August 13

Our IT strategy needs to plan for change; we can’t pre-plan even a year at a time. Can you help?

The strategy needs to include not only budgeting of dollars but also timing.  You should always be looking at this based on a minimum of two years.  But, start with one year and you will see how easily you can roll into 24 months.  Tie your strategy plan to your company’s fiscal calendar year.

Include in your plan the items, the timing, the reason, the dollars and the manpower.  You should also include risk factor analysis for each item.  This will help you identify potential hiccups ahead of time and be ready to respond quickly.

The best approach to an IT strategy plan needs a two-prong approach.

The first channel is based on what the IT team knows needs to be done to support the organization’s infrastructure.  This includes things like server/hardware upgrades, cloud-based changes, major software updates, security systems, etc.  You will also want to include IT staffing projections to support the company and the projected plans.

The second channel is to be sure you are aligned with the organization.  Two to three months before your year end, you should meet with each functional area lead and get their plans for the upcoming 12-24 months.  Learn things like head-count planned, initiatives projected, etc.  Remember to include major initiatives such as an acquisition and minor initiatives such as a staff reduction.  The IT plans should be interwoven with the entire company.  It sounds simple, but adding staff to the AP department translates to more client machines and licenses, as well as additional support from IT.  Do you have enough staff to support the planned growth?

By documenting your plan, you will be able to substantiate any budget and/or initiative changes for things that were not planned from other departments.

Remember, your overall goal is to be proactive instead of reactive.


July 31

I’m only in phase 1 of my project. Why do I have to consider security now?

Project cycles today focus on short term accomplishments to better deploy functionality while keeping the business running. Overall, this increases the probability for project success. Security requirements have long been associated with compliance, and thus have been considered long term goals. One of the reasons for this is because compliance is commonly assessed on a 6-month or annual basis, and then corrections are made.

In recent years, however, compliance and security have been evolving to include continuous monitoring, meaning security measures are largely in place and the process for evaluating them has matured. Changes to systems and the network environment are more likely to be controlled, and user access reviewed regularly.

This means that while your project may be creating new functionality or implementing new systems, these changes may need to ‘fit into’ an overarching security foundation and framework already in place. And, of course, if you don’t reach out now to determine what the requirements are, you will be setting yourself up for potentially costly rework later when the regular compliance assessment is completed.


July 27

Does my Disaster Recovery plan have to include Business Continuity?

First, let’s look at a comprehensive definition of Business Continuity:

Ensuring that the critical operations of a company can continue without stoppage; the capacity to restore systems to a pre-defined level of operation; and the ability maintain acceptable customer service, including delivery of products or services, irrespective of adverse events and following any disruption.

As we can see, Business Continuity includes recovering from any business interruption, which could be as small as a few minutes to as large as recovering from a disaster. Therefore, Disaster Recovery is actually only one part of a larger Business Continuity Plan.

The reason that Disaster Recovery is more familiar is because this type of recovery is the most extensive type of recovery and it gets more press. Truth is, disruptions to business happen all the time but usually companies can provide work arounds quickly enough that those disruptions don’t significantly impact customer service. The key question is, are you using the most efficient method in your recovery?

The goal is to create plans that address all types of potential disruptions, agree on which systems and processes will be addressed first, and have contingencies for a wide range of scenarios. For example, what if no one is available to execute the plan? Could a disaster far away impact your business? What about a hazardous incident on the nearest highway, at your nearest electrical station, or a fire in the offices next door?

To be able to build out their plans and create contingent manual processes if necessary, all departments will need to agree upon the order in which systems will be recovered and which processes take precedence. And IT will need to create their plan to incorporate these requirements alongside their own. When you have developed well thought through and tested plans, you will be able to withstand any size outage with the smallest affect possible to your bottom line.

 


July 24

Buzzsaw is going away? What do I do now?

Buzzsaw, one of the leading real estate and construction document management systems, has announced that it will be discontinued as of January 31, 2019? According to their website:

“After this date, customers will no longer be able to renew, access or use Buzzsaw.”

If you are currently a Buzzsaw user, you will have six months to migrate your data, plans, schedules and blueprints to another state-of-the-art system.

For our residential builders, we believe there are a couple of products that lead the homebuilding industry and are used by many public builders. These systems can be either standalone solutions or integrated with many leading back-office ERP software systems. These leading document management systems share similar features and functionality that should be compared to an individual builder’s information requirements.

Some of the features to look for are:
1) Supports residential builders with plan libraries for master plan communities and standalone plans.
2) Ability to catalog and store active and inactive plans and elevations.
3) Manages master plans with multiple layers of versioning for community and lot-specific items.
4) Collaboration tool for internal departments as well as external partners needing access to documents such as blueprints, schematics and diagrams.
5) Supports user-based security which limits both internal and external users to those items deemed appropriate.
6) Supports comprehensive workflows and alerts informing construction team members that bids have been updated or blueprints have been downloaded.
7) Unlimited storage provided and the ability to add more with a simple phone call, email or text.
8) Daily backups of all files including data and diagrams.

