BK: Welcome to HxGN Radio. My name is Brian. Thanks for joining us today. We have JD Martin, vice president of Business Solutions at Corbins Electric with us to discuss the lean principles that they’re doing, as well as how they use Hexagon’s Xalt to accomplish them. Thanks for taking the time today. I appreciate it.
JM: My pleasure.
BK: All right. So, Corbins Electric practices lean construction and celebrates increases in efficiency and waste elimination by sharing new and innovative ways to complete tasks and standardise processes. They are championing innovation and are bringing sustainability to the construction industry, with help from Hexagon’s Xalt platform. All right. So tell us a little bit about what you’re doing yourself as well, and also just kind of the role at Corbins Electric.
JM: Sure. So, people often ask me, they’re like, “VP in Business Solutions; what does that mean?” It’s not really a common title in a lot of places, especially construction. So people say, “What do you do?” And my answer is, “Whatever it takes.”
BK: I like that. That’s good.
JM: It’s kind of a little thing that we say, some of the executives at Corbins, but we are a 90-million-dollar electrical contractor based out of Phoenix.
JM: We work in Albuquerque and Tucson, but that’s our geography. We do heavy industrial, a lot of commercial electrical work, and we love it. We work in construction because we love building stuff. My role there, I don’t oversee IT, as some people might think when they think about business solutions.
JM: I care about the data that we use on the back end. Like, our IT department, they’re great. They make sure our devices are working and they’re connected. What I care about is how we’re using data to make better decisions in our organization and how we’re integrating data between different databases to help us to be more efficient in our day-to-day activities. That’s Corbins Electric in a nutshell. I mean, I can go on. We love what we do, love the people that I work with, but it’s a great place.
BK: That’s great. And that can be a rarity, too, so it’s good that you love what you do and that makes the company that much better. So why are lean principles and processes so important to what you guys do?
JM: That’s a great question. Here’s the thing with construction: it’s one of the few industries in this country, in the United States, that has progressively gotten less efficient over the last 50 years.
JM: We install less material per man hour per dollar than we did 50 years ago. And it gets worse year after year, decade after decade. And there’s a few reasons for that. One of them is safety. We’ve increased safety, so there are a lot less incidences now.
JM: But that slows down the process.
JM: So that’s not going to change. We want to be safer, and if that means slowing down and it costs more to do, that’s fine. The second thing is we have a field skilled-labour shortage in our industry in this country.
BK: Hm. Mm-hmm, yeah.
JM: So, there’s less people coming into construction. Not only there are less people coming in, there’s a lot more people leaving. They’re retiring.
JM: And those guys have a ton of experience, a ton of knowledge. The ones that are coming in, a lot of them have no contractor experience, they don’t know anybody who’s been in contracting, and unfortunately, this is kind of where we’re at in our country right now. Our public school systems aren’t really geared towards driving people to trades.
BK: That’s true.
JM: They’re focused on college prep and getting into STEM and tech and stuff, which is great. We need that too, but we still need infrastructure built. We still need stuff built in this country, and it’s not going to get done with robots yet.
JM: We’re not quite there yet.
JM: So, because our industry’s gotten less efficient, we have less skilled labour coming. We need to find ways to install material to be able to build buildings and infrastructure better with less resources. So that’s where the lean principles come into play in our organization. And really for us, lean just means eliminating waste and continuous improvement. When we narrow it down to—I mean, we just boil it down to those two things. It’s really simple.
BK: Yeah, yeah.
JM: Within that, there there’s a ton of tools and strategies that we implement to help us do those two things, but that’s really what we’re looking at doing is reducing rework, continuous improvement, being more efficient.
BK: So how has Xalt helped improve that?
JM: Well, so in construction, it’s pretty simple, and I don’t care if you’re an electoral contractor, mechanical, general contractor, drywall guy, painter; it doesn’t matter. In construction, we care about the same five things: information—so plan, specs, you know, we need the information to be able to build off of; manpower; tools; equipment; and material. Every contractor’s managing those five things. So what we’ve focused on is, how can we improve the process of requesting, analyzing, processing, and reporting back on those five things? So we actually went to our field guys, our foremen. Those are the guys that are in charge of a crew on a site. They’re directly impacting how quickly and how well quality and quantity of what gets installed. And we went to them and said, hey, how can we help be more efficient? Like, what are some of the things you guys see that could help you guys be more efficient, or your crews? And overwhelmingly, they said, reduce our paperwork; take away our paperwork. No one likes to do paperwork, right?
BK: Of course. No.
JM: It’s not a fun part of the job. It’s a necessary part of being a foreman, superintendent, but no one likes doing paperwork. And so we said, okay, well, let’s be reasonable. Like, we’re not going to take away all paper. But let’s talk about how maybe we can make that paperwork more efficient for you, less time to complete better information. So you work with a group of individuals in our organization and try to figure that out. And a couple of things we narrowed down was, we said, okay, well, what is it that you hate about paperwork? Well, it takes a long time to do. Okay, well, what specific paperwork are we talking about? And they said, daily reports.
