Case Study:
New England Utility Constructors, Inc.

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A comprehensive system to manage people, materials, equipment, projects, sub contractors, clients, invoicing and reporting.

Background

Neuco specializes in pipeline and distribution of natural gas and electric utilities. Customers have relied on Neuco as their turnkey partner in the underground utility construction industry since 1972.

On any given day they have more than 70 crews out in the field doing: 

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    • Natural gas
    • Electric
    • Welding fabrications
    • Water
    • Street restorations – milling, paving,
       concrete work
    • Horizontal directional drilling (trenchless
       technologies)
    • Cast iron encapsulation including
       customized encapsulations for LP & IP
    • Saw cutting and trench grinding
    • Vacuum excavation 


They provide services to gas and electric distribution utilities, local distribution companies, municipal utilities, and master meter operators including: National Grid, Unitil Electric & Gas, Maine Natural Gas, NStar Electric & Gas and Northeast Utilities, Columbia Gas of Massachusetts, Blackstone Gas, New England Gas and Wakefield Electric & Gas.


Key Challenges

With the new gas extraction technologies that have emerged over the past few years, Neuco is experiencing breakneck growth.  In their original business process, the foreman in the field filled out a 2-sided paper form detailing what crew did that day. That got sent in to the main office where someone typed it into a several spreadsheets. Once that was deciphered and refined, a process that only 2 or 3 key people could do, another person then reentered the data into the accounting system so it could be billed. It took them weeks to prepare an invoice after a project completed. The process was time consuming, very error prone, and management had a difficult time knowing what was going on in any given project. Valuable data was spread across multiple spreadsheets making any type of reporting either impossible or very cumbersome at best.

Using Excel as a Database

Spreadsheets are great tools. They allow us to put together columns of numbers with labels, do summations, complex calculations, data analysis and forecasting. They can even produce pretty graphs! But what they’re not good at is storing data, managing the relationships between that data and getting critical business intelligence to the right person in the organization.

A trend we see is that creative corporate employees cobble together IT solutions based on tools they are familiar with such as Excel, Word and Access. Why? If you don’t have a dedicated IT department people will use tools they are familiar with to solve their data collection problems. Left to their own devices, creative non-IT employees *will* create a solution, albeit a not so well designed solution.

These solutions are adequate in the beginning when there’s very little data and they solve an immediate problem. But over time, as the amount of data grows and the differing needs of the organization grow, these homegrown solutions no longer meet the needs of the organization as a whole. They become increasingly difficult to work with and become downright unwieldy. At some point in time they become a hindrance to the growth of the organization. And this is exactly what happened at Neuco. Something had to change.

Proposition & Solution

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Keene Systems proposed solving the problem by building a custom web application with mobile capability based on Microsoft ASP.Net and SQL Server technologies. 

The first step was to have our business analyst sit down with Neuco and figure out exactly how the company operated. There were hundreds of business rules that only a few employees had in their head concerning how to manage the data on these spreadsheets. Many of these rules were spelled out in the complex contracts with their clients. All of these rules had to be fleshed out and documented in a specification for the programmers. This process is akin to sitting down with an architect before building a house. (See: How To Plan A Software Project by Lance Keene) It ensures that the system to be built is well thought out and actually solves the problem.

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As the rules were being defined the data entry screens were designed concurrently so we could get stakeholder input while the business rules discussion was still fresh in mind. A flexible database architecture was developed that would allow any type of reporting and allow for easy expansion of the system in the future. 

As the screens were designed, extra attention was given to make them automatically reconfigure themselves when being viewed on mobile devices so the foremen in the field could easily interact with the system from a tablet device or even a mobile phone in a pinch. 

Results & Benefits

Foremen can enter data in the field and record activities as they happened
Data validation was applied to all data entry to prevent errors
The business rules are applied during data entry to ensure the correct questions were asked and the correct calculations were applied
Management now has the flexibility to generate up-to-the-minute reports showing exactly what was going on in every project
Reporting can aggregate data across projects, something that was never possible before with the spreadsheets
Billing is able to be done immediately after a project completion instead of waiting weeks to tabulate the work

In summary, the system allows Neuco to streamline their operations and gives management the business intelligence they need to make informed decisions about how to best manage their business. In a nutshell, it gives Neuco a real strategic, competitive edge.


Keene Systems

We are a 29 year old software consulting firm. We partner with our clients to provide web application solutions that solve complex business problems. Our software transforms your day to day decisions into click of a button, data driven answers. Our team consists of a hard to come by mix: geeks with solid business experience plus effective communication skills. 


Our proven process involves getting to know not just your IT needs; we take a holistic approach to software development and build technology solutions around your business goals. From inception, through architectural design, development, deployment and maintenance, we provide services at every step in the process. 

Give us a ring, we'll kick around some ideas and show you what's possible. We can custom tailor a solution that perfectly meets your need and your budget. 

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Lance Keene
President, Keene Systems, Inc.
Lance@KeeneSystems.com
603-726-5058

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