Producer partners, invests in information technology

By |  September 9, 2016

Mature companies sometimes surrender to the notion that the way they do business is the only way to do business. Although this mentality can be an asset in regard to protecting company values and commitments, it can become a liability in other areas of operation such as equipment safety. Some technologies help to keep workers safe, making it vital to embrace new technologies.

Pine Bluff Sand & Gravel Co., a 103-year-old family company headquartered in White Hall, Ark., realized this truth about a decade ago, seeing the need to bring its company up to speed with information technology (IT) standards. The company operates a combined 30 sand-and-gravel pits and marine operations in Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee.

In both 2004 and 2013, the company made some big changes related to its technology to improve operations at all of its locations.

Technical partnership

Photo courtesy of Pine Bluff Sand & Gravel Co.

Pine Bluff Sand & Gravel uses a Cat excavator to move material. Photos courtesy of Pine Bluff Sand & Gravel Co.

One change Pine Bluff made in 2004 was to appoint Alan Perry as IT director. The company launched an IT department that year.

“The company had very limited technology prior to me coming in,” Perry says. “We’ve gone from virtually no IT resources to something amazingly huge from where we started.”

Since day one, Perry says he kept busy as the company’s IT director.

“The first few years, it was a mad dash trying to get a computer network deployed,” he says.

As a business that manages many locations in two industries, Pine Bluff deployed computers to 400 people in administrative positions, such as plant managers and office personnel. After all computers were deployed, Perry regularly received calls from users to fix problems related to passwords or network failures.

While Perry doesn’t mind taking user calls, these problems became his entire work schedule and made it almost impossible for him to take on larger projects.

A couple of years after Perry started with the company, Pine Bluff hired two other people to its IT department to ease Perry’s workload. Yet, even with the additional help, Perry says he and his teammates seemed to face a never-ending list of user issues.

“I think around 2013 we realized we needed a new solution or else my team would drown in work,” Perry says. “We were so busy handling customer issues each day that we found ourselves in a catch-22 position. We were not able to adequately maintain our system resources because all of our time was spent fixing the resulting problems.

Photo courtesy of Pine Bluff Sand & Gravel Co.

Pine Bluff distributes sand and gravel via barge.

“We couldn’t prevent daily problems from occurring because we lacked the time to invest into performing system maintenance that, if completed, would have prevented the problems we were having from occurring in the first place,” he adds.

At the time, Pine Bluff had two options to resolve its IT problems: either hire an additional employee or outsource some of the work. Perry, who reports directly to Pine Bluff’s owner, met with the owner to discuss some of the technical problems.

“I asked him, ‘Would you prefer to pay a monthly service fee to outsource some of the work or would you rather hire more people?’” Perry says.

The two men explored the options and found that outsourcing seemed to be the more viable option. Pine Bluff partnered with Kentucky-based Kalleo Technologies in 2013 to help manage some of the IT workload. Kalleo specializes in the healthcare, marine, mining and transportation markets, making it a good fit for Pine Bluff.

Anna Berlekamp, Kalleo Technologies’ director of sales and marketing, says her company is unique in that it focuses on serving select industries.

Photo courtesy of Pine Bluff Sand & Gravel Co.

When Pine Bluff decided to boost its information technology (IT) department, it helped all aspects of the operation, including crushing and screening.

“We don’t want to be an IT company for every industry,” she says. “We want to better understand particular industries so we can serve them better and understand their values. It gives us a more holistic approach.”

Through the new partnership, Kalleo Technologies handles user concerns such as password and network glitches, and it installs antivirus programs on computers that need it. With Kalleo Technologies taking on the bulk of user issues, Perry and his IT department began to tackle long-term projects to improve the company’s computer systems overall.

“Some of these larger-scale projects have been on my list for 12 years,” Perry says. “And for the first time since I came on, I feel I’m actually seeing an end to my list of projects. So in my mind, that’s why I feel like this partnership is such a grand slam for us.”
Berlekamp adds that this kind of partnership can result in improved production levels.

“It varies for everyone,” she says. “If there is good communication between IT and the operations side of things, more production will come out.”

Enhancing IT

Both Berlekamp and Perry acknowledge it’s not easy to implement new technologies and create an IT department at an aggregate operation, especially because connectivity can be an issue at some sites.

If an aggregate producer is interested in developing an IT department, Perry suggests cross-training a few people in the company on IT basics so they can support the IT department and promote it to other people in the company. He adds that these people should be early adopters of new technology and have a fairly broad knowledge on what’s happening in the company.

Producers can also benefit if there is good communication between the IT department and owners. IT workers need to feel welcomed at the company. Too often, Berlekamp says companies fail to listen to their IT departments. This creates friction. She advises owners or someone in upper management to occasionally meet with the head of the IT department to learn about ongoing projects.

Photo courtesy of Pine Bluff Sand & Gravel Co.

Pine Bluff also operates several marine operations in Arkansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee.

“Don’t just call when something’s broken,” she says. “Take the person to lunch and talk to them about what you want to accomplish as an organization. In turn, ask for ideas. They may be shocked if you do this because they probably have ideas nobody asked them about yet.”

Regular communication with management and users is important to Perry in his daily work, he says. According to Perry, he shares a weekly IT forecast to let users know about any glitches that might occur at each location. Plus, when the workday is done, he sees value in meeting with employees outside of the IT department.

“Don’t miss the opportunity to be with other employees,” he says. “Go to the industry trade shows with them. Even take time to go and meet with them after work.”

Perry has always felt welcomed at Pine Bluff. He values the owner’s regular communications with him. And while bringing up the need for changes in 2013 was somewhat intimidating, Perry says it was worth the effort.

“There’s always reluctance to change,” he says. “I think in our organization, that was fairly minor in the grand scheme of this project. Being latecomers to the modern era of networking, Pine Bluff had extremely well-designed and efficient processes as the new technology was brought in.”

About the Author:

Megan Smalley is the associate editor of Pit & Quarry. Contact her at msmalley@northcoastmedia.net or 216-363-7930.

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