The construction industry’s future will be shaped by innovation and collaboration between all industry stakeholders.

This is what we heard from Pierre Pomerleau, the president and CEO of Pomerleau Inc., when he sat down with Emilio B. Imbriglio, the president and CEO of Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton, for a One on One Rendez-vous presented by the Association québécoise des entrepreneurs en infrastructure (AQEI).

Pierre Pomerleau confirmed that the construction industry is “advancing in leaps and bounds” thanks to the increasingly widespread use of technology, as well as continuous improvement efforts and innovative collaboration methods.

“Innovation has long been part of Pomerleau’s DNA,” he said, adding that it’s also the key to overcoming the various challenges affecting construction projects. Innovation allows teams to work faster, more efficiently and more sustainably, while maximizing return on investment.

“Innovation is extremely important. For instance, improving project scheduling by just 10% would save hundreds of billions of dollars worldwide,” said Pierre Pomerleau.

“The best-kept secret in innovation is in the construction industry,” said Emilio B. Imbriglio.

Cultivating innovation

Pierre Pomerleau emphasized that all industry players—both large and small—need to get on the innovation bandwagon. You don’t need to embark on a major innovation initiative: you just need to target your company’s key processes.

To cultivate innovation, you need to start conversations about it and find ways to promote it within your organization. “First, you need to set up innovation infrastructure. Innovation should flow upward from all company teams. People working out at job sites need to know that they’re not just on the receiving end of procedures; they can also propose ideas on how to change things for the better. At the same time, the organization needs to be able to make use of these suggestions and disseminate them throughout across their work sites.”

With this in mind, Pomerleau established an Operational Excellence Foundation in 2018. It’s tasked with optimizing the company’s performance by promoting valuable innovations across all Pomerleau construction sites.

More recently, the company launched aXLab Pomerleau, in partnership with Factry, on its Montreal campus. The lab will put a variety of innovative ideas to the test and conduct a global technology watch,” explained Carolyne Filion, who acts as the company’s Manager of Innovation, R&D and Special Projects.

Pomerleau’s innovations don’t stop there. In early 2020, it was the first construction company in the world to use Spot, an autonomous four-legged robot, at its construction sites. Spot can reach dangerous areas and perform routine tasks.

Carolyne Filion pointed out that, for the past 10 years, the Building Information Modeling (BIM) process has been the cornerstone of innovation in the buildings field. It has enabled data standardization at all project stages and led to better stakeholder collaboration. Now the civil infrastructure sector is adopting a similar process for data standardization with Civil Information Modeling (CIM).

Collaboration drives progress

Pierre Pomerleau believes the pandemic accelerated progress. The industry discovered that it could adapt to rapidly changing needs through innovation and collaboration.

“During the pandemic, we realized that if public clients and contractors worked more collaboratively, we could do miracles,” he said. As an example, Pierre Pomerleau cited the five COVID-19 clinics his company built in just nine months.

He firmly believes that the whole industry benefits when stakeholders work together as partners, as demonstrated by the Entrepreneurs engagés movement led by several industry players. They quickly implemented strict, standardized sanitary measures on construction sites to prevent COVID-19 from spreading among workers and, in doing so, they protected operational continuity.

Pierre Pomerleau thinks we’ll see more and more collaborative development projects, such as build-finance arrangements and public-private partnerships, because they “create creative tension” that’s beneficial for the projects and the communities they serve. This is already paying off, as demonstrated by the most recent construction phase of the new Université de Montréal Hospital Centre (CHUM).

“Today, all levels of government are looking for ways to encourage collaborative development. We’ll never go back to siloed construction methods, that’s for sure. Each project has its own delivery method. You need to consider the specific considerations affecting each project. Determining the delivery method is the most important decision in a project,” he added.

The seasoned entrepreneur would like to see alternative project delivery methods used for smaller public projects, so that smaller players can get into the game and gain experience using new construction methods. He also emphasized the importance of supporting smaller contractors, “to make sure the whole supply chain flourishes,” as governments did during the pandemic.

