A KEANE EYE: The phone as a construction tool

But for those of you with concerns about the state of the market in 2009, the phone just might prove to be one of the handiest tools of the year. For those with a fatalistic viewpoint, who are prepared to sit back and let the cards fall where they may, then it is probably best if you turn off the computer, grab a cold drink from the fridge and go and sit out by your pool.In uncertain times, the phone should be working very hard. The world is full of leaders and followers. The followers were the ones who started to buy new equipment just before the share market plummeted, because they finally thought that the good times would be here forever.They are probably sitting back at present, assuming that all the jobs in the order book will go ahead, and still thinking that what is happening is just a minor aberration that will correct itself. Some people have taken the view that “the first loss is the best loss”. They have rationalised their fleets while there was still a reasonable market for used equipment. They have reviewed their outstanding orders for new equipment, checked whether the world situation has changed delivery times, and some have looked overseas to see if there are some bargains to be had.They have also checked on the status of projects that they have been booked for and where they have not got a straight answer, they have made their own judgements. They have also realised that not all parts of the country are being affected equally, and have looked to see if they can deploy equipment (and sometimes people) in other areas rather than relinquish them. In the past, some contractors have formed a loose alliance with contractors in areas with more work, rather than going in cold with high set-up costs to establish a depot and relocate people.Those who get the best results will generally be those who have been quick to get on the phone, because there will be less work overall in 2009 and the early bird catches the worm. It is a good time to tighten up a business. Reducing expenses has the same effect on the bottom line as increasing turnover. It is actually a good time for preparing the business for the next up-cycle.The frantic activity of the past boom has exposed cracks in many businesses – be it in systems, controls, skills, plant or some other area. It can be a natural temptation to put off the most skilled workers because they cost more, but if the past few years are to mean anything, they should mean a greater appreciation for the need to retain skills in the industry. Even in quiet times, they can be a valuable asset in reviewing and refining systems, upskilling less experienced workers, getting plant up to scratch, providing suggestions for new business opportunities, etc. A little housekeeping will keep staff busy, and have a long-term payoff.It might take a little short-term pain, but the businesses that address these issues now will be best placed to take advantage of the next upturn.It is also time for businesses and their industry associations to get active politically. It is not rocket science that governments are going to try to limit the economic impact of the downturn by spending. Being vocal and persistent can help ensure that this spending is well directed and focused to provide long-term as well as short-term benefits. It would not hurt to acquaint politicians with the lead time from them making public announcements to anything actually flowing through to work. The politicians might be at their most receptive to changing some of the frustrating roadblocks in the planning and approval process, and looking at the high costs of tendering for work. As incumbent governments (even entrenched ones) suffer during economic downturns, the climate could be ideal for actually getting politicians to listen and act.

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