November 16, 2000
Engineers build new sites on the Web
By TERRY STEPHENS
Special to the Journal
Internet sites are helping engineering firms attract new hires, build rapport with clients and even attract new business in an increasingly competitive marketplace. Marketing, publicizing, recruiting and offering more client services are among the many uses of Web sites by engineering firms today, and designing and building them has opened a fresh new realm of competition.
“There are a lot of really good engineering businesses in this area,” said Jim Miller, President of GeoEngineers Inc. in Redmond. “It’s very competitive. We don’t depend on our Web site to find new business, we do that through building client relationships. But our site (www.geoengineers.com) definitely enhances our credibility and adds to the value we can bring to our clients.”
Miller likes to keep in touch with clients through technology. Giving them access to more and more information as a way to sustain and improve established relationships.
“Originally, we created the site four years ago to offer readily accessible information about our firm, who we are, what we do, where we’re located and it’s just evolved from there,” Miller said.
Next came the posting of articles of interest about the firm, its areas of expertise, projects, staff and contact information — much of it tagged with key words that lead search engines and Web surfers to the GeoEngineers’ site.
With 1999 revenues around $13 million, and a staff of 193 engineers, scientists, geologists, field personnel, laboratory specialists and administrative staff, GeoEngineers focuses on geotechnical areas such as construction observation, soils testing and watershed services. Prominent projects include the new University of Washington/Cascadia Community College site in Bothell and the I-90 Sunset interchange project in Issaquah.
“We’ve received a few projects through our Web site but not many. But that’s not our main focus. Right now the Web has two major uses for us: recruiting and providing more project information to our clients,” he said.
The site’s job postings have drawn numerous inquiries, resulting in some hiring, he said.
“The nice thing is that people in other parts of the country who are looking to come out here do a Web search and find us, then make contact. We can’t find them but they can find us,” he said.
But what has Miller excited now about the company’s Web site is its intranet capabilities.
“This is where we’re heading with our Web site, providing more information about our clients’ projects, almost in real-time, on an internal site designed just for them. It’s one thing to read a field report but quite another to see up-to-date photos of the project at the same time,” Miller said, noting that on-site digital photos are downloaded to laptop computers, then transferred to the Web site within hours when engineers return to their office.
Clients visit a password protected Web site to reach information about the progress of their particular project, information access that Miller said builds credibility and cements client relationships. While that service “doesn’t work for every project or every client,” Miller said, it has an impressive impact in many instances.
Coming next will be geographic information systems that will provide whole databases of project information at the click of a mouse, drawing on such resources as engineering drawings, photographs and detailed progress reports.
The GeoEngineers’ Web site opens with a home page filled with icons leading visitors to information about the company and its services, people and projects, an online library of technical articles and documents, plus office locations, contacts and news releases.
Sumner is headquarters for Parametrix Inc., one of the Northwest’s largest engineering firms, with 1999 revenues of $35.5 million and a workforce of more than 360 people. Webmaster Mark Temple said expanding the firm’s recruiting has become one of the prime reasons for maintaining the Web site (www.parametrix.com).
Launched about a year ago, the site has proven to be a great recruiting tool, he said, since it’s so far reaching. Posting company jobs on the careers page has brought a lot of response, resulting in at least three hires. Because the company is employee-owned, there’s a lot of interest in the site’s ESOP section, said Temple.
“We’ve just redesigned the front page to make it a bit flashier to keep up with competitors that are using Shockwave. We’re not using that though, we’re still designing to make it friendly for smaller city governments, for instance, who want to use the site even if they don’t have a Pentium III,” Temple said.
The company has also been able to offer web site services to its clients, building three web sites for them so far, he said.
Other popular spots on the site include news releases about company accomplishments and changes, such as the time Parametrix was ranked 183rd out of the top 200 design firms nationally, selected by Engineering News Record, an industry trade journal.
Slick, colorful graphics on the home page pull people into the site, where they find section topics on the company’s work in architecture, environmental sciences, transportation, water/wastewater, waste management and related services.
Some of the firm’s major projects have included waste water conveyance systems for the Lacey, Olympia, Tumwater and Thurston County Partnership, and a transportation planning and environmental analysis for the Washington State Department of Transportation’s Trans-Lake Washington project.
Seattle-based Hart Crowser (www.hartcrowser.com) finds the vast audience of the Web particularly attractive, since it offers its services nationally.
In 1999 the company reported revenues of $23.7 million, employing a staff of nearly 200 for such local projects as downtown Bellevue redevelopment, including Lincoln Square, the Bellevue Square expansion, Summit Ridge, Three Bellevue Center and Galleria.
Hart Crowser’s home page is colorful, opening with attention-getting flying graphics but still basically taking a straightforward approach to presenting specific topics. Visitors are directed to the firm’s services, office locations, personnel, company news and a contact section.
The site promotes the company’s “visionary approach” to earth and environmental technologies “for the next century,” including prominent home page links to Hart Crowser’s mining division, Pincock Allen & Holt its natural resources division, Pentec Environmental in Edmonds, and a cyberspace training services division, AdvanceOnline, formed in 1996.
The online Web programs specifically focus on providing environmental compliance courses required by government regulations, including such topics as spill prevention controls, storm water pollution prevention and oil spill management. Through the engineering firm, AdvanceOnline provides a “one-stop source” for training courses relating to the latest regulations of such government agencies as OSHA, EPA and the Department of Transportation.
“You always have to think competitively and a Web site shows how progressive a company is. A useful Web site, with a few bells and whistles, actually does help market the firm,” said Shannon McFarlin, corporate communications manager for Hart Crowser.
McFarlin not only supports the value of the firm’s Web site as a communications professional, but she also gets in the trenches and creates the marketing impact she wants herself. She’s the company’s webmaster, too.
“The site was designed out of house, then I took courses to learn to maintain and update it,” she said. “I think it will be constantly in a state of change as we make it better and continue marketing it.”
The site was launched only six months ago. McFarlin said “(early) feedback tells us people really seem to like it … it’s current, easy to navigate. People can see what conferences we’ll be at and what papers we’ll be presenting, along with news releases, our staff qualifications, services and contacts.”
She said the firm is presently adding information to the relatively new site, including project descriptions and photos, along with job postings.
“When people around the country are looking for jobs today it seems they go to the Internet first and start browsing Web sites, so we’ve seen a lot of results from using the site for employment,” she said.
The most popular sections on the site, besides employment openings, are the contact lists for various engineering areas, she said, as well as office locations and company news.
“Our long-term goals for the site are wrapped into the whole concept of customer relationship management,” McFarlin said. “Eventually we hope clients will be able to come to the site and get updated account information, making it more useful to them than just looking at our projects.”
Making the site useful has stirred other ideas, too, she said, such as a plan for e-mail marketing promotions to potential or past clients telling them about recent contracts the company has won. In the e-mail will be a clickable link to a section on Hart Crowser’s Web site that tells more about the company’s services and achievements in the particular field that is the focal point of the e-mail marketing.
“That way we can market to specific client groups with a specialized web site,” she said.
Terry Stephens is a freelance business writer in Arlington. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.
Terry Stephens is a freelance writer based in Arlington. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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