International construction firm PCL is building a tablet strategy around Windows 8

November 19, 2012

The construction firm's mobile workers were using case-hardened tablets powered by Windows 7 or Vista, while the company’s BYOD policy let others bring iPads and Android tablets to work. All told, there were about 950 BYODs devices in use.

“We saw a place for both,” said Brian Ranger, general manager of systems and technology at PCL, a group of independent construction companies that together have an annual construction volume of more than $6 billion, making it the largest contracting organization in Canada and one of the largest in the United States.

Executives were using the iPads for email and other basic functions, but employees also came up with creative apps. “The flavor was out there but the cost was prohibitive to purchase,” Ranger said.

PCL had been working with Microsoft, saw what was happening, and decided to take matters into their owns hands. “We're primarily a Microsoft shop,” he explained. “Considering most of what we already have is Windows, we decided it made sense to go with Windows 8 tablets.”

Ranger said that his PCL employees are now using their tablet “just like they were their desktops.”The reason", he explained, "is the company IT department didn’t have to install a lot of extra security.

“Ever since Microsoft launched Direct Access, (which allows remote users to access enterprise sites) we can put a token on a tablet the way we did a PC so that people don’t have to perform extra sign-ins on their tablets,” he explained. This allows employees to move simply to team spaces. 

Right now the company has about 50 tablets with Direct Access, but Ranger said he has “people lining up for them. Employees who now have Samsung laptops running Windows 8 want the Windows 8 tablets instead of them, he added.

“I have a laptop, an iPad and a Windows 8 tablet and the only one I use is a Windows 8 tablet,"  said Ranger.

Productivity Increases

PCL field workers—which include health safety inspectors, project managers, coordinators, superintendents—are “high on safety,” emphasized the general manager. Health safety workers, especially, take a lot of site photos to supplement the company’s new safety management apps that help them document site safety.

“We built a solution to use the camera and add it to the report,” he said. “In the past, they had to do all that by paper.”

PCL expects to acquire between 200 and 500 tablets in the next year for these mobile workers and for executives.

“[Tablets] have changed employee productivity for sure," said Ranger.

“We just did a mega-project at an Edmonton clinic. We had about 20 people working on the job carrying case-hardened tablets doing whatever they do—efficiency checks or safety inspections. They were doing their reports live.”

If they were seeing something that “isn’t quite right,” they could send out a request for information to a subcontractor right then and there, he said.

PCL workers are also finding tablets easier and more useful in explaining forthcoming design to customers by tapping into virtual construction practices. You carry the design with you [stored in the tablet] and see what you’re supposed to be building, he said. “Just think of the power of that,” Ranger said. “Much better than blueprints.

“These guys out on the job sites are figuring out different ways to do their jobs better. And it’s not just Windows 8,” he continued. “I see guys taking pictures with their iPads. [Developers] are obviously going to build [apps] for all three platforms.”

Brian Ranger will be a speaker at the TabTimes Tablet Strategy West conference at the San Francisco Marriott Waterfront on February 20, 2013. 

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