JM: For us, daily reports is a time capture, because we’ve got to be able to capture the time the guys worked doing certain activities on certain days; for one, to get them paid, but two, so we can get that information back into our accounting system and make sure that we’re not going over budget, things like that. So that takes time to do. And we said, all right, maybe we can speed that process up a little bit. So we are actively looking for mobile solutions to be able to replace our physical paperwork in the field.
BK: Yes. Mm-hmm.
JM: Okay? And we found several solutions that existed out there, but none of them really hit the mark for us across the board of all of our needs. There’s kind of canned, like, out-of-the-box plug-and-place solutions that exist in contracting for contractors to be able to collect time in the field.
BK: Had good features but not the ones you all need and then—
JM: That’s right. Yes.
BK: Yeah, exactly, exactly.
JM: So, they either didn’t talk to our accounting system, or there was preconceived ideas about how the workflow should be, right? And we couldn’t change that. We really liked our workflow. We wanted to find a product that we can build around our workflow instead of having to change our workflow to fit the product. That’s where we found Xalt, formerly Catavolt. They cold-contacted us through LinkedIn.
BK: Interesting. Really?
JM: Yeah. Direct messaged LinkedIn—
JM: —to our then-director of operations. And we asked them how they found us, and they said, we searched a keyword innovation, like, you guys had put in a post something about innovation.
JM: Because we also have some alignment with some other Hexagon stuff, with BIM, building information modeling, and then prefabrication.
JM: That’s one of the other—some of the other principles that we incorporate to help shore up the labour-shortage issues. But, yeah, they found us and said, hey, we may have a product you guys might be interested in; we are actively looking for solutions. And we said, yeah, sure. I mean, we’ve done dozens and dozens of demos with software solution, product demos. And we didn’t settle on anything that—there were some that were close. We didn’t settle on anything, and we’re glad we didn’t, because when we found Xalt, we said, we can build unlimited apps on a platform exactly for our workflow? Wow, this is great. We almost thought it was too good to be true.
JM: So, you know, we did ROI, like, eight different ways, but we found that replacing that daily-report issue that we first found, I mean, this is going to be a win for us on that. The second issue was the material requisition process.
JM: Like, how guys order material, how we get it to them in the field. So daily reports, time entry, it’s the time entry and the report part of what they did that day, you know, tracking productivity, incidences, rework, QA/QC, all the stuff that operations people want to know about how well the project’s going, right? Leading indicators of how well the project’s going. So, daily reports and then material requisitions, those were the two largest paper-producing, rework-causing time-suck processes that we had. And not just for the foremen, and they admitted that. They were like, yeah, we don’t like doing this. But also for the support staff—purchasing, payroll, the support staff who are processing this information—
JM: —for them, in order to get them this information, in order to get the guys paid. So, those were the first two processes we looked at. And it came down to basically the elimination or reworked and the opportunity for us to make a process better. So that’s the continuous-improvement part of that. So those were the lean principles we are focused on primarily.
BK: That’s a huge change, you know, because those things do take up a lot of time and takes people away from the work they need to be doing in the first place, anyway.
JM: Yeah. And it’s not unique to us or construction in general.
JM: Everyone has these problems. They’re trying to collect time, order material. We took it a little bit farther. Then, we created our own tool-tracking app, and we created our equipment-rental-request app.
JM: So, we’re solving all five of those issues—information, manpower, tools, equipment, material—across the board.
JM: It’s a complete elimination of paperwork.
JM: We do no paper processes in the field.
BK: That is nice.
JM: Yeah. As far as request information coming back to the office. There are going to be some site-specific stuff or some of our customers, they want paperwork, but it’s a great product that we’ve been seeing a tremendous value in. We’ve kind of blown this up in the last. We’ve been customers for almost three years now.
JM: We’re doing some really cool stuff in there that is—I don’t want to toot our own horn about it.
BK: No, go for it.
JM: Like, we’re kind of thought leaders in this area.
JM: We actually see this as an opportunity to change our industry, not just our organization.
BK: Wow. That’s powerful.
JM: We actually want to change construction in general. We want to be a think tank within our industry, share information, and put ideas into action. And it’s a proven case of how we’re using data to make better decisions, or how we’re using mobile technology and rapid mobile-app development to build processes that are helping us be more efficient. And we say Xalt is a mobile app-building platform. We actually don’t even call them apps anymore because that’s too simple of a word.
JM: Although it is an app on the phone or the iPad, when you get in there, it’s connected workflows. So there’s hardly a process in an organization that doesn’t run through Xalt in some way.
JM: So, it goes far beyond just material requisitions and daily reports and tool tracking.
JM: And so we use data-reporting analysis. We extend our accounting system mobility so people can see information, make decisions based on that information on the fly instead of waiting for monthly reports or for somebody like the CFO to tell you something’s going wrong on your project.