In addition, Pierre Pomerleau believes that public project owners need to find project management methods that don’t hinder agility and innovation. They need to be more flexible when issuing calls for tender and when reviewing innovations proposed by general contractors. Doing so would allow alternative delivery methods to evolve.

In the closing remarks, Caroline Amireault, a lawyer and executive director of the AQEI, pointed out that local entrepreneurs have lost interest in public-sector projects in recent years.

Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton recently led a construction industry consultation which found that 72% of general contractors can’t be bothered with public contracts because of the conditions that come with them. This loss of interest is rooted in major constraints and unbalanced risk sharing, said Caroline Amireault, but fortunately “change is in the air.”

“Regulatory changes are on the horizon, and I think that’s extremely positive,” said Pierre Pomerleau.

Addressing today’s most pressing challenges

Innovating can also make companies more efficient and allow them to overcome the challenges posed by the labour shortage. Pomerleau hired 350 people in the past year and the company works hard to provide its employees with adequate training, onboarding and equipment, while also promoting diversity and inclusion.

“You have to seek out latent talent and stimulate it by giving workers value-added responsibilities.” New technologies can relieve workers from having to do repetitive and non-value added tasks.

Innovation can also help address environmental challenges, with the development of new construction methods, more efficient use of materials and recycling. “By finding innovative ways to save the planet, we can also save money. It’s profitable,” said Pierre Pomerleau.

For instance, while working on the Champlain Bridge deconstruction project, his company is making environmental protection and waste material recovery top priorities.

Finally, innovation is essential for designing smart cities, which start with smart structures. Pomerleau is highly interested in the concept of empathetic infrastructures and buildings, which are designed to be perfectly aligned with user needs.

Strong growth across the board

Pomerleau is Quebec’s largest construction company and an industry leader in the country. The industry is growing rapidly, and so is Pomerleau, which currently has nearly 300 active projects across Canada.

Initially a family business, Pomerleau was founded 57 years ago by Hervé Pomerleau, the father of the current CEO. The company is currently focusing on Canada and counting on organic growth, but Pierre Pomerleau says he’s open to acquisitions in the coming years. Its subsidiary Borea Construction, which is Canada’s leading renewable energy construction company, is keenly interested in New England’s wind power projects.

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If companies want to keep up with new consumer demands, they need to innovate, adapt and include technology in their business model.

For many organizations, the pandemic provided an opportunity to accelerate their digital transformation and modernize their customer experience to remain competitive in a changing market.

Evolving consumer needs are gradually reshaping the role of tourism businesses and the experiences they offer. And the change is good for everyone involved! Technology is helping businesses adjust to new consumer demands and provide:

  • Secure service;
  • Information and services accessible anywhere, at any time;
  • A personalized offer.

Digital transformation has become essential for tourism businesses that want to grow and future-proof their operations.

Aligning your transformation with your strategic priorities

Before embarking on a digital transformation journey, you need to take stock of your current situation and confirm your company’s mission so that you can develop a clear vision of what you want to achieve. Specifically, this involves:

  • Performing a detailed review of market trends and the competition;
  • Gaining an in-depth appreciation of the issues your company faces;
  • Understanding your current processes and their limitations;
  • Reviewing your customer experience;
  • Analyzing your technologies;
  • Ensuring your human resources are managed appropriately;
  • Aligning your digital transformation with your business strategies.

Going through these steps will give you a stronger sense of where you stand, allow you to make more informed decisions and ensure your digital transformation is aligned with your strategic priorities. In turn, these priorities will help you determine which business needs are essential and could benefit from new technologies or data valorization tools.

New avenues for improving the customer experience

Today’s tools and technologies can make all the difference in helping businesses provide tourists with a superior experience that’s both authentic and personalized. This is true across the board, from activities to accommodations, public transportation and customer service. Naturally, maintaining a good customer experience involves striking a balance between convenient technologies and support from live personnel.

For example, a growing number of hotels are offering guests a digital check-in service and the chance to personalize their rooms without having to go through the front desk.