If you would like more information about the leading document management systems being utilized by our industry, please contact us today.


July 18

What’s the difference between campaign automations & workflows in Dynamics 365 CRM?

Campaign Automations are a feature of the Click Dimensions Email Marketing Tool, which can be integrated within Dynamics 365. Campaign Automations are accessible to regular (non-admin) users and provide drag and drop icons to build a nurture program for marketing to Leads and Contacts. Features include triggers and timers based on forms, surveys, email actions and lists, assigning owners, notifications, automated email sends, and running workflows (on demand type).

That said, workflows are much more granular. Workflows can base triggers on fields within forms and make updates to entity records. Workflows can also run plugins. However, workflows are under the Settings menu by default, and therefore are usually restricted to admin type users.

Thus, if you have Click Dimensions and would like to start a nurture program, go ahead and try campaign automations first, especially if you don’t have access to create workflows. If you find a limitation that you and your workflow admin can’t get around with an on demand workflow, you’ll have to switch over the entire program to regular workflows.


July 9

Why are custom reports so expensive?

When people see the price tag on a quote for a custom report, many times the first reaction is, “wow, that’s expensive” or something similar, and the next reaction is to decline the report.

But how did you know if it was too expensive? Was it based on a cost assessment you performed or a gut feeling? In fact, by doing even a quick cost assessment you may actually save money!

To do an assessment, answer these questions first:

* Will the custom report automate/replace a report we already have?
If so, determine the time and effort (including cost of not doing something else) it takes to complete the report each period (month, etc). This is the money you will continually save as opposed to the one-time cost of creating the custom report.

* Is the custom report something we need to help drive better business decisions?
Ask your stakeholders if this report will save them time and the company money by assisting with better business strategy/decisions. If so, try to determine the amount of money that will be saved.

* Will the custom report allow us to combine/consolidate reports into one?
Custom reports pull data from databases, and can sometimes easily pull in other data points, eliminating the need for multiple reports. If that additional report took time and money to prepare, add that to your potential savings.

* Are you/your coworkers overworked?
We all have those things that we want to make better but they just languish on our To-Do list. We know that life would be easier if we could just get these things done, but there are so many other priority things to do. Creating custom reports may help you cross off those To-Do items or free up your time to accomplish more.

If you can pull together an actual picture of potential savings and benefits for your company you will be able to make a more accurate determination if custom reports are worth the price.


July 5

How do I make sure my employees know our company policies every day – before they break the rules?

More and more companies are getting policies off the shelf and into the hands of employees on a regular basis, although sometimes that is still only once a year. Employees who have to make an effort to learn policies before they complete a task are more likely to take the “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission” path. In a effort to reduce the number of policies, companies tend to make them too broad, leaving employees to interpret which parts apply to them and causing further issues.

Policy documents of the past have been separate from Process, Procedure, and Work Instruction documentation. However, consider consolidating this documentation to get all the information to your employees at the right time. If there is a form to fill out, incorporate the policy detail into the steps. If you need different groups to do steps differently, add a decision matrix in the form of a table, so employees can easily see what applies to their group.

This could make for longer procedural and instruction documents. But, considering how many documents you used to have, it is likely less for employees to read overall. And, if you have everything online, it makes it easier still. By having your policies in front of your employees when they go to perform a task, you’ll reduce the risk of violations and make those yearly reviews disappear (making less work for you, too!)

Check out some policy related articles from our staff consultant Karen on LinkedIn and contact Cornerstone if you need help with consolidating or just need a second pair of eyes while making your annual policy updates:

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/want-fewer-shorter-policies-heres-how-karen-chamberlain/
https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/trash-policies-procedures-give-me-cheat-sheet-karen-chamberlain/
https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/getting-started-your-policies-karen-chamberlain/
https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/how-many-policies-do-i-really-need-karen-chamberlain/
https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/what-makes-policies-enforceable-karen-chamberlain/


June 28

How can we make sure our onsite staff, subcontractors, & equipment are safe?

You can’t be everywhere all of the time, but you can monitor what occurs on the jobsite, even when you or your safety personnel cannot be there. With on-site surveillance, through the use of webcams, such as Next Cam Outdoor, or by using drones with camera functionality, you can identify and address safety concerns that occur when you can’t be there. Drones are particularly effective at getting into “hard to see places” where you may want to monitor non-personnel safety related areas. Be sure to check the surveillance/drone monitoring rules and regulations specific to your area. Additionally, make sure your drone operator is fully licensed and operates in a manner that does not introduce additional safety risks. A drone flying in front of an equipment operator’s field of vision or “surprises” someone standing on scaffolding could be counterproductive to your goals.


