Established in Ames, Iowa, in 1972, Story Construction is an employee-owned company serving customers throughout the Midwest and as far south as Louisiana. The company’s robust project portfolio includes medical and educational facilities, commercial and office buildings, and water and wastewater treatment plants. Through its subsidiary, Story Design, Ltd., the company provides in-house architectural and design services.
With the pending retirement of its lead IT manager, Story recognized that it was at a crossroads. Concerns about who would manage the IT function led to consideration of the firm’s future IT needs. Management wanted to be certain they had the infrastructure in place that would enable them to grow without constraints.
Like many others in the construction industry—where margins are tight and resources are limited—Story’s investment in technology as a percentage of revenue was conservative. Nevertheless, circumstances were forcing Story to take a closer look at IT and its capabilities. Advances in business information modeling, the internet of things and mobile tools were becoming more common.
Company management discovered there was a strong desire among its staff for a more proactive, sophisticated level of technology that could help support the firm. But as Steve Tenney, Story’s chief financial officer, put it, “We didn’t know what we didn’t know.” They decided to seek outside help.
An RSM team was brought in to perform a proprietary Rapid Assessment® of Story’s IT environment to help assess its current state and develop a business strategy to improve it. The process included interviews with key stakeholders and IT support personnel, surveys of users throughout the company, and a high-level evaluation of the business application environment, its infrastructure and operating processes—including governance and end-user support—and overall performance of the IT function.
Analysis of the results fell under three major categories:
It became clear that the company did not have an active strategic technology plan. The team found that the company had no checklist or formal processes for identifying the technology needs for a new project. This often resulted in company personnel using different technology solutions for worksite trailers and operations, for example. There was no formal training program to help employees learn how to use applications. Equipment was being kept in use for longer than typically recommended. Maintenance tended toward extending the life of the equipment rather than updating it, risking downtime and increasing support costs.
Recommendation: RSM encouraged the creation of a formal process for identifying the equipment needs for a new site and developing a strategic training approach. The team also made recommendations on the optimal life cycles for network equipment, servers, and personal computers.
The IT function did not offer the end-user community any type of application support; each department had to support its own needs and resolve many of its own issues. Performance suffered, and there was no consistent method for tracking problem resolution. Some process applications were inefficient and resulted in the involvement of many individuals, sometimes resulting in invoicing errors that needed to be identified, corrected, and resubmitted.
The lack of a centralized approach or formal IT strategy meant many employees were not aware of the company’s collaborative software. Processes for managing projects and change orders, for example, were done manually, which made it difficult to maintain a list of required action items. Many tasks were managed using handwritten notes; document version control created inefficiencies and additional work. With more than 2,500 cost codes, it was difficult for employees to identify the correct code to charge. Project teams found it challenging to share best practices information from internal close-out meetings across the organization.
Recommendation: RSM recommended the establishment of a full-time business analyst role to address end-user support and training as well as to help application champions with general application support and training. The deployment of Office 365 was recommended to provide a consistent platform for current and anticipated tools, as well as for improved connectivity. The integration of Bluebeam and SharePoint—software the company was using intermittently—was recommended to increase collaboration and process efficiencies. A long-term strategy for how best to leverage SharePoint throughout the company was suggested as well.
The reliability and performance of the network were not meeting users’ needs, due in part to the use of multiple vendor solutions that were not integrated. Inadequate bandwidth at the job sites often caused communication issues with the corporate office. In addition, there were some insecure services open to the internal network, and there was an opportunity to improve security best practices across network devices. Story’s IT staff handled a majority of the support needs for all personnel both in the office and in the field, along with some assistance from an outside vendor.
Recommendation: A major redesign and replacement of the core network—including switches, firewall, wireless, and server—was in order. Performance issues would be addressed by implementing a single business-grade wireless solution across the entire organization, including remote sites. Noncorporate devices would be relegated to a separate network to ensure optimal bandwidth for corporate data and application access. A full-service managed services provider would handle monitoring, patch management, remediation, and ongoing technology advisory services. General security best practices would be considered for implementation throughout the organization.
Reaping the benefits
“The Rapid Assessment® plan provided a strategic component. It gave us a road map,” says Tenney. “Discovering and understanding our needs made all the difference.” Survey findings were shared with personnel throughout the company so users would understand the reasons for planned changes to IT and the impact they would have on the workday.
As soon as Story began implementing the recommendations in the plan, the company started to realize the benefits. Platform consistency has given the company more reliable connectivity and greater file storage capabilities. The new help desk services provide users with high-quality support and management with the ability to track services. The upgrade to the company’s Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) system is saving the company money and improving connectivity.
“We’re learning to be more strategic when it comes to IT,” says Tenney.
Relying on knowledge found in a team of people—rather than a single resource—enhanced the company’s current and future capabilities. By strategically investing in a secure, stable IT environment, the company gained a competitive advantage.