Command Alkon Brings Real-Time Analytics to Construction Logistics with AWS Startup Partner Rockset

Executive Summary

Command Alkon, a global leader in integrated technology solutions for the heavy building materials industry, uses Rockset with Amazon DynamoDB to power its cloud-based CONNEX construction materials logistics platform. Rockset, an Amazon Web Services (AWS) Technology Partner, offers a real-time indexing database for serving fast search and analytics at scale.

Using Rockset to index and analyze data from DynamoDB, Command Alkon is able to deliver real-time analytics on its platform even when usage patterns are not known in advance. The serverless architecture afforded by the combination of DynamoDB and Rockset allows Command Alkon to scale without operational burden. With the simplicity of the DynamoDB and Rockset solution, the Command Alkon team compressed their development time from an estimated six months to three days.

Digitizing Construction Logistics

Construction projects are hives of constant activity, sustained by steady incoming streams of building materials. Think ‘construction logistics’ and one pictures a flow of trucks transporting concrete and other necessary materials from suppliers to construction sites. Yet for every physical delivery made, many more exchanges of data occur in the background in order to seamlessly orchestrate supply chain operations.

Command Alkon, a leading provider of cloud-based construction software, provides the software backbone for much of the data flowing through construction materials logistics today, handling over 80% of concrete delivery tickets in North America and tracking millions of material and haul tickets on a daily basis. Its CONNEX platform surfaces data and analytics to users across the supply chain to keep construction projects running according to plan.

“Over 80% of North America’s concrete delivery tickets are generated from our systems. We track millions of material and haul tickets on any given day and being able to search, analyze and act on this data in real-time is mission critical for us.”

- Doug Moore, VP of Cloud, Command Alkon

The intricate movement of construction materials is coordinated through the generation and use of tickets that detail all the relevant information for each job: supplier, delivery location, truck data, status updates, products and services ordered, and data on what was actually delivered. Command Alkon processes hundreds of millions of these tickets annually, a number that will only grow with the increasing adoption of electronic tickets. In addition, they also capture numerous signals from IoT devices on trucks and at quarries and plants. With a mission to digitize every aspect of construction materials logistics, the company launched CONNEX in 2019 to provide a SaaS application where suppliers, transportation providers and contractors on jobsites can collaborate on all the data collected by Command Alkon’s systems.

In CONNEX, users can analyze tickets in various ways, filtering and searching across fields in the ticket data. For construction materials logistics, the time taken to mix and transport products like concrete needs to be tightly monitored and controlled, so users expect to be able to analyze data in real time. Not only does ticket data have to be available in seconds, but the application has to support fast search and analytics on that data for a positive user experience.

Using Rockset for Real-Time Analytics

As strong proponents of serverless architecture, the Command Alkon team had chosen Amazon DynamoDB as the transactional database for their application. After researching several alternatives, they decided to use Rockset to index and analyze the data from DynamoDB.

As experienced data practitioners, the team had recognized early on that indexing could help accelerate queries and deliver the performance needed by the CONNEX application. Defining all the indexes needed to adequately support every access pattern was not possible, but in Rockset they found a solution that indexed all its data, thus eliminating the need to configure any indexing.

Rockset stores all data in its Converged Index™, which combines an inverted index, a columnar index, and a row index. Since all fields, including nested fields, are indexed multiple ways, Command Alkon could obtain good query performance regardless of how users accessed the data and how the data was structured.

Exceptional Query and Schema Flexibility

The Command Alkon team pointed to the flexibility that Rockset offered as the most significant benefit they experienced when building on Rockset. Having worked with NoSQL and non-relational technologies for almost two decades, they knew that implementing performant search and analytics in the NoSQL context was a difficult task. With Rockset, however, they were able to decouple access patterns from the schema design, so that queries would perform well without requiring upfront work to reshape data or define indexes.

