It's fine for builders to deploy technology to help them plan for when the market slows down in a year or two. But what about technology that lets builders work more efficiently through the boom?

Larry Abney, director of construction at Castle & Cooke Homes Hawaii, says a system that integrates Service Software's customer service program Punchlist Manager, onProject's scheduling software onSchedule, and the J.D. Edwards back-end accounting system helped his company more effectively manage a 40 percent sales increase in 2003.

Abney says when he came to work for Castle & Cooke about two years ago, the company was mainly using Edwards as an accounting package and hadn't integrated the software into the overall construction management process.

One area Abney targeted for improvement was the poor communication between the construction and customer service departments. Abney says too often the two departments worked as separate organizations with little communication and information sharing.

"If the hand-off between construction and customer service is not correct, the homeowner gets caught in the middle," says Abney. "I wanted to integrate the two departments so we could close that gap and improve customer service."

Here's how the system at Castle & Cooke works: About five days before the walk-through with the homeowner, the super and customer service rep walk the home. Using onSchedule on a handheld, the super uses a pre-established quality list and checks off the items that are completed. The unfinished items are e-mailed to the trades through onSchedule and are completed prior to the sub being paid and the final walk-through with the homeowner.

The day of the homeowner walk-through, any outstanding quality list items or new items identified during the walk are entered into Punchlist Manager by the customer service rep, and once again, the trades are notified of any other work that needs to be done. If a homeowner calls in a warranty item after the house is occupied, a work order is made up in Punchlist Manager. If the item is covered by warranty, it gets tracked through Punchlist Manager. If the subcontractor is to be paid for the work, the work order is sent into Edwards, which tracks the payment and pays the bill when the customer service rep approves it. The overall status of the house, including warranty work, is tracked through a community status report with information supplied from Punchlist Manager and onSchedule.

"With this report we can know the full status of the home, from the time the home started to the post-close courtesy visit with a homeowner," Abney says.

Abney says during the first quarter of this year, Castle & Cooke will offer its subcontractors access to the community status reports. Subs will be issued a user name and password and have access to customer service information, construction schedules, and customized reports. For example, plumbing contractors will be able to run status reports just on the plumbing jobs.

Another benefit of the system that links back to overall customer service: The entire bill paying process during construction is automated. Once a super signs off on a job, the work order is tracked in Edwards and paid automatically. Although it doesn't specifically relate to warranty management, Abney says the integration improves overall customer service.