June 20

I need to get data from my users on the jobsite back into our SharePoint site. Any suggestions?

Yes! If you are an O365 shop, I suggest checking out PowerApps. PowerApps will allow you to effectively create mobile applications, without code, and deployment is quick and straightforward. Finally – we can say a true “good bye” to InfoPath forms. Take care however, and understand that PowerApps requires the user to have an O365 account to connect with!


June 19

What do you think of Virtual Reality Safety Training?

According to OSHA statistics, 1 in 5 workplace deaths are in construction, so safety training in any format is vital.

Virtual Reality (VR) training has come quite a long way in the last couple years and can be quite effective for training for a few reasons. Training with VR technology allows for a simulated experience, works with real-world scenarios, and if designed appropriately, can be very effective in multi-lingual environments. Additionally, the VR technology can be used to allow different areas of an organization to “experience” another perspective. Allowing an Accountant to experience a simulation of a Heavy Equipment Operator’s perspective without compromising safety, helps grow the health and strength of the overall organization.

Additionally, the VR can be structured to allow the Heavy Equipment Operator to see what his impact is from a numbers perspective, such as Accuracy Rates and Bucket Fill Percentages. VR Safety training can also be used for Corporate wide safety training, such as Fire Safety. Learning by simulated doing, such as how to use a fire extinguisher, and the impacts of which extinguisher you use on which type of fire, can often be better retained when learning through simulation, rather than traditional training methods.

VR training packages can be found through a variety of resources – so check online, with your trade organization, or through your local college/trade education system. You can also always contact Cornerstone for our recommendations.

Also, check out all the great articles we gathered on this topic here: http://hmscornerstonesolutions.com/whats-new/


June 14

What’s the best weather app for my SharePoint site?

There are several weather apps available in the Microsoft App store but most of them are a bit clunky inside of SharePoint.Either they don’t provide enough info or there are problems with simple things like sizing the web part.The good news is, in June 2018 Microsoft is releasing their own weather web part that is tied to MSN Weather.


June 12

Hey Joe: Why do some builders drive so many costs to job level costing instead of straight to the GL?

This question varies based on the accounting system you are using, though in general many builders like to have a job to capture non-lot job budgets and costs. For example, a project level job will never be a “house to sell”, but it is a great place to capture budgets and costs. One of the biggest benefits is the inception-to-date costing and budgeting. Whereas a GL cost center and budget run annually, a job cost level runs inception to date. Similar to capturing at the GL level, you would want to allocate costs from some of this type of job to actual lot jobs. For more information reach out to us using our ContactUs form and we’ll be happy to help.


June 4

Joe’s News: California mandates solar power on new homes

California has long pushed the envelope on energy and environmental policies.

Right now, people are abuzz with the California Energy Commission’s proposed requirements for the the state’s 2020 energy code, which includes mandates on solar energy generation for all new residential construction beginning in January 2020.

Read the full article at NAHBNow.org:

The Nation Watches as California Mandates Solar Power

Read more about the Energy Commission’s requirements at:

Energy Commission Adopts Standards Requiring Solar Systems for New Homes, First in Nation

 


June 1

Joe, I don’t really understand what “systems integration” means. Can you help?

Systems integration is the joining of two (or more) systems together into one. The demand for systems integration typically stems from reporting needs, error reduction goals, time saving efforts, or mandates. Wouldn’t it be a grand world if you never had to type the same thing twice or if your data was always consistent? These are the ultimate goals of System Integration. Be aware, there are multiple methods of integration and multiple tools to help you build your integrated environment. There are many factors that go into determining which method is the best direction for you. Talk to us when you’re ready to evaluate your integration needs and let us guide you on your journey to successful integration.


May 30

Is there a method to help us not run into the “same old problems” over and over again?

We’ve all been there. Whether we are the person who sees the problem or the solution, or if you are the person who is the problem or solution, there is a method to achieve permanent problem solving. The methodology is called the Eight Disciplines of Problem Solving (8D). We like this method because it addresses the full lifecycle of a problem, rather leaving components unaddressed, which results in one (or more) new problems being created. Successful resolution results in permanent resolution, which should be the ultimate end goal. Whether your company is comprised of five employees or five thousand, the 8D method is both affordable and scalable, which is not something we see every day in our industry. The fastest way to victory with 8D? Don’t skip any of the steps. And yes, there are 9 steps in the 8D process (D0 – D8)!


May 23

I need a low-cost ETL tool to move data between systems. What’s my best option?