SQL access was another advantage Rockset provided, even though it wasn’t a primary consideration in the beginning. SQL gained importance as more developers started building features on CONNEX data. It was much easier to get developers productive using SQL, rather than have them learn an unfamiliar NoSQL paradigm and query language.

“Flexibility was by far the most important thing for us. Our users want to search on any field, anywhere, and we needed to give them that ability in CONNEX.”

- Todd McPartlin, Senior Solutions Architect, Command Alkon

Minimal Effort to Configure and Operate

Given their lean engineering team, delivering real-time analytics with minimal operational effort was a priority for Command Alkon. As a serverless database, like DynamoDB, Rockset fit perfectly into Command Alkon’s existing data stack and freed them from the need to manage and optimize a separate analytics system.

Command Alkon introduced Rockset into their environment in the course of an afternoon, an experience they described as “magical.” Rockset has a built-in connector that uses DynamoDB Streams to capture updates in DynamoDB tables, so connecting Rockset to DynamoDB was straightforward. Simply referencing Rockset documentation and examples, the team got data flowing from DynamoDB and ran queries on that data in Rockset, all in a matter of hours.

“Flexibility was by far the most important thing for us. Our users want to search on any field, anywhere, and we needed to give them that ability in CONNEX,” said Todd McPartlin, senior solutions architect at Command Alkon. “To have this unique capability offered as a service was exactly what we needed to deliver real-time search months ahead of plan.”

Expanding Real-Time Analytics to More Products at Command Alkon

Command Alkon’s immediate need was to improve the performance of searches in their CONNEX SaaS offering to enable real-time visibility for users, regardless of what questions they were asking of the data. With Rockset being used in production to back real-time analytics, CONNEX now consistently delivers query responses in around 100 milliseconds on ticket data that is a few seconds old, greatly enhancing user experience. Having established the performance and productivity gains with this approach, the team was subsequently able to build further real-time analytics offerings on Command Alkon data.

Command Alkon uses Rockset to power multiple real-time analytics use cases

Command Alkon also offers a CONNEX Insights product that provides information to customers on various measures of efficiency, such as their number of loads per hour. Command Alkon embeds Tableau-based dashboards in their product, providing high-level views and allowing customers to drill down as desired.

Providing developers access to Command Alkon data is the third product area the new architecture enables. Partners commonly build applications on data in Command Alkon systems for purposes such as accounting, project estimation, and carrier management. They would previously have to build their own adapters to obtain the data, but Command Alkon now uses Rockset to provide public data APIs needed by partner developers, without having to customize them for specific types of queries.

Command Alkon has the ability to move a lot faster on new real-time analytics features and enhancements with Rockset in their stack. The flexibility Rockset provides along with its serverless architecture make it a great fit for organizations like Command Alkon seeking to maximize the impact their development teams have.

“Over 80% of North America’s concrete delivery tickets are generated from our systems. We track millions of material and haul tickets on any given day and being able to search, analyze and act on this data in real-time is mission critical for us,” said Doug Moore, VP of Cloud at Command Alkon. “We started out using Rockset for real-time search on ticket data, and we now look to use Rockset for any search and analytics feature on any data. We absolutely love Rockset. It’s a game changer for us.”

Command Alkon

About Command Alkon

As the provider of a leading Supplier Collaboration Platform for Heavy Work, Command Alkon solutions deliver supply chain digital collaboration across the heavy construction community. CONNEX, a technology platform built for the industry, enables business partners to automate and integrate business processes, capture real-time visibility into heavy material orders and deliveries, and share knowledge to promote certainty of outcomes. Command Alkon is headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama and has offices in locations around the globe.

About Rockset

Rockset is an AWS Technology Partner that enables real-time analytics on data from Amazon DynamoDB, Amazon Kinesis, Amazon S3, and Amazon RDS for MySQL or Amazon RDS for PostgreSQL. Rockset makes real-time analytics fast, flexible, and easy by indexing every field of structured, semi-structured, geo, or time series data. The company is built by the team behind RocksDB and Facebook’s online data platform.

Published May 2021