In one of the really good ideas to come along during the past few years, four builders formed a consortium late last year that set specifications for a modern construction management system, hired a vendor to develop those specs, and created a fund in excess of $200,000 to accelerate research and development.
The group, called the Technology Enhancement Project (TEP), consists of Ennis Homes in Porterville, Calif.; Cristo Homes in Middletown, Ohio; Keystone Custom Homes in Willow Street, Pa.; and Bosgraaf Homes in Holland, Mich. These builders have revenues that range from $20 million to $70 million a year on annual closings of 100 to 400 homes.
TEP is a real breakthrough because it's highly unusual for a group of users in any industry to actively fund accelerated software development. TEP set up the fund and also set up a process in which a review panel will meet to set and shift priorities as needs arise.
“We went into this not knowing if it would return any results,” says Brian Ennis, president of Ennis Homes. “But four builders believed in the vision of what we wanted to do and were willing to risk the money. We would have spent $100,000 each attempting to do similar things [on our own], but we realized we could get more done as a group.”
These founding builders initially spent around $50,000 to hire Shinn Consulting to set the specifications and evaluate the industry's leading back-office systems. The group selected HomeSphere's BuildSoft Enterprise, largely based on the company's willingness to shift its development schedule to meet the needs of the builders.
For example, the builders really wanted an extranet that integrated with the system's back-end database, so HomeSphere moved the development of that feature up a couple of months. The extranet feature is important to builders, because they view the Web as a more efficient way to manage production schedules and purchase orders with subs and suppliers.
“It was just one way we wanted to show responsiveness to TEP's desires,” says Jim Waldrop, HomeSphere's CEO. “But it was more than that,” he says. “It was really important for me to respond to a group of customers who were willing to take on a leadership role,” adds Waldrop, noting that while some of the development will be custom enhancements for TEP members, much of what comes out of TEP will be available to rank-and-file BuildSoft users.
Ennis says that the idea for the consortium stemmed from a group of Shinn Consulting seminars held about two years ago in which the builders recognized that they were all spending thousands of dollars annually to build the same custom enhancements.
Ennis says as the group sat around and talked about what they'd like to see in a new system, it became clear they had common goals: ensuring schedules, purchase orders, and payments flowed seamlessly, as well as providing collaboration tools for jobsite workers with extranet links to the company's back-office system. The goal was to build a system in which a piece of information would be entered once and could be reused throughout the entire construction process—and never have to be entered again.
Next up for TEP is enhancing BuildSoft's scheduling tool so if a delivery day is changed, all affected activities are updated, and all the parties in the supply chain are notified electronically.
At press time, TEP had its four founding members plus four other builders. BuildSoft is also making it easier for the builders to set up job-costing data so they can access as much detail as they need. The group expects to add on other builders throughout the year.
To learn more about the companies and the software mentioned in this story, visit our web site at www.builderonline.com, click on “The Magazines”' tab and then “Builder Article Links.”