While the building industry has been slower to embrace technology, the pandemic has accelerated the automation push for many companies.
The benefits and challenges of automating procurement and vendor management were the discussion points for a panel of leading real estate companies at Buildex Vancouver.
Going paperless, faster payment, improved communication and better tracking of information were cited as some of the main benefits when moving to automation.
Sandeep Manak, chief financial officer for Wesgroup properties, explained the pandemic required them to move to a digital solution because nothing was operating as normal especially Canada Post which impacted the payment process.
Wesgroup had to begin a big educational push to get vendors, who were used to picking up cheques at the office, to provide electronic funds transfer (EFT) instructions and to change payment mechanisms.
“We’ve gone through a big education process with some vendors to bring them into the digital realm. We’re also doing education internally…bringing people to a paperless environment,” said Manak, noting leadership is key to a successful rollout of new software.
A big advantage of automation is vendors get paid faster. “Every vendor wants to get paid fast ….and when it is digital, it means it can move faster,” said Manak, noting digitalization has also improved speed of communication and resolution of conflicts. He cited as an example of how instead of digging through files for information, a digital PDF is available to everyone.
Similarly, Christine Williams, vice-president of operations and administration of QuadReal Property, said her company was quick to adopt electronic payment when COVID hit.
“We said our preferred payment to vendors is electronic. Cheques will be phased out by end of 2021,” she said. “They were quick to adopt to this method of payment.”
Since then, QuadReal has migrated to a new platform where a third-party software vendor is handling vendor compliance and working with vendors and helping them to keep the vendor list current. “We’re piloting vendor cafe to give part of the responsibility back to the vendor. They will be able to directly influence the digital information that is shared with us and we can connect electronically faster,” said Williams, noting the bigger vendors have anticipated the change while mom and pop types are struggling a bit.
When implementing new software with the team, all the speakers said there were some growing pains but overall, it went relatively smoothly. Ravi Pandarinath, controller for Ronmor Holdings, stressed that patience was key.
“Because we are a small company, we said that we don’t care how many times you ask a question,” he said. “We prefer that to stumbling through it to figure out the software. It took a lot of pressure off everyone.”
Manak advised not going too fast with implementation and making sure teams are ready to digest the changes or it could be a recipe for disaster.
“When going digital, understand technology is a tool – only as good as the person who holds that tool,” he said. “Not easy sometimes, but can be if you have right people.”
Cheryl Mah is managing editor of Construction Business.