Remove the Disconnect Between Field and Office with Construction Software Solutions

With healthy levels of building activity and a shortage of skilled labor, no one in construction has time to waste.  A 2018 study conducted by FMI for construction project management software supplier PlanGrid quantified the time and money the construction industry loses when workers are engaged in sub-optimal activities such as looking for project data, resolving conflicts and dealing with mistakes and rework.  Among the nearly 600 participants surveyed, 14 hours a week per person were spent on these sub-optimal activities, 35 percent of all hours.  More than $65 billion will be spent on construction rework in 2018.  Companies are increasingly turning to project management software systems to help them be more efficient with their time and resources.

“One of the biggest challenges of our industry is that we haven’t had a great way to communicate among team members,” says Kris Lengieza, director of business development at Procore, a construction management software platform. “By digitizing processes that are standard we can improve accountability, response times, and data collection.”

Rusty Hamilton, US Country Manager for GenieBelt believes delays in communication lead to a loss of productivity.  “Many times what happens in the field and is noted is not discussed until the next progress meeting.” GenieBelt is a real-time communications and audit platform that works as an extension to existing project management and scheduling software, so that the whole team can rally around the plan.

According to Lengieza, the biggest challenge to date hasn’t been to sell one software solution over another but to get the industry to adopt any digital solutions. Lengieza believes that increasing work loads and labor shortages may provide the tipping point that finally shifts the construction industry from paper and pen to digital.  “People are beginning to understand they have to change to keep getting the work and to protect their profits,” says Lengieza.

Using a digital platform that hosts construction documents and enables instant collaboration ensures that people are working from the right information, and they can get that information faster than ever before. “Rework is a huge problem,” says Stuart Frederich-Smith, vice president of product marketing for PlanGrid. “If half of that problem is due to poor data and miscommunication, then improving data management and collaboration has a tremendous opportunity to prevent rework and help deliver projects more efficiently.”   

Safety is another area that can be improved with digital tools. By capturing and managing information about accidents and near misses digitally, management will have better access to information to help them identify issues, adjust safety training and take other proactive measures to reduce risk.

Lengieza believes technology is also a way to attract top talent.  “We are in more than 200 universities,” says Lengieza. “Recent grads are looking for companies that are using our solution (Procore) because they can come in on day one and have an impact.”

As an industry we are just beginning to understand what we can do with all the information collected digitally. “We don’t do very well in the construction space at going back and reviewing what happened on projects,” says Hamilton. More digital data also means having the ability to leverage technologies like artificial intelligence.  But for most construction companies, connecting field and office personnel to save time and money is reason enough to move forward.

How to Make the Right Technology Choice for Your Construction Business

Deciding what vendor to choose can be a complex process, but here are a few best practices to consider as you try to determine the right software solution for your business:

1. Get the Entire Construction Team Involved

Historically there have been problems with technology not being adopted in the field. To avoid this Smith recommends looking at technology solutions in coordination with the teams that are going to be using them and having a tight feedback loop and structured pilot process to make the right decision. “This result in the selection of tools that are going to get organic adoption in the field,” says Smith.

GenieBelt believes it’s important for everyone on the jobsite to be connected including subcontractors,   suppliers, and equipment people.   “What we’ve found is there is a tremendous savings in effort in getting equipment and materials on site in time for use,” says Hamilton.

2. Start Small

While you may be excited to digitally transform your business overnight, it pays to take your time. Most vendors provide an opportunity to try out their plans on specific projects before rolling out the technology company-wide.   “Start small and have some initial goals,” advises Lengieza.  Choose goals that are easily measured.

3. Think about Integration

Smith advises contractors to think of the project management software purchase not just as an isolated event, but to fully examine how the tool will integrate with existing technology and business process.  You might want the software to integrate with your existing accounting, estimating or scheduling software or to be used in conjunction with an existing safety program. Subcontractors will want a program that integrates well with tools used by general contractors. Not all programs are designed for easy integration.  Determine if the software is scalable in such a way that it can support your business now and in the future.

4. Calculate the ROI

One advantage to starting small is that you can actually measure how the technology will work in your own organization. According to Hamilton, on a recent GenieBelt pilot project with 22 users, they found about a 20% savings in the effort needed to get their work done.  PlanGrid reports average user time savings of more than 7 hours per week, per user.

5. Evaluate Support and Training

Successful implementation of any software will require that people with varying degrees of familiarity with technology have support and training. Ensure success by choosing software that is easy to use. Evaluate the timeliness and accessibility of the support offered.  Ask whether support and training is available to users both inside and outside the company.  

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