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Managing Data in an Offsite Construction Company (1/4)

Lauri Tuulberg, CEO
July 16, 2019
5 min read

In the past two articles, I wrote about the challenges we have been facing while starting an automated offsite construction factory. A little less than 3 years later, I can finally say that we have moved from a turbulent and crazy takeoff and learning period into a focused sales targeting and process finetuning phase.

We have still a lot to learn and hopefully, this mindset will stay as an integral part of the Welement team, but it feels kind of good to have our noses slightly above the water level and start working on how to swim most efficiently. We have some really cool projects in the pipeline but the most rewarding are the long term non-zero-sum partnerships in which case we dedicate our effort to providing the best possible prefab service.

And to be completely honest, this simple revelation, that from the clients perspective we are not just manufacturing prefab elements, but providing an offsite construction service, has been one of the key mindset shifts for myself as well as for the team. Of course, we knew long ago that because we are doing custom projects for B2B clients and generating the prefab components after the architectural design is basically finished (in some cases, 50% of the contract is literally services like design, project management, logistics, assembly) we might as well call it postfab , instead of prefab. In addition to this, in many cases, the client does not really understand the supply chain requirements and limitation of panelized systems so we have to add an educational phase to the timeframe which makes the duration of the actual manufacturing process within the value chain relatively short.

So if the client perceives our work as a service, then measuring and controlling the quality of the physical prefab panels only solves half the problem. Providing the best possible service means that we need to make the right choices as fast as possible and this is only possible with leveraging high-quality meaningful data. How to increase our responsiveness and offer our customers the right level of prefabrication? How to continuously improve quality and avoid work-related injuries while at the same time increase our efficiency? What data to collect and how to accurately interpret the numbers and feedback? How to make our workers understand that the incentive for data collection is not for surveillance and punishment but so that the back office can make the right decisions and help the factory shop floor? These where just some of the questions that our team has been tackling with when designing our IT architecture.

In the following articles, I will briefly introduce our software infrastructure, what different apps we are using from CRM to stock control and procurement, as well as how Office 365 is increasingly forming the backbone for managing all of our critical daily operations (yes you read it correctly, Microsoft is kind of becoming cool). I have mentioned this previously that we deliberately tried to avoid a rigid one-program-solves-all-problems-ERP-system because we wanted our human side and business goals to drive our data strategy and not the other way around. Below is a graph of our essential software infrastructure showing our main programs and in yellow the main tasks/outputs that they solve.