Certain hotels and other innovative businesses, such as restaurants, travel agencies, sports complexes and entertainment venues, have partnered together to offer customers a seamless and personalized experience.

Case study: Le P’tit Train du Nord

Le P’tit Train du Nord in the Laurentides, has successfully made use of digital technology by including a mapping system in its website to enhance the user experience. The map provides cyclists with a variety of helpful information, including:

  • Location of kilometre markers;
  • Bike repair stations;
  • Restaurants, cafés and microbreweries;
  • Public washrooms;
  • Road types (paved or rock dust);
  • Accommodations and camping sites;
  • Nearby activities and businesses.

Meanwhile, some cities are creating mobile apps that use artificial intelligence to provide tourists with personalized recommendations. Based on a number of factors, the app pushes relevant content that can further stimulate the local economy.

Véloroute: an app that strengthens partnerships

Véloroute des Bleuets has added interactive maps to the Ondago app, which displays local partner organizations within 5 km of the trail. Since the suggestions are personalized based on the cyclist’s interests, users enjoy a better experience and local partners get seen by the right consumer segments.

“We’re able to track how many users are referred by the app to a specific establishment, so that we can keep our partners informed and add value to our offer. The more customers the app brings in, the more partners want to join. And the more partners we have on board, the more useful the app is for users. It’s a positive loop,” said David Lecointre, general manager of Véloroute des Bleuets.

Useful information to drive continuous improvement

Digital transformation also lets companies extract insights from data to support decision-making. The goal is to improve the offer to suit consumer demands and needs.

Companies that succeed in creating an excellent digital experience will fare best in the post pandemic period because they’ll build loyalty among their existing customer base and meet the needs of prospective customers.

Financial assistance for digital transformation projects

Did you know? Various financial assistance programs are available to help companies implement digital transformation plans that suit their needs and industry.

Contact your regional tourism association to inquire about out the deadline to apply for financial aid under the Regional Tourism Partnership Agreement (RTPA). There are also various possibilities for support specific to digital transformation, as well as the additional support for tourism businesses. You may also be eligible for programs to support post-pandemic recovery.

The tourism, leisure and culture industry is changing quickly, as consumers are increasingly in control and seeking an improved customer experience.

For businesses, the pandemic simply accelerated the need to rethink their strategic plans and adjust their business models. Some companies were quick to respond and managed to weather the pandemic better than others. In many cases, they did so by prioritizing digital transformation. The shift is good for consumers, but it promises to be beneficial for businesses, too.

Get assistance from a strategic planning and digital transformation expert. A knowledgeable person will be able to guide you through the entire process.

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Marie-Eve Proulx
Senior Advisor | Business Transformation

Challenging situations, like the tumult of the past year, can provide a valuable opportunity to reassess your business and reflect on its future.

One of the best things an outgoing business owner can do for their company is to transfer it to the right people, at the right time and under the best possible conditions for all stakeholders. But hitting all these targets at once can be difficult at the best of times, and especially during a crisis period. So what’s the best course of action?

A pandemic is a good time to assess leadership

You might think that a crisis would cause companies to automatically hit the breaks on their business transfer plan or even postpone it altogether. But the opposite is often true. A crisis can be a good time to verify whether or not incoming leaders have what it takes. What better way to know if you’ve chosen the right person for the job?

If your business transfer process is underway and you’ve already picked a potential buyer, this is an invaluable opportunity to see how they respond to urgent and stressful situations. In the event that they don’t rise to the occasion, ask yourself if it’s because of their attitude, leadership or capabilities.

The unpredictable nature of a crisis can influence all stakeholders involved in the business transfer process. Everyone—including banks, other financing sources, customers and suppliers—is looking for security. The appraiser tasked with assessing your business’ fair market value will try to determine what facts and figures have been stable over the years.

But the crisis may have impacted your sales, Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA), liquidity, and borrowing capacity. From a financial perspective, this is probably not a good time to assess your company’s value, unless your business provides essential goods or services. For sellers, it might make sense to put the business transfer process on hold for a few months.

