The Family of Companies that Runs on Family Values
In the construction industry, time is money. Since 1984, Explorer Software has been providing software enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions to help contractors run their businesses more smoothly, so they can focus their attention where it matters most: on the customer.
Explorer Software’s award-winning flagship product, Eclipse, is a fully integrated, intuitive, browser-based construction management solution that is scalable and designed to handle the needs of everyone from general contractors to heavy/highway contractors, with tasks ranging from accounting to project management. The software is used internationally and features multi-lingual and multi-currency capabilities.
Eclipse, which was recognized by Construtech Magazine as a Top Product in 2016, is one of two products on which Explorer Software currently conducts R&D. Whether you work as a roofer, a plumber, an HVAC provider, or another service professional, Explorer Software’s second product, Shafers Service Management, has got you covered. This service management product is specially designed to make every part of a service contractor’s business, from dispatching to purchasing to payroll to accounting, easier and more efficient by tracking all critical information in one place. Both Eclipse and Shafers are constantly being enhanced by Explorer Software to ensure that they continue to meet the needs of modern construction businesses.
But although we tend to think of cloud-based solutions as a product of the 21st century, Explorer Software’s roots actually go back further. The company was founded in 1984 in Vancouver by Jim McFarlane. At the time, the flagship product now known as Eclipse was called Contract Manager. Over decades, the product went from using client-server technology to being browser-based around 2011, and in 2014, the technology was upgraded again to improve its aesthetics and functionality.
The Shafers product is a newer addition, built by a San Diego-based company called Shafers that Explorer Software purchased in 2007. Because the product is so valuable to Explorer Software’s customers in the service industries, it continues to enhance and maintain the product while keeping the name the same for the product’s legacy customers. Though they serve two different segments of the construction industry market, both Eclipse and Shafers have long-time users who have used the software products since their early days.
Explorer Software has also come a long way from being the McFarlane family dream. It grew organically over the years until the mid-2000s, when Jim McFarlane made his first decision to purchase a distressed construction solutions provider. Since then, Mr. McFarlane has purchased over 20 software companies around the world, and created a holdings company called JDM Technology Group in 2014 to manage all of Explorer Software’s sister companies.
JDM Technology Group is owned by the McFarlane family, and professionally run by the management of each of its companies. JDM and Explorer Software’s mission is to be a leading global supplier of enterprise construction software that will create a meaningful impact on its customers’ bottom line in the sectors of general contracting, heavy/highway construction, specialty contracting, HVAC, homebuilding, sub-trades, architecture, engineering, and consulting. Its goal is to have a construction runway handle for this customer base from start to finish: from the time someone commences analyzing a bid for a project all the way through to being awarded that project, managing the job, and completion.
Because Explorer Software is a family business, it runs on family values and a long-term outlook. One of its basic principles is that it will never end-of-life a product. “We don’t force customers off a software product. If they like the product, regardless of how old it is, if it gets them through the day and they are happy we will continue to support them,” explains Mark Liss, President of Explorer Software.
Explorer Software’s family-oriented, long-term outlook extends to its overall business approach. The company searches for ways to incorporate its customers’ ideas into improving its Eclipse and Shafer products in the long run, keeping the company ahead in the marketplace. At Connections, its annual conference held every September in different parts of North America, Explorer meets with its international customer base to reveal its latest developments as well as to listen to what they would like to see out of the software going forward.
“We’re a family company, and we think long-term. We are not bound by quarterly reports as some companies are that are public or are owned by venture capitalists. We look down the road five years and see where we want to go. We are not handcuffed by short-term results, which helps our organization. We always want to improve upon our software. We take input from our customers and we look for ways to make things better,” adds Liss.
To add to its capabilities, JDM Technology Group is constantly reviewing software companies around the world to see if they fit into its mission of providing full construction solutions. Explorer Software provides the ERP Solution, but as JDM Technology Group acquires more and more businesses, Explorer Software is then able to integrate with them and give its customers a more robust solution without ever having to leave its family of companies.
Before making an acquisition, JDM looks for financial stability, capability, and growth potential. All of Explorer Software’s affiliates must grow organically and be able to stand alone. After that, Liss informs us that JDM looks at the company’s technological advantages and how its products complement the family of companies’ current offerings, some of which may be utilized internally by any of the other divisions of the JDM Technology Group.
For example, Eclipse uses Web 2.0 technology that has the capability of emphasizing user-generated content, usability, and interoperability with other products or devices. One of Explorer Software’s UK-based sister companies specializes in enhancing this Web 2.0 technology that all affiliates use with their software, so they do not have to expend additional programming efforts.
One of JDM’s most recent acquisitions, in January 2018, was the Norwegian company Rendra AS, a leading provider of 3D Building Information Modeling (BIM) collaboration software. Its product, StreamBIM, allows for BIM collaboration throughout all stages of the construction project. Users can always access the latest 3D BIM model and drawings from the field, streamed easily to a mobile device with just a cellular connection. Users are also able to use the software to interact with each other in real time.
Liss mentions the potential of the acquisition. Though BIM is a popular tool in Norway and Europe in general, it still has yet to catch on in North America, particularly with smaller firms.
“JDM Technology Group spends its days looking worldwide at technology companies in the construction industry to see if there is value in purchasing a company that can help all of the other entities work in conjunction,” Liss divulges, speaking of the Rendra AS acquisition.
“When it looked at Rendra, it was not something that we had in our portfolio at that time. Rendra had a technology that nobody else had, which is the ability to stream large models on a mobile device. Most of the other products that allow you to look at these BIM models require you to download a piece of the model, because they are so big and you can’t fit it all on the device.”