BK: Yeah. Good.
JM: The difference between leading indicators and lagging indicators, we’re getting as close as we can to leading indicators to help us make better choices.
BK: Good. Well, it’s amazing how this whole process came together, too, you know? And it’s neat that you actually had a chance to look at the different competitors and realise that it’s not exactly what we need, but then you find this—it’s a perfect solution.
BK: And then, of course, they contacted you was fantastic. So I’m glad that worked out. So, how do you plan to continue to improve your lean initiatives in the future, and how is Xalt going to help that?
JM: What’s amazing is, when we started putting out these workflows or apps to our organization, these are solutions to problems that we’ve had, our own employees have been going, hey, if Xalt can help us with this problem that we’ve had, could it help us with this other problem that I have?
JM: And so we’ll get together, storyboard it out, talk about the workflows—so this is where some of the other lean principles come in, you know, value-stream mapping; making sure we have a process, a workflow, that is ideal; and then we can build something digital around that to solve some of the efficiency problems. Some of the other lean concepts that come into that is we’re using—so like in lean, there’s the eight wastes. There’s transportation is a waste, and inventory’s a waste, and motion is a waste.
JM: Well, one of those wastes is unused employee genius, or unused talent, okay?
BK: Oh, yeah. Yeah, absolutely.
JM: We’ve been able to take people in our organization who don’t have experience building apps per se—and have them become developers and coders. We took a journeyman electrician in the field. He, as a hobby, knew some code language and stuff. And take him, and now he’s one of our full-time developers building these apps and workflows for ourselves.
BK: That’s great.
JM: I took a guy who had modeling experience, wanted to learn more about building code, brought him in. I have three part-time ASU students who are building this—Arizona State University computer science majors that work part time during the school year, full time in the summer, learning a ton about construction, adding a ton of value. But that talent piece, like, using the resources that we have instead of trying to hire other people, that’s been a huge win for us. It’s a positive win culturally also—
JM: —because people see that there’s growth within a company. So that’s been a big part of that also. And so some of the other stuff that we want to do next—we’re not done. Like, we’ve built scores and scores of apps. I couldn’t even tell you, because I can’t count them all. I mean, I could break down the different apps themselves, but what they are is … actually five of them might be chain linked together in part of a complete workflow. We built scores of these workflows. We still have scores more. I mean, the ideas that are now coming up, that people are coming up with—
JM: —right, tell, solve problems they’re intimately involved with. And now these people who are coming up with these—it’s not my developers coming up with it. It’s not me. It’s not the CEO or the president or the CFO. It’s the boots on the ground, the guys who are experiencing the problems, going, “I have an issue. We have inefficiencies with this process. Can we sit down and talk about it and get into an app that’s going to help me tremendously in my job?”
BK: That’s so good to hear, the interaction when somebody’s actually in the field, like you’re saying, “I need this“—
BK: And then, but they’re getting involved now, and it’s not just complaining about it.
JM: We actually give them T-shirts. Xalt gives us a bunch of branded T-shirts, and then we go add our logo to the shirt also. And it says on the T-shirt, it says, “Mobiliser,” and we give them—the guys who have ideas about how to—whether they’re existing apps or workflows—to make them better or completely new ideas, either way, we give people, we recognise them in huddles, in team meetings, and we give them a T-shirt and say, hey, man, your idea turned into something that’s been super valuable to the company; we want to recognise you.” It’s company-logo shirts. They get to wear it.
JM: We’re talking about guys who are in the field, wear it under their safety vest, and it says, “Mobiliser,” and people, “I know what’s that.”
JM: We tell them we can go ahead and put “app development” on your resume—
BK: Mm, that’s great.
JM: —because you have ideas that turn into that. And it’s been a huge cultural win for us across the board. So then you get a lot of people coming up with ideas, and sometimes you got to like, hey, that’s a good idea, but it only works in that one instance on that one application. So we have to balance the scales a little bit. But culturally, it’s been a huge win.
BK: Nice. Wow, what a positive success story here. I mean, I really appreciate you sharing all that.
JM: Yeah. I love sharing the story because it’s—what we’re doing, it’s not groundbreaking. I feel like we’ve been a little bit of disrupters in our own industry, in our market, but this is not new. I mean, a lot of people have these same issues we have. I think we’re just a good use case for that, and if I’m able to share my story to help other people even get ideas about things that they can solve in their organization that’ll help them be more efficient, I’m all for that.
BK: Absolutely. Well, thank you very much.
JM: My pleasure.
BK: Appreciate your time on this and sharing all that. More information on that, too, just so you can have a success story just like JD’s here. I like that. Go to hexagonxalt.com. But JD, again, thank you very much for being on the show today.
JM: Thanks, Brian.
BK: HxGNSPOTLIGHT.com is the place to go for more episodes. Check them out. And thanks so much for listening today. Have a great day.