There are a wide range of ETL tools available, but there may already be one in your arsenal that you didn’t even know about!  SQL Server Integration Services (SSIS) is the ETL Tool included with SQL Server Standard and Enterprise Editions. This means if you have either of these licenses, and most companies in our industries do, you can operate SSIS on the same instance for no additional licensing cost.

More importantly, SSIS has a robust set of tools that make ETL easy for a variety of development skillsets.  Don’t have SQL or prefer to use a cloud service? Consider options such as Jitterbit or Scribe. Whichever option you consider, be sure to accurately scope your desired results against the plus/deltas of either architecture. As always, we’re here to help you understand the requirements of your integration needs so you can make the most informed decision, so don’t hesitate to reach out.


May 7

I can’t get the Hero web part to work in my Classic SharePoint sites. What am I doing wrong?

You’re not doing anything wrong. We too love the new Hero web parts. Unfortunately, as of 4/2018, these are only available for Modern Communication SharePoint sites. As we talked about in March, these are not available for subsites either. We hear that they are coming for Team Sites, but that is still ahead on the roadmap.


May 5

What is the easiest way to track sales commissions for internal and external agents?

Most of current sales systems for homebuilders include the ability to track the information needed for calculating simple % or $ based commissions. That being said, we often have very complex commissions’ formulas for our internal sales team. Such things as draws, cancellations of sales, etc. all come into play. In that case, it is best to feed the data out to a standard Excel, perhaps using Excel Pivot. You could also use an export directly into your payroll system if it is set up to handle draws, etc. And, don’t forget about Power BI. The most important thing would be to build an export file to feed into your external calculation tool. We don’t want any duplicate entry.


May 1

Our 3rd party sales team doesn’t want to put the prospects into our Sales System. Is this standard practice?

We have heard this push-back from 3rd party realtors more than once. The question is “who’s data is it?” If those agents are working out of your model home, it is your office and you are drawing the prospects in. Therefore, it is your data. The ability to have those prospects in your system or CRM to manage and market to is yours. On the other hand, if the 3rd party person is working out of an office shared with other builders, it is likely their data and you will have to go with their flow.


April 26

Should I use PowerApps?

If you need rapid development of applications that are easily deployed to your internal users for Android, iOS, or Windows on phones, tablets, or desktops, PowerApps is a great platform. PowerApps allows you to create mobile applications for all these devices.

With an appropriately licensed O365 login and permissions your users can begin installing and leveraging your applications as soon as they are deployed. Your applications can be designed towards mobile or tablet layouts and can access a wide variety of both on-premise (using the gateway) and online data sources. The more of the Microsoft services you use (SharePoint, OneDrive, PowerBI, etc) the more you will be able to leverage the “power” of PowerApps.

When should you not consider PowerApps? If you are wanting to expose your apps to external users, PowerApps is likely not a good fit due to licensing/login requirements. Also, if you need to write custom code, remember that PowerApps is a “no-code” environment: this means no JavaScript, HTML, C#, etc. But – keep in mind –  you can connect to REST APIs through PowerApps.

Cornerstone can help you with all of your PowerApps questions and requirements – simply give us a call today.


April 19

What are the components of Newstar menu-level security and should I use it?

Menu-level security is the most advanced security offered in Newstar Enterprise and consists of:

* Permissions for each menu item (allow visibility to, allow add/edit, allow delete)
* Permissions for many on-screen buttons
* Permissions offered from basic security level (Batch, Invoice and PO approvals, AP Processing Rule)

Menu-level security gives you the most flexible and secure way of managing permissions and audit compliance in the Newstar Enterprise system, so we recommend that you begin using it as soon as it is feasible for you to do so. Cornerstone has created a guide and implementation plan so you can determine your best path forward, just reach out to us and we’d be happy to help.


April 18

People are not using our SharePoint site that we worked so hard on. How can I drive adoption?

You are probably overthinking the answer. It’s simple: it doesn’t get used because it is not yet a tool for your organization. If you SP site is a group of links to other sites, people don’t need to go there, they simply bookmark their favorites sites on their favorite browser. If your SP site is a place to store forms, but those forms have existed on your network for years and are still there, people will go to the old place to get the necessary documents.

To drive adoption, design your site to have great functionality such as the ability to fill in HR forms online and have them electronically routed to the right people when the user submits the form. Use your SP site to regularly share important as well as fun information about your organization. Implement workflows and forms and collaboration modules to make this a tool. Yet, be sure to make it cool. Don’t recreate the mess that may be in your old network storage. And be sure to continually communicate the features of the site, train the staff and implement the feedback mechanism so you will know what they want and need.


April 16

I need a low budget phone app for Supers in the field to submit VPO requests, but my ERP doesn’t have external access. Help!

