Technology Sellers & Users Covenant

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without an understanding of how work gets done and whether the way it gets done works, automation accomplishes nothing but accelerating the unknown.

October 01, 2003

 

Heather McCune, Editor in Chief

 

 

The builder buzz at this year's Benchmark conference struck a familiar though long-absent chord. During breaks and between sessions, builders gathered in groups of two or three, chiming in on the previous speaker, their businesses and, believe it or not, technology - specifically, software. The dark days that followed the tech bubble's burst, when nearly all builder investment in technology stopped, finally might give way to light again.

However, the technology landscape looks very different today than it did in its heyday just a few years ago. Ruins of once-vaunted names litter the landscape. Now, new players and remakes of veteran companies hawk business solutions both big and small.

Changes extend to the builder users as well. Companies that enthusiastically bought the promises peddled by software suppliers on the first go-round learned a hard and often expensive lesson. Software solves nothing - it's a business tool, not a business solution, and too many buyers believed it was the latter. Install this product that "improves job-costing and streamlines estimating and change order processes," said manufacturers' literature.

The key word most often overlooked by sellers and buyers in the above sentence? Processes. Sellers sold and buyers bought the idea that software solves business problems. It doesn't, and two years and a lot of casualties later, as an industry we embark on another round of technology offerings. Builders, riding the strength of the new home market, want to believe when software sellers tell them a better bottom line is only an application away. Sellers, doing the job they are paid to do, sing the song that moves builders to buyers, no matter how real the refrain.

Is this a blanket indictment of both groups? Hardly. We're throwing down the gauntlet to inspire a partnership between buyers and sellers that avoids the mistakes of the past and creates a business relationship based on fact and focused on creating better builders who become better customers. The three principles below constitute a starting point for a new technology covenant in the residential construction industry.

 

I. Process must precede automation. Without an understanding of how work gets done and whether the way it gets done works, automation accomplishes nothing but accelerating the unknown. Stop and understand the chaos of your purchase order system, change order process, options selection management, etc. When comfortable with the internal workings of your own company, develop the same knowledge of the workings of your suppliers and trades. Then, and only then, invite in the software suppliers with the programs to streamline the way work gets done.

 

II. Specific tools dominate. The day will come when an enterprisewide production management tool that enhances communication and collaboration exists. Today is not that day. Does this mean sit on the sidelines and wait for whenever? Not unless you're content to let competitors pass you by and to leave profits on the table. Point-to-point software tools exist to support and facilitate your business improvement plan.

 

III. Become better customers. Strange things happen to smart people when they confront a person with a program who demonstrates a better way to do business. They see only the solution, turning a blind eye to the obstacles in their own company that negate the advantage. Change the optimism? Never. Rather, share it throughout the organization and then listen - you and the sales representative - to the feedback.

Then, ask yourself and your supplier the hard questions. If they're answered and the sale is made, commit to being a good customer. Invest in training and devote time to making technology a profit tool in your business.

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