Since workers typically have to apply themselves to working on a specific area one day, downloading that model and then going out on the job site, they aren’t able to stream entire 3D BIM models. If for some reason the worker has to go somewhere else, they will no longer have that information live at their fingertips. The Rendra AS product, StreamBIM, removes this barrier by allowing anyone, anywhere on the job site, to access the project model and communicate with each other.
Explorer Software’s future plans are to continue focusing on ease of use in an increasingly digital world. “With the technology that is out there today, people are coming into the construction industry who are used to being on the web: Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and whatever else. They’re used to these technologies that didn’t exist fifteen years ago. They’re used to ease of use and instant access,” says Liss.
One of Explorer Software’s guiding principles is that its products should be easy to use for what it calls “the average user.” “An average user should be able to get data in the way they want to see it. Anything that we create has to be easy to use, so you can customize your reports however you want with our software without a technology background. You don’t have to be an IT person. You don’t have to call someone for help,” emphasizes Liss.
When the growing company recruits, Liss looks for individuals who have strong technical abilities and qualities that will allow them to fit well into a family values company, regardless of where in the world they call home. All 65 of Explorer Software’s employees work remotely – some in Vancouver and others in areas of the world like France, Costa Rica, or Mexico.
“All of my employees work from home. No one has to go into an office, which allows us to hire the best talent we can regardless of where they live. They don’t have to move and uproot their families. That’s one of our basic values: we don’t want to cause stress or problems with the family, so if you live in Ontario and you are a good programmer, we’ll hire you. It doesn’t matter that our office is in Vancouver.”
JDM Technology Group as a whole has over 500 employees. The family-owned business promotes work-life balance and encourages workers to spend time with their families, so they have a healthy relationship with their workplace and continue enjoying what they do. “We don’t want your work life to be your only life. We welcome our employees to take time off, and we want them to spend time with their families. We look for people that believe in that same type of value system,” Liss tells us.
While many businesses continue to resist the rise in telecommuting due to a lack of trust in their workforce, Explorer Software utilizes tools that allow people to clock in so that the company knows their whereabouts and whether they are in a call or at a meeting. Teammates can conduct programming tasks from home and communicate with each other via instant messaging or video chat.
At the same time, the flexible company understands that everybody’s schedule will vary depending on their time zone and their individual needs. For instance, if an employee needs to pick their children up from school at a certain time, they have the liberty to log off, leave their home office, and do so. This allows for a higher quality of life for these employees, who also receive the added benefits of saving time on their commutes and wear and tear on their vehicles, and minimizing their gas expenses. Of course, hand in hand with that, they are minimizing air pollution as well, which is a great by-product of working for a modern, virtual organization.
“We think your overall quality of life is better when you’re at home and able to handle any emergencies coming up. If you have someone coming over to fix your air conditioner or roof or whatever it might be, you don’t need to take time off and then go back to the office from home. We all work from home, we don’t mind, and we want people to feel the comfort that they can do that,” Liss remarks.
As a matter of fact, Liss actually believes that employees are more productive when working from home because they save the commute and tend to be happier about their situation and quality of life.
“We know we’re still going to get a lot of hours because you wake up at 6 a.m., you’re not commuting, you’re opening up your laptop, and the next thing you know you’re working until noon. Because of that, we want our staff to feel that they can go ahead and take the time they need to be with their families that they might not get if they were commuting for an hour or two to work every day.”
The option to telecommute is something that JDM Technology Group offers to every company that it purchases. Most of these companies already have physical locations, but immediately upon acquisition, employees are told that they no longer need to come into the office. Some people prefer the face-to-face interaction involved in working at an office, but while there are pros and cons to either option, Explorer Software believes that allowing its employees to telecommute is a win-win scenario: the employees gain greater flexibility, comfort, and control over their schedule, and the company gains the ability to pick from the best of the world’s talent pool.
“There are still people who will come in, but for the most part people, once people start working from home, it’s hard to decide you still want to commute,” says Liss.
Explorer Software’s principles of maximizing convenience for its workers, as well as its customers, have helped the company grow its reputation in the marketplace over time. For example, the Alberta-based heavy/highway contractor Central City Asphalt utilizes Eclipse software to save both time and money as it grows its business. The business has found so much success with the product that it has stated that without Eclipse, the nimble contractor would have had to rely on additional hires.
The contractor has found that one of Eclipse’s greatest time savers is Explorer’s Automated Invoice Routing (AIR) system, an intuitive document approval and routing system that allows the user to easily track, review, and approve vendor invoices.
“Before we started using Eclipse, we were constantly going to the filing cabinet to search for invoices and it took time to have invoices reviewed and approved,” Carolyn Cota, Accounting Manager at Cental City Asphalt, has said. “Now everything is scanned and indexed in Eclipse, so it’s easy for me to locate, review, and approve invoices no matter where I am. It doesn’t get any easier than that.”
In another instance, after the tragic, deadly, and infamous Hurricane Katrina struck the United States, Durr Heavy Construction used Explorer Software as it worked to rebuild the City of New Orleans in 2007.
“The Equipment module was one of the main reasons we chose Explorer, and it certainly delivers, but after implementing the software, I grew even fonder of the Job Cost module. It’s so simple to use. It makes my job easier,” said Patricia Champagne, Controller for Durr Heavy Construction. “Moving from our old software to Explorer Software is like going from a cassette tape to a DVD. It’s better in every way.”
For those interested in a demo one of Explorer Software’s innovative products, feel free to contact the business at www.explorer-software.com.