Although it's said that "home is where the heart is," in construction it can also be said that the office is wherever you're wearing your hardhat. Successful contractors generally spend most of their time on the job site rather than in the office. In fact, the only time they may see that office is before work in the morning or after the day's labors are completed.
But the construction trade is still heavily tied to using faxes. For a larger contractor with an administrative staff that's only a minor inconvenience. But smaller contractors without an office staff often must wait until after hours to deal with inbound and outbound faxes. And if there is a problem with a fax, it can significantly delay progress on a job.
One contractor who has dealt with this challenge is CJB Construction, a general contractor building luxury commercial and residential properties in northwestern Florida. After a successful career in the software industry, owner Craig Baranowski launched his own construction company to follow his passion for building. But coming from the technology industry, where the focus is on instant 24/7 connectivity and accessibility, he found business practices in construction to be a shock.
"In some aspects this industry is very archaic," he says. "When I needed to send or receive information in my sales career I would simply send an e-mail from wherever I happened to be. If a response was required I'd have it in minutes. It was simple and convenient, so naturally I assumed everyone worked that way. However, e-mail hasn't really taken hold in much of the construction work force. We're still very dependent on faxes."
CJB Construction typically receives 200 to 300 faxed pages per month. After a day on the job, Baranowski would return to his office to sort through the piles of paper that had come in throughout the day. If a page was missing, or a fax was unreadable, he would have to send a fax back asking for the document to be re-sent or make a phone call the next morning. In addition, he couldn't be sure he received all the faxes that were sent that day. Fax transmission failures always left a cloud of doubt.
The amount of paper received created other concerns. Large proposals could be 15 pages or more, and fax transmission failures were very common on faxes over three pages. This meant sending some faxes multiple times and wasting massive amounts of paper — not to mention time spent sorting through the fax chaos. There was always a risk that an important document could be lost, misfiled or even damaged, and managing the paperwork took time as well as space. More significantly, paper faxes were often left at the office as it was not practical to carry them with him, which meant Baranowski might have to return to the office during the day to refer to a previous fax or else wait until the end of the day to find the information he needed.
After two years of this he decided it was time to find a better alternative.
Baranowski did what any tech-savvy person would do: He ran a Google search on electronic faxing. The results made him aware of Internet faxing — sending and receiving faxes via e-mail or a secure online server — and he eventually selected MyFax. The difference was immediate.
"I have a Blackjack PDA, so I set up my MyFax account to forward all my faxes to it," Baranowski says. "Now they arrive in my hand within seconds of when they're sent. I can also carry them with me wherever I go in case I need to refer to them later. Basically, I'm able to stay in touch with my subs and vendors, which makes it easier to keep jobs running more efficiently."
Baranowski often has a laptop with him too and uses it to review as well as send faxes. By connecting MyFax to Microsoft Contact Manager he is able to respond to faxes through his e-mail account by simply clicking on the reply button and then selecting the fax option. He stores all his faxes on his laptop and links them to the sender, which makes it easy to find the information he needs. He adds that the preview snapshot provided by MyFax in each e-mail enables him to can scan numerous faxes in minutes.
For outbound faxes, such as a signed contract, Baranowski will create a PDF file and send it through his e-mail account.
"What's great about it is I always get a report telling me whether the transmission succeeded and a saved file showing what was sent," he says. "I don't have to wonder whether the person on the other end got the fax, and I have an audit trail as to what I had faxed them. In my business that's worth the price of the service alone."
This capability comes in very handy for special order materials that require a long lead time.
"With MyFax I can send in the order; it comes back through the PDA, I approve it and sent it back with my digital signature," he says. "It all happens in seconds, without ever leaving the current job site."
One feature that attracted Baranowski to MyFax was its online dashboard.
"Sometimes I don't have my laptop with me when I'm out of the office," he says. "But that doesn't mean I'm stuck. I can go to any computer, log in to my account, then send and receive faxes as I normally would. Because I use the 365-day storage feature for all my faxes I can even go back and look at documents that are 12 months old, right there online. It's saved me a lot of hassle more than once."
There are direct financial benefits to his new approach, including elimination of the cost of phone lines for fax machines, elimination of costs of paper and ink, and elimination of costs of the fax machines themselves.
But for Baranowski the primary result hasn't been financial — it's been time savings.
"I probably save a couple of hours a day by being able to send and receive faxes in real time from wherever I am rather than having to drive back to the office," he says. "That's time I can devote to making sure the jobs run smoothly. When you look at the time lag involved in contacting people and resending when a fax fails or gets lost, I probably add a week's worth of efficiency to each month. Who wouldn't like that?"
|Steve Adams is vice president at Protus IP Solutions.|