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9/15/2005
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Skanska Unleashes Work Crews

Wireless networks and tablet PCs save a full workday a week at construction company's work sites.

InformationWeek 500 - Construction & EngineeringSkanska USA Building Inc. is always on the move. The $4.2 billion-a-year construction-management company is a business unit of Skanska AB in Sweden and builds everything from prisons to shopping centers, office complexes, and bridges. At any time, Skanska has 500 to 2,000 job sites, each requiring as many as 60 contractors and suppliers. Every day, the equipment, office trailers, and people at about 30 sites is moved to a new location. Skanska employs roughly 4,100 people, and 75% of them are mobile.

It takes good communication among all of those partners, supervisors, and construction workers to complete projects on time and budget. Speedy communication is particularly crucial when workers hit a snag. To resolve such problems, supervisors have had to return to office trailers to complete forms describing a problem, fax them to the appropriate people, and await guidance. In some cases, construction was on hold until a resolution was reached. If changes in work orders or pricing were required, more paperwork changed hands. "These situations can take weeks or days to rectify," says Christopher Stockley, Skanska's senior VP and CIO.

That's why Skanska built what Stockley calls a "walking office"--an on-site wireless local area network. It's also rolling out tablet PCs from Motion Computing Inc. to supervisors and project managers on job sites. The idea is to slash the inefficiencies of managing paper and bring the capability for near-instantaneous decision-making to job sites.

Tablet PCs let workers access plans and reports and mark up drawings anywhere. Problems can be resolved within minutes or hours rather than days or weeks. "What we want our project teams doing is managing the projects, not fax machines or waiting around for decisions to be made," Stockley says.

With a paper-based process, it can take 15 minutes or more for the supervisor to reach the office trailer, 15 minutes more to work on paperwork, and even more time to drive back to the construction site. The on-site availability of documentation alone has reaped tremendous cost-savings. Skanska estimates the tablet PCs have bolstered productivity by 20%, adding an extra workday each week.

The first wireless tablet PC deployments were delivered last year to several job sites, including construction at Duke University's Center for Interdisciplinary Engineering, Medicine, and Applied Sciences building at the Pratt School of Engineering. During the job, there were 1,200 requests for information, including 42 partial plan and specification set revisions. Using the paper system,that number of requests for information would have resulted in 72,000 to 720,000 documents.

The wireless initiative came after Skanska had already completed an ambitious business-consolidation effort, having merged about 20 wholly owned subsidiaries into a single company. Skanska then was able to consolidate more than 100 of its business applications into 12. Then it built a service-oriented architecture that runs on the Windows Server 2003 operating system, as well as BizTalk Server 2004, SQL Server 2000, and Microsoft Office InfoPath 2003 (used to build applications that can gather information when the tablet PCs are online and off).

Both the business and IT consolidation have paid off. In 2002, Skanska's IT budget was $22 million. As of this past June, it was down 40% to $13 million.

Skanska also has deployed BlackBerrys to senior managers, superintendents, and product managers so they can remotely access E-mail, faxes, and calendars. The devices will save $1.5 million in costs and $1 million in managers' time, the company estimates.

Skanska plans to expand its wireless infrastructure to all its job sites around the country and expects that the technology will continue to shake things up in its own operations and beyond. Says Stockley, "We're not only changing how well we work as a company, we could be changing an industry."

Illustration By Paul Watson

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Skanska's Chief Change Agent

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Builders Growing Fond Of IT, Slowly

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