Good news! There is something out there made just for this type of activity: it’s called PowerApps from Microsoft.

The PowerApps software is designed to allow people with no coding experience to create applications that will run on phones, tablets, or through a browser. The design is done through a browser, so you can access your design environment from work, home, or wherever you have internet access.

When you’re ready to publish your application, you simply click a button and it will be available to access by whichever of your organization’s users you choose to share it with. PowerApps is included in many of the Office 365 plans and currently you can access PowerApps with a 60-day free trial, so give it a try!


April 13

We want to build a Help Desk issue tool in our SharePoint site. Should I use the Task template or the Issue Tracking Template?

This depends on the functionality you need.

If you are looking for the ability to enter tickets, categorize them, notify people when tickets have been assigned, then the Issue Tracking template is excellent.

But, if you wish to have your tool sync with MS Project or Outlook, you would need to use a Task template. The task template also gives you more views and a timeline.

So, keep your needs clear. Are you tracking an IT project or Help Desk tickets?


April 9

My ERP system has a Microsoft SQL Server backend. How often should I be rebuilding my table indexes?

Microsoft SQL Server indexes can be reorganized or rebuilt. The frequency will depend upon how fragmented it is. Whenever your indexes have more than 10% fragmentation it is time to clean up your index.

If your fragmentation is between 10% and 30% an index reorganize will be sufficient. If you have 30% or more fragmentation it is a good idea to run a an index rebuild.

A fragmented index can result in decreased performance so why this critical maintenance task is often ignored is a puzzle for sure. Re-indexing can be done with a script, through the SQL Server Management Interface, or can be included as part of a Maintenance Plan. Regardless of fragmentation levels, rebuilding indexes once a week is a good minimum threshold for this task.


April 5

I’m new to the residential construction industry. Can you help me understand inventory turnover ratio?

You bet! First, let’s start with the formula:

Inventory Turnover = Cost of Goods Sold/Value of Average OnHand Inventory

Because of the high dollar value of inventory in home construction, it’s critical for a home builder to monitor and maintain a healthy Inventory Turnover rate. Too much inventory = too much risk and too little inventory = missed sales opportunities. A lower than optimum number indicates low demand, while a high ratio is indicative of under-stocking.

Identifying appropriate inventory levels for each season can mean the difference between a builder who survives market fluctuation and one that doesn’t. The optimum rate will not only depend upon season, but also whether or not the builder is focused on single vs. multi-family and if they primarily sell spec homes or strictly build-to-suit. For a typical single-family builder with a mix of both spec and custom homes, a ratio of 6 to 8 is a good starting point. Tune from there based on your specific environment.

Need more help with your performance indicators? Don’t hesitate to reach out to the team at Cornerstone Solutions.


April 3

I really like using the new Hero web parts in SharePoint, but I can’t seem to add them to my sub-sites. What am I doing wrong?

We are all in love with the new Hero web parts in SharePoint. Unfortunately, as of March 2018, these are not yet available in sub-sites. The sub-sites are still defaulted to one of the Classic templates. We can’t wait for Microsoft to roll this functionality across all levels!


March 29

We have plenty of technology, but our processes have bottlenecks and we need to be better at making deadlines – any thoughts?

Often, our internal business processes are a result of the strongest player in a department or organization defining how things will be done. It becomes more of an evolution than an intentional process. The result may look like one semi-smooth department, but a one dimensional point of view doesn’t consider the overall organization.

Typically the reality is that the organization is riddled with duplicate work and multiple points of checks and balances. When this occurs, it is time to consider performing a Business Process Review. Reviewing the process, identifying the pinch points and the unnecessary efforts, determining and implementing change are all part of the steps in becoming more productive.

While reviewing your processes can be done internally, the fresh set of eyes an external review can bring is often very effective. Whether you go it alone or work with your friends at HMS Cornerstone Solutions, remember to document the current process as your first step.  It’s hard to know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’re leaving from.


March 27

Can I send an email directly from my PowerBI Dashboard?


March 23

How much does Constellation’s Newstar charge vendors to access the portal?

Constellation’s web-based vendor portal provides suppliers and trades with real-time access to purchase orders, construction schedules and payment information to reduce phone calls and costly errors.

There is no cost to the Vendor.

Bonus: the VendorGo mobile app is coming in early 2018 (Android and iOS platforms) to connect vendors and their suppliers to NEWSTAR Enterprise, FAST, and BuildTopia to conveniently manage schedules, stay up-to-date on project changes, easily discuss details, and more.


March 21

Is BIM the hot topic in homebuilding systems? If true, should I earnestly learn more about it?

We do see a trend in the industry moving in the direction of unitizing purchasing. For many years, builders have separated labor from materials and now they are beginning to count sticks and bricks.

