Remote dispatching at Smith Ready Mix.
Smith Ready Mix Remote dispatching at Smith Ready Mix.

Innovative concrete producers, regardless of their size, recognize the value of technology. Those who find ways to become more efficient and profitable will gain an advantage. But large companies beware: Local producers have the most to gain in terms of market share—at your expense.

Traditionally, customers (contractors) have paid a premium to work with smaller suppliers. While a local operation offers a more personal touch, basic processes such as billing can take longer. Small producers can’t pay top dollar for engineering services to support submittals for large, complex jobs. They often outsource verification and QC to labs and contract technicians. These realities can add extra time and cost to a project.

Smaller producers who take advantage of the economics of cloud computing, though, are suddenly on more even footing with their larger counterparts. Without adding staff or expense, a small company can offer customers seamless billing, mobile QC services, and a wider area of coverage with remote access plant controls. These benefits can quickly grow the pool of fiercely loyal customers found in small communities.

Smaller producers have distinct advantages when it comes to adopting technology. They can quickly decide to try something new, and react immediately if it doesn’t work as expected. Although no one can recoup lost time and expense when a new device or software system isn’t a good fit, it’s still relatively easy for a smaller operation to pull the plug and change direction.

Doug Smith, president of Smith Ready Mix in Valparaiso, Ind., is often asked to test new technology. For more than a decade, the family-owned company with 100 employees and eight plants has tested and implemented new batching hardware and software, production technology, dispatch systems, and truck tracking hardware. “It’s hard work testing new technology with a lean staff,” says Smith, “but the potential benefits outweigh the risk of lost time.”

Smith is known as an early adopter of technology, and for a very practical reason: efficiency. “We streamline our processes and eliminate paper wherever possible,” he says. The producer uses an imaging system to scan all documentation, including bills, invoices, and tickets, and route them electronically. Employees enter work hours online, and salespeople track their customer interactions on mobile devices.

Customers are directly impacted by the producer’s progressive approach. Smith was one of the first producers in its market to implement GPS (global positioning system) truck tracking, and is currently the only one with a water-monitoring system in its ready-mix trucks. “Our customers know they can call us if a load of concrete was too wet, and we can tell them exactly when water was added,” says Smith.

Cloud Coverage

Smith sees cloud computing as a game changer for small- and mid-sized concrete producers. “It’s much easier to tap into technology when you don’t have to buy hardware or pay somebody to maintain it,” he says. “The barrier to entry is much lower.” Instead of large fixed costs, producers can budget for monthly subscriptions and maintenance fees.

Cloud computing gives a producer access to more data from its operations, which improves decisionmaking, making the company more efficient and profitable. The risk: data overload. “I’m always looking for a better mousetrap,” says Smith, “so we have various systems in place to collect and monitor different types of data.” But without a large IT staff, he admits it’s not always easy to mine that data for meaningful information.

For example, investigating one incident with a ready-mix truck involves pulling information from dispatch (where was the truck and when?), the truck tracking system (what status was the truck in?), and videos from the in-cab monitoring system (what was the driver doing?). Smith often hires a custom software developer to create solutions for handling large amounts of complex information.

Mobile technology is the logical next step and a crucial one for producers. “All of our customers have mobile devices in their hands. We should share as much information via mobile as we can,” Smith says. Eventually he wants to use mobile tools to eliminate invoicing and calls to dispatch. “As we see generational changes in our customers, they will demand it more and more,” he predicts.

Armed with more data and the tools to exploit it, producers like Smith are better poised to meet this demand than ever before.