Five Customers, a New Year and Straight Talk: Q&A with Darren Jones, IT Manager of Architecture and Development at Skanska USA

This is the 2nd post in a series featuring our customers that are driving business innovation through application development.  This is not a new topic but one that deserves some attention as we enter 2015 and organizations are revisiting plans and strategies for the coming year.    

 Skanska USA is one of the largest, most financially sound construction and development companies in the country with expertise in construction, civil infrastructure, public-private partnerships and commercial development initiatives in select U.S. markets.

Last year, Skanska USA moved its inSite Monitor solution to Microsoft Azure—and has since started using Azure for most of its other mobile apps. Today, we talk with Darren Jones about his experience.

Can you tell us about the specific business issue that led you to start using Microsoft Azure?

 Darren: We developed an application called inSite Monitor to be used on jobsites with sensitive conditions. For example, if we’re working on a hospital, we need to be able to guarantee that we won’t jackhammer when someone is doing surgery, or get harmful air particulates into other areas of the hospital. The superintendent needs to be able to see issues right away, and we wanted to provide our clients with assurance and visibility into how timely we can address irregular environmental issues.

The first version of inSite Monitor didn’t use Microsoft technologies. It was buggy and unsustainable, and presented a challenge anytime we had to maintain it. We decided to bring it into a product family that we’re more familiar with and provides better support, so we got together with Microsoft and Cardinal Solutions, a Microsoft partner, and rewrote it. We moved the back end into Azure, rewrote the client from Java to .NET, and added a mobile client to pull the data from Azure. It launched officially in the spring of 2014.

How has it been working—and have you seen any benefits that you hadn’t anticipated?

Darren: It’s been working really well. There are certainly a lot of benefits that we did expect, but one we did not expect is that our business development team will actually take inSite Monitor to presentations with potential customers as an example of how we use technology at Skanska.

I understand that inSite Monitor is just one of many apps you have hosted in Azure.

Darren: Yes, we’re now using Azure as a back end for all of our new mobile apps. We used to use a lot of on-premises solutions, but in the last year Azure has become our standard across the board.

We have a public app called Project Corners, which surfaces public relations information from Azure. Let’s say that there’s a road or building project Skanska is doing in your neighborhood and you want information about it because it’s in your community. You can use the app to view the timeline, pictures, road closures and other updates. Feeding this through Azure is very nice because we have projects throughout the country that can be fed locally using the geo-location services of Azure, rather than from our data center.

There’s another that might go even bigger. It’s called Safety Coach. Employees at jobsites use it for pre-task planning. The app guides workers through common hazards associated with a task, then lists controls to mitigate risks along the way. We’ve designed Safety Coach to be multilingual, and since it’s backed up by Azure, we can use it confidently in Europe too.

Would you say that Azure is redefining how you approach technology within your business?

Darren: As a company, we are very tech progressive. One of the things we do, especially on my team, is try to push the envelope—take the latest technology and go as far with it as we can. Azure fits well with that philosophy.  Another example is an application we’ve written using Microsoft Kinect.  With this solution, people can use hands-free, gesture-driven technology on a jobsite without having to remove their personal safety equipment.

What advice would you give to other organizations that are building apps?

Darren: Don’t be afraid of the cloud. In the beginning I was a bit of a cloud doubter, but I’ve become a believer in the past year and a half. Some of that has come from the success we’ve seen with Azure, and some has come from seeing what else is possible.  Many tasks that are time consuming to do on-premises are a breeze to do in Azure.

See more cases studies about driving innovation with apps:

NEXT BLOG POST IN THIS SERIES: Customer Q&A with Temenos. (Coming January 29)

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