While we in the construction industry have been hunkered down and trying to survive this slow economic recovery, technology has exploded around us. Some construction companies have embraced this technology during the downturn. These companies are already seeing tremendous improvements not only in efficiencies but also in the ways people communicate. Have you kept up with technology during the down economy or have you stayed the course to survive?
If you fall into the “stayed the course” category, it’s time to explore what’s out there to help improve efficiencies. When starting this evaluation process, start with the end in mind. Stop and think what an ideal construction company looks like to you. Perhaps it is a profitable and growing organization with a healthy environment where everyone works together with mutual trust and respect, and communication is open and flowing. Information is delivered with speed and accuracy to company stakeholders from anywhere, at any time. All the business intelligence of the company is captured, organized, stored and secured with backups, with a rehearsed disaster recovery plan. People are well trained and clear of their expectations as it relates to the overall mission of the organization.
While this may seem ambitious, it is an attainable goal to reach. A complete integration of all business information as part of your holistic approach can help make this vision a reality.
The Mobile Revolution
When discussing new technology tools, especially those to help improve communication between the field and office, mobile technology most likely is the first to come to mind. There is no doubt we are in a mobile revolution, but before diving in, consider using a holistic approach to implement mobile technology tools. Mobile devices are only one aspect of your overall technology plan. Taking a holistic approach means looking at the flexibility and integration capabilities of your existing system and then developing an overall strategic plan in relation to your entire IT infrastructure. If you add mobile technology here and there but lack integration or integrate the information too slowly, you could actually reduce efficiency, and at the same time, lose buy-in from end users.
For example, you purchase mobile devices for the field to enter labor hours. This is great for efficiency, but if a project manager cannot readily access the information on the jobsite with speed and accuracy, then there is a lost opportunity. The tangible value in all the latest tools is the complete integration of information and the capture of business intelligence in one location where stakeholders can access this information with speed and accuracy from anywhere, at any time.
Technology at a Glance
Mobile technology is just one type of solution to explore. To best start an evaluation of any software solution, let’s first take an inventory of the latest best practices and tools available.
Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) is a system that integrates internal and external management of information across an entire organization. Construction-specific systems that integrate with other systems are critical to meeting your needs for the future. Many have pre-designed reports and forms for jurisdictional and construction-specific requirements.
Enterprise Content Management (ECM) is a formalized means of organizing and storing an organization’s documents and other content that relates to the organization’s process. Each construction job tends to have massive amounts of information tied to it and an ECM helps to manage it and store it in a way that’s both comprehensive and accessible.
Construction Collaboration Technology refers to software applications used to enable effective sharing of project-related information between geographically dispersed members of a construction project team (often internal and external), often through use of web-based Software as a Service (SaaS) platform.
Building Information Modeling (BIM) is a process involving the generation and management of digital representations of physical and functional characteristics of a facility. The resulting BIMs become shared knowledge resources to support decision making about a facility from earliest conceptual stages, through design and construction, through its operational life and eventual demolition.
Workflow is the sequence of connected steps. Similar to the process of building a building, a workflow process built into your ERP system allows companies to establish consistent procedures for processing, reviewing and approving company information. You know where you are in the process and who has the responsibility to keep the flow moving.
Mobile devices are small, hand-held computing devices, typically having a display screen with touch input and/or a miniature keyboard. A handheld computing device has an operating system and can run various types of application software, known as apps.
A managed IT service is the practice of outsourcing information technology and day-to-day management responsibilities as a strategic method for improving operations.
Cloud computing is the use of computing resources (hardware and software) that are delivered as a service over a network (typically the Internet).
Software as a Service (SaaS), sometimes referred to as “on-demand software,” is a software delivery model in which software and associated data are centrally hosted in the cloud.
Dashboards (Business) often provide at-a-glance views of KPIs (key performance indicators) relevant to a particular objective or business process (e.g. sales, marketing, human resources or production). In construction, to utilize a dashboard tool, integration is imperative.
So if you know about all the above tools and are utilizing most, then you’re in great shape. There are also many trade specific tools available to assist with the data capture and data entry to consider including time tracking of labor and equipment, conditions of the day logs, material handling tools and GPS devices interfaced with systems to track the location of people and equipment. Construction-specific systems are designed to handle change order management, requests for information (RFIs), manage contracts and insurance compliance. Human resource data is also an important area to integrate with your ERP system.
Employee training, safety, attendance, pay rate, etc., are all valuable to your business intelligence.
By the time this is published, there will be even more tools and advances available so keep your finger on the technology pulse. Stop spinning your wheels and look to technology for help. No matter what your challenge, there is most likely someone else that has faced the same issue and perhaps someone has developed a solution to address the challenge.
Each trade has their precious tools they are comfortable using including accountants, estimators, project managers, human resources, payroll, etc. They are content that they have what they need to get their specific job done. But the overall business intelligence and integration of all systems should far outweigh the tools of a few select individuals. Open your mind to new possibilities and look at the long-term importance when developing an overall strategic plan with technology. As you increase your integration and centralization of business intelligence, you will see an escalation in advantages realized by technology.
So has the next wave of technologies taken communication and profitability to the next level? Yes, without a doubt! Management can navigate their business in the right direction as they receive daily dashboards, alerts and notifications on mobile devices. It’s now easy to access all documents from anywhere at any time and perform research and analysis. The workflow of the company is digital and continues to flow through the organization providing business intelligence. No more waiting on one department to distribute information at the end of the month.
When is it a good time to move on technology? It’s NOW! You can’t wait any longer if you want to stay competitive. It is not about “How much does technology cost?” but “How much money and opportunity am I losing by not embracing technology?” The next generation born with a tablet and smartphone in their hand will soon come into the construction market. They will embrace and expect performance from technology. So incorporate the tools we’ve discussed, and accept this is the way of the future. Then hold on tight for the ride of your business life.
Tim Gray, CPA, CCIFP, is a Market Development Manager for Viewpoint Construction Software in Portland, Ore., where he is responsible for educating construction industry professionals on the use of software and technology in the construction industry.