Red Light, Green Light

By Mel Duvall  |  Posted 2006-11-21 Print this article Print

The Canadian restaurant chain now opens new stores in 360 days instead of 390. But first it had to get over some hurdles working with project management software.

Red Light, Green Light

Tim Tracs officially went live in January 2004. It was the equivalent of letting Russians into the National Hockey League—Tim Hortons' development game was completely changed.

Here's how the work flows through Tim Tracs:

Site selection. If Tim Hortons is set to build a new store on Main Street, USA, all information related to proposed sites gets loaded into Tim Tracs, including site layouts, real estate costs, traffic patterns, and associated demographic information (provided by third parties). That information is vetted by the real estate team and a site is selected.

Engineering and design. The engineering department will look at the various Tim Hortons standard building types (the company has a set of standard layouts that it uses, depending on a site's size and likely traffic) to determine the best fit. The new franchise owner and engineering team will then access the plans via Tim Tracs and finalize design. Drawings can be marked up and altered online, and the system saves the originals and the changes.

Tendering. Once the plans are approved, tenders are sent out via e-mail to a select group of pre-approved contractors. The e-mail invites them to bid on a new project, and provides them with access to Tim Tracs where they can review the specifications. The contractors submit their bids electronically.

Approval. Submitted bids are ranked, based on pre-approved parameters such as cost, time to complete and the contractor's previous history with the company. A winning bid is selected; the contractor is notified electronically and provided with secure access to a site where all future work related to the project, including detailed architectural drawings, is stored. The submitted bid then becomes the budget against which the project is tracked.

Stop Light Report feature. Based on previous experience, projects are monitored according to a set of milestones, such as when building permits should be approved, when concrete foundations should be poured, building framing completed, cookers installed, etc. If all milestones are met as scheduled, the project maintains a green-light status. However, if a project is in danger of falling behind or going over budget, it gets a yellow. Contractors enter information, such as final bills for materials and work performed, into the system as their work is completed. If a project misses a milestone or exceeds budget by a certain parameter, it gets a red light. This feature is not completely computerized; managers decide whether a project gets a yellow or red light. By drilling down through the report, Dominick can quickly see why a project has fallen behind schedule, such as problems in obtaining a city building permit.

The Stop Light Report has become a particular favorite at board meetings, where senior executives can see at a glance how projects are proceeding and how many are behind—and why. "Now when I go to management, I don't bother bringing a huge folder with all the building reports—I just bring them the reds," Dominick says.

A major benefit of the system, according to Kylie Campbell, a development manager in Dominick's office, is that it formalizes communication with the various contractors. "It gives us accountability," she says. "They can't say [they] didn't get the e-mail, because it's all recorded."

The entire system, including the digital library of previous Tim Hortons developments, is accessed over the Internet, via the secured Tim Tracs site. Expesite manages the system from its server farm in Ohio. Tim Hortons would not say how much in total it has spent on the project, but Expesite says average startup fees, including training and support, range from $30,000 to $70,000. Clients are then charged a monthly subscription fee based on project size and duration, and number of active projects.

Tim Hortons bills the cost of the service directly to a project. On a new store, for example, it typically shows up as an $1,800 item.

Contributing Editor
Mel Duvall is a veteran business and technology journalist, having written for a variety of daily newspapers and magazines for 17 years. Most recently he was the Business Commerce Editor for Interactive Week, and previously served as a senior business writer for The Financial Post.


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