for 23 years, she’s about as familiar with the company and a GC’s needs as one can be.
Some years ago, Wieland decided that they had enough of a growing library of point solutions. They wanted an all-in-one solution.
“We were doing a lot of different applications between our field and accounting teams. That was our pain point, right? We wanted everyone to be in one spot,” she recalled.
They surveyed their options and decided that an enterprise resource planning platform (ERP), was their best bet for “one platform, one source of truth.” Moving from a pile of point solutions to a single one seemed like an inevitable step, and as a colleague of Canfield’s put it, “We took a leap of faith hoping they would deliver.”
For a while, it did: the office and accounting teams were happy with its general ledger and financial management capabilities. That is, after all, what ERPs are designed to do—but while it met the needs of the back office, the company quickly learned that it fell short in four key ways when they tried to use it as a full-fledged project management system.
Fine for finance, failure in the field
First was the simple matter of accessibility. The ERP primarily operated as a desktop application, and was designed for use by a person sitting at a desk, with mouse and keyboard. But increasingly that is not the way business operates—mobile apps and remote access are essential for today’s fast-moving projects. It isn’t simple to adapt that complex software to work on phones, tablets, and other field hardware with intermittent connectivity, and it shows in the product.
If the ERP’s users needed to be sitting in the office in order to find and use its many tools and resources, that severely limits the company’s access to data and insights. Whenever someone has to say “I’ll look into it once I’m back at my desk,” instead of pulling it up right there on their phone or tablet, that is wasted time and effort.
Licensing was also an issue: This ERP charged per seat, and of course that cost was incurred whether they used the platform or not.
This quickly became an issue because of the fact that an ERP is built primarily for the back office. It is a financial management solution with depth and sophistication any team can appreciate, but its field-facing tools are not nearly so robust as Canfield’s colleagues out at job sites made clear.
“It’s a great program, but it just didn’t seem to have the friendliness our field personnel needed in order to be productive and efficient,” she said. “The big complaint was from our superintendents, our field personnel—they didn’t like how it wasn’t smooth, it wasn’t easy to navigate. They were very frustrated with it.”
When the “all-in-one” solution fell short, Wieland had to shore it up with many of the very point solutions it was meant to replace.
“From an accounting standpoint, the [ERP] was fine. But then we needed an app for plans, an app for field work orders, for expense reports, time sheets, an app for this and an app for that,” she recalled. “People were ready to be out of it pretty quickly after we got in.”
Suddenly, the user base of the ERP was fragmented and adoption stalled as people grew increasingly frustrated or switched back to the tools that worked for them. And a big part of this was a lack of support and training beyond the accounting staff.
“Right off the jump, they didn’t supply appropriate training,” Canfield said. “They didn’t offer tutorials, or if they did, they weren’t easy to get to. We had a trainer here for a day, but that was for the accounting staff, not the field staff. That’s only 50% of the operation. Field’s role is just as important as mine, if not more. Without them, where would I be?”
With at best only half the company trained to use the software, leveraging it as an organization was pretty much impossible.
“We would work with our superintendents and see if there was anything we could do, if we could help them, maybe come out there and sit and work through it with them. But how are you going to train the field if you haven’t been trained how to teach? So we asked for their feedback, and they were very frank,” she said. “Then, the floodgates opened and we didn’t want to spend money on a program that nobody uses because nobody likes it, or they can’t get around in it.”
Augmenting the ERP with Procore
Last, Wieland found that an ERP, fundamentally a financial tool, was too focused on recording and analyzing the past and not enough on reacting to the present or planning for the future. Whether a project was large or small, in precon or closeout, over or under budget, it was managed the same way.
Every project is different because construction is a business moving through a market in constant flux—costs and dates shift, different regions and building categories have different expectations. Change management and tools to directly identify and address day-to-day operations and troubleshooting are essential to running a construction business at peak efficiency.
Wieland had signed on for a two-year contract, but before the end of the first year they knew they needed something to augment it and not half a dozen different apps. After asking for feedback and looking at available options, they decided to implement Procore.
“We went for Procore, and started with the field side—RFIs, drawings, all of that good stuff,” said Canfield. “The expectation was to have everybody access the system, not just myself and the project manager, but the superintendents, and they’re all able to see, you know, signed change orders, see the drawings. It’s just allowing more communication and fewer mistakes, because everything is available to everybody.”
They would keep enough licenses to keep the ERP software running in the back office where people liked and used it, and augment it on the field and project management side with Procore.
An ERP is an irreplaceable tool, but they had found that it didn’t live up to their hopes for a true all-in-one solution. What surprised Canfield was the speed at which the organization adopted the new software landscape.
“The unexpected thing was how quickly everything came,” said Canfield. “We got in there and decided to phase it; the field first and once the field was happy we would get into financials. And then even the financials were phased. We had timelines for each of these but we moved everything up because we were getting it so quickly. We found ourselves going, ‘what’s next? OK, I got it. What’s next? I don’t need six months to try this, I’ve got it in one to two months. We need to move on to the next so we can continue the improvement of our processes.’”
Ultimately Wieland Corporation found that they were ahead on time, effort, and budget.
“The time savings, money savings, and efficiencies you would get with Procore are worth more than what you’re gonna spend in licensing on that ERP. We still have it for the general ledger platform and all of that, but we’ve been able to diminish our licensing,” she said. “If it doesn’t need to be in the ERP, then we don’t need it there — if I can do it in Procore, then I do it in Procore.”