Mobile Applications Case Study
Trade Union Taps Mobility Solution in Support of Jobs (Cont'd)
What made the AT&T and ProntoForms solution stand out for us was the team behind it. They knew that you need more than just technology to make a program like this work, and they gave us the daily support we needed to make this initiative a great success.”
James Williams, General President, IUPAT
Complete and timely data on construction activity, member employment and potential job opportunities at the local level, across North America
ProntoForms application running on the AT&T mobile broadband network enables in- field data capture and centralized reporting
Streamlined access to up-to-the-hour construction activity; enhanced decision making and employment efforts
800 representatives, 140,000 members
The International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) represents more than 140,000 members in the U.S. and Canada working in the construction finishing trades. These include painters, drywall finishers, wall coverers, glaziers, glass workers, floor covering installers, sign makers and display workers. Based in Hanover, Maryland, the union’s mission is to secure safe workplaces for its members, provide ongoing training and education in its trades, and help match employers with the most skilled and qualified workers in the business. The International’s headquarters operates through 34 district councils who in turn represent more than 400 local unions.
As the construction industry struggles to recover from the economic downturn, the IUPAT is challenged with helping its members secure employment, while simultaneously assisting signatory employers in locating and securing project opportunities. This requires a coordinated and vigorous ground-level effort by the IUPAT’s locally deployed representatives who need to keep close tabs on all construction projects in their territories and continually report back on the emerging opportunities. Headquarters needs the data to coordinate efforts between members and employers across the U.S. and Canada.
To help representatives accurately and efficiently collect information and deliver meaningful reports to district councils and headquarters, the IUPAT equipped its field representatives with smartphones enabled with the ProntoForms application and powered by the AT&T mobile broadband network. Field reps can quickly report on job opportunities, employment and other critical data via their smartphones. By replacing manual or ad hoc laptop entries with a consistent and fully integrated data collection platform, both the regional district councils and headquarters have more timely and consistent intelligence on the union’s opportunities and deployments in the field.
Union and Employers in a Mutually Beneficial Model
As it used to be, the relations between unions and employers were often challenging. But as the IUPAT sees it, the new model is one of cooperation.
“We are keenly focused on helping our members secure well-paying jobs,” said Gavin McDonald, Communications Manager for IUPAT. “One way to do that is to help our signatory employers be more successful. Winning contracts is about providing highly skilled, highly trained professionals who can deliver. The IUPAT helps employers land contracts by virtue of the quality of our members who work on projects as diverse as repainting and maintaining bridges and battleships, to installing the drywall, glasswork and flooring in office buildings. Our goal is to keep our people working while our employers want to keep on winning contracts. We are both on the same page.”
Using the smartphone forms immediately saved them three or four steps compared to the previous method. "
James Williams, General President, IUPAT
It All Begins in the Field
IUPAT headquarters sets broad policy and oversees the highly critical training and continuing education for the trades. The work of locating projects and job opportunities is mostly done at ground level, by the IUPAT’s nearly 800 representatives working out of the district councils.
Among a field rep’s responsibilities is keeping abreast of proposed and active construction projects in the territory. This includes who is bidding on what jobs, which projects are underway, who is managing them and what opportunities are there for the trades.
“Our local reps are charged with reporting back on how many of our members are working on given projects, for how long and for which employers,” said McDonald. “It’s all a matter of tracking how well we’re doing for our members. The front line intelligence comes directly from the field, out where the jobs are.”
Getting More Consistent, More Timely Information
Since the district councils of the IUPAT are concerned primarily with their own territories, each developed its own process for gathering job and employment information in the field and for reporting it to headquarters. “In some cases,” said McDonald, “the field information was recorded in paper notebooks, then compiled manually at the district. Others were using laptops to record data at the job sites, which was consolidated later among the various reps in a district.
“They were all doing a reasonably good job of recording what was happening,” said McDonald, “but the information was not always consistent. It sometimes took quite a while to get back to headquarters. We often saw situations where the IUPAT headquarters might have had some influence in a local situation, based on other relationships, but we learned of it too late.
“We sensed that we could do better as an organization in monitoring and supporting what was happening in the field,” said McDonald. “What we needed was a different process, although we didn’t know what that might be.”
Seeing the Potential of Mobility
As it turned out, McDonald attended a quarterly AFL-CIO IT directors meeting to which AT&T was invited as a strategic union solutions provider of line–of-business applications. One of the key solutions demonstrated was ProntoForms running over the AT&T mobile broadband network. McDonald immediately recognized that the technology offered a way to streamline and standardize how union reps could gather and report information from the field.