For more information on this emerging trend, register for our April webinar:

BIM: What it is & How Best to Use it

To find out more about this webinar and see our entire 2018 webinar schedule, visit our webinar page: http://hmscornerstonesolutions.com/webinars/


March 19

Do real estate professionals benefit from the recent tax changes approved late last year by Congress and the President?

Yes. Commercial brokers who are corporations will benefit from the pass-thru portion of the new legislation. We encourage those who have an LLC to contact their tax advisors for further information.

If you would like more information, simply contact the Cornerstone Team by clicking on the Contact Us link at the top of this page.

 


March 15

Can I setup an interface to electronically transfer bill of materials from my CAD software to Sapphire Build (Kova)?

Sapphire Build can easily interface with many of the leading CAD programs with the intent of transferring BOM detail from CAD to the back office. Cornerstone has worked on several projects with MiTek/Sapphire Build this past year and can assist you with interfacing to several systems, including leading CAD software.


March 14

Does InformXL interface with Sapphire Build (formerly known as Kova)?


March 13

I am struggling with the concept of Major Codes, Craft Codes and Tasks. Can you simplify these terms for me?

Absolutely:

CRAFT: The word “Craft” is somewhat an old English term. It refers to what we mean today as a construction trade. For example: the Framer, the Electrician, the Excavator, the Finish Carpenter, etc.

TASK: A Task is the activity performed by a Craft. As you begin to work with Tasks, think of your project schedule and the activities that you will post to it. From the examples above:

The CRAFT Performs the TASK(s):
Excavation: Excavate- The work of digging the hole in preparation for the foundation
Prep Slab-  The work of preparing the ground for the basement slab
Backfill- The work of backfilling against the outside of the foundation once it is poured
Rough Grade- The work of rough grading the lot after backfilling
Foundation: Forming, Reinforcing, Pouring & Striping the footing and foundation
Electrical: Rough Electrical
Finish Electrical
Drywall: Hanging, Taping & Texturing the drywall

The MAJOR CODE: Major Codes are simply another term for Cost Codes. They are the systems tool for organizing and collecting the costs of each Craft into its own “bucket”. For example: The Major Code “Foundation” may include all the costs of the Foundation work: the foundation labor, the reinforcing steel, the window bucks, and the concrete. In lieu of collecting all of those costs into one Major Code, you may decide to track each of those costs individually. Accordingly, you will need to establish a separate Major Code for each of those line items.


March 7

When I’m out of the office can I use our company’s SharePoint site without full browser access?

YES!  Get your intranet in your pocket with the SharePoint mobile app. With easy on-the-go access, the SharePoint mobile app helps keep your work moving forward by providing quick access to your team sites, organization portals and resources, and the people you work with – across online in Office 365 and on-premises. You can see site activities, get quick access to recent and popular files, and view and arrange lists on your team sites.

• Sign in to your SharePoint sites, whether they’re in the cloud or on-premises. The app works with SharePoint Online, and SharePoint Server versions 2013 and 2016. You can add multiple accounts, and easily switch between them.
• Quickly find your sites. Check out the Sites tab, to see the sites you frequently visit and the sites you follow. Tap on a team site to dive into it. See site activity, navigate using the familiar quick launch navigation, easily follow or share the site, and work with your lists.
• Check out recent and popular files. In a team site, get to your recent or popular files quickly to view or share them, and have full access to your document libraries using the new integration with the OneDrive app. Edit your files easily using Office Mobile apps like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote.
• Search. Enterprise Search is available throughout the app and results are organized into sites, files and people.
• Find and browse for people you work with. Tap on a user to get to their contact card and to see who they work with and what they are working on.

Note: To sign in to SharePoint, your organization needs to have an Office 365 subscription that includes SharePoint Online, or an on-premises SharePoint


March 7

What is a “web concierge” and why would my business care about it?

Just as in your favorite hotel, the concierge is a doorman, a porter or an attendant. A web concierge assists “web traffic” coming to your site. This can be a person or an automated tool. The goal is to “greet” incoming web inquiries to your site and “guide them” to the correct place. For example, a homebuilder or real estate site may have people inquiring via the web about buying a home. The web concierge may look over the data provided, immediately respond to the inquiry and also pass it on to the most appropriate sales agent. How long the web concierge manages the inquiry is a matter of your own business process. If you need help with more detailed best practices, give Cornerstone a call.


March 5

How can I ensure that both our procedures and our training program are up to par?

