The next generation
By Julie Fitz-Gerald
How Albert Oostenbrink embraced technology to make his business more efficient.
By Julie Fitz-Gerald
At the young age of 25, Albert Oostenbrink was already making big plans.
At the young age of 25, Albert Oostenbrink was already making big plans. He was working at a high performance engine shop when a couple came in to sell their $20,000 boat in order to pay for a $20,000 drilled well.
Oostenbrink’s interest was piqued. Having to sell a luxury item to pay for access to drinking water – our most basic need – seemed a hefty price to pay and he wanted to learn more. Oostenbrink’s family was in the irrigation business so he knew about all things water, but he wanted to carve out his own path as well as be his own boss. In 2005, Richard Peters of Peters Well Drilling Ltd., in Chilliwack, B.C., was looking to retire. The timing was right and Oostenbrink jumped at the opportunity.
“It just worked out really well. You can tell if you’re going to fit or not. It was a huge learning curve. Richard went around with me for the first two years and introduced me to the clients that he had been dealing with for 22 years and that his dad dealt with for 27 years before that. He introduced me as the new guy. It’s a really good story of a turn-key business for sure,” he says.
As a certified pump installer and drilling technician, combined with decades of knowledge passed down from Peters, Oostenbrink quickly formed a solid understanding of the business. Now at the helm of Peters Well Drilling, he saw the opportunity to make operations more efficient through new technologies that were making a splash in the industry.
The drilling rig that he was using was an “old pounding machine” built in 1971 by the founder of the business, Henry Peters. The machine was converted from an old hay baler. “I could probably go out in the yard and start it up right now,” Oostenbrink says. “It’s a really dangerous machine and it’s slow. I knew when I bought the company that it needed to be changed, but I didn’t know with what.”
He did his research and matched two pieces together: a track machine from an Italian company and a sonic drilling head from the Netherlands that fit onto the track machine. Before making the purchase, Oostenbrink rented a similar machine in Vancouver and tested it out for three days. The results were better than he was hoping for. “It’s a safer machine and does a better job on the well.
It takes a lot less time and is much more efficient,” he explains, noting that he no longer gets stuck in customers’ yards with the old trailer-mounted pounding machine either!
Another area that needed attention was the service trucks. Oostenbrink purchased new service vans and implemented an organized bin system to avoid time-consuming trips into town to pick up additional parts. Now when he arrives at a job, he can fix 99 per cent of the problems with the tools and parts in the van, allowing him to complete jobs efficiently without incurring any costly downtime.
In addition to making operations in the field more efficient, Oostenbrink also focused on cutting down on paperwork in the office. At Canwell 2008, Canada’s National Groundwater Convention & Tradeshow held in Edmonton, Alta., he met Rick Oberle from Geographic Insights, a firm specializing in research, mapping and database development. Geographic Insights launched a software system called WellMagic in 2002, which has since become a leading management system for the water industry. WellMagic is a single system that allows drillers to manage all details of their business, including estimating, work orders, invoicing, tracking maintenance, as well as filing well logs with provincial agencies. It was exactly what Oostenbrink had been looking for and he bought it on the spot.
The impact that WellMagic has had on his business has been huge. “I was spending so much time transferring information from one document to the next and doing so many unnecessary steps. I was working so many nights in the office trying to get paperwork done. With WellMagic, once you have the customer’s information there, it’s all in one program. A well log takes literally five minutes. You can e-mail estimates and work orders. If I need to look up a well I did six years ago, I just type in the homeowner’s name or address and I can find out exactly what I did there, how deep the well is, when it was put in, water sample data and equipment used. The nicest thing about it is that I can literally do an estimate in five minutes and e-mail it to the customer directly from WellMagic.”
Oostenbrink says another big benefit of the software is its implementation by B.C.’s government.
“The B.C. government has moved up technologically as well. The old way was to submit handwritten well logs. The Ministry of the Environment (MOE) has gotten together with WellMagic and they work with automatic uploads through WellMagic. I can type out a well log and upload it directly to the MOE’s website.”
As with any software, there are bound to be glitches every so often. However, Oostenbrink says, help is just a phone call or e-mail away. Through remote access the problem is resolved quickly, either the same day or by the next day. The monetary investment for the software was recouped quickly and the time that he has gained back has been priceless. Instead of working until 11 p.m. to complete estimates and well logs, he’s now home by a decent hour, enjoying time with his wife and four children.
While Peters Well Drilling has evolved to make operations out in the field and in the office more efficient through new technologies, one part of the business hasn’t changed: Oostenbrink still maintains his predecessors’ neighbourly, helping-hand attitude. In fact, he still calls on Peters to bounce ideas off of him and chat about the business. By keeping up with emerging technologies to ensure efficiency within the business, Oostenbrink can continue to offer customers the best rates possible for the installation of wells, pumps, tanks and filtration systems. Perhaps he’s even allowed some to hang on to their luxury boats for a little longer!