How often has this happened to you?
You close down a project, issue your last customer invoice, confirm your job costs and recognize a nice, healthy profit.
Then, a few days later, weeks perhaps, that phantom vendor invoice — the one nobody saw coming — shows up out of the blue. Five thousand dollars, maybe ten. Certainly enough to flip the project upside down and into the red.
Why does this happen?
The unique nature of wireless construction — specifically, the need to manage a large volume of relatively short-term projects — requires fast-paced collaboration across the organization, timely status reporting and the ability to reference essential project documents.
However, most software platforms are limited to supporting a specific role, such as field operations and finance. This shortcoming represents a critical flaw: Your employees may not have direct access to the reports and documents they need to perform their job.
For example, project management platforms can help your operations team keep an eye on field activities and milestones but may not provide visibility into relevant financial records. As a result, project managers often struggle to stay on top of job costs, profit margins and outstanding vendor invoices.
Likewise, accounting systems can manage your accounts receivable and payable workflows, but may not provide direct access into the operational status your finance team needs to allocate job costs, generate client invoices and produce timely financial reports.
Additionally, the consequences can be severe, including inaccurate or delayed job costs, shrinking project margins, delayed cash flow and wasted time searching for documents and status reports, which often reside in a tangle of emails, trackers, cloud storage or perhaps a stack of papers on someone’s desk.
As wireless construction companies face increased competitive pressure, delayed payment terms and a higher volume of short-term projects, these inefficiencies often mean the difference between a sustained operational profit or loss.
Roger Mankus, the director of finance at SRU Electric, a full-service wireless contractor with headquarters in Cary, Illinois, faced similar challenges while working to improve the accuracy and timeliness of his company’s operational and financial reporting.
Mankus said that SRU is committed to a culture of ownership, accountability and pride. Mankus’ goal was to help SRU employees achieve these goals with improved software tools and centralized access to all the information needed to perform their jobs.
“Like many companies, we were using fragmented spreadsheets and trackers to capture and share important operational and financial status,” Mankus said. “This complexity created a headache when it came to keeping an eye on budgets, costs and profits. By the time we gathered the data and ran the numbers, they were often out of date.”
Brooke StJohns, the SRU project coordinator, was at the center of the storm.
“I needed a good pair of shoes because I was constantly walking the aisles to get project updates, chase down POs, validate invoices and then cross-reference everything in QuickBooks to make sure our numbers lined up with the reality on the ground,” StJohns said.
Mankus said he understood he would only get so far by leveraging his accounting platform to help move the ball down the field.
“QuickBooks is the final say for our monthly corporate financial and accounting reports,” he said, “but it doesn’t give us the day-to-day insights we need to run the business.”
SRU initiated a search for a new software platform and soon learned that most options didn’t address their need for improved reporting and collaboration across their field operations and finance teams.
“We looked at the usual suspects, including databases, tracking software, construction platforms and ERP systems,” Mankus said. “They were all missing some essential component, such as scheduling, timekeeping, job costing and the ability to manage financial transactions. In the end, they all looked like becoming yet another spot solution in our landscape of software tools.”
After an extensive search, SRU selected the Fieldclix field operations platform.
“Fieldclix offers three important capabilities that we didn’t see in other software,” Mankus said. “It helps our field operations and finance teams collaborate, it provides everyone access to the features and data they need to perform their jobs, and it integrates with our accounting platform to automate our accounts payable and receivable processes.”
StJohns said she agreed.
“No more double entry, no more trackers, no more searching emails and folders and walking the halls to get the data I need,” StJohns said. “It would sometimes take a few days to process and submit a client invoice. With Fieldclix, I can now complete them in a matter of minutes.”
With extra time and access to enhanced reports, StJohns has taken on more responsibility at SRU. She now focuses on improving how the SRU field operations and finance teams can work together to increase productivity and profit margins across the company.
For his part, Mankus was able to clear off the piles of invoices and POs from his desk and spend more time focusing on financial planning and strategy.
“I now have access to P&L and WIP reports that tell me how the business is performing at many different levels, including projects, clients and regions,” Mankus said.
The role of SRU project managers also has changed because of the enhanced capabilities that come with Fieldclix, including crew scheduling, real-time tracking, automated timekeeping and access to a wide array of operational and financial performance data.
“With real-time updates on job costs, our field operations team can now create budgets and see their actual costs while the project is underway,” Mankus said. “We put the ability to improve our financial outcomes in the hands of people making day-to-day decisions on project spend.”
Mankus said he strongly advises anyone looking for project management software to keep an eye on the needs of both the field operations and finance teams.
“You can try to optimize your operations on one side of the house but quickly run into a brick wall if the rest of the organization isn’t along for the ride,” he said. “We made the right decision by focusing on the gap between field operations and finance and deploying a solution to help them work more effectively while also making sure there was a seamless way to collaborate on the handoffs.”
For many companies like SRU, a focus on overcoming the critical shortfalls associated with standalone project management and accounting platforms can translate to improved profits, enhanced productivity, and a culture of accountability and ownership across the organization.