While it’s an obvious sell for tech companies, every business should be taking advantage of data analysis and database software. McCownGordon, a construction company based in Kansas City, values the insight, productivity, and organization that they’ve gained from a data-driven approach to their work and client relationships.
“Data is vital. It’s my entire job,” says Jesse Dull, a project estimator for the company.
McCownGordon manages the entire construction process of a new building, from concept and design to completion. This means establishing a budget, hiring vendors, tracking supplies—an enormous amount of data to sift through and understand. Using database software helps project estimators like Dull manage information, build trust with clients, and keep a project (with its hundreds of employees) on track.
A virtual file cabinet
Hiring vendors is a huge part of a project estimator’s job—examining bids to see which partners are qualified and within budget. “We get anywhere from 50 to 100 bids on a project,” says Dull. “When I first started estimating, I had a little rolling file cabinet that I brought around with me that had every single bid in it with each of the tabs printed out.”
These days, no one has the time to sift through cabinets full of paperwork. “One of the struggles we’re facing as an industry is the demand for budgets or estimates to be turned over quicker and quicker. And online data management really helps our team stay coordinated, to stay up to speed with the most current information.”
Thanks to productivity tools and online storage, Dull has retired the rolling cabinet in favor of something much easier to carry—a smartphone. “We’ve totally migrated to keeping everything in shared notes and our database management system. So instead of that filing cabinet that only I have access to, now everyone on the project team has access to it.”
Building trust with accessible data
Before ground can be broken on a new project, contractors have to build a strong foundation of trust with clients, and data plays a large role in that. “McCownGordon’s pre-construction team is what sets us apart as a company. We build that trust. We have an open-book policy where we show the owner everything.”
Comprehending the project, especially for people who aren’t in construction, is essential when a client is looking to hire the right contractor. And no two clients are alike. Estimators need to understand all the data related to a project, absorb it, and make it easily digestible for each specific client.
“If they’re a bank and wanna get into the nuts and bolts and the details of a project, we’re happy to show them and sit through and talk through the steps we’ve gone to get them this number or cost for a project,” Dull says. “But then, on the flipside, if it’s a building committee for, say, a church, that doesn’t understand or like the nuts and bolts of a project, we can take that step back and show them a summary, just on a high level. ‘You’re spending X amount on your sanctuary, and you’re spending Y on the common spaces.’ It’s understanding that client and being able to speak their language and providing that value.”
When speaking to different clients, McCownGordon uses data visualization to make the numbers easier to understand. “So when we’re going in to deliver a project or deliver an estimate, not everybody wants to see a spreadsheet, so we’ll deliver it graphically,” says Dull. “Depending on the client, sometimes it’s a pie chart, sometimes it’s the divisions broken down in a bar graph. We tailor each one to each different client.”
Staying on track
Once the concrete is mixed and construction begins, database software still plays a crucial part in keeping a project moving. Throughout a project, unexpected events, budget adjustments, and even weather can throw things out of whack. Project estimators work with onsite employees—such as superintendent Paul Cook, who oversees all the activity on a job site—to keep a project on time and in budget, no matter what complications arise.
“The roadmap to get back on track is backed up with all our data: our detailed estimates, our takeoff. To help them understand and then make decisions on how they want to spend their money,” says Dull.
Cook points out how their online tools can help with this process. “Spreadsheets will show us how our decisions have impacted our time or our money, and we can make corrective actions from what we see,” says Cook.
Keys to success
Everything that McCownGordon employees do is in service of building and maintaining the trust of their clients. “That trust is vital,” says Dull. “It ties back into who we are as a company. Our core values of integrity, performance, and relationships. Without building that trust and having an owner know we’ve got their back, we’ve got their best interest in mind, we won’t excel as a company.”
The proper management and analysis of data is key to the success of a company like McCownGordon. As Cook puts it: “The essence of business is time and money. If we’re not organized, we’re just wasting both.”