How Low-Code is Helping Contractors Customize Workflows
How Low-Code is Helping Contractors Customize Workflows
Low-code is a simple user interface that allows non-technical users to build or customize their own applications to suit their unique needs.
May 13, 2021
By Anand Subbaraj, CEO of Zuper
I recently read an article from CONTRACTOR Magazine’s management columnist Al Shwartz about digitization in the trades .
In it, the author explains how thumbing through trade magazines today is “an adventure in emerging digital technology as it applies to our industry.”
He goes on to argue that, at its best, digital technology can unlock greater productivity, saving contracting businesses time and money.
At its worst, however, it can act as a big brother, watching everything you do without adding true value to your organization.
The question then becomes, how can any service business wade through the myriad solutions and arrive at the digital technology that will truly add value to its organization?
This is a good question, but as the former Head of Product at Microsoft, what I think the author missed is a major software trend that is turning these digital solutions on their head. This trend is putting more power in the hands of individual contracting businesses to customize their workflows and automate processes themselves with just a few clicks of a button.
I’m talking about low-code.
For many contracting and field service businesses that are evaluating new technology, onboarding can be a long and difficult process as you learn a new software that’s basically a new language. You often have to work with the customer experience team for hours before the product is fully integrated into your workflow and all your employees are effectively using it.
More importantly, every business has unique needs, and any time you need to build out a custom workflow, you have to navigate this process with their internal development team.
It’s not flexible.
So what is it? Low-code is a simple user interface that allows non-technical users to build or customize their own applications to suit their unique needs. Think of building applications like making a statue. You can either cut it out of stone by hand like Michelangelo, or you can get a 3D printer and some open-source plans online. Low-code is the 3D printer that allows you to build what you need when you need it.
Low-code is full of drag and drop interfaces where you can configure an application visually without almost no coding skills whatsoever. Just move a few boxes around, and you’ve got a completely new workflow to suit your needs.
Low-code is a growing market. In fact, Forrester says spending in the low-code marketing will top $22 billion by 2022. Gartner goes even further . They predict that 65 percent of all applications will be built using low-code by 2024.
If this is the future of software, then how can we turn contracting and field service business owners from software consumers to software designers, and how will this change the ways in which they evaluate digital technology moving forward?
How Contracting Businesses Can Adapt
So how can we apply low-code to contracting and field service businesses?
Here’s a simple example. Consider your work order management. If you get an inquiry, you want to create workflows that are consistent across the board in terms of following up with customers, smart scheduling, intelligent dispatching, and live notifications or status updates from your employees that are visible both to you and your customer.
Everyone is going to have a different system, and no one knows your workflow better than you. So who better to quickly customize your software to your own needs than yourself? As your business changes, you can be flexible to update your workflows and software to adapt to those changes in real time.
This is especially important in times of rapid change. For instance, during COVID-19, technician checklists were completely turned on their head. All of the sudden, they became more than just tools to ensure that technicians didn’t overlook customer requests; instead, they were critical avenues with which to quickly update hygiene best practices and customer interaction guidelines given the rapidly changing environment. Low-code allows you to redefine checklists with a drag and drop menu to codify customer engagement protocol and send that out to all your employees so that they’re getting new checklist alerts that same day.
What needs to happen is a shift in mentality. Not everyone is tech-literate, but tech is becoming more and more user-friendly. Regardless of how tech-savvy you are, you know your business and, today, if you can imagine it, you can build it.
We’re All Low-Coders
So if you’re looking for digital technology, don’t go after inflexible solutions. They’ll tie you down in times of change, and you’ll have less control over your workflows at the end of the day.
Maybe this sounds like more work, but trust me, endless back-and-forth with software companies trying to get them to build out the perfect solution for you will be more time consuming and expensive in the end.
Anand Subbaraj is the CEO of Zuper, provider of a leading intelligent workforce management platform for service businesses such as residential & commercial cleaning, HVAC, electrical, Internet Service Providers, plumbing, and landscaping. Anand is a seasoned product leader with over 17 years of experience in technology and 13 years at Microsoft, specializing in the areas of Big Data, BI & Analytics, Cloud Computing, Digital Transformation, and SaaS.
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The new generation of scanners use digital geometric shape-data capture through point cloud generation. Photo: Datum Tech Solutions
Prefabrication and point-cloud technology go hand-in-hand to mitigate complexity and constraint.
May 13, 2021
By Sean O’Keefe
Tracy Raver is a builder at heart. As a pipefitter with 27 years of experience in the field, he’s had his head and hands deep in the work of assembling complex mechanical systems for commercial and industrial facilities of every sort. Over the last 16 years with Apollo Mechanical Contractors , Raver has seen his employer grow from a local sheet metal fabricator in Kennewick, WA to a nationally respected Mechanical Contracting powerhouse with eight offices stretching from Washington to Tennessee. Of all the factors contributing to the firm’s steady growth during Raver’s tenure, perhaps no innovation is more significant than embracing prefabrication's virtually unlimited potential.