On the flipside, buyers may want to have the fair market value reassessed, in the hopes that the numbers will have come down. When the parties have divergent interests like this, it’s unlikely that you’ll reach an agreement quickly.

A crisis can also provide an opportunity for new leaders to emerge from within your company. If this happens and you see that your prospective buyer can’t manage things alone, ask these leaders how they envision their future at the organization.

On the other hand, if your buyer shows improved leadership, provides you with support and communicates effectively with employees, you may want to reassess your planned phase-out schedule.

Your skills are a gift worth giving

When a business transfer process is planned over several years, you have a unique opportunity to share your skills and knowledge, so make the most of it!

Ask the buyer to accompany you to bank meetings when it’s time to finance the company’s liquidity, as well as to meetings with your suppliers, accountant, etc. Now’s the time to start transferring your skills, contacts, roles and responsibilities.

Take action today

The COVID-19 pandemic underscored the importance of being agile, creative and adaptable when faced with unforeseen situations. However, there are some things that are entirely within your control and shouldn’t increase risk, stress and uncertainty for you or your business.

You can get started with your succession plan now, adjust it as needed, based on what you learn, and then move forward with its implementation. If you’re planning on phasing out or moving into a more strategic role in your organization within the next 10 years, it’s time to give some thought to your succession plan. The investment will be an important legacy to protect your business’ survival.

Our experts can help you structure your succession plan and guide you through its development. Together, we’ll make sure you create the right conditions for a successful transition and a bright future for your business. Why wait to take action?

21 Jun 2021  |  Written by :

Marie-Eve Proulx is an expert in Business Transformation consulting. Contact her today!

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One thing we’ve learned from the pandemic is that healthy businesses depend on healthy entrepreneurs. Here’s one business owner’s story.

It’s now been more than a year since the pandemic began. As the situation evolved, new issues emerged and society had to be resilient and adapt. Unfortunately, this led to a rise in anxiety, distress and fatigue.

Entrepreneurs worked hard to protect their employees’ physical and mental health, sometimes at the expense of their own needs. They also contended with changing realities, new priorities and evolving client needs.

Business owners have born the brunt

Did you know that people in leadership positions are less likely to ask for help? But that doesn’t mean they’re immune to psychological distress, whether or not they recognize the signs or admit to it.

All this rings true for Annik Lachance-Gravel, President and CEO of Lachance et Gravel, a Chicoutimi-based company that specializes in cleaning solutions for the industrial and commercial sectors. And she wanted to do something about it.

Annik Lachance-Gravel aka Robin Hood!

Like many entrepreneurs, Annik’s story breaks from the norm. Even in her youth, she thought of herself as being like Robin Hood—not because she aspired to be a bandit, but because she had a big heart.

In 2014, she took over her father’s janitorial business and suddenly everything changed. She’d found her calling.

Lachance et Gravel before the pandemic

Six years after Annik took the helm of the company, her father had doubled his salary and the business had grown from 0 employees to 70. During those years, Annik applied a rigorous management approach and helped keep the company out of the red, year after year. She also made sure profits were reinvested to help grow the business.

She worked hard to elevate the image of janitorial services. This is a point of pride for Annik, along with the knowledge that she’s helped provide an income for many families while helping her own family prosper.

The pandemic and its collateral damage

“A total free fall.” That’s how Annik describes the early days of the pandemic and how it affected her business.

Since most of her customers are businesses that were forced to close, demand for janitorial services plummeted. Although many of these customers were bound by contracts, Annik decided not to bill them. This courageous decision, which reflected the entrepreneur’s personal values, made sense for the business’ long-term interests, but it could have been devastating over the short term.

When revenues fall off a cliff, you have no choice but to cut costs. Annik was forced to lay off 60 of her 70 employees. Each worker received a personal call, a visit from a company representative, a gift and a special request: to trust Annik and her ability to turn things around. Despite the crisis, she hasn’t lost a single employee to date.

