Do you have a new tech culture?

Sep 09, 2016

You should if you want more business and enhanced services for your clients, and besides, the new generation of engineers has to have it.

In 1971 the founders of our firm went to their local banker and asked to borrow $130,000 to invest in a new technology for their business. They told the banker how it would set their company apart and give them a competitive advantage over other firms due to the time savings it would provide. The banker skeptically agreed and loaned the money.

With that loan they bought an IBM 1130 mainframe computer – it filled an entire room, required a paid staff of people to run it, and was the first of its kind in the state. But, it did what the founders hoped it would do and gave the firm a significant advantage at the time. They were able to run calculations many times faster than the average firm, and if a project needed to change midstream, they didn’t have to start over from scratch. It was such an innovation at the time that civil engineering students from our local university would take field trips to go see “the Crafton Tull computer.”

It’s amazing how far and how fast technology has leapt ahead over the past few decades. For those of us who’ve been around a while, we remember when CAD was first introduced to the industry and how some people scoffed at it being a passing fad. We remember when we could first send electronic mail messages to other people, the rise (and passing) of the fax machine, and the move from hand drafting to plotters.

Why were all of these technologies created? For the same reason our founders went begging for a loan in 1971 – to allow companies to produce work faster and more accurately, thereby giving a competitive advantage.

We’ve tried to keep the same culture of being a technology friendly company since the time of our founders. We’ve leaned out pretty far on some new technologies over the past couple of decades, and more often than not it has worked out well for us. We’ve been able to translate those investments into new business for us and better service and products for our clients.

We’ve developed such a technology culture that sometimes I have to remind people in our company that we don’t just buy new technologies because we like to play with new toys or because we’re “tech junkies.” We invest in those things to help us be faster and more accurate; characteristics we should be able to capitalize on to sell our services more effectively. If you can’t see a way for the technology to make you more profitable and/or more marketable, why buy it?

One other reason to stay invested in new technology is that your people expect it. This is particularly true for the younger generation coming into the workforce. They aren’t just used to technology, it has been a natural part of their lives since they can remember. The generation of people entering the workforce now can’t imagine a world without fast computers, fast networks, lightning-fast data, and feel completely at home in a paperless world of 3-D modeling. If you’re going to recruit and retain the best and brightest of this generation, a workplace filled with the latest hardware and software is the expectation.

Our latest technology investment is a new drone for topographic surveys. We applied for an FAA exemption to operate a drone, and after enduring a nine-month approval process, were approved. The new drone arrived a couple of weeks ago, and our guys had their first training flights last week. Why did we buy this? Besides the cool factor (and yes, it’s cool), we expect it to allow us to produce topo surveys for certain clients in a much shorter timeframe, and our clients are already asking for the service.

“We’re going supersonic, Mav!”

Matt Crafton is president and CEO of Crafton Tull, an architecture, engineering, and surveying firm based in Rogers, Arkansas. He can be reached at

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.