The easiest way to achieve consistent process documentation and training is to deploy an intranet. This will be an internal website just for your employees and teams. This can be done with an off the shelf package, Sharepoint (online) or even custom design. When designing your intranet, first identify your main goals. Adoption will be driven by your intranet becoming a daily tool for all employees. To populate training materials, consider developing a team of SME’s (subject matter experts) from the different departments. For example, you would have 1-2 SME’s from AP, AP, PR, Purchasing, Operations, Sales, Tenant Relations, etc. Develop a standard training template and then assign each SME the job of creating the training procedures, along with a document for their functional area. You have now developed an internal set of trainers. You can even provide them a tool to create short training videos.

Your intranet must also contain fresh and necessary information to be sure the general population of your company has a reason to go there frequently. This can be set up as an access point to document repositories, systems, HR functions, workflows, etc. But don’t forget, there must be also be something there to bring in the line level employees. Dashboards and reports can help both management and line level teams.

A word of caution: be sure you identify and stick to the quarterly and long-term goals as well as lock in a management champion. Many companies start to run in too many directions mid-project and this becomes a recipe for failure. Scope creep is a common side effect of a loosely planned deployment, causing costs to skyrocket and morale to crash.


March 4

How important are Customer Portals? Are they worth the effort?

Ten years ago, not many of us were concerned about managing a customer portal. Today, whether our customers are home buyers, property tenants, property asset investors or trade partners, they are all inclined to sign in to a portal and review their information. They expect a web based portal they can access from anywhere. They expect the site to be secure and protect their information, and they expect easy access to contact information. The good news is that most back-office systems now offer some pre-packaged portal and we no longer need to build these from scratch. The Cornerstone Team can help with both your implementation and best practices.


February 27

How do I get everyone on board to take down new releases?

Keeping systems current is critical for many reasons, including features and functionality improvements. Planning and communication are key to successful upgrades. Most organizations have a test environment or sandbox. The best practice is to copy most current data from your live environment to your sandbox.

Next, be sure to read the release notes. Take down the current release to your sandbox environment only. Be sure to upgrade all linked products as some are dependent on each other. Based on the release notes to know which areas have been upgraded, perform normal routines in the sandbox and test for functionality.

Give a time frame to the end-users for their testing. For example, allow two weeks for testing and have a person in AP perform normal tasks such as entering and invoice and cutting a check. Once testing and acceptance is complete, you are ready to upgrade your live environment. Plan your timing, inform the staff, distribute the release notes, upgrade. Voila!

If you need help with this, the Cornerstone team has decades of experience helping people through this. We even perform the normal testing for some of our clients as their staff may be too busy to test.


February 20

Is it possible to link Microsoft CRM to my Sales System?

Absolutely! In fact, without this integration, your staff will be doing double work and defeat the purpose of one of the systems.Cornerstone has been very successful in helping our clients integrate MS CRM to sales systems.

The goal is to keep the lead/opportunity in the CRM for management until the prospect is ready to write a contract, then, electronically push the pertinent data over the to sales system when triggered by the end user. There is no double entry of information.

Some of our clients go even farther to push back information to the CRM and use the CRM to continue touch points with buyers or tenants. These clients are getting the best value of both systems and feel it gives them the technical edge required today.


February 13

Is SharePoint right for my company?

That’s a pretty open-ended question.  SharePoint remains Microsoft’s flagship for intranet and document management.  Many large organizations use the platform for the internet as well.  Being able to use SharePoint in conjunction with Office 365 make this a remarkable tool.  Some of us can remember when “copy & paste” was a new function in the world.  Microsoft continues to weave the product offering and collaboration tools into a wonderful web.

Is it right for you? There are many best practices that should be followed in making the decision to go down the SharePoint road.  We would recommend that you work with professionals such as those on our team to help you decide if this is a fit for your organization.  Things to consider is how much of the product would benefit you, how long to deploy and consider a phased approach, will it be hosted or on-premise, what is the annual budget, do you need multiple languages.  Give us a call and we can help you through the decision-making process.


February 6

I’ve heard certain builders are on “auto-pay.” What is it and do I need it?

Auto-pay is a general term for payments that are triggered by 1) having been issued a purchase order and 2) having the items on the PO tied to a construction task in the field.  When the builder’s superintendent approves the work as completed in the field, the related purchase order becomes part of an accounts payable batch in the builder’s ERP and posts as an invoice.  The trades no longer send in invoices, they are truly paid from PO and satisfactory work completion.

This process saves time and money for both the builder and the trade.  Many programs such as Newstar, BuildPro/SupplyPro, Sapphire Build, and others offer this great feature.  The Cornerstone team can help you roll this out in your organization.


January 30

What is Positive Pay and Do I Need It?

Positive Pay is an automated fraud detection tool offered by the Cash Management Department of most banks. In its simplest form, it is a service that matches the account number, check number and dollar amount of each check presented for payment against a list of checks previously authorized and issued by the company. All three components of the check must match exactly or it will not pay.


January 30

How does Positive Pay work?

