Sophisticated Time Tracking Takes the “Fudge” out of Payroll

If you haven’t taken the time to check into the new efficient ways to record and track employee time then you could be leaving a lot of cash on the table.

Since late 2009, electrical contractor Gaylor, Inc. has been using Spectrum Mobile, part of Dexter+Chaney’s Spectrum® Construction Software and reports eliminating about 200 hours per month in processing time previously spent on paperwork collection, data entry and related tasks. The field and office staffs each save approximately 100 hours monthly. Nearly 170 of Gaylor’s job-site supervisors use the solution to submit their time reporting data on a daily basis.  They use the product on rugged mobile smart phones equipped with Windows Mobile software. Jim Savage, Gaylor, Inc.’s long-time chief information officer said:

That equals about $10,000 per month in labor savings for the company. Spectrum Mobile helps us keep the same size back-office staff and spend less time on the fire drill of getting all the paper processed every week.  It also has clearly benefited the operations side of the business. That’s the key:  if you want to sell a streamlined process that helps both operations and accounting, you have to make the effort to convince the operations people that they’re going to benefit.

The company tracks the time of more than 90 percent of its field employees with Spectrum Mobile. Job-site supervisors use the product to replace paper time sheets;  they collect job number, phase code, cost type, pay type, overtime and other variables. Information flows from Spectrum Mobile to the Spectrum payroll module in the office for processing. Gaylor operates in 38 states with branch offices in Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, Arizona and the Carolinas.

At most job sites, supervisors enter check-in/check-out information at the end of the day. At larger job sites—with more than 50 employees on a single crew, for example—each employee is assigned a bar code that goes on their employee ID card.  Handheld units scan the employees in and out and calculate the duration of their time at the site.

Bar-code scanning ensures that labor tracking at larger sites is completely accurate. If, for example, an employee arrives at a job site at 8:05 a.m. and leaves at 3:50 p.m., he’s paid for that time—not the hours that might otherwise be “rounded up” to an 8 a.m. arrival and 4 p.m. departure.  The combination of bar-code scanning at larger job sites along with supervisors entering employee check-in/check-out information on other jobs at the end of each day—rather than weekly—saves the company approximately one percent ($270,000) in annual labor costs.

Identity and Access Control Tips for Migrating to the Cloud

Cloud security is a topic that enjoys coverage by thousands of voices and nearly as many vendors offering services and products aimed at taking the pain out of moving data and applications to the cloud. Perhaps no more onerous is the topic of trust placed in individuals. When you move to the cloud the people who you are asked to trust grows exponentially and there are those who say this is indeed the most difficult of security concerns.

In his revealing paper 10 Security Concerns for Cloud Computing, Michael Gregg, an instructor and someone with an arm’s length of security certifications, names Who Has Access as a “huge risk.” He cites a Fannie Mae insider accused of planting a logic bomb that when launched could have caused massive damage. The Cloud Security Alliance has a comprehensive guide on cloud security entitled Security Guidance for Critical Areas of Focus in Cloud Computing V2.1 where the organization states:

Managing identities and access control for enterprise applications remains one of the greatest challenges facing IT today. While an enterprise may be able to leverage several Cloud Computing services without a good identity and access management strategy, in the long run extending an organization’s identity services into the cloud is a necessary precursor towards strategic use of on-demand computing services.

So you not only have to ensure the people YOU trust are trustworthy, but ultimately you have to extend that person’s ability to manage your data into the cloud along with an identity and access management (IAM) scheme that is bullet proof. Along the way you will inevitably be extending trust to the people who the cloud vendor hires and has placed its trust in. With so much at stake you really can’t assume the person you are trusting today with the keys to the kingdom will remain trustworthy. To complicate things you will want to leverage investments already made in IAM at the enterprise level, but they may be difficult to extend to the cloud.

For Identity Provisioning the CSA says those functions offered by cloud vendors are not currently adequate for enterprise requirements and you should resist vendor proprietary solutions like custom connectors and insist instead on standard connectors that use the SPML schema.

When it comes to SaaS and PaaS authentication, authenticate users with your identity provider and use federation for trust with the SaaS vendor. Interestingly the CSA recommends enabling the use of a single set of credentials valid across multiple sites for individual users and to avoid vendor proprietary methods. The alliance says using dedicated VPN for IT personnel will help them leverage existing investments.

As with most things in life, nothing is really guaranteed and that’s probably why Andy Grove, the former CEO of Intel once quipped: “only the paranoid survive.” When it comes to the people you place your trust in we’d all like to think the trust is well-placed, and in most cases it probably is. There is always a “but” though. There is much more on this subject in the papers referenced above.

Generals Whine About Being Held Responsible For What They Build

Thirteen years ago the Sam M. Gibbons U.S. Courthouse in Tampa was built with construction defects related to the window frames. A U.S. district judge today says the frames were installed backward and therefore they drain water to the inside, instead of to the outside. Clark Construction built the place with the GSA as an overseer and the GSA disputes the judge’s claim, but does say there are installation defects. Clark says it’s not its problem since the GSA accepted the building. The 17-story building has one facade that is all glass so the cost of the repair is expected to be about $20 million. The judge says Clark will probably be off-the-hook because of the statute of limitations, and so the taxpayers will bear the cost.

Clark Construction should be glad the courthouse isn’t in South Carolina. That state’s supreme court just decided a general contractor would have to pay-up for 10-year-old defects when its insurance company refused to. The contractor, Crossman Communities of North Carolina Inc., a wholly owned Beazer Homes subsidiary, will have to pay $16.8 million for repairs on five condo buildings in Myrtle Beach. Crossman was sued by the homeowners and its insurance company refused to pay because the damage wasn’t caused by weather or accident. Builders are up in arms saying it sets a precedent for insurance companies to skate out on paying and that they already pay too much for coverage. Contractors also say they’d have to have someone on site all the time to check on the subs and make sure the materials and installation practices were up to snuff. They also say having to go to those extremes will cause the prices to go up so much that projects will be too expensive to build.

