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High-Tech Construction

Wales McLelland’s SiteMax software enables the company to provide its clients with accurate, real-time updates on their respective projects

With an extensive list of repeat clients such as Kingswood Capital Corporation, Hopewell Developments, Jordans Fine Furniture, Autowest BMW, SYSCO Foods and Carter Auto Group to name a few, Wales McLelland Construction has long been recognized as a contracting firm that never fails to bring a high degree of professionalism to the table.

In fact, the Burnaby-based design-build specialist has distinguished itself over the years by working with clients as partners, whether the job calls for design-build, construction management, due diligence support or sophisticated process and constructability advice. However, there’s something distinctly different about the company’s collaborative approach in 2014, and it all has to do with high-tech communications.

It’s not just a sign of the times that president Doug Scott’s office and field staff are equipped with iPads, or that the Burnaby headquarters boasts flat screen monitors with a real-time, interactive dashboard that automatically cycles through all project data. The technology is the latest result of Scott’s goal to improve operational efficiency, and provide clients with a new level of transparency.

Although the flat screens impart a dynamic vibe, their real value is to clients. Starting this year, Wales McLelland installed the screens in clients’ place of work; via proprietary software, they can, at a glance, check how construction on their building is progressing. “The images and data regarding each project are updated constantly by the site supervisors using their iPads,” explains Scott. “This fosters a true partnership that increases trust, provides peace of mind for the client, creates a positive working relationship overall and provides true transparency to all members of the team.”

The system is estimated to save Wales McLelland over 100 hours a week in administrative duties alone, and it’s an ambitious undertaking—especially considering this software did not exist until Wales undertook the design and implementation.

Moreover, the system fulfills another one of Scott’s long-held ambitions: eradicating the negative perception of general contracting that lingers in some sectors. “Throughout the years an inherent mistrust has evolved between owners and contractors,” he says.

“Popular how-to television shows like ‘Holmes on Homes’, in which certain residential contractors routinely come under fire for their sloppy work tend to paint all contractors with the same brush—even those in our commercial and industrial markets.”

Part of the reason for the negative perception is because the competitive bidding process has driven general contractors to the lowest denominator, with no room left for innovation or accommodation of the fluctuations that occur during any construction project. “Distrust and protectionism are the natural outcomes on both sides of the table,” says Scott.

That’s why when Scott joined Wales McLelland in 1990 as a senior project manager, his mission was to raise the bar of professionalism in all aspects of the construction process; and the opportunity to put his plan in motion came four years later when he took over ownership of the firm. “Back then, it wasn’t uncommon for contractors and their clients to interact by sitting at opposite ends of the table, but I wanted none of that,” he recalls. “Instead, we abided by an unwavering set of high standards, because we knew we could provide value for the clients’ expenditure; and collaboration rather than adversity characterized our business approach. It took some time to establish trust, but our efforts ultimately led to us getting repeat business as well as satisfied clients referring us to new clients.”

Some of Wales McLelland’s more notable projects have included fulfilling 15 separate building contracts over an eight year period for the 116-acre Kingswood Business Park in Richmond, on behalf of Joe Segal’s Kingswood Capital Corporation; numerous facilities for Jordans (the first of which was 20 years ago); SOBEYS; Langley Event Centre; College of the Rockies; Fraser Health; NOKIA and IKEA.
This year, Scott and his colleagues are busy forging new relationships as well as maintaining existing ones. The company was recently chosen by The Dayhu Group to commence construction on Phase I of 900,000 square feet of prime commercial real estate in Boundary Bay. When completed, Boundary Bay Industrial Park will be a next-generation distribution centre with greater-than-average ceiling heights of 36 feet, providing significantly more storage volume for large-scale users. Other features will include ESFR sprinklers, T5 high-efficiency lighting with motion sensors, high-capacity hydraulic dock-levelers and on-site trailer parking.

Paul Tilbury, chief operating officer for Dayhu Investments Ltd., reports that Phase 1 is already 90 per cent complete. “Doug and his team really do practice what they preach in that they are true collaborators,” he says. “There’s no question that we’ll be working with them again.”

Tilbury adds that the flat screen in his headquarters “is an invaluable tool, not only because I can check on progress at a glance, but also because we meet with prospective tenants in our office and they too can see how this project is taking shape without actually having to go on-site.”

Wales McLelland is also exploring exciting opportunities to partner with other user groups, to take advantage of the opportunities available throughout Western Canada.

Enhancing these undertakings is Wales McLelland’s software and associated hardware, which provide a myriad of benefits. The virtual representation of projects delivered by the iPads and flat screens enable all members of Scott’s company to communicate progress throughout the life of the project, respond quickly to changes and encourage creativity in problem solving.

Wales is also COR Safety Certified, and its SiteMAX system includes all the safety inspection prompts and reporting required, and provides consistency across all project sites. The only thing the site supervisor requires is an iPad mini loaded with the SiteMAX apps and the site is fully connected. The system fully engages all team members involved in the execution of the work.

Other examples of Wales McLelland’s propensity for operational innovation include a new estimating system that streamlines the bidding process, and involves virtual planning rooms and a secure log-in. This provides trade partners with an up-to-date, one-stop location for project-critical information.

Scott tends to downplay the time and effort it took to develop the software required to deliver these services. However, he points out it was part of a rebranding strategy that unfolded several years ago in the wake of the worldwide recession. “During the downturn I purposely didn’t lay off any staff, and instead improved our services wherever we could—and as a result we emerged from the recession better than expected,” he says. “The recent re-election of the provincial Liberal government has given developers a lot of confidence, and now there’s a lot of pent-up demand for product, which as a design-build specialist we’re ideally positioned to deliver on.”

Not surprisingly, Wales McLelland is growing physically. “We now have about 60 people working for us and we’re seeking more talent for all aspects of the business,” says Scott. “We’re also looking for new accommodations, since we’ve outgrown our current headquarters.” The firm now has specific departments and experienced personnel to handle pre-construction planning, risk management and cost benefit analysis, which helps Wales McLelland’s mandate to increase value to building projects.

Additionally, although Wales McLelland has always tended to operate in and around Metro Vancouver (which is why it is strategically located in Burnaby), it is increasingly sourcing and executing projects in Northern B.C. and Alberta. “We now have the infrastructure to expand responsibly, including opening a field office if required,” says Scott.

Although employing the latest technology to solve critical business issues and engage a younger generation of workers is paying off for Wales McLelland, Scott doesn’t harbor any illusions that this represents the pinnacle of self-improvement. “We continue to work on other competitive advantages to serve our clients and our people well into the future,” he says. “However, with this system, combined with the skill of our team, we will continue to deliver a superior customer experience and streamline our operations.”