Uncertainty to Certainty: The Power of Digital

December 17, 2019 Anne Ellis

Ever have one of those days when NOTHING went as planned? You meticulously planned your day, anticipating risk and other inevitabilities, and yet unpredictable events arose, wreaking havoc with time, materials and/or cash flow. For many, this uncertainty can be paralyzing. For those in the construction industry, it is a way of life. We may pride ourselves on our agility and adeptness to dealing with uncertainty, but uncertainty comes at great cost to our individual businesses, and collectively to our industry’s productivity. 

In November, leaders from Construction’s Heavy Work Industry explored “Gaining Unprecedented Certainty from Operations to Outcomes” at Command Alkon’s annual Leadership Round Table (LRT). Collectively, the leaders explored institutional causes, personal and collective impacts, and means of gaining certainty. 

What is uncertainty?

Uncertainty is the difference between the information required to make decisions and the information available to the decision maker. Uncertainty manifests when lack of information and knowledge make the vital invisible. 

Why focus on uncertainty?

“Modern highway construction presents to contractors as great a number of financial risks and uncertainties as will be experienced in any branch of public work.” This quote from Highway Engineer and Contractor, a Journal of State and City Engineering and Construction Problems, is as timely today as it was when published in May 1919. Then and today uncertainties associated with labor, material availability, transportation, acceptance, inspection, red tape and more add challenges to pricing, execution and managing a company’s reputation.

Our inability to transcend these uncertainties which have been plaguing us for the last 100 years impacts our industry productivity, described by the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) as “dramatically low”. 

What is about Construction’s Heavy Work Industry that makes it rife with uncertainty?

The Industry’s construct breeds uncertainty. Construction projects, including those served by the Heavy Works Industry, involve a complex supply chain requiring many different companies’ inputs to fulfill a customer request. These different companies each provide know-how, materials and pieces to be collectively utilized in building a final product elsewhere. There is interdependency between these companies as what one company delivers impacts what another company produces.  There are great variations in size and sophistication of these companies, from global conglomerates to microenterprises of less than ten employees. The industry norm of siloed communications between direct vendor and company or company and direct customer create blind spots to the actions of others manifesting supply and demand uncertainty.    

Further, our industry’s siloed communications conducted via traditional means – phone, verbal, paper, unread emails and siloed data - are analogous to the children’s “telephone game” where messages are not always accurate and multiple versions of the truth exist. Absent a system to communicate effectively with those we are interdependent, collaboration and productivity suffer.

Technology and digitization, changing the dynamics in many industries, still haven’t penetrated Construction’s Heavy Work Industry. Construction ranks next to last in the MGI industry digitization index, a comparative analysis of sectors across the economy through the lens of digital assets, digital usage, and digital workers.

How might we gain certainty?

Digitization certainly is part of the solution. Successfully connecting a broad network of participants of owners, buyers, sellers, jobsite testers and lab technicians, Command Alkon’s CONNEX is:

  • a next-generation vertical cloud solution
  • designed to increase productivity levels and create unprecedented results across project performance, schedule, workforce management, and safety.
  • enabling companies to gain many more automated processes, capture clear visibility into inter-company operations, and experience real-time collaboration and business intelligence tools tailored to their role in the heavy work supply chain.

The power of this collaboration platform is immense, reducing from 45 to 5 the number of times information is typically exchanged across the network of participants for a single concrete batch ticket.  Utilizing CONNEX, participants benefit from certainty attained through collective knowledge and full disclosure of vital information, and increased visibility in real time. Value is realized.

At the Command Alkon 2019 Leadership Round Table (LRT), Heavy Work Contractors, Haulers, and Material Producers and Suppliers identified their uncertainties and collectively worked conceptualizing better ways to deliver certainty. The LRT attendees already embrace technology and digitization and currently realize the benefits in their business.  So, it was no surprise the solutions they envisioned to numerous challenges capitalize on the expanded use of this technology and digital collaboration.

Key learnings from Command Alkon’s LRT 2019:

  • The power of engagement with a broad network of participants
  • How innately leaders problem solve
  • How obvious the solution is when talking with your supply chain partner and clients.

But my personal take away is this: companies like Command Alkon, that see the future and enable digitization giving rise to better-performing companies and a more productive industry, provide needed oxygen to our industry.

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