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Company Profile: A Future Constructed Around Technology

As foreign competition grows, Gilbane uses IT to drive customer value

At a time when tech spending in the construction and engineering industries is flat, Gilbane Inc. is investing in technology to help it hammer out what its customers need. The company has over the past year also taken on business-technology projects to drive cost savings.

One of the most significant changes in the past year at Gilbane, which recorded $2.4 billion in sales last year, has been the IT department's construction of a system of customized portals for clients and employees. Customers can access estimating, knowledge-management, construction-management, and strategic-planning software from their portals. Gilbane also developed an application that surveys customers about the quality of the company's services, gathers this feedback into a Microsoft SQL database, and reports this information to management.

Keith Authelet, Gilbane's VP of IT and CIO

Projects such as Gilbane's efforts to build customer portals are key to increasing the company's revenue, VP of IT and CIO Authelet says.

Photo by Mark Ostow
Gilbane VP of IT and CIO Keith Authelet and his team used Microsoft's SharePoint Portal and ASP .Net Web-development tools to build the portal system, which was rolled out to employees about a year ago and, in March, was extended to about 50 customers, including AstraZeneca, Pfizer, the Manchester school system in New Hampshire, and the New Haven school system in Connecticut.

The portals enable a more interactive relationship between Gilbane and its customers, says Lance Osojnicki, Gilbane's chief technology officer. "Whereas intranets are more static, we can use the portals to push data out to customers more quickly," he says.

Authelet sees IT efforts like the customer portal as a key to growing revenue. "Even after the building is done, customers can continue to access applications and information from their Gilbane portal," he says. Customers can also customize their portals to run software that Gilbane doesn't offer. Some use their sites to open direct lines of communication among architects, clients, and subcontractors, while others take advantage of Web cameras that capture daily progress on their building projects. The University of Michigan and Bass Pro Shops Inc. are taking advantage of the Web-camera feature. The portal sites can also be accessed via PDAs to update field staff about the latest project-related data.

U.S. construction companies such as Gilbane and competitors Bechtel Group Inc. and Parsons Corp. need every advantage they can get. These companies increasingly are looking beyond North America, where $100 million projects are harder to come by. But competition for overseas jobs and even for U.S. contracts is fierce. It's coming from companies in countries such as Finland, Japan, and Norway, particularly because of the technology those companies apply to their trade, says Rusty Haggard, a technical writer for the University of Texas Austin's Construction Industry Institute. "The more progressive companies in the industry are setting themselves up as construction and IT vendors in order to compete," Haggard says.

You can include Gilbane on that list."There's a lot of trust in IT here," says Authelet, who worked at Lotus Development Corp. for 16 years before coming to Gilbane in 1999. "We don't deploy technologies that don't have a strong payback."

Like many large construction companies, Gilbane's roots are firmly established in its founding family. Chairman and CEO Paul Choquette Jr. is a descendant of William and Thomas Gilbane, who founded the construction-management, contracting, and design-and-build services firm in 1873.

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