Unleash the data

April 10, 2017

unleash-the-data-300x174pxMost engineering firms have some sort of enterprise resource planning software in place, but not all are using their data management systems to their full potential.

Mead & Hunt, a national civil engineering firm headquartered in Middleton, Wisconsin, has had one enterprise resource planning (ERP) system or another in place for around a decade and a half. But it wasn’t until about four years ago that the firm really began using the system to pull together data from the company’s more than 30 offices in a way that laid out all of the opportunities available to the firm.

“It was really clunky [before],” says Andy Knauf, vice president of IT for the firm. “Things weren’t working too well for us. You had to go into the ERP and look at the opportunities, and most people weren’t doing it because it added five or six steps. People didn’t seem engaged.”

Then Mead & Hunt made a simple change. In addition to its existing Deltek Vision ERP system, the firm implemented a product called Synthesis, “a social intranet” for architects and engineers, from the San Francisco-based company Knowledge Architecture.

The newer system ties into the firm’s ERP software and creates a ticker of opportunities that employees can quickly and easily scan through. “As soon as you open up Internet Explorer, it comes up, and the ticker is right there,” Knauf explains. “In the last 24 hours, seven new opportunities presented themselves, and people can ‘like’ and comment on them.”

The change may seem small—and some firms may balk at the idea of investing in a new tool when they already have an ERP system in place—but Knauf says that it transformed the way Mead & Hunt does business. The newer system makes it easier to harness information about which types of projects employees throughout the company have worked on and what sorts of skills they possess, allowing managers to identify in-house talent for projects that may have been outsourced in the past.

“This was really a renaissance for our company,” Knauf says. “We’ve become more efficient. We have less downtime. Our profitability and our utilization have gone up. People say, ‘It’s such a big extra cost,’ but you can’t put a price tag on what that does for our community and our company.”

READ MORE in Engineering Inc. published by American Council of Engineering Companies (see page 36)