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Video Transcript

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Impending Vroom — How Ruckit Will Modernize Construction Right in the Nick of Time

asphalt truck illustration

Alex Hendricks turns up the radio in the cabin of his ‘91 Ford LT8501. He’s drowning out the noise of the construction crew 100ft ahead as they make progress on a brand new bridge in Waco, Texas. Alex isn’t here to take in the sight of fresh new infrastructure. He’s in his truck waiting for the go-ahead to deliver a payload of hot mastic asphalt to the bridge crew.

Alex has a ticket in his hands that needs a sign-off from the project’s contractor — a signature that proves he made his delivery, and on time. Without it, he doesn’t get paid, and the clock is ticking. Each ticket earns him about $60, and missing any of today’s three deliveries will start to make him sweat. His wife, at home with their two-year-old, will start to worry. A technical issue stalls the bridge crew, and the hot asphalt sitting in the bed of Alex’s truck begins to harden.

If Alex's truck rests for too long, the asphalt will solidify, then the contractor will lose the materials, the asphalt company blamed, and the project delayed. Alex will have to fess up to his broker, Sascha Novarro, who texted him the night before to see if he could run the asphalt today, and since he needed the cash, to which he replied with an emphatic "Yes!".

Thankfully, Alex isn’t real. Sascha isn’t real, nor is the bridge project in Waco, nor the contractor about to lose his materials — but the situation they find themselves in occurs every day on thousands of construction sites across the United States.

Timing and coordination are paramount between contractors, foremen, material providers, brokers, and their truckers. These parties are often entirely independent of each other. They form a micro-gig economy that’s been around long before Uber was an idea, and they struggle to coordinate the daily logistics required to achieve their goals. The "endless" highway construction project you’re stuck commuting through daily is built on problems of fraud and inefficiency in the workflow, problems that software company Ruckit tackles every day.

As digital transformations revitalize labor-intensive processes across all industry sectors, opportunities such as trucking, those that pose "too big of a lift," go ignored — but not by Ruckit. In 2018, Ruckit launched a comprehensive platform targeting the construction industry, one of the nation’s un-techiest sectors. The lack of a digital ticketing system, of instant coordination between parties, of real-time logistics, and of fraud-prevention mechanisms all helped trucking become a 40% line-item on the budget for any given construction project.

This is the problem Ruckit solves every day, and they’re pretty much doing it solo.

Construction obstruction

The key challenge in bringing this century’s technical advancements to trucking has little to do with technology and everything to do with the guy in the driver’s seat.

Ruckit discovered that within a given horizontal construction project (bridge, road, highway, railroad, airfield, and similar), each requires the cooperation of approximately 16 unique, and often independent, personas. These range from the project manager to the back-office accountants to the contractor, foremen, broker, material provider, and of course, the trucker.

It was insufficient to digitize any one aspect of construction without digitizing the lot — one missing link in the chain forces all parties into a two-process system (blending the old with the new, and thereby multiplying the logistics). While Ruckit encountered few objections when prescribing their digital panacea to accountants and college-educated project managers, blue-collar truckers had one major hang-up: “What’s in it for me?”

Michael Bordelon, CTO of Ruckit, notes the company found success by satisfying the unique needs of every player along the construction pipeline. Scoping and bifurcating the product experience to enable each individual persona proved a critical decision. For the simple trucker trying to make ends meet, a full digital transformation proved a much tougher sell than most technologists would assume.

Paper tickets make perfect sense to truckers; they meant dollars and cents. These tickets are money they hold in the palms of their hands, not promises of cash from "the cloud." The cloud is hard to understand, and the paper in their hands, not so much.

Rather than fight an uphill battle, Ruckit knew the best way forward was to meet the market where it was. Without turning each trucker’s world into a series of zeroes and ones, Ruckit digitized their contributions and folded them into the bigger system without alienating them or talking down to them. They achieved this by releasing a mobile app that allows truckers to scan their paper tickets and take photos of their trucks on-site to verify deliveries. To entice the independent trucker to adopt the software, the app integrates the entire project pipeline (including backend accounting) to notify the trucker when their brokers submit an invoice for their tickets, when the invoice pays out, and when the trucker can expect money in their bank.

