Like their counterparts around the world, Australian construction companies face tougher challenges than ever in a harshly competitive environment that’s chronically short on skilled workers, reasonably priced and reliably accessible materials, and – most elusive of all – the right information to run their businesses.
Walz Group has risen to these challenges better than most. A Trimble Viewpoint customer since 2020, the independently owned infrastructure services provider employs about 280 people and recently opened a second workshop to support its growing specialty contracting and maintenance services business.
Walz Group serves energy, mining, resources and other industrial infrastructure customers primarily in the Gladstone region and throughout the Bowen Basin, says Kate Brazier, the company’s financial controller. Brazier reports to the CEO and leads Walz Group’s finance team. She joined the company in 2016 as a senior accountant and moved into her current role in early 2020.
It was to be an eventful year. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Brazier and other company leaders decided that they needed to move forward with a project to transform how the group managed its resources, projects and people. Walz Group would transition from scattered spreadsheets and aging point-solution software to a cloud-based and continually enhanced suite of connected solutions: Vista ERP
Success brings challenges
While the company founded in 1976 by Colin Walz had grown steadily over the years, it was running into the challenge that all successful construction firms eventually face: how to scale operations to support a growing business, all whilst staying profitable. Walz Group’s reputation for dedicated people, quality work and a safety program second to none now needed to be matched by an equally strong set of technology solutions to bring its financial, HR and field management into the twenty-first century.
As always, the key challenge confronting the company was managing labor – from hiring and onboarding to deploying new employees and managing payroll. “Labor is our primary issue, especially for us being somewhat more project-based,” Brazier says. To service customer facilities during a typical short, labor-intensive maintenance shutdown, for example, Walz Group needs to hire anywhere up to 100 people quickly. Going after such projects requires confidence in the company’s ability to do so efficiently and effectively – in other words: profitably.
Fortunately, the company is known for retaining and developing talented people, and about a third of its full-time employees have been with the company for more than 10 years, Brazier says. “We respect our employees, we’re very focused on their safety and overall well-being, and when we find people with the same values, we do our best to retain them.” Relationships with customers have been just as important to the company’s success. Centered in the Gladstone area since the beginning, “we have many long-term customers in the region who really value our safety culture. I think that’s something we’re known for, our high safety standards.”
All of those things combined, there were a few unhappy people in the business and it got to the point where we were agreed, ‘It’s time to have a look at this.’— Kate Brazier, Financial Controller
Enough is enough
Quality work done by quality people led to steady growth. But by early 2020, the back office was struggling to keep up. “Finance, HR and project management were all maintained separately,” Brazier says. “We had three separate financial, time sheeting and payroll systems. From a tracking and reporting point of view, it was very time-consuming and disjointed. Job numbers were different across systems. The project teams would refer to job numbers one way, whereas finance would refer to them in another way. It was just confusing, with no continuity.”
At the center of the maelstrom was the legacy ERP. “It was too big and clunky for us and it was not construction-specific. Also another pain point for us was our reporting. We really, really lacked in the reporting and it was very manual. We required multiple spreadsheets,” Brazier says. “All of those things combined, there were a few unhappy people in the business and it got to the point where we were agreed, ‘It’s time to have a look at this.’”