It amazes me the whining of the contractors in this country. If the general contractor is not going to take the pains to see the building is built according to the specifications, and with generally accepted levels of workmanship, then what’s the point in being a general contractor. The whole idea is to make one entity responsible for the building and if it is not being overseen then the general contractor is where the buck should stop. Complaining that the subs did sloppy work after-the-fact is really just admitting the general didn’t do its job. Shifting who pays for repairs from the general to the insurance company encourages lack of oversight on the contractor’s part which leads to more defects.

As for the insurance, if the general contractors were held liable across the board then the conscientious ones wouldn’t have to pay high commercial general liability premiums to make up for the sloppy ones. Contractors are saying this shift in who’s responsible to pay for defects will put many out of business. Well, if they’re not building it right, why should they be in business in the first place?

Taking the Old Folks to the Cleaners

The recent report of a building inspector in Massachusetts who allegedly tricked an elderly woman into signing over her home to him is a unique angle on the increasing financial crimes perpetrated against the elderly. Not surprisingly, contractors, or rather contractor-want-abees, are often in good positions to scam the elderly. Many times the old folks have unsophisticated financial aptitude, and paid-for homes. Once an unscrupulous home repairer, contractor or government official establishes trust they are able to convince the elderly person to sign documents that run counter to their financial interests.

In a California case an 89-year-old woman was tricked into signing loan documents by a scheming home repairer. The loans made her home collateral for thousands of dollars the man collected before he skipped the country. For more than a year the woman was under threat of foreclosure from the loan issuers.

Now, with people living longer than ever on fixed incomes, local and state governments are adding to the problem. Across the country elderly homes are being seized for back taxes. These situations can often be avoided though if the elderly take advantage of tax abatement programs offered by states. A new ripple in this problem foretells of some troubling times for at least 100,000 elderly homeowners that are collecting from reverse mortgages written under FHA programs. HUD said recently that these homeowners, who have not been keeping taxes and insurances up-to-date on their homes, are putting the FHA Insurance Fund at risk and foreclosures may be the only option.

All of this lends some dark credibility to that line in a famous Bruce Springsteen song:

In the end what you don’t surrender, well the world just strips away.

Construction Worker Defies Odds and Survives Fall

Construction work is dangerous once you get off the first floor, at least according to OSHA. The agency claims ‘falls’ account for a third of the fatalities in construction and are the leading cause of death. However, one worker recently beat the odds and survived a three-story fall.

His journey toward the ground happened inside a scaffolding and lasted for 30 feet. The fire department rescued him through a window outside the fourth floor. OSHA lists the hazards that are most likely to lead to a fall:

If you worked in any of these states during 2009, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) preliminary data, you had a higher risk of being killed on the job:

  • Vermont
  • Connecticut
  • Rhode Island
  • New Jersey
  • Maryland including D.C.
  • Wisconsin
  • Nebraska
  • Kansas
  • Louisiana
  • Texas
  • New Mexico
  • Montana
  • Oregon

Overall, the BLS reports workplace fatalities have been declining since 2006, but then of course there are fewer people working, especially in construction. Across all industries, falls account for 14 percent of the deaths with “falls to a lower level” accounting for 12 percent of those. Interestingly, homicides on the job also account for 12 percent across all industries. Falls from roofs, ladders and scaffolding account for 47 percent of all fatal falls across all industries.

Construction Degrees Boost Practical Experience to the Next Level

People who have worked in construction know success only comes when a variety of very different elements come together perfectly. With advancements in construction processes, coordinating this feat is becoming an increasingly complex task. Whether you are an experienced construction veteran, or looking to get your start in the field, earning a degree in construction management positions you to advance in the industry.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics 2010-2011 Occupational Outlook Handbook, employment of construction managers is projected to increase by 17 percent during the 2008–18 decade, faster than average for all occupations. While the industry has seen some dark times over the last couple of years, a number of seasoned managers are expected to retire during the next decade, resulting in a number of job openings.

Practical construction experience is still very much required for construction management positions, but a bachelor’s degree in construction science, construction management, building science, or civil engineering is becoming a standard requirement. The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that prospects will be best for people who have a bachelor’s or higher degree in construction science, construction management, or civil engineering, plus practical work experience in construction.

Many construction management programs focus on combining real world experience with courses in building codes and inspection, estimating, construction law and contracts, planning and scheduling, project management, construction surveying and leadership and managerial decision making. Some programs also offer green building courses that prepare students for the LEED Green Associate certification. Being LEED certification is very valuable in today’s market.

It is important for individuals to choose an educational path that includes opportunities for field work when beginning a career in construction. Whether it is through an internship, cooperative education program or part-time job in the industry, work experience on the job site is a requirement for any management position.

People who have spent years in the field will also find a construction management degree helps career advancement. While years of experience, in addition to taking classes in the field, can sometimes substitute for a bachelor’s degree, an increasing number of companies demand education beyond high school for management positions.

There are a number of options for beginning a degree in construction management. Some programs offer online courses that make it easier to hold down a job while going to school. Nationwide, Westwood College offers both associate and bachelor’s degrees in construction management. The programs are coordinated so students can complete the associate and then come back for a bachelor’s anytime. If you are looking to advance your career in the construction industry, earning a degree is the best way to succeed.