After working in construction, technology, and general contracting since they were teenagers, brothers Jabbok and Willy Schlacks had grown frustrated by the lack of digital connectivity in the industry—they wanted to see construction become a safer, more productive field to work in. In 2015, the two decided to tackle the challenge head-on and founded EquipmentShare, an equipment rental company that replaces the industry’s manual and analog processes with cloud-based technology.
EquipmentShare’s T3 technology—a fully integrated cloud-based suite of apps—tracks and records 38 billion data points from construction sites every month, giving contractors and construction companies more visibility and control over equipment usage, operating hours, billing, time tracking, compliance, and more. Creating a rental platform consisting of people, assets, and materials for $12 trillion under management, EquipmentShare is fundamentally changing the game by offering a suite of digital solutions including digital keys, access management solutions, elogs, equipment CAN analysis, and so much more.
Problem: Complicated spreadsheet workflows that made it harder to scale
To understand the organization’s asset lifespans, depreciation schedules, and consumption metrics, EquipmentShare’s data team were using spreadsheets to record and analyze information. It’s a business with a lot of internal finance and sales applications—and, as such, the company’s Chief Data Officer, Mark Wopata, noticed that the complex manual workflows were draining the team’s resources, and creating an unnecessary divide in the company’s internal processes.
“In every organization there’s this gap in the development curve, where internal tools get lost in the thrash,” says Mark. “At the top of the curve is your team of developers, building solutions from the ground up. Then you’ve got spreadsheet solutions, where your finance analyst or data person is trying to get all this data put in one place. You can implement BI tools or you can buy a SaaS product, but a lot of the SaaS players don’t want you accessing their data in a robust way, so it starts to create silos in your organization.”
The team’s dependency on spreadsheets also made it difficult for their data management processes to scale quickly enough to meet the business’ growing data demands.
“The idea for us is to level ourselves out of the spreadsheet space,” says Mark. “We’ve been growing triple digits year on year as a company for the last six years and now have 185 locations across dozens of districts. With spreadsheets, it’s hard to scale quickly without throwing more bodies at the problem.”
Solution: Giving analysts the tools to build scalable data management processes
To tackle the data team’s reliance on spreadsheets, Mark’s team started by piloting Retool to create a market data app, an application for managing data about EquipmentShare’s store locations. The app needed to be able to interface with EquipmentShare’s data warehouse and API, which was straightforward with Retool. The app also needed to allow text-responsive drop-down sections that would enable code-free data validation. With Retool, Mark's team of analysts were able to build this capability quickly and efficiently.
“We had a small number of users managing the tool and then we would read/write to the Snowflake database,” says Mark. “It was simple, but we were pretty happy with it.”
Scalable data management and collaboration
After building the market data app, Mark’s team quickly scaled their use of Retool to more complex, multi-user applications. A rate setting app followed, which allowed Mark’s team to get data about equipment rates much more quickly and efficiently. This meant the team no longer had to use spreadsheets to manage rate updates and also eliminated the need for constant communications over Slack, phone, and email to manage user feedback.
“This was a really successful project for us,” says Mark. “Rates in the equipment industry are highly variable. Our rate setting app allowed us to distribute a really standardized data set and a point for our users to get feedback for rate recommendations and overrides, which before we were managing over Slack, email and phone. We would have never devoted development resources to something like this, but with Retool, the analysts were able to build it themselves.”
Rapid low-friction explorations
As a technology-driven company, EquipmentShare understands the value of fast iteration and testing—but unlike traditional tech companies, development resourcing is often less available. The team found that developing quick proof of concept models for emerging business units was a helpful strategy for testing new units without needing to reallocate a full team to the validation effort.
A recent addition to EquipmentShare’s offering is the Mobile Tool Trailer, an on-the-go rental service that gives construction workers on-site access to small tools. With the help of Bluetooth tagging and Retool Mobile—which makes it easy to build native iOS and Android apps for your warehouse or field workforce—Mark’s team of technical analysts were able to quickly and cost-efficiently develop mobile solutions for tool inventory management, check-out procedures, and activity tracking. This saw a reduction in the number of tools that were lost, damaged, or stolen on large construction sites.
“A lot of these job sites will write off 70% of the machinery because they have no way of tracking it when it gets lost or damaged,” says Mark. “With our tool tracking app, we know where all those tools are. The customer is also happier because they’re only paying for what they’ve utilized, and they’re losing [fewer] tools and machines.”
Distributing autonomy and agency talent
With a data structure and application structure built for low-code deployment, teams at EquipmentShare are able to build applications without baggage or burden. Team members are empowered to work independently on their own solutions, without needing to outsource or wait in line for their requests to be prioritized. An analyst (or another semi-technical person) often needs an application but doesn’t have the time, resources, or knowledge to build one from scratch. By allowing the flexibility for non-technical team members to build applications, they not only got a quicker result, it was closer to the problem and removed any friction with adoption and change management.
According to Mark, “adoption in an analog industry is actually pretty quick once you’ve built trust.” When asked about field workers adopting new technology he quips “it was just so bad before that people were excited to see the tech coming.”
Impact: Valuable hours saved and millions of dollars made
EquipmentShare’s commitment to digitizing its internal processes has not only contributed to a more efficient and secure construction industry, but it’s also had a big impact on the company’s profits. Despite only launching recently, EquipmentShare’s Mobile Tool Trailer—managed using mobile app solutions built with Retool—has already generated $2 million in revenue.
“The Mobile Tool Trailer is a totally new product for us, and we’re already doing a couple of million bucks on that,” says Mark. “So that’s been a really positive thing for us.”
Happy customers and growing revenue aren’t the only positive outcomes. Since using Retool, Mark has noticed how much quicker his team is able to build a proof of concept, even with limited resources. Retool has also enabled less technical employees to build digital tools independently.
“People have a hard time self-assessing just how much time they’re wasting building and maintaining stuff,” Mark says. “It’s been really obvious to us that there’s a lot of hours being saved now. We’ve also started to distribute Retool internally to less technical people. Those people tend to have deep domain knowledge, so you skip the product discovery that comes with a software engineer. This allows us to build more tools on the fly.”
Despite the industry’s slow start in adopting modern technologies, Mark is hopeful that innovative digital solutions for construction are here to stay. “The interesting thing is that compared to 20 years ago, people now have this view of what a digital experience should look like—they’re all using Airbnb, Amazon, and Uber. So for us, the users are pretty easy to win over as long as they’re getting stability and performance.”