“For me, the most exciting thing about construction is the continually changing technology that is improving how we work and what we produce,” says Raver. Apollo believes in building people who build great things. The firm focus on employees starts with a drive for safety, a willingness to put the customer first always, and a resolute insistence on installing only the best quality products that anybody could supply. Apollo also takes great pride in innovating in response to change. During the aftermath of the 2008 recession, like many union contractors, Apollo was pressed to find ways to become more productive on the work.
“Setting up a prefabrication shop dedicated to building and pre-assembling components in a controlled facility away from the job site has been a huge success for us,” continues Raver. Starting with just a few common building systems, Apollo’s prefabrication shop quickly enabled the company to become much more competitive on price, while increasing product profitability, ease of assembly, speed to market, and workforce safety significantly. As Apollo’s prefabrication capacities have steadily expanded in the decade since establishing the prefab shop, their technological capabilities and resources also had to keep pace with the digital world.
“Datum Tech Solutions is a local laser scanning technology firm that has been an important resource in our toolbox,” shares Raver of a consulting relationship several years in the making. Based in Seattle, WA, and serving clients nationally, Datum Tech Solutions represents the leading edge of digital geometric shape-data capture through point cloud generation. Used throughout the architecture, engineering, and construction industry, generating a point cloud of a space, place, or piece of machinery uses a precision 3D laser scanner to define surface data points that combine to create a high-definition digital replica of an object, interior space, or site. “As the laser scanning technology has evolved Datum has remained at the forefront and we put their newest equipment and skilled expertise to good use on projects of all sorts.”
When Apollo was awarded a complex, equipment replacement project at Packaging Corporation of America’s Wallula Full-Line Plant in Wallula, WA, Datum Tech was the first resource Raver turned to.
“The scope at the Wallula plant was to replace an intricate system of vacuum headers on some large paper processing machinery that had become clogged with sludge and wasn’t maintaining pressure,” continued Raver. “The assembly was a tangled mess of some 30 to 40 different pipe and valve components connecting beneath the mainline of a processing run in a fairly tight space. The client was very concerned about any prolonged plant shut down and lots of other work was being scheduled concurrently. Our objective was to recreate the entire configuration in our prefab shop and save significant time assembling it at the plant.”
In addition to the intense complexity of the piping configurations, the machinery had also been subjected to many years of ad hoc repairs and patch welds. Raver estimates that before prefabrication, Apollo likely would have had a six-man crew on the project for more than a month. In the case of the Wallula plant, the client originally anticipated a two-week shutdown but narrowed that window down to just one week before the scope, schedule, and costs were fully aligned with their expectations.
“In terms of site constraints during construction, the preconstruction process revealed there would be quite a few,” continues Raver. “There were roughly 30 other contractors doing work in the same space the same week and layers of scaffolding rising around this apparatus on two sides. The prefabrication shop became incredibly important. I estimate that 80 percent of the manhours took place in our shop and just 20 percent in the field. Having Datum's virtual model of the machinery to build from is what made that possible.”
Bob Rice is also a builder at heart. He’s been in the construction and design industry for more than 30 years, maintaining a focus on the intersection of technology and practical hands-on reality. As the General Manager for Datum Tech, Rice has his eyes on everything the firm touches.
“Our team excels where conditions are extreme and require best-in-class technology and an outside-of-the-box approach,” says Rice of the work and ethos at Datum Tech. “This company loves a challenge.”
As a scanning assignment, the Wallula plant scan certainly had its fair share of challenges. The vacuum pump assembly was located in a 20’ x 75’ maintenance vault with a 10’ ceiling beneath the production run. The heat and steam of the machinery turned the surrounding air into a stifling soup of more than 100 degrees. The clouds of air were so thick, and the Leica ScanStation P40/P30 3D Laser Scanner Datum used to capture the scan so precise that parts of the clouds rendered as tangible data points that had to be removed from the recap file. In a single afternoon, Datum’s technician shot the entire assembly in exacting detail to produce a like-for-like virtual model of the machinery from which Apollo Mechanical recreated the components in exacting detail.
“From hiring the next generation of builders to getting the work done, technology drives our industry,” says Raver. “Datum’s laser scan produced a model that allowed us to prefabricate the entire assembly off-site, and we installed it in less than a week.”
Having finished their work early, Apollo invited the plant owners on a tour, and they were astonished.
“They said they had never seen anything like it,” finishes Raver. “We all immediately began discussing ways laser scanning of this caliber could save us even more time and money in the future. It’s a real game-changer.”
Sean O'Keefe is a writer crafts architecture and construction writer stories for Datum Tech Solutions and others based on 20 years of experience and a keen interest in the people who make projects happen. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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