But on a more personal level, this phase was really tough for Annik. During the first wave, there were virtually no confirmed cases in her region. To avoid hemorrhaging money, she had to lay off the vast majority of her employees—and not even her husband was spared! This meant Annik had to assume almost all of the company’s administrative positions.

Then came the second wave

When the virus took hold in the Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean region, the phone rang. The area’s integrated university health and social services centres (CIUSSS) needed 22 custodians for the next morning. Annik said yes on the spot. She put together a crisis unit to respond to the urgent needs in facilities that were now in over their heads.

Within two weeks, everyone who had been laid off during the first wave was recalled and another 85 new employees were hired and given express training. Her business was now the region’s most trusted cleaning and sanitation service provider.

This sharp upturn was very demanding for Annik, who had a lot to juggle and numerous sources of stress. There was a risk that her workers wouldn’t have sufficient training, the company’s reputation would be affected, and that cash flow wouldn’t cover the financial obligations related to hiring new staff and adjusting for the turbulent past few months.

When Robin Hood runs out of steam

Annik would do anything to prevent her business from failing. Her top priority is to protect its long-term viability. Even though current and potential customers recognized everything the company has achieved, the fact that office buildings remained closed or with just a handful of occupants meant that customers were still wary of paying for cleaning services. New players also entered the market.

But what about Annik? Has she recovered from the year of unprecedented work-related stress? Are the sleepless nights, constant worries and countless hours to save the company well behind her? Not quite. Tough periods can take a bigger toll than you might think. Your resilience starts to erode. Your body feels the effects of accumulated stress and fatigue. And your support system starts to run out of steam.

Then there are the impacts on your family. That heartbreaking moment when your kids say they don’t love you anymore because you’re never around. The time you realize just how powerless your partner feels in the crisis management whirlwind. Our whole family felt turned upside down and reacted to the changes. Then, little by little, guilt set in. I struggled to balance my responsibilities as a mother, business owner and wife. But failure wasn’t an option, so I put a smile on my face as I went into the office and kept it there all day, trying to convince everyone that “everything’s going to be okay.”

The impact on my social life? What social life? Socializing got put on the backburner because when you’re in survival mode, having fun is the least of your worries.

Anik shook off social expectations and made the decision to focus solely on her business and her kids. She knew it was impossible to be Superwoman indefinitely. She accepted that others could help her with grocery shopping, meal preparation and housekeeping. And she had faith that her friends would understand and would wait for her to resurface.

Surrounding yourself with the right people

Like many other entrepreneurs, Annik slipped into survival mode in all aspects of her life. Looking back, she realizes just how lonely she felt and how reluctant she was to open up about her vulnerabilities. She now realizes that people need to talk about mental health prevention for entrepreneurs and the importance of getting support from a neutral person when the pressure becomes too great. She knows she ignored some of the warning signs, which are clearer to her today. More than ever, she believes that a healthy leader is more likely to have a healthy business.

Just as companies rely on good accountants, HR advisors and salespeople, she believes that business owners should set themselves up for success by having a good psychologist as an ally. It’s about breaking down barriers, opening doors and allowing others to act as your Robin Hood. Today, Annik’s company is thriving, but she realizes that she needs to take care of herself if she wants to be able to take care of others, including her customers.

What about overall health?

If a company is unhealthy, it’s sure to impact the wellbeing of its owner, and vice-versa. That’s why our firm is focused on promoting good overall business health. How? By working on:

  • The business’s overall health (based on seven factors used to determine challenges and potential sources of stress for business owners)
  • Entrepreneur mental health and wellness
  • Strategies for transforming the reciprocal relationship between the company and business owner, where negative experiences for one have positive repercussions for the other
  • Action plans that put people first

If you’re a business owner, take care of yourself and don’t hesitate to contact our experts. Our goal is to help you stay balanced as you safeguard the health of your company, employees, yourself and all facets of your business.

This article was written in collaboration with Nancy Boisvert, psychologist.