Positive Pay requires the company to send (transmit) a file of issued checks to the bank each day checks are written. When those issued checks are presented for payment at the bank, they are compared electronically against the list of transmitted checks. The check-issue file sent to the bank contains the check number, account number, issue date, and dollar amount. Sometimes the payee name is included, but is not part of the matching service.

When a check is presented that does not have a “match” in the file, it becomes an “exception item”. The bank sends a fax or an image of the exception item to the client. The client reviews the image and instructs the bank to pay or return the check.

There is generally a fee charged by the bank for Positive Pay, although some banks now offer the service for free. The fee might well be considered an “insurance premium” to help avoid check fraud losses and liability.

Many of the mainline accounting or ERP systems offer this feature to create the file to be sent to your bank.  Give Cornerstone a call and we can help you get this fraud prevention function running.


January 29

How to get my superintendants to update their schedules daily?

To get the superintendents to adopt a new tool, it must do something for them.  Demonstrate what benefits the field will gain by using the scheduling tool.

There are several things that you can do to see that schedules are updated daily, depending upon the approach that fits your company culture best:

> Have the system send out reminders, follow-up information, etc. that the superintendent previously had to remember to do. For example, six weeks before the cabinets are to be installed, have the system send a reminder to the installer of the upcoming date. This can help ease the lag time issues.

> Use the information in the schedule at the routine backlog meetings. Have the schedule information be the one source of truth. If we allow “off-line” schedule related information to be used, your scheduling tool becomes redundant and is left by the way-side.

> Provide training. Sometimes tasks don’t get done on time because people aren’t sure how to start or complete them correctly. Providing access to training and refresher courses pave the path to compliance.

> Using the schedules and your back-office system, implement auto-pay. The schedule now is critical to the superintendent and his trades. The schedule now saves the superintendent time in approving invoices, saves the trades time not creating invoices, gets the trades paid quicker and makes you a builder partner of choice.

> Get management involved. Sometimes people just need a little nudge from above to grasp the importance of some tasks. If management is using the data and speaks up when it is wrong or lapsed, people will value the use of the tool.


January 23

What’s the difference between Power BI and SSRS?

SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) and the Power BI Service are both Business Intelligence tools designed to present data to the end user. While they are both part of the Microsoft BI stack, they are geared towards different audiences and intended to be consumed in different manners. Power BI is intended to leverage an existing data warehouse, providing analytics based on a snapshot of data. This allows the power-user to ‘self-serve’ their reporting needs and drill into the same data from multiple perspectives.

An SSRS report requires a developer or report writer to design and deploy a static report layout, however SSRS can read data real-time and reports can be delivered to users through the browser or on a schedule. SSRS does have drilldown capabilities, however the Power BI interactive visualizations provide a more interactive experience for the end user. SSRS comes with SQL Server Standard or Enterprise Editions and is hosted locally, while the Power BI service is a cloud based solution that requires O365 licenses and does not have robust security options until reaching the Enterprise level. SSRS is the go-to solution for reporting, while Power BI, based on Excel’s Power Query, is nestling in as the future in interactive dashboards.

Have questions about which BI solution fits you best or if you should consider both options?  Don’t hesitate to reach out, we’re happy to help.


January 16

Should I use Docusign for my sales contracts?

Cornerstone Solutions has a great deal of experience with Docusign and believes that it saves both significant amounts of time and money.

We have worked with several clients on implementing Docusign from the ground up, and continue to work with companies on Docusign projects today.


January 9

My warranty cycle time is 3 days, is that the average?

Warranty cycle time of 3 days is not bad at all.  Of course, you should be tracking different types of warranty with different planned response times.  Your “normal” warranty call with a response time of 3 days is not bad.  Most builders are striving for 2 days.  But, your “emergency” warranty calls (burst pipe, no heat, popping breakers) should have a target of immediate or less than 4 hours.  Tracking these cycle times is very important to customer satisfaction and loyalty.  A customer can’t be loyal if they are not confident that you will take care of them.  In this world of immediate response, be sure you have a touch point of phone call or email prior to being able to get a tech to the home.  Communicate who is coming and approximately when.On the subject of warranty cycle times I know diddly squat.

 


January 2

I have 75% variance for PO. Is that bad?

A variance should represent a surprise and unexpected event that we could not predict.

In any case, if you have multiple and large variances, that should send up a flag that something is wrong, or at least alert you to review your processes. And we’re not just going to “answer and run” on this one – if suspect something is wrong and need help tracking down root causes and cleaning up processes we are all too happy to help!  One of the key indicators of an internal process issues is the number and total dollar value of your variance purchase orders.  If you are building your homes on variance purchase orders, you cannot project true margins until well after you close the home.  This is dangerous water for any builder.