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Who Needs Hammers?

Gilbane Building Co. has built schools and office buildings, it's an odd kind of construction company-one where no one ever lifts a hammer. Gilbane's most important tool is technology.
InformationWeek 500 - ConstructionAlthough Gilbane Building Co. has built schools and office buildings, it's an odd kind of construction company-one where no one ever lifts a hammer. Gilbane's most important tool is technology.

"We're really a consulting company. No one gets dirty. There's no one who bangs a nail or slices a pipe," CIO Keith Authelet says. While Gilbane still manages the construction process, it's increasingly likely to host a Web site and handle building infrastructure for a customer or set up procurement capabilities for a subcontractor.

The most visible sign of Gilbane's white-collar tendencies is the fact that it serves as an application service provider for 50 of its customers, companies such as GlaxoSmithKline plc and Pfizer Inc. It got into the ASP business a few years ago because of what it perceived as a lack of solidity among the startups that were then crowding the market. "People were jumping on dot-coms to solve their problems, and hundreds of these dot-coms came and went," Authelet says. "We wanted to make sure we had the internal acumen to manage these environments and stabilize them."

The company first used its ASP environment for applications such as Gilbane University, a learning tool for employees, subcontractors, and customers. It moved from there to hosting Internet applications for its customers. It can set up a Web site, for example, in less than an hour, but its offerings are more complex than that. In a typical environment, it will install servers, network connectivity, and applications ranging from Meridian Project System Inc.'s Rollout Manager construction project-management software to Primavera Systems Inc.'s collaboration software. It's using Primavera to help customers with collaborative commerce, which is all of the contract negotiations, pricing, procurement, and collaboration necessary for building projects.

Gilbane is increasingly involved with the entire life cycle of its customers' projects-from planning a building to managing that building's physical and technology infrastructure. Gilbane's infrastructure-management consulting services-built around Peregrine Systems Inc.'s Get It software, which has modules for facilities, fleet management, telecommunications, and the IT help desk-arise naturally from the building process. If a company relocates to an office that Gilbane is building, for instance, Gilbane gathers details about employees, IT connections, and equipment so that when the company moves, Gilbane can tell them where everything goes. Authelet says that customers see the connection between construction and infrastructure management. "We have a history of infrastructure management," he says. "That's what we do-we build buildings. We know this environment better than anyone else."

Another big thrust of Gilbane's consulting efforts is to update the processes and technology of its subcontractors, traditionally a low-tech lot. A.H. Lynch & Sons Inc., a Cumberland, R.I., asphalt contractor, is one of the first subcontractors that Gilbane is helping. Gilbane works with Lynch's processes, helping it to connect more smoothly with Gilbane and other customers. "We're trying to create a frictionless environment," Authelet says.

Gilbane hasn't reached the point yet where it will sell consulting services to companies that aren't also having buildings built. But it has figured out that a business' needs don't end just because all of the concrete has been poured and all of the nails have been driven.

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