Collaboration: Paths to Success
Judith Lamont, Ph.D.,This article appears in the issue November/December 2017, [Volume 26, Issue 9]
The market for collaboration software is predicted to grow at a healthy 13 percent per year over the next seven years, exceeding $8 billion by 2024, according to research conducted by Global Markets Insights. Improved communication and information sharing are cited as drivers for that growth, while low user adoption rates, concerns about usability and difficulty with integration are noted as obstacles.
Failure to gain wide adoption in an organization comes partly from unclear goals for the application and partly from the general tendency to resist change. Collaboration tools are often not well integrated with primary work activities and applications, which discourages users from investing time in them.
Two capabilities that attract users are the ability to save time through improved task coordination and visualizing information in a way that expedites collaborative tasks. In that respect, collaborative applications tailored to verticals present good opportunities, as do collaborative solutions that integrate multiple dimensions of the experience.
The complexity of construction
The residential housing market is a $350 billion industry with thousands of builders and suppliers. Constructing a single home requires collaboration by dozens of companies, and many steps in the process are complex and interdependent. If completion of one task is delayed, others are affected. However, the fact that homebuilding entails a consistent sequence of events and requires a standard set of materials presented an opportunity to develop a system that dramatically improved efficiency.
“There are many reasons why developing a product for this market was a challenge,” says Dr. Felix Vasquez, CEO of Hyphen Solutions. “The industry is highly fragmented, with the top 20 builders controlling less than half the market. Builders do not control the labor force, and many contractors are involved. The ability to perform certain parts of the job is weather-dependent.”
Changes to specifications also need to be managed during the building process. “Most new homes are build-to-suit,” Dr. Vasquez continues, “and the customer makes selections during the contract phase to build a home. However, as it becomes a reality, many adjustments are made to product selections. In some cases, builders may also build ‘spec homes’ for quick move-in and in those cases, the buyer may change builder selections.”
Hyphen Solutions developed a cloud-based collaborative platform designed to manage that complexity and accommodate the needs of both builders and suppliers during the homebuilding process. For builders, Hyphen offers BuildPro, which manages purchasing, production, costs and reporting through a cloud-based program. It also lets them centralize their documents on one platform and track steps such as inspections, lien releases, and bids. The Hyphen Homeowner Portal is a module integrated with BuildPro that allows homeowners to track the progress of their homes while they are being built.
For suppliers, SupplyPro provides order scheduling, communication, and reporting. If a product is not available for its planned delivery date, SupplyPro sends a message to the builder so adjustments can be made. Builders and suppliers can exchange messages to resolve the issue. The InstallPro module lets suppliers capture on smartphones a product’s model and serial numbers, warranty registration information, delivery information and confirmation of installation.
Deep integration with customers’ ERP systems allows automation of processes that would otherwise require repetitive data entry and the possibility of errors. A core feature of Hyphen Solution’s software is a complex mapping function that relates orders placed by builders to SKUs that identify specific products. For example, when a builder’s system uses its own terminology for a “premium appliance package,” SkuSphere can translate that into the SKUs needed by the supplier to process the order directly into the Hyphen Platform automatically. Through its partnership with SkuSphere, Hyphen Solutions’ system can reconcile SKU conflicts that arise when suppliers use different SKU lists.
Accountability and productivity gains
Interior Specialists, a provider of interior design, design center management, and installation services, is a customer of Hyphen Solutions. “Builders provide so many choices, with thousands of SKUs,” says John Ballard, director of national accounts at Interior Specialists. “Tracking for suppliers gets very complex very quickly. Without BuildPro, teams of people would have to manually check on orders constantly and repeatedly check on delivery schedules. BuildPro sends alerts so builders and suppliers are aware of delays or unavailability of chosen products.
Feedback from the system allows builders to make adjustments in their offerings. “A builder in a community in Orlando chose a black appliance package as the standard when they placed their original order,” notes Ballard, “but 65 percent of the time when the homebuyers signed the contract they wanted stainless, which meant the option had to be changed more often than not.” The builder adjusted the standard offerings and that meant fewer order changes later and avoided uninstall/reinstall charges.
Prior to working at Interior Specialists, Ballard worked in the single-family and multifamily builder industry for two other suppliers, Rheems and General Electric, both of which use SupplyPro. “When I was at GE, we could receive an order on any one of four platforms such as a fax, email, the builder’s portal or the Hyphen portal, and the expected delivery date was an estimate,” he explains. “SupplyPro aggregated the orders into its centralized system, then approximately14 days before closing, when the appliance selection was final, it adjusted the delivery date to coincide with the completion of the home.” That coordination takes a lot of the guesswork out of the building process and reduces the manual effort required.
“Productivity gains were very high,” Ballard says. “At GE, we had less variability in our delivery process and quicker payment for the appliances. Being able to deliver the promised package was incredibly important because if it was not available, we might have to provide an upgrade.”
Because the building process is so well documented, BuildPro and SupplyPro allow for greater accountability. “Everything is tracked and transparent,” Ballard says, “so users of the system, whether builders or suppliers, know which contractors have completed their jobs on time and which suppliers have delivered as planned.”
In addition, the amount of data in the system offers extensive analytics. “Some organizations use their own analytic solutions and others, especially field personnel, use those in Hyphen,” says Velasquez. “We want our customers to be inquisitive and curious about the data—why does framing take longer in one community versus another? Is it because of labor issues, weather or other factors? Suppliers can look at which products sell best for a particular builder.
The system is still evolving as customers and Hyphen identify potentially useful features. “We offered a warranty tracking option and at first no one wanted it,” Dr. Vasquez recalls. “Then we began getting calls from CIOs saying they did. This software component leverages information from the purchase order because our system knows who bought it, who installed it and when it took effect. We track communication about events that take place over the life of the warranty, and we can also measure satisfaction. This new option improves efficiency and ensures that suppliers and builders are both up-to-date on the status of the warranty.”
Hyphen Solutions’ platform is tailored to a particular vertical market and meets a clear need in the industry. Automating routine tasks frees workers to focus on the issues that need judgment or negotiation. Because collaboration is completely integrated with the work process, it is not a separate function or task and the problem of adoption does not arise.
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