In step with technology

July 2005 » Business
Fast-paced advancements in information technology (IT) present ongoing challenges to civil engineering firms trying to keep up with continually evolving developments while integrating IT proficiency into dayto- day engineering services. To meet the challenges, Stephen P. DePalma, P.E., P.P., CME, chairman and CEO of Manalapan, N.J.-based Schoor DePalma, Inc., had a vision that required changing the company's total strategic plan.

Schoor DePalma strengthens its support staff to integrate effectively evolving technology with engineering services.

BY MARALIESE BEVERIDGE

Fast-paced advancements in information technology (IT) present ongoing challenges to civil engineering firms trying to keep up with continually evolving developments while integrating IT proficiency into dayto- day engineering services. To meet the challenges, Stephen P. DePalma, P.E., P.P., CME, chairman and CEO of Manalapan, N.J.-based Schoor DePalma, Inc., had a vision that required changing the company's total strategic plan.

During a 10-year period, DePalma implemented a vigorous plan to fortify and train the company's support staff - specifically IT services - to handle the growing technological tasks the engineers were facing while balancing their usual responsibilities.

Keeping pace with technological updates became a struggle that resulted in the firm's inability to utilize fully and effectively integrate expensive technology.

Allowing a specialized support staff to deal with these issues, however, alleviated engineers of an enormous distraction and enabled them to concentrate exclusively on what they do best - engineering.

“Technology is constantly advancing at such a tremendous pace that if we didn't take full advantage and integrate the ongoing enhancements and new features into our daily operations, we'd just be paying for the privilege to use the products,” explained G. Steven Ross, director of technology at Schoor DePalma, engineering services. “We realized that if we didn't move with the direction of the flow, we would just be throwing our money away.” To support this growing need, Schoor DePalma recruited a comparatively large IT staff infused with CADD and GIS specialists. Many members of Schoor DePalma's technical support team have their roots in engineering, and they keep their training current. The morphing of engineers-turned-IT technicians has been an invaluable advantage to the firm.

This transformation includes Ross who, in addition to being the head of the technology department, is a civil engineer and an equity principal in the company.

Consequently, he has a grassroots understanding of how to integrate these services throughout the corporate structure. Ross worked previously for engineering firms in Maryland and New Jersey, as well as for Softdesk as a product specialist. In addition, he is a member of the Autodesk Infrastructure Solutions Division World Council. This 15-person advisory board was initiated to help develop civil and GIS software and to shape future product direction.

Ross said, “It gives us a very unique advantage in fostering communications and ensuring the consistent transfer of data throughout each project phase. We spend approximately $175,000 per year on CADD software alone. However, if a firm has the software but lacks the skill to utilize it to its fullest potential, it completely breaks down the objective.” Schoor DePalma is a mid-sized, fullservice engineering company with 12 offices located in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York. It has 694 employees, including 19 IT technicians, six of whom are dedicated solely to CADD/GIS. The key is not so much the number of technicians, but the fact that the six CADD/GIS specialists also have engineering training.

The average company of Schoor DePalma's size may employ only one or two CADD or GIS technicians, who usually have been cross-trained to run many other work applications and may have no training in engineering project management.

A standard approach Ross also attributes the company's daily operational success to the fact that they use a consistent set of standards at all 12 offices for technology-based systems and procedures.

A one-call solution center handles all technological troubleshooting in a standardized manner, whether for a break-andfix problem, or for help with using a general application or an electronic CADD/GIS file.

This standardization is reinforced further by the fact that employees can be trained on the use of all applications inhouse by IT specialists who double as instructors and infuse their insight for project development issues into their training techniques. Training is offered for all basic office products, as well as for specialized products including Autocad, Microstation, Land Development Desktop, and ArcGIS. Teaching everyone the same basic method to create and manage files alleviates confusion and ensures continuity when files are accessed by multiple departments.

Specialists also assist engineers in setting up projects using a technological blueprint for each project to help ensure that data migration and exchange throughout each phase of a project is smooth and that data doesn't lose its integrity through erosion.

Competently managing project data ensures that clients receive the data in the correct format and enables successful project management.

As evidence that this level of customer service is paying off for Schoor DePalma, 89 percent of the firm's 2004 revenue derived from repeat business. Ross said that the essence of their success began with strong administrative support, adherence to one standard throughout the corporation, investment in software, ongoing training, and, perhaps most important, the willingness to embrace change.

Maraliese Beveridge is a public relations specialist for Schoor DePalma Inc. She can be contacted at 732-577-9000; or via e-mail at mbeverid@schoordepalma.com.


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