Digitalisation is inevitable. IT is improving all the time across all industries, and while some are trapped in legacy systems and old-fashioned ways of thinking, no sector is exempt from the march of progress.
Construction can often be one such sector where digitalisation is a little slower or more limited, but Aecon is aiming to buck the trend by making its business more high-tech and user-friendly.
The success Aecon enjoys in this area is partly due to the way it treats customers, employees, and the inclusion of forward thinking, talented staff, such as its Director of IT Adam Templeton. Templeton joined Aecon straight out of higher education seven years ago, beginning in Client Services and working his way up to his leadership role – a chance afforded to him by virtue of Aecon’s dedication to staff enrichment.
“Aecon has programs in place to retain talent,” he explains – the business has an integrated development program under the banner Aecon University. “It allows employees to decide what type of development and growth opportunities they’d like to achieve, and the company will work with you to get there. I was part of a new Aecon-tailored leadership cohort entitled the Future Leaders Program.”
Templeton says this educational experience enables employees to develop a better understanding of the business, the sector, and the particular subject on which they wish to focus.
“At the time it was invaluable. Gaining experience from different business units allowed me to understand what their challenges and pain points were. I was then able to bring that knowledge back to the technology group and drive real change in IT, providing tremendous value to the business.”
“We’ve looked at driving business value internally; how do we improve the way we work? How do we improve the way we are seen externally to our business clients? How can we provide value to them using technology?”
As a result of Aecon’s investment into the care of its employees, it enjoys a very low turnover of staff, and regularly analyses skills gaps to work out what the business needs more of.
One requirement that never changes is Aecon’s focus on safety. Everything Aecon does – with regard to IT or otherwise – concentrates on the safety and security of its employees as a core value. “Our people and getting them home safely to their families is our number one priority. From a business perspective, we don’t win business if we have a poor safety record,” says Templeton.
As a result, Aecon has implemented technology to support this value.
“Generally, in the construction industry, it can be difficult to track safety certifications or competencies,” Templeton explains. “Rather than asking employees to recomplete certifications as they move to different roles or employers, we use a tool called Success Factors that tracks the safety records of all employees, ensuring managers do not need to put certain employees through the safety regiment all over again.”
This ensures workers do not waste time unnecessary doubling up on training, instead earning their certification in a timely manner so foremen can be assured of an employee’s suitability. For Templeton, technology at Aecon is all about making construction environments a better, safer, and more efficient place to be.
“It’s exciting to me, especially from a technology point of view. We’ve looked at driving business value internally. How do we improve the way we work? How do we improve the way we are seen externally to our business clients? How can we provide value to them using technology?
“There are areas in which we can track underground fibre using augmented reality, or use 360-degree cameras in our utility vehicles to start tracking the degradation of utility poles on the side of the road without the actual employee having to analyse it. There are tracking and inspection within the utility tools and software that we’re looking at, and that drives straight down to the bottom line – not just to Aecon, but to our customer.”
This level of digitalisation is just one example of Aecon pushing value beyond its own business units and caring for workers. On-site, staff enjoy all the advantages of IT, connecting them to equipment and vehicles for a firmer grasp of hazard control, with operations being managed from within a cockpit in Fort McMurray.
Part of Aecon’s successful embracing of technological advancements is the partnerships it has made with the experts. The business is using SAP Fiori in-house, with third party expertise from RTS and Sodales, and iOS is being used to keep workers connected. Ultimately, Templeton thanks those on-site for guiding these IT choices.
“We also partner within the business units, because we’re not always the experts. The employees in the field are much more hands on and sometimes in a better position to identify a challenge. Sometimes they will go the extra mile and say, ‘Hey Adam, we found this new tool – can we do a pilot of it?’
“The team will then work directly with that business unit to do a dry run. Another challenge within our industry is that each business unit can be unique, so it can be difficult to standardise the entirety of our process across one platform.”
To overcome this issue, Aecon works to create a bespoke service which suits the task at hand, driving better communication company-wide and always referring back to the core values. While Aecon may not be embarking on an all-encompassing transformation, it is always working on the improvement of ever-evolving issues.
“I wouldn’t say we’ve completed a full digital transformation,” says Templeton. “We have functional and technical developers in-house, and we have business process leaders within each business unit. Whereas in the past, we were relying solely on a third party to provide that level of support and development for us.”
Aecon continues to steadily improve its operations, always making enhancements using the Aecon Centre of Excellence – or ACE Group – to blaze a trail. With partners and third-party contributors, the business treats its relationships as a hybrid way of working, because “it’s important that from a business perspective, clients are still seeing Aecon,” says Templeton.
In the future, Aecon will continue to take ownership of its technological operations whilst being bolstered by carefully-chosen vendors, ensuring that safety remains a priority. This extends to cyber security, something that will become ever more important as technology advances; Templeton is determined that Aecon does not go the way of many companies currently suffering the effects of security breaches.
“Cyber security is something that has been a main area of focus for Aecon. We’ve introduced a security team to work with our internal and external partners to ensure it remains a priority,” he says.
Breaking away from legacy systems that can often slow down the industry will also remain a passion for Templeton and his team: “We are trying to move fast. We are trying to be closer to that leading edge,” he concludes. “The next step is taking the leap into focusing on business outcomes and business value as part of the technology strategy. As opposed to saying ‘How does technology drive that outcome?’, we’re now saying, ‘what is the challenge? How do we fix that?’”