Command Alkon Shows the Construction Software Industry How to do SaaS


Thanks for joining us on another Construction Tech Talk Product Snapshot. This is technology editor Charles Rathmann.

Quote to cash processes for construction materials like ready-mixed concrete and asphalt are tough to manage. Major Ee Arr Pee companies have partnered together to serve the industry and failed. That’s why today, we are talking about Command-Alkon Connex.

So Command Alkon is a venerable and longstanding technology vendor to asphalt, ready-mix concrete, aggregate and concrete producers and haulers. 80 percent of all concrete materials tickets, 75 percent of aggregate materials tickets and 45 percent of asphalt materials tickets are issued over Command Alkon software applications. The company has scale and reach, but for decades, they grew primarily by acquisition.

Acquisitions have included Precision Systems and Advanced Control Systems, Incontrol, JWS, the ConAd product line, Concrete Equipments, Total Management Systems, Integra, KP Consulting, the Scout and Compass product lines, FiveCubits, Easttech and I.B.B. Rhealogy. 

Thing is, software companies that grow by acquisition have a hard time providing a unified, consistent product that represents a good value. Even if they can mask the different acquired systems behind a common user interface, the underlying data structures and workflows aren’t consistent. That makes it hard to use, hard to inject new technologies and hard to integrate with other things. And all of this software was designed to run on-premise, which made it hard to extend it into the field.

That’s why in 2019, Command Alkon did what smart enterprise software vendors are doing in the construction industry and elsewhere—they re-imagined their product offering as a unified software-as-a-service or sass application that lives in the cloud and is sold by subscription. The Connnex Platform is now the product they lead with in new opportunities and the next step for customers on their earlier Command product. 

The application lives in the cloud on Amazon Web Services. This pretty common, and on the whole Ay Double You Ess is a tech-forward and reliable place to run Sass. There have been recent outages though. Due to the ability of Connex to handle disruptions, customers could still work during all outages as long as their user accounts had already been authenticated. Command Alkon representatives told me they have learned a lot about redundancy from some of these episodes. Folks evaluating various construction software may find all the software they are looking at is on ay double you ess, and they should ask about which nodes the software resides in and how the software handles failover from one node or region to another.

Connex also relies on the Ay Double You Ess Dynamo Dee Bee database, which is really pretty cool—software giant Ess Ay Pee thinks they are big stuff with their Hah Nuh in-memory database, but folks running Connex can say, yeah, we’ve got that too. The database has auto-scaling to ramp up capacity to meet demand. Dynamo Dee Bee also automates backups with point-in-time recovery and can also automate failover from one Ay Double you Ess region to another. 

All this tech is obscured from the customer in the cloud, but if the technology can’t keep up with demands placed on it, their outage is your outage. So it’s important for construction software buyers across the board to do due diligence to make sure the vendor has their act together.

The Connex platform is a pure play, built-for-the-cloud application that streamlines the quote-to-cash process from inbound materials management, production and quality, dispatch and logistics, trucking telematics, business analytics and sales.

As a cloud-based application, Connex is accessible outside the four walls of the business without using a VPN or relying on an integration between a cloud application and an on-premise one—and that means native apps for eye-oh-ess and Android are highly performant.

One thing the Connex Platform does is get rid of the proprietary data structures their products were built on—which makes integration easier. This openness and the product design lets customers standardize the materials supplier, the hauler, the contractor and the owner like a department of transportation into the same version of the truth in real time. 

An aggregate, concrete, cement, asphalt or aggregate supplier loads material onto a truck and the software generates an e-ticket, passing up to Connex through a data exchange application. This data exchange application requires a little work from a Connex customer’s IT team—a couple hours. The software enables you to configure ticket share rules that govern how your trading partners are treated. 

The buyer can view and approve tickets in the field, and inspectors can even capture test results and attach them to the ticket. After a process is completed, the transactional data is copied back to all parties, and can also be ported through an API so it can go into one or more trading partner’s Ee Arr Pee or other system of record. 

What this means is that processes move through the back office a lot more quickly because you are eliminating the inefficiencies of paper ticketing. In the bad old days paper tickets would blow away in the wind, get lost … one source of arr oh eye for Command Alkon apart from time saved in administration and a more satisfied customer is the elimination of materials delivered that are not invoiced because the ticket was lost.

It also speeds accounts payable as customers try to match an invoice to a ticket. 

The software connects trading partners up and down the materials supply chain. Inside a Connex user’s company though, the most common integration is with back office Ee-Arr-Pee and accounting products like Quickbooks Online, the various Sage construction products, Viewpoint, SAP, and others. The software also integrates bidirectionally with field-based equipment. One innovative use case involves a machine vision camera on the back of an asphalt paver. When a truck backs up to the paver with a load of asphalt, the application recognizes the truck and records proof of delivery.

This enables you to tie operational data in with the general ledger, which is not in this software. Connex does have capabilities in invoicing and receivables. So to my way of thinking, this IS EE-Arr-Pee. Heck, even the big dog in construction Ee-Arr-Pee, Procore, doesn’t have a general ledger. That means integratability is super important in construction software right now. Almost everything has to integrate seamlessly with something else.

One other bit of impressive tech is what made Command Alkon a winner as far back as 1976 with the Command series. And yeah—I am talking about dynamic scheduling. 

If a job asks for a truck every 15 minutes, the application can ensure that flow of materials is consistent. With a few weeks of work, Connex customers can configure the scheduling engine to meet their specific requirements so they can support more trucks with fewer dispatchers and deliver more concrete with fewer trucks.

The internet of things or eye oh tee is also integrated in cool ways. The Command Alkon Trackit application senses when the truck is unloading concrete at the job site and when water is added. Magnets sense the tilt of the drum, a low-tech way to capture data on when material is discharged. That information goes to the tracking unit and into your back-end systems so dispatchers know the status of material delivery. 

The Command Assurance product meawhile combines a drum probe and a solar panel to provide real-time insight on volume, temperature and slump. That’s pretty slick.

Okay—let’s talk price. Like a number of Sass software vendors in construction and other industries, Command Alkon is basing pricing not on users but on usage. There are three tiers based on the number of materials tickets—up to ten thousand, up to 25 thousand and over 25 thousand. If a customer goes over the agreed-upon tier, the rest of the subscription is pro-rated. And above that 25 thousand, that’s where pricing starts to get negotiable.

But with subscription pricing, even smaller companies can get their hands on an advanced tools like the Connex Dispatch product. And then the overall application set can scale up to the largest integrated construction materials operations in the world.

Bottom line—Command Alkon has made a successful jump to the cloud. While they are supporting their legacy Command software line and will still sell a perpetual license in the old Command product, but the future is Connex. 

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