I spent the first six weeks of my time at Andrews & Foster observing. I observed office workflow, the field operations, and the communication methods between the office and the field. None of this was foreign to me, having grown up watching my grandfather and father operate the business; however, it was new to me as a direct member of the team.

I quickly identified countless challenges and inefficiencies, the first of which was the inconsistent and ineffective communication between office staff and field staff.

We were functioning as a “one man show.” All the responsibility for communication from the field fell on the shoulders of the foremen. The foremen reported directly to one man in the office, by phone and fax. The communication was limited, hurried, and the men responsible were overburdened, spending hours each day on the phone and time each night in the hotel handwriting daily field reports (DFRs) that were then faxed into the office. The handwritten DFRs were not always legible or complete, nor did they contain all the details needed to fully understand what transpired during a day. This was certainly not the fault of the foremen; after all, they spent 10-12 hours in the field working, only to have to arrive at the hotel and spend another hour recapping their day verbally and in writing!

Those of us in the office were constantly trying to sort through which crew members were with which foremen, which foremen purchased what supplies in the field, how many hours each team member worked, what total footage was drilled in a day and with which bit, which piece of equipment broke down, if any, if there was a weather delay, and how much time was spent on the daily toolbox talk and job safety analysis (JSA). All this information is necessary for invoicing, training and education, compliance, quality control and purchasing.

I knew there was a more efficient way to save the foremen time and better capture the data, so I set about creating a custom application using Microsoft SharePoint. Microsoft SharePoint is an easily customizable intranet that allows companies to securely host data in a password protected environment. I had several years of experience using SharePoint while working in Washington, D.C., so it was the most logical platform for me to select for Andrews & Foster.

My idea was to create a custom “form” that foremen would fill in each evening and submit to the office using an iPad. Once submitted, office staff and project managers would receive a notification and would be able to review the report in real time. In addition to saving the foremen valuable time, they would be given a fun device on which to watch Netflix and play Candy Crush (after their paperwork was done, of course)!

I set about creating a form with seven main sections: daily overview, time record, team members, safety, accomplishments, summary of activities, and supplies and expenses.

Each section contained a series of “drop-down menus,” so instead of typing out all the details of their day, foremen would simply select from a drop-down menu of options populated with all the data they could possibly need. For example, the first section is the daily overview. This section includes a drop-down list of all our active jobs. Instead of typing out the job name and location, the foremen would select the job number from a list, and the form would auto-populate the job name and location. Similarly, under the team members section, instead of typing out the full name(s) of their team members, foremen select from a menu of current employees. In the summary of activities section, foremen see menus containing drill bit options, pump size options, and a complete menu of all company owned equipment for them to select from and to describe any equipment issues they had during the day.

Once I had the form created, I started rolling it out to the foremen. Each foreman was issued an iPad and a corresponding email address. I personally trained each man on how to submit the form, and just as I expected, it was a total hit! Not only did the foremen save time, office staff was less frustrated and more in the loop in real time. We began sharing these forms with our clients, who were not only impressed, they were grateful for us going above and beyond to keep them in the loop always.

One of the additional benefits of the electronic DFR is that all the data, going back years, is stored in a database and can be used to generate reports on just about anything. For example, I can run a report detailing the dates and jobs on which we used each type of drill bit we use and the total footage drilled with each bit. I can run reports to look at production by rig, foreman and/or crew member. I can analyze total amount of time spent on a weather delay in any given year, month, week or job. The reporting options are endless and continue to help us celebrate where we perform well, and improve in areas where we are inefficient.

Fast forward about one year, and I found my dad and I standing in San Francisco in a ballroom accepting a Vision Award on behalf of our team from Constructech for innovation in technology in the construction industry! While I may have created the form, we would never have succeeded if not for the men in the field and their willingness to try something new and different. They’ve embraced the technology, are patient when it fails, and are always eager to provide me feedback for tweaking the form and making improvements to how it functions.

“What I really like about them is, I know my DFR has been submitted and I can always go back and check if there’s ever a question about materials, hours, time spent on a task, which bit I was using, how that bit drilled or didn’t drill,” says James Crowley, a senior foreman with Andrews & Foster. “The uses are practically endless. It’s far and away the best way I’ve ever done reports.”

Since then, we’ve created several more forms, including the driller’s log, the equipment mileage and hours report, and the repair request form. Each of these forms functions in the same way as the DFR.

I encourage every service company, no matter its size, to consider streamlining field to office communications like we have. We have built a comprehensive online “warehouse” that stores all employee, equipment, job, and health and safety data. Everything is centrally located and easily editable. No matter where in the world we are, the information is readily accessible, and the men in the field have all the tools they need to succeed and stay safe. Please contact me if you would like to learn more about how to implement this program.