Tech-shy construction companies enhance and integrate enterprise apps and turn to wireless to cope with growth.
The housing boom of the last several years has led to a dramatic consolidation of the nation's builders. Big companies are getting bigger, buying more land, and expanding into new regions. This has created challenges for a traditionally tech-averse industry.
"The housing market continues to be strong," says Charles Irsch, CIO of Centex Homes. "The biggest challenge I have is keeping up with the growth of the company." Centex Homes' 2005 revenue was $12.9 billion, up 24% from 2004 and up 51% from 2003. Parent Centex Corp., which has 8,182 employees in its home-building business unit, has gone on a buying spree in recent years. One of its biggest acquisitions came in January 2003 when it bought the St. Louis and Indianapolis home-building operations of Jones Co. for $141.3 million.
INSIDE CONSTRUCTION & ENGINEERING
Average portion of 2005 revenue spent on IT 0.5% Companies spending more on IT this year than last 42% Buying directly from foreign suppliers 23% Centralizing control of IT operations in past 12 months 38% Bringing outsourced functions in-house in past 12 months 8%
The housing boom also has Pulte Homes expanding into new cities, VP and CIO Jerry Batt says. With a workforce that has grown from 5,200 to more than 13,000 employees in the last five years, Pulte works in 47 U.S. markets. Its 2004 revenue jumped 31% to $11.7 billion.
To cope with this growth, Centex has enhanced several of its enterprise applications in the past year. The company upgraded its SAP financials software and is rolling out a Pivotal Software Inc. customer-resource-management upgrade. On the scheduling side, Centex is moving from Computer Presentation Systems Inc.'s ScheduleBuilder software to the vendor's Web-based, more-scalable FieldConnect suite. "We needed to be able to access it through a desktop, Palm, or thin client with a browser," Irsch says, adding that more than 2,000 field managers ultimately will use the software.
The use of wireless technology is growing among construction companies as they look for ways to tie together field offices, many of which are humbly equipped job-site trailers. Over the next two years, Centex will provide about 1,200 workers in the field with BlackBerrys that run Corrigo Inc. online forms and work-order software and provide access to customer information, Irsch says.
Pulte is rolling out Home Selections, part of its custom-built Home Builder Suite of software. Home Selections includes scheduling and purchasing software that the company's sales force will use to complete home-buyer contracts. This information is integrated into Pulte's Lawson ERP system so that costs can be tracked. In July, the company began upgrading its Siebel Systems Inc. sales-force automation software, which will integrate lead-management and customer information into Pulte's custom- built Home Builder Suite of software, which centralizes all company data for archiving and analysis. "If there's a problem with an A/C unit, we can look at trends to figure out why this certain unit is failing," Batt says.
Within the past year, Pulte's IT department wrote a Web-based CRM app using Microsoft .Net that lets its salespeople add data to Home Builder about homeowners, their homes, and the construction. This data is used to improve Pulte's service. "Most home builders are entrepreneurs but not technologists," Batt says. "At a certain size, you can't run a business the same way anymore. You have to look for information sources and productivity improvements."
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