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The Layton Companies: Paper Chaste

By Larry Barrett Print this article Print

"As the holding company for four construction and engineering firms, Layton was being pummelled by paper. Too many projects, bids and employees—and not enough control over estimates."

While building a multimillion-dollar structure, the imprecise choreography between a general contractor, a dozen or so subcontractors and hundreds to thousands of laborers is anything but graceful.

When things go awry with just about any single task—such as installing the concrete foundation or plumbing—the fallout can bring construction on a new metropolitan hospital or the latest chain restaurant to an unceremonious halt. Miss one inspection deadline and a project can be set back weeks; cost overruns can climb to seven digits.

That's what cash-flow-dependent businesses like Layton Companies need to avoid if they're going to survive and thrive.

Layton, a Sandy, Utah-based holding company for four construction and engineering firms, found that the typical construction delays were exacerbated by its outdated billing system. Project managers had to wait four or five days for a bill to be sent to accountants for review and approval. In the meantime, the next stage in the project, such as hiring another subcontractor to hang the drywall, was either delayed or ordered to proceed without anyone on site knowing the exact cost.

"When you're out on a construction site, everything happens so fast, you sometimes don't have time to think through all the implications of a single decision," says Alan Rindlisbacher, marketing director at The Layton Companies. "You've got all these moving parts and a project manager out at the location trying to keep everything straight and under budget. It's not easy."

Working with multiple subcontractors simultaneously providing a variety of materials and services challenges even the most organized crew.

"We'd have to tell a particular contractor not to proceed with one element of construction like the electrical work until we could get the order approved back [at corporate headquarters]," Rindlisbacher says. "So you've already got the next stage of construction, perhaps the interior walls and painting, lined up for the next day. But they can't do their portion until the electrical work is done. Meanwhile, we're paying for these contractors' time and falling behind our own work schedule."

Managing a construction project from the initial bid all the way through to completion is an endeavor that, until recently, relied mainly on Excel spreadsheets and handwritten orders that were then mailed to corporate offices where an accountant would approve any materials or subcontracting contract.

Getting an order or contract approved often took at least a day, which is a lifetime amid the bulldozers and cranes of a construction site.

Worse, transactions on a given project were stored under one file and couldn't be sorted by date, vendor, contractor or even a single project manager. So accountants, field representatives and executives had to dig through green-bar paper to find relevant data for ongoing jobs or completed projects.

This article was originally published on 2004-02-05
Senior Writer
Larry, of San Carlos, Calif., was a senior writer and editor at CNet, writing analysis, breaking news and opinion stories. He was technology reporter at the San Jose Business Journal from 1996-1997. He graduated with a B.A. from San Jose State University where he was also executive editor of the daily student newspaper.
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