In the past, concrete producers’ success was based largely on assets. He who owned the assets owned the market. With technology, we are fundamentally shifting from assets being the dominant factor to expanding and differentiating through service. Technology can reduce the “friction” of the industry’s traditional processes. With modern tools, concrete producers can reduce operating costs throughout the entire supply chain, and history has shown that the producer with the lowest costs, who is easiest to work with,wins time and time again.

This regular column will highlight real business cases of concrete producers using technology to improve the business of concrete, rather than settling for the way business has always been done. To begin, we’ll look at the most impactful tech trends that are changing the concrete industry.

The Wireless Revolution
A phone isn’t just a phone anymore. We expect our mobile devices to deliver access and answers anywhere, anytime. If we can find up-to-the-minute sports scores and news headlines, why can’t we see when a load of concrete was dispatched?

Producers can now provide customers with real-time data about production and delivery, and more importantly, improve painful processes. Quicker communication with dispatch leads to more accurate delivery times. Harvesting data from different software, such as accounting, inventory management, and QC in the cloud produces more meaningful insights. Digital records are replacing paper trails.

By harnessing real-time data, producers and their customers are being set free from time-consuming routines and costly errors.

Intelligent Equipment
Adding sensors to plant equipment and global positioning systems (GPS) to ready-mix trucks gives producers much more accurate and timely information about their assets. Strength gauges are beginning to change how we understand curing and the concrete life cycle. But even the most cutting-edge new gadgets are not meaningful unless we translate the data into actionable information.

Producers who invest in new technology must also commit to adopting new processes to realize any benefit. For example, collecting truck diagnostics is useless without incorporating the data into a regular maintenance plan.

New technology is a necessary investment, but by itself, insufficient. Producers must be willing to do the hard work of harnessing the potential by redefining core practices. Otherwise, the investment is mostly wasted.

The Trust Differentiator
Bit by bit, systems and software can also increase trust and reduce costs. Each day producers and their customers fight a host of problems, from materials supply through placing the finished product. Often this creates a low trust environment in which each participant plays the blame-game to survive, and everyone’s costs increase.

By using technology that pinpoints product quality issues, producers enable long-term product and process improvements. Some of these tools make real-time production and delivery data available to customers. This speeds communication and adds a level of trust that you are delivering what you promised, when you promised it.

Moving at the Speed of Millennials
Our next generation of leaders not only expects, but demands tech-based solutions and devices. To Millennials, work is just another set of apps. If we don’t offer these tools we’re going to be the industry of last resort.

There are real economic benefits to embracing new technologies and hiring people who want to use them. For example, mobile apps with real-time information can help us work more efficiently.

We should recognize the opportunity to fix counterproductive practices. New tools present new ways to operate, learn, and share information that can bypass old habits. Fresh faces can be change agents for setting new standards, while keeping the best parts of your corporate culture.

Technology as the Great Equalizer
Traditionally, large ready-mix producers have set their sights on larger jobs, such as high-rises and highway projects, and smaller producers have been happy to fill one-off orders. Their customers overlap somewhere in between.

Technology has a leveling effect that should strike fear in larger producers. Small operators are taking advantage of tools such as mobile dispatch and truck monitoring systems (versus a room full of dispatchers) and cloud-based data storage (no need for a server room) to expand their capabilities. By offering services that formerly tied customers to larger producers, they are winning more bids for everyday work.

Larger producers are also entering smaller producers’ territory in terms of cost control. Technology that provides greater visibility into day-to-day operations helps producers with hundreds of plants and thousands of trucks monitor actual costs in a way they’ve never been able to before.

As all producers find ways to leverage new technologies, the most efficient producers will be the most successful.

What’s next?
You’ve heard the concrete industry must be more tech savvy. The reality is, producers are benefiting significantly from technology. Those who embrace tech trends are becoming the suppliers and the business partners of choice.

It’s up to the concrete industry to determine how to take the greatest advantage of modern technology, with the least amount of turmoil. We must adapt to thrive.