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Gwen Chen
By
April 25, 2018

TARMAC Taps AppSheet for a Different Kind of Construction – App Creation

Tarmac

TARMAC traces its history back to 1903. But the company is not stuck in the past. It continues to advance and innovate to make its products and processes better and more efficient. One way TARMAC is doing that is by using apps it created with the AppSheet platform.

The parent company of TARMAC, CRH, is among the top international construction material suppliers in the world. TARMAC itself is the UK’s largest building materials supplier. It has more than 6,900 employees, 120 quarries, 100 concrete plants, and 74 asphalt plants.

TARMAC serves construction companies, end users, highway networks, location councils, and suppliers like Marshalls, the UK's leading hard landscaping manufacturer. And it wants to make sure its materials deliver the performance its customers expect and regulators require. So a few years ago TARMAC created the role of a site technician to conduct on-site audits.

Site Audits Sample App

These site technicians conduct site audits to assess the level of service, the suitability and quality of the materials supplied and the workmanship of the laying contractors. That includes assessing whether the materials procured are the most suitable for their intended use. Site preparation and organisation, along with equipment used and site practice are also key considerations. For example, site technicians consider how the workers at the location lay, compact, and otherwise interact with the TARMAC materials.

By considering, and scoring, both materials and the “contracting gang” (as construction work crews are called in the UK) factors, TARMAC can understand how its deliverables are performing and why, says Andy Foddy.

“When TARMAC first established the site technician role and instituted these audits, the techs recorded their observations on paper forms,” says Andy, TARMAC’s technical optimisation manager. “They would later re-enter that information digitally, either at a computer in the office or using a smartphone-tethered to their PC in their vehicle.”

Andy wanted to streamline that process. At first he considered using Google Forms. But Google Forms lacked offline capabilities, he says. And connectivity wasn’t always available at the remote locations site technicians needed to visit.

So Andy did an internet search and found AppSheet. “The company’s platform supports applications that work even when connectivity is not available,” says Andy. “Apps built with AppSheet can cache information on the device, and when a connection becomes available, the user can sync the app, which uploads the record to the back-end database [Google Sheets].”

Andy ported the TARMAC application he began working on using Google Forms to the AppSheet platform to build the current mobile app. Site technicians at a couple locations trialed the solution and provided positive feedback, says Andy. So TARMAC became an AppSheet customer.

Over time Andy has expanded the functionality of TARMAC’s initial application.

The application described above now captures the site technician’s location using Google Maps. Andy says that’s helpful because in the UK postcodes exist only for urban locations. So if you’re in a remote area, latitude and longitude locations points from Google Maps are the only way to pinpoint a position on a road and find the same spot in the future.

Building Material Delivery App

Auto reporting is another big benefit of the initial TARMAC AppSheet-powered app, says Andy. This feature triggers an email to all the people associated with the material being audited once the site technician submits the scoring form. And the site technician can attach photos of the site to illustrate any particularly good or troublesome situations that need to be highlighted.

“Today about 20 people use this app daily for data entry, but their scoring information is shared with the appropriate line-managers across the aggregates and asphalt division in TARMAC,” Andy says. “That allows for more efficient data sharing within the company so TARMAC leaders can make quicker decisions/product corrections when needed and have more evidence-based conversations with their customers.”

Andy has also used AppSheet to build some new apps.

That includes an application that’s similar to the original one. But this newer application is focused on premium TARMAC products that feature special customer guarantees. 

Other apps Andy created – all built with AppSheet’s Platform – include that following.

  • An app used to support customer complaint investigations: This online questionnaire provides a standard set of questions TARMAC employees use to ask customers who have filed complaints.
  • A complaint cost calculator app to estimate the cost of each complaint: This app is a mobile version of a spreadsheet that was created in one of TARMAC’s regions. The spreadsheet uses a number of drop-downs/user selections to estimate the potential remedial costs involved – mainly based on product quantity and surface area of the road affected. Before rolling out this app nationally, TARMAC intends to further develop it to address a broader range of circumstances.
  • An app that tracks how TARMAC materials perform over time: Andy says that this one is currently in the prototype stage.
  • An app that can report on site conditions. TARMAC launched this one a few months ago. At the moment the app is pretty basic, as it only looks at weather conditions. But the aim is to expand on the app so TARMAC can adapt its products based on their performance in various environmental conditions.

Some AppSheet users create their apps based on the many sample apps available by industry sector or use case. But Andy had some technical expertise and knew what he wanted to do and, for the most part, how he wanted to accomplish it. So he took a do-it-yourself approach.

AppSheet Sample Apps

When Andy had a question, he just emailed AppSheet’s CEO and engineering staff for their input. Noting the time difference between UK-based TARMAC and Seattle-based AppSheet, Andy says he would generally receive an answer the next day.

Speaking of user support, Andy adds that AppSheet was very responsive when he suggested the company provide how-videos for its customers.

AppSheet provides user documentation and help guides. But Andy says if you’re trying to do something very specific and unique with your app, general guides don’t always work. So AppSheet has begun producing video guides on topics like how to use the company’s platform to implement independent drop-downs or how to trigger multiple actions from a single button in the app.

"Using AppSheet has allowed us to be flexible with our app creation rather than being tied to a specification at the outset," says Andy. "Sometimes you don't know what you want until you've tested it in the field. So we've been able to change, adapt and react to user feedback at the same time as adding new features to improve the user experience. Overall a great product."

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