Higgins builds a reputation of reliable quality

Higgins - case study

The establishment of New Zealand’s Network Outcomes Contracts (NOC) in 2013 has meant that companies like Higgins have been given more opportunities to flourish in the market. The model was developed to meet constrained maintenance budgets that arose from the past recession and as highway maintenance costs started to rise rapidly.

With a ‘customer number one’ focus, Higgins now has a team of more than 1700 staff and was awarded the East Waikato NOC, a major New Zealand contract, in October 2017. The contract covers 530 kilometres of highways in the Hauraki Plains – Coromandel Peninsula region.

“NOCs contracts are a way of getting maintenance projects and emergency projects completed quickly and efficiently without blowing the budget, it’s quite a good system,” says Renewals Manager Ben Waterhouse. “And for us, it’s a wide network that we can cover for a longer period.” However there’s also the potential for a contractor to lose a lot of money.

“If a job is done poorly, when it’s assessed, the company has to pay back a portion of the money due to the reduced life-span,” says Ben. “This represents significant risk. If you perform well though, you get additional years on the contract, and the probability of you re-tendering is quite high.”

CONQA is a tool that’s been used to cut those potential losses and secure more work by ensuring the work delivered is to the highest standard.

The digital Quality Assurance (QA) system enables more diligent and detailed reporting and puts all the job’s QA information in one place. Workers can check quality as they work through a jobsite, find issues, log, and fix them before handover. It’s an open document that’s freely available to everyone in the team on and off site at any point.

“These regularly updated records of QA means there are better lines of communication among all parties which helps to build trust, mitigate any long term issues or mistakes and saves everyone money in the long term,” he says.

Both the client and the contractor can view the daily development of the project in CONQA and the work of the site teams to address any potential quality issues. “Everything comes directly from the ground, they are seeing exactly the same data as us.”

“CONQA provides a series of checkpoints where the team onsite can look at it and go, yes we’ve addressed this, it’s confirmed and here’s evidence.” The transparency of CONQA also allows for better movement and efficiency among teams. Project managers, for example, can review QA at any given time across a number of projects on a number of sites.

“A good project manager is still on site very regularly. But they don’t have to be there every second of the day. If they have multiple projects running that they need to attend to, they can manage these remotely and instead spend that time with the project teams, not working through paper-based ITPs.”

The Higgins team was reluctant with CONQA at first.

“It’s the same with any new technology, people will be apprehensive. You can give them a new cell phone and they will be resistant. But give them a couple of days to familiarise themselves with it, and they will understand the impact and be engaged.” says Ben.

The hesitation stemmed from previous systems coming and going. But CONQA’s app is cleaner than a paper checklist. It’s plain and intuitive, so there isn’t the burden of having to adjust and jump through confusing technological hoops. CONQA makes existing processes easier. “The team really likes CONQA. It took them about a week to get on board and now it’s their favourite thing. They can trust that what they’ve written is in front of them and that it’s not going to get lost. It gives them confidence.”

“A lot of us are working in rudimentary offices, portable buildings, stacked at the back of a construction site. Our internet often isn’t the best and can struggle with the working load. CONQA keeps everything centralised, with few pages to work through so there’s little delay to access everything a Project Manager needs.”

Higgins has its own IT resources, but the influx of business has meant they’ve got enough on their plates to keep the core business up and running. “They’re a busy team as it is, we don’t really have the capacity, nor is it really our area of expertise, to be developing apps as we’re a construction company. So it’s much better to partner with people who are smarter in that field than us to go and do it.”

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