Case study: Builder Renovates Business with Google Apps

Builder renovates business with Google Apps

John O’Neill needed to find a better way for running his small construction business of six people, mostly foremen. He heard about Google Docs and decided to take a look – but his initial reaction was not entirely positive.

O’Neill says he was confused by the concept of cloud computing. “I’m not a technical person, I’m a builder. My knowledge of sending an attachment by email was, that’s hard. Keeping a document up in the cloud? Get the fuck!” O’Neill says.

O’Neill decided to stick with it and learn how to use Google Apps because he had been told at networking events that it could improve the way he operated his construction business.

“The three secrets to success in construction or in business is communicate, communicate, communicate. I saw that using Google Docs, Google Calendar and Google Forms as a way that I can use another form of communication to increase the efficiency of my business.”

All the staff in O’Neill’s business, ONC, use Google Contacts to maintain a single address book that is colour coded by the type of contractor. If a foreman finds a new carpenter he adds his details into Google Contacts so that any of the other foremen can allocate the carpenter to a project.

ONC uses a shared spreadsheet in Google Docs to list construction jobs and to allocate contractors to them.

“I can allocate a carpenter to a particular project and that project can have its own email address, its own calendar and its own identity. But because it’s in Google Docs I can look at everything that’s operating on my iPhone or my iPad or my computer,” O’Neill says.

The foreman or O’Neill can update a project’s calendar and email invitations to contractors to apply for the job. O’Neill watches to see which contractors have accepted the invitations and which positions are still vacant.

Before he started using Google Docs O’Neill carried out most of these tasks by phone and fax and recorded job information on pen and paper.

“I don’t need to make as many phone calls to the foreman saying, ‘What’s going on here, what’s going on there’, (or ask him), have you booked the plumber?

“I can allocate a carpenter to a particular project and that project can have its own email address, its own calendar and its own identity.”

“All I need to do is look at my iPhone and I can see that the plumber has been invited, accepted the invitation, confirmed it, attached the document with the drawing or the fit-out that needs to be done so I can look into the description and see what’s going on,” O’Neill says.

Google Docs has cut down on the number of calls made by the foremen too. The foreman sends out invitations to contractors who have email addresses and those that answer first get the job. The foreman will only pick up the phone if positions haven’t been filled.

“Contractors are becoming savvy with the internet,” O’Neill says. “We’re teaching them how to use the internet. It saves us making phone calls.”

O’Neill estimates that he is saving an hour of a foreman’s time each day, though he predicts that will increase. ONC has invested time in training its staff on using Google Docs, which is an ongoing project.

O’Neill has been giving talks to small groups of builders about his experiences with Google Apps and says their initial responses were similar to his own.

“They think it’s pretty good but they don’t understand it. Some of them they are sort of blown away,” O’Neill says. Several builders were impressed with a staff form O’Neil had created with Google Forms for collecting information on contractors.

“I simply created one form with all (a contractor’s) bank details, his certification, his (phone) numbers, his licences, and then sent it out to him. (The contractor) filled it all out and it came back into a spreadsheet” in Google Docs.

When O’Neill told other builders about getting contractors to fill in the spreadsheet for him instead of doing the data entry himself, “the blokes were saying, ‘Wow’”.


About Sholto Macpherson

Sholto Macpherson is a business technology journalist, consultant and analyst specialising in cloud accounting software.

Sholto is the author of the Macpherson Report, which examines the key technology trends facing accountants in Australia.

He lives and works in Sydney, Australia.

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