Beyond that, by integrating every animal along the construction food chain, truckers can receive and accept jobs from a single interface without going back-and-forth in phone calls and text messages.

And Ruckit achieved all of this without inventing anything new.

"We’re not inventing any new tech."

— Michael Bordelon, CTO, Ruckit

Building for the future

Michael admits, emphatically, that Ruckit did not set out to reinvent any tech wheels — all the parts needed to construct and provide their multi-tenant platform showed up turn-key and powerful right out of the box.

From custom mapping tools that help trucks avoid traffic violations and comply with city ordinances, to the AI-enabled OCR (optical character recognition) used to digitize photographs of paper tickets, Ruckit applies best practice and open source tooling to deliver immense value to this underserved market.

The Heroku platform makes it easy for Michael and his team to embed new technology into their Ruby on Rails and Django environments. For example, Ruckit applies machine learning to several layers of their application, one of which helps schedule deliveries to maximize efficiency and circumvent traffic flow — technology that came off the shelf now saves their customers tens of thousands of dollars per year. Cost savings compound when every player on the scene aligns on the Ruckit platform, which happens to be Ruckit’s vision for the future of construction. Over the next decade, Ruckit plans to inspire trust among truckers, a level of trust sufficient to convince them to switch to a purely digital ecosystem — "go paperless," if you will.

By receiving, delivering, and tracking all payloads digitally, Ruckit will have removed the last paper trail holdouts in the construction world. With a pure digital system, Ruckit expects a significant reduction in human error and in delays resulting from the digitization of paper tickets.

That’s their long game, and as of March 2020, the month which saw the dawn on a COVID-19 America, Ruckit is plowing full steam ahead.

construction illustration

Certainly uncertain

Michael approaches the near-term future with trepidation, yet also with optimism. He notes that in times of recession, as those we can expect in the coming years, the construction industry fairs better than most. It is in dire times such as these that governments unlock additional funds to improve infrastructure and push planned public works forward — as a consequence, they put millions of people to work on job sites.

While Ruckit may not be at the center of every project, Michael continues to field two sales calls per day to handle the immense interest in the Ruckit platform.

As our country, and the world at large, begin to recover from the personal and economical impacts of the COVID-19 virus, platforms such as Ruckit will be there to help coordinate the human effort which defines us as a civilized people: building.

“You can’t off-shore construction, and you can’t fake a bridge."

— Michael Bordelon, CTO, Ruckit

With that, Michael enlightens a long-held perspective on construction as an "unsexy" industry. In reality, whether we’re constructing the information superhighway or the regular kind, we’re still building. In either scenario, we come together as people to create beneficial structures for society. Without new and remodeled roads, highways, bridges, and beyond, the network of travel which modern life relies upon goes unmaintained. Without a system to organize the disparate efforts required, we shed efficiency and precious resources along the way.

Much like Ruckit helps construction projects focus on the deliverables, Heroku helps Ruckit focus on value.

Heroku as a utility

“When you open an office,” Michael reminds, “you don’t buy your own generator, pump it with gas, and plug in your desk lamp. You rely on the power grid. Same goes for our tech.” With Heroku, Ruckit is happy to do away with managing remote servers, load-balancing, uptime, and a host of DevOps tasks that otherwise require complete commitment from specialized employees.

“If there’s a usage spike, we spin up a couple more dynos, and that costs me an extra latte,” he smiles. With Heroku on the backend, Ruckit in the middle, and a host of construction professionals at the frontlines, together we offer a trickle-down efficiency that benefits all parties — it’s a win-win-win.

“I don’t want my team busy wasting resources on DevOps. I want them focused on delivering functionality and value to our end users. Heroku enables that, and I’m never going back.”

— Michael Bordelon, CTO, Ruckit

With Heroku powering Ruckit, and Ruckit powering more of the country’s construction efforts, we can expect a marvelous surge of efficiency and throughput from an industry that was long overdue for a high-tech makeover.

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