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The importance of knowing WHAT your people are working on

I get asked A LOT about what my job is. Officially my role at Gemstone is implementing ILLUMYS, our project controls LEM (Labour, Equipment, Material) software solution. My background is that I have many years of experience of working with field data capture applications. In that time, I’ve worked with dozens of companies and implemented software solutions countless times. There are a couple common questions I’m asked:

Why does it take several weeks to implement?

They all scan in when they come and go so why can’t it just ‘know’ how many hours our guys have worked?

ILLUMYS at its most rudimentary is a timesheet software application. We all know what a timesheet is. At the end of the day you write down the number of hours you worked on a sheet of paper and file it away somewhere. Every organization in every industry from fast food to health care to industrial construction uses a process like this. Chances are we’ve all grumbled about the boss man tracking us to make sure we’re putting in our full day.

But what’s the importance of just knowing that your employee worked 8 hours? That might be enough for him or her to get paid for their hours in a couple weeks but beyond that what’s the value?

The value is knowing WHAT they are doing.

And that’s where I come in.

Every organization I’ve ever worked with, including Gemstone, struggles with how to capture and determine this. Why? Because no two organizations care about the same things.

Every software system these days preaches customizations & configurations to meet your business needs. ILLUMYS is no different. In truth it really only makes my job to technically implement the software for your organization easier. The hard part is determining what those configurations should look like. And a good chunk of my time is spent helping figure out how to break down those 8 hours that your employee worked.

In some organizations it can seem pretty straightforward. They might spend all day (and every day) flipping burgers, loading bags on a plane or working the front desk of the camp.

But dig a little deeper….

Not everyone at the organization is doing the same thing, or working on the same project, or is at the same site, or in the same department, or is paid the same. Suddenly you need to know more than just that the employee worked 8 hours. You need to know what they were doing, where they were, and what those 8 hours cost.

There are any number of terms used to break down the hours that your people work: Project; Work Breakdown Structure; Cost Code; Work Order; Activity; Task; Purchase Order; Budget Item; Account Code and more. I knew someone who called these things ‘buckets’ as though you just dumped hours in them like sand. That person didn’t get it and didn’t understand the value of knowing what you can do with this information.

What’s interesting is if you ask an accountant how to capture this information: they’ll come up with some code that the accounting system needs. While I’m sure it’s important to them and their system: my question is: is that code useful to you? I’ll bet the answer is no.

What’s a better answer? On every project or scope of work someone somewhere has planned every detail on the job from placing an order to specifying exactly how that pipe should be welded or what piece of software code shall be modified. They also have an idea of how long it should take, how much it should cost and how it relates to other parts of the business. Done properly: that plan is organized & structured so that it can be executed efficiently.

If someone planned those details: shouldn’t you know how the plan stacked up to reality?

The best way to know what your people are doing is to take your plan and capture not only the employee hours but also the equipment & material quantities, progress and costs that are incurred while doing the job against that same plan. Once you’ve captured that level of detail, ideally straight from the field, you can compare this information to your plan and actually manage your business.

Is it worth the effort to capture this? If you’re someone who is simply happy knowing that the employee actually worked 8 hours and got paid: probably not. But if you’re someone who cares about efficiency and improving your business: I don’t see how you can manage without capturing that information.

Ultimately it doesn’t matter what the code (or codes!) is called but your plan is that’s key. It falls to me to help guide you to gaining the ability to compare your plan to its actual execution. That’s what my job really is.

Stephen graduated from the University of Alberta in 1999 with a Bachelor of Commerce, since then he has focused his career on implementing LEM applications for companies in the industrial construction sector.