How the Australian access management business uses a complete software solution to provide next-level service to industrial clients
Founded in 2001, SMS Group Services provides access management, confined space management and shutdown services to clients across Western Australia. The company offers end-to-end access management solutions, including materials, skilled labor, project management, training and documentation. Since 2015, SMS has expanded its focus on industrial projects. Clients have included lithium mining and processing facilities, iron ore mining plants, power stations and ports. The company has a regular staff of more than 100 people and a pool of upwards of 200 skilled trades personnel.
As SMS was expanding, it still relied on hand-drawn scaffold designs and freeform building. Staff calculated gear lists by hand. Tracking equipment required manual data entry in spreadsheets stored in disparate locations.
With 3,200 tons of equipment worth $12 million (AUD) spread across multiple yards and job sites, the process took considerable time and effort and was prone to human error. Without accurate inventory management or automated gear lists, further delays often arose because staff didn’t have an accurate sense of where equipment was.
“We’d have a full design drawn up for a project, and then when the region we were in didn’t have those components, we’d have to redo the design or pay substantial transport costs,” says James Bush, the firm’s operations coordinator. “Time is our most valuable asset.”
Making changes based on feedback from engineers and clients was also difficult and time-consuming, tying valuable employees to their desks. Plus, the quality of hand-drawn designs declined after multiple reworks and photocopies.
“Accuracy and speed in responding to clients’ requests is very important,” says Becca Price, SMS’s project management coordinator. “We recognized that our clients need us to be both reactive and proactive when needed, responding to queries in a timely and efficient manner.”
Around 2017, the company tried a technology solution that did basic scaffold design and gear tracking but abandoned it after two years due to its lack of intuitive functionality.
SMS originally signed up for Avontus Software’s Designer and Quantify in 2014, but the programs weren’t widely promoted internally and were never fully utilized. After a change of management within SMS, leaders revisited the potential of the tools and decided to readopt the software across the company in 2019.
“As a business we realized that the software should be utilized wherever possible, because it allows us to become more efficient and helps us become a better business, which in turn benefits our clients,” Price says.
Avontus Designer has allowed users to create complex designs in a fraction of the time. “We can now put together a design in five minutes, and it comes with an automated gear list that we can put straight into Quantify as a reservation,” Bush says. “It flows through seamlessly and removes a whole lot of manual data entry.”
Designs can instantly be shared with engineers and clients in the formats they prefer. Engineers can reply immediately, and revisions can be done quickly and cleanly.
“With the help of Avontus Designer and Quantify, our people are spending less time counting gear from drawings and chasing reports,” Bush says. “They can be out there in the field doing what they’re best at more effectively.”
Being able to speedily create a design to accompany a tender or quote has better aided SMS to win jobs and further impress their customers. “It gives us an edge over our competitors, because we can provide a defined scope of what we’re going to build, giving our clients a clearer understanding of the project delivery plan, even in the concept stage,” Bush says. “The engineers can efficiently review our work, enabling them to certify that the design will not only be compliant with legislation but also engineered to specifically fit the project’s needs.”
SMS has used Quantify to manage stock, track consumables and monitor vehicles — with all information centralized and accessible across the company. That allows the business to modify designs based on where equipment is, prevent materials from being left behind, and ensure accurate invoicing.
“Scaffolding equipment is expensive, so the more accuracy we have about what’s leaving the yard and coming in allows us to stay on top of costs,” Bush says. “Industrial clients also have a large focus on security, so the more precise we can be about components on the site, the more confidence they have in our abilities.”
Accurate billing has also helped SMS keep customers happy. “It has helped with tenders when we can demonstrate how accurately we can track gear and costs,” Bush says. “With the Quantify Scaffold Register, we can track the actual components and weight of each scaffold and who is responsible for it, and help our customers track costs more efficiently. When customers request details about the accuracy of accounts, we can answer in all of 30 seconds. Meanwhile, some of our competitors have floundered or taken days or weeks to respond.”
The seamless process within the Avontus package — from estimates and design to tracking and invoicing — has helped SMS reduce overhead and increase profitability. It has also helped the business to go above and beyond when serving its customers. For example, when a major Australian electricity provider experienced a gas turbine outage, SMS was able to quickly create numerous designs and gear lists, as well as stage transport to deliver equipment in the order that scaffolds needed to be erected.
“Our reputation as a reliable access management service provider has strengthened,” Price says. “Utilizing this software has allowed us to become much more efficient and advanced in our service offering, because of the capabilities we have in house, thanks to Avontus Software.”