“What impressed me,” said McDonald “was how easy it was to design the forms for a rep to fill out, right there on the job site. We could decide what type of information we’d like to collect and which fields we would need and then easily deploy a form that would work on a smartphone.”
For McDonald and headquarters staff, there were two big advantages in the ProntoForms platform. For one, devising the forms was relatively simple; a ProntoForms tool allowed McDonald and staff to create them in minutes with a simple drag-and-drop process. What’s more, the solution would allow headquarters to consolidate and access data from multiple districts in a matter of hours after it was collected -- all in a consistent format.
The Pilot Proves the Concept
To see how the technology would work in the field, McDonald set up a pilot of the ProntoForms solution with IUPAT District Council 16 in northern California. AT&T worked closely with the union and with ProntoForms to bring the solution together and deploy two dozen smartphones to union reps in the district. The combined team explained how the application worked, answered the reps’ questions, modified the forms per union rep requests and suggestions and conducted weekly progress calls to keep the pilot on track.
“Initially the guys were apprehensive about the concept of ProntoForms on their Blackberries,” said Mike West, Director of Communications for District Council 16. “Now it is the format that they use almost exclusively.”
“The learning curve was short as the reps saw the value of the application right away,” added McDonald. “They even started suggesting ways we might adjust or expand the forms. Using the smartphone forms immediately saved them three or four steps compared to the previous method.”
The pilot also proved to be a timesaver for the support staff in district council offices by eliminating the need to collate and compile the data the reps brought back from the field. With the ProntoForms solution, the data flows automatically from the smartphones to the central database. “We are saving lots of paper and plenty of time in going back to the office for faxing and other tasks,” said West. “It would be hard to quantify the actual cost savings, but I believe it to be substantial.”
With the quick success of the initial pilot, McDonald expanded it to the Connecticut and Rhode Island territories with reps who had just received new AT&T Blackberry® smartphones. The immediate reaction was just as positive. Reps liked the ease of data entry, the time savings and the elimination of the cumbersome paper-based process.
Taking it Nationwide
Based on the success of the initial pilots, the IUPAT is rolling out the program to all 34 district councils. As part of its support, headquarters is funding the ProntoForms application for the entire organization while the districts provide the smartphone devices. And, as McDonald reported, they have experienced highly consistent and dependable access to the service, via the AT&T mobile broadband network.
Key to maximizing the value of the information collected in the field was setting up the centralized database. “That turned out to be relatively simple. Our AT&T team put us together with the ProntoForms team who showed us how to design and implement the database to provide the kind of visibility and reporting we wanted. After that it was simply a matter of folding it into our IT system.”
As the solution is being rolled out, McDonald and the IUPAT headquarters team are already seeing the benefits of the near-real-time intelligence provided by the ProntoForms application. Information received from the pilot programs has already alerted headquarters to opportunities for supporting employers and members -- opportunities that might have been realized far too late before.
“Now we’ll have ability to call up a report each morning and see how many of our members are working and where, across the U.S. and Canada,” said McDonald. “That tells us exactly where to focus our attention and where potential problems might be. It will be a huge aid to our mission as a union.” In addition, plans are already in place to push the reports out to the 100,000 union members via their smartphones. They can use the information to further support organizing and business goals.
The centralized, up-to-the hour activity data will also help the IUPAT in supporting its signatory employers, by alerting them to potential construction projects, assisting with bidding on the IUPAT trade work.
Extending the Capabilities
The wireless reporting power of ProntoForms can potentially grow far beyond its current field reporting duties. “We are already using the photographic features of the platform to document job sites and projects -- with smartphone photos integrated directly into our reporting forms,” said McDonald.
Field reps are also beginning to use the ProntoForms capability to recruit members for the IUPAT’s many community-oriented programs. Members donate their time and skills to renovation and construction projects, while gaining experience and training at the same time.
“The reps capture the member’s name on the ProntoForm,” said McDonald, “and they’re booked for a pro bono project on the spot. We’re now flowing that information directly into a database of volunteers, which will make it much easier for us to marshal our members wherever we’re needed to support the communities we serve.”
The program is recognized at the top of the union as well. “There are what seems like a million applications and platforms to consider when trying to find a better way of doing business in today's economy,” said James Williams, General President of the IUPAT. “What made the AT&T and ProntoForms solution stand out for us was the team behind it. They knew that you need more than just technology to make a program like this work, and they gave us the daily support we needed to make this initiative a great success.”