Logistics has long been the Gordian knot of the construction industry. A wild tangle of processes, the inherent complexity of supply chains and their iron-clad importance to every aspect of construction makes them an extremely fertile place for innovation. But innovation has been, at best, unhurried. Paper-based, manual processing has forever been the standard operating procedure for everyone up and down the supply chain, with companies reticent to move on from what has traditionally “worked”. The digital revolution, however, is finally here. And to deal with logistical knots, Command Alkon has brought a sword.
Founded in 1976 as Command Data, the company’s initial purview was improving office operations for ready mix producers but quickly found itself broadening its range of offerings. Technology solutions for dispatch and production of ready mix soon followed and in the year 2000 it merged with Alkon to form an even more formidable data and technology solutions outfit for the concrete sector. The latest iteration of the company came with the 2019 launch of its CONNEX Platform. According to VP of Business Development, Steve Cox, the new platform will “deliver a digital supply chain experience enabling materials suppliers, haulers, and buyers to work collaboratively and share in digital workflows that benefit the entire supply chain.” In other words, the whole shooting match.
Managing inbound and outbound has historically been handled with paper. This naturally allows for handling errors and is enormously time-consuming. Manual inputting makes it difficult to know where your inventory stands at any given moment and lends itself to difficulties in juggling orders and deliveries. The idea behind the CONNEX Platform is to eliminate these issues entirely and unify the entire process behind one interface. Cox said, “The unique thing about the CONNEX Platform is that it enables a materials producer – whether that be ready mix, asphalt, cement, or any other heavy building material – to focus on the inbound side of their business as much as they do the outbound side of their business. Whether it’s a contractor at a jobsite or a ready mix producer at a production plant, the users of CONNEX have a single-user interface, one login, one username, and one way to receive all of these materials on the inbound side within that interface.” The cost-savings are readily apparent and the secondary benefit of freeing up time can’t be overstated, or over-valued.
“The key is to keep trucks moving by having a solid plan of execution to help optimize the utilization of the truck assets and drivers.”
The dispatch side of operations comes with its own unique challenges. Challenges that Command Alkon has sought to meet with another technology solution – namely COMMANDoptimize. Aimed at fleet management, it is a powerful algorithm that constantly monitors an eye-popping amount of data points to more efficiently decide where every driver and every truck should be at all times. Describing the tool, Cox said, “It enhances and delivers consistent dispatch decision-making and is tuned to consider specific market and company factors, along with the customer’s needs and requirements. One customer, Hanson Aggregates, uses the power of Optimization to stay on track with proactive resource planning, delivery planning, as well as real-time plan adjustments as the Optimization engine reacts to different daily factors that impact each day, such as: plant performance, traffic conditions, jobsite performance, etc.” There are a tremendous number of variables for dispatchers to balance, and there is considerable capital waiting to be liberated from a sometimes-messy process. Cox continued, “Trucks sitting at the production facility or on the jobsite can be costly. The key is to keep trucks moving by having a solid plan of execution to help optimize the utilization of the truck assets and drivers. Better scheduling and routing of trucks improves transportation efficiencies, ultimately adding to the bottom line. Over the course of a very challenging year, the Phoenix operations of Hanson Aggregates were able to maintain their excellent customer service while improving several of their distribution KPIs significantly. In 2020, they were able to increase driver productivity by 9.71%.”
Of course, not everything is settled by timely arrival on-site. That’s only the beginning of the process when it comes to concrete. Before it can be poured, it must be measured for viability. And it’s here that Command Alkon believes itself to be truly both above, and beyond, the competition. As part of its COMMANDassurance proprietary technology, a probe sits in the drum of the ready mix truck where it constantly feeds real-time data about the quality of the concrete. This has myriad benefits, not least of which is quickly settling potential disputes between suppliers and customers. Cox elaborated, “The ability to feed all of this data back to production enables producers to evaluate and optimize mix designs by reducing standard deviations therefore reducing the need for overdesign of mixes. The data can help with disputes to prove quality of the mix, and producers have proof that the concrete delivered was at the optimal quality for the job. The risk of replacing the concrete already poured can be reduced using the historical information and quality data.” Time, money, and aggravation saved at every end of the process speaks powerfully. It’s not the only way Command Alkon is looking to implement efficiencies, either.
Intrinsic to its suite of technological solutions is the reduction of everyone’s carbon footprint. Less time spent on the road and fewer vehicles actually required to be in transit is a win-win scenario. Companies looking to grow in the near-future have to be willing to reckon with the realities of our changing environment. This is the natural by-product of the COMMANDoptimize system. As Cox described it, “Optimization’s role in reducing the carbon emissions comes from the increased efficiencies in the fleet that allow producers to deliver materials using fewer hours and resources. Ultimately, this leads to less time being expended to deliver materials and sometimes allowing a smaller fleet to be used to deliver the same quantity of materials.”
Command Alkon sees itself as a growth company, and a leader in the construction industry going forward. It has partnered with Thoma Bravo, a formidable software investment firm, with an eye toward synergistic acquisitions. In a similarly progressive move, Command Alkon has teamed-up with Master Business Solutions, something Cox sees as very exciting. He said, “They are the world’s leader in understanding material science, which includes the mixed designs themselves and how chemicals impact those mixed designs. Now that Master Builders Solutions is an exclusive reseller of COMMANDassurance, we believe that much of the data generated from the system, along with their knowledge of the materials, will add another layer of value to the quality of our customer’s product.” It is testament to the company’s belief in going further than everyone else. When asked how Command Alkon separates itself from the pack, Cox replied, “Our solutions go miles deep into the use cases required of our specific industry niche, rather than other companies who may go miles wide and only scratch the surface of the true needs of our customers. Our employee base is the driving force behind Command Alkon’s distinguished products, services, and support. The industry-specific expertise of our employees differentiates us as a world-class company and global software business.” That expertise gets only richer as its partnerships with other industry leaders mount up.
“Our employee base is the driving force behind Command Alkon’s distinguished products, services, and support.”
Command Alkon’s greatest strength, technological innovation, is simultaneously its biggest challenge. The construction industry changes tack slowly. Traditionally hesitant to move away from familiar processes, the digital revolution has taken some time. As Cox described it, “Some of the solutions that we are offering now are unlike any other that has been introduced to the construction technology space in the past, so we have to create awareness that these solutions exist. Once that awareness is there, then we have to work with our customers to create a willingness to face the challenges that a new change in process can present to ultimately drive value.” Regardless of the industry’s reluctance to change, change is here. And Cox believes that it will seem bewildering that it took so long. As he concluded, “I think that 5-10 years from now, we will look back at the way our industry transacts business today and wonder how and why we ever did it that way. I think that our CONNEX Platform will be supporting all of the communications and transactions between all of the players in the heavy building materials ecosystem, making business flow with less friction, seamless communication, better visibility for all participants, and ultimately driving productivity for our great industry.”
After all, why slowly untangle a knot when you cut right through the heart of it?