Adapt or die
‘I would describe the personality of our company as "very dynamic"’, suggested Rae Peters, president and primary owner of Solid Earth Civil Constructors, a woman- and minority-owned SME based in Pueblo, Colorado. ‘Changing with technology and being open and receptive – I think that’s life. Change is very difficult, but we have to embrace it to be competitive.’ Rae’s philosophy regarding change is a huge part of why Solid Earth has earned jobs and solid reputations with industry luminaries such as Kiewit and Bechtel, culminating in the firm being awarded Equipment World’s 2018 Contractor of the Year.
Accolades aside, adapting to the changing industry and staying nimble has been key to the firm’s success. ‘When you’re “old school", you do things in an old school way and those ways don’t work anymore’, chimed in Solid Earth Co-Founder and Sr Estimator Don Peters.
Don would soon learn the truth in that statement tenfold. During a bid presentation with residential giant Trammell Crow, Solid Earth was faced with a direct ultimatum for change that threatened the livelihood of their business. ‘They said, "You have to have an estimating program and Bluebeam is what we use"’, explained Rae. ‘Don called me after this meeting and he said, "I just got schooled. We have to do something."’ Three days later, the firm purchased Bluebeam Revu, the project efficiency and collaboration solution trusted by more than 2 million Architecture, Engineering and Construction professionals worldwide, which delivers enhanced PDF-based quantity survey and workflow automation tools that span the entire project lifecycle.
No IT staff, no problem?
Now that Solid Earth had purchased Revu, the next challenge was implementing it to address the estimation needs of the firm. ‘I’ve been estimating for over 30 years and so when I look at technology, it’s extremely scary’, disclosed Don. ‘I mean where do you start?’ With no dedicated IT staff and no background in technology, Don made a personnel change to help solve the dilemma of leveraging Revu. ‘I’ve always believed in using your resources. If you can’t figure it out; well, you’re only as good as your resources.’ Don pulled in Drake Carter, a field operator and supervisor for the firm who had taken some computer classes in high school. There was just one small problem: ‘Drake had never done a quantity survey’, recalled Don.
The fruits of digital estimation
Having never seen Revu nor done a quantity, Drake had his work cut out for him. ‘Don brought me in to learn the Bluebeam software, and within a day or so, I had become quite proficient at it’, explained Drake. Encouraged, Don decided to put Drake’s proficiency to the test and had him use Revu to digitally redo the Trammell Crow quantity survey that he had previously done on paper. That way, Don could compare the results of the paper-based quantity survey and the new digital quantity survey using Revu. ‘I ended up finishing the quantity survey that took Don two weeks in about a day’, said Drake. The results floored Don. ‘I said, "There’s no way that you could have done that whole quantity survey", and he shows me the entire printout and all of his tabulations.’ An even better surprise was found in the tabulations.
‘On one item, I had 4,500 metres, but Don only had about 4,150 metres, which would have been like a US$50,000 – US$60,000 (AU$67,000 – AU$80,000) hit to the company’, said Drake. Astounded, Don took a second look at Drake’s digital estimation, comparing it to his paper-based estimation. ‘We found an over US$50,000 (AU$67,000) mistake that I made because of the way I did the quantity survey on a digitiser scale. The first job we did with Bluebeam [Revu], it paid for itself.’
Controlling profit margins and taking Revu to the field
Having seen the value of using Revu for digital quantity surveys and bid submissions, Solid Earth began using Revu to address another problem: communicating with project partners and keeping core staff in the field. Labour is an increasingly difficult challenge for many firms, and for an SME, keeping employees in the field is key to profitability. Rae elaborated, ‘Most of the bidding happens in the winter and early spring so our office is going crazy estimating at that time and then, when the jobs are set to start, we’re having to pull people from the office. You can grow your business by adding more people and having more people bid, but the key is, do we have the staff in the field if we win that project?’
‘You can see whether or not it’s a good job or a bad job. The cost efficiency, like the cost to work efficiency ratio is just through the roof.’
Project Manager / Estimator
Solid Earth Civil Constructors
Using Revu to create quicker and more accurate tender packages allows Solid Earth to also keep Don and Drake in the field and focused on the execution of the job. ‘We can put out a proposal package in four to five hours, and we wouldn’t have been able to do it by scale ruler and a digitiser. When you look at that in terms of proficiency and the amount of work, I look at my 2018 bid files and I bid more work by April in Revu than I did all of 2017 cumulatively’, explained Don. ‘I can have Drake in the office to estimate a US$3 million (AU$4 million) job today on Revu, and I’ll run the numbers. Tomorrow, he can be an excavator.’
Going mobile with Studio
With tender packages maximised, Drake began to explore Bluebeam Studio, the document management and collaboration tool built into Revu, to keep the field in touch with a single source of truth for project information. Longtime Solid Earth Site Manager Richard Lewis and Site Manager Matt Peters, Don and Rae’s son, can receive project updates straight from Revu. ‘We’ve utilised tablets to communicate to our superintendents in the field with Bluebeam Studio from the office’, said Don. ‘I can actively upload documents. I can make textbox changes. Cloud certain details that they need to be paying attention to, add dimensions, whatever it may be, so they can see changes in real time and implement them in the field without me even having to be there.’
Carter also echoed the sentiments of efficiency within Revu and Studio. ‘In the field, Matt doesn’t use paper plans. He uses his iPad® and he uses Revu because he can scroll in, he can look at the plans in better detail and he can evaluate the project at such a higher pace on the iPad. Same for me. Whenever I’m in doubt of some sort of detail, all I do is just go to the live plans in Bluebeam Studio, and go to the detail I want to see.’
The business impact of Bluebeam Revu
Harnessing the potential of Revu and Studio has allowed Solid Earth to flourish in their market. From saving US$50,000 – US$60,000 (AU$67,000 – AU$80,000) on their first digital tender package, to communicating with project clients and staff in the field with Bluebeam Studio, the Solid Earth team can continue their mission of being the best civil contractor in the Four Corners region. ‘Good enough isn’t "good enough"’, explained Rae, ‘It has to be right.’ That mentality permeates the projects of Solid Earth and keeps the firm competitive. Don also credits Bluebeam for helping the company take proper aim at the future. ‘This is what’s helped us, and companies might use other estimating software; I don’t know, and I don’t care. I know for getting us where we need to be, Revu is the program we’re using and that’s where it’s going to be forever.’