By Steve Zurier. For years, building superintendents have complained that they spend at least 60 percent of their day calling subcontractors to make scheduling changes. Since each change can throw off the schedule by a few days, it's no wonder builders miss deadlines and run up costs.
But help is on the way. Dan Johnson, construction manager for Amberwood Homes in Phoenix, says the home builder slashed its total building schedule on a mid-sized, 2,000-square-foot home by 15 days with AirWavz, a new handheld scheduling application developed by AirToolz Software.
Johnson says the 180-unit-per-year custom builder went into production mode with AirWavz last April. For large homes that can take six months to build, he claims the software slashes a staggering 30 days off production time. He adds that by reducing cycle time, Amberwood now saves $3,000 to $4,000 per unit on interest payments for construction loans.
"When I first came on board, the superintendents had their own systems,'' Johnson says. "Some would handwrite schedules, and many of the subcontractors would not have set schedules. I felt we needed to get [everyone] on the same page.''
Amberwood pays roughly $200 per home for the application service, which is hosted by AirToolz at its facility in Scottsdale, Ariz. The system runs over IBM's WebSphere middleware and a DB2 database. Johnson says five superintendents and assistant superintendents use the application. Two of them run the application on Palm VIIs, the other three use the Palm i705. The supers run AirWavz as a wireless application when the network coverage area permits. Roughly 50 of Amberwood's subcontractors also use the system, available to them free of charge.
With AirWavz, when a superintendent needs to change a schedule, instead of tracking everything on paper and spending endless hours on the telephone, he simply notifies the subcontractors by e-mail or fax via the AirWavz application.
Johnson also uses three of the reports the AirWavz system offers. First, he sends subdivision reports to his office monthly. This report tracks how a job is doing by lot number. Second, he issues a monthly trade performance report to the 50 subcontractors. Finally, once a week, the AirWavz system e-mails him users' access reports that tell him which subcontractors are using the system, how often, and by what means, desktop browser or PDA.
David Dean, director of marketing at AirToolz, says since the back-end of AirWavz is written in Java, the software can integrate with just about any of the leading enterprise, resource, and planning systems, most notably J.D. Edwards, which is widely used in the building industry. One major goal for AirToolz as it adds larger users is to build an application that lets the superintendent automatically approve that a job is completed and send it on to accounting for payment. Amberwood hopes to add this automated accounting feature later this year.
AirToolz plans to market AirWavz nationwide through a strategic partnership with QCM Technologies. QCM will target most of the high-growth building markets across the United States, including Arizona, Atlanta, California, Dallas, Florida, and Nevada. As of mid-November 2002, AirToolz was about to go live with one other builder and launch a pilot with yet another home builder in early 2003.