When you chat with Allen Nobles, SAM Inc., he always has some interesting comments. During the MAPPS Summer Meeting, he shared a session on “How to Stand Up New Technology” where he and Robin Petzold started with the usual rundown of what technologies are available, a little on how things have changed, and some opinions on the future.
Where Nobles caught my ear was when he said the number one problem with new technology was getting the equipment out of the office: “I hate to see equipment sitting on the shelf,” he said.
He put things into perspective and asked, “Where do you need to be; is it a long-term investment?” The answers to that question and others he posed spoke not only to what equipment to consider, but also how to acquire it. The important point was to look ahead and plan strategically.
One of the more interesting – and I feel most overlooked – questions is what will you do with all of that improved productivity? Nobels raised the question very specifically. You will be doing the same work with fewer resources. That doesn’t just mean a one-person field crew; in many cases, it also means fewer hours in the field (whether those are viewed as crew hours or total hours).
Here’s the point: If you have three qualified field workers and you can send one on a job instead of two, you may not halve the hours, but you have a resource available in the person who did not go out to the site. If you still send two people on the job, the turnaround should be quicker than it was with the old technology, so you have an additional resource available. If you’re the third member of a field crew, you might be getting a little nervous about now.
Nobles urged attendees to read as much as they could and talk to others using the new tools to gain a better perspective on how the tools affect productivity. Then plan on how you will employ that additional resource so that it doesn’t become costly overhead.
The other question is pricing. Those workers represent billable hours, and you just freed up some capacity (read fewer billable hours per job). The work is the same and the deliverable is likely improved, but the time to achieve the result is reduced. Do you bill less because you used fewer hours, or do you consider the new technology as a billable resource and charge by project/deliverable?
Even if your new technology isn’t sitting on the shelf, you may have resources sitting idle if you don’t plan on how to fill that capacity. The question isn’t just return on investment, it is also redeploying assets.