Construction companies that embark on long-term, multi-tiered projects are tasked with a variety of distinct challenges unique to this specialized area of the industry. These endeavors require the coordination of multiple stakeholders, many subcontractor relationships and client management that must remain a top priority at every project checkpoint. If one of these high-stakes contracts falls behind schedule or out of sync with financial expectations, a business will suffer the consequences of these oversights with weakened budgets and a damaged reputation.
This is why every firm needs modernized construction management software to tackle the big-budget projects that make or break a company. To confidently manage every branch of the contract, supervisors, on-site workers and executive leaders alike need an integrated suite of tools that gives them total control over their domain. While isolated applications and databases may prove effective for smaller-scale efforts, large-cap projects must be supported by solutions that bring everything together in an accessible, interconnected environment.
Aspects of the contract
A modern project blueprint is much more than drawings and measurements mapping out the physical appearance of a structure - these plans must include a series of highly detailed elements that give managers and stakeholders assurance in their budgeting, scheduling and procurement outlooks. According to a recent article from Area Development, contractors were given a roadmap of how a major project should be organized, taking into account components including cost and financial management, project controls and risk management, procurement and scheduling.
In the area of financial planning alone, project coordinators are responsible for handling the minutiae that affect the daily procurement, implementation and execution of materials and labor on the job site. These efforts must be orchestrated along with stakeholder preferences and the parameters of chosen subcontractors, who often bring unique conditions into the equation. The source pointed to the following sub-segments of the capital project management process, suggesting that there is a lot more to this area than meets the eye.
- Payment processing and administration
- Budgeting for every stage and service
- Cash flow reporting processes
- Estimating and forecasting
- Consistent project cost reporting
It's not only the variety of the financial requirements placed upon contractors that leads to project challenges - it's the accuracy and regularity with which managers are expected to deliver their reports to superiors and clients. With such constant pressure to bring quality and precision to their financial outlooks, business leaders must employ construction accounting tools that work smoothly with the rest of their IT infrastructure. This must include elements such as customer relationship management, enterprise resource planning and invoice processing, ensuring total integration of the software suite.
A precedent of transparency
High levels of accountability are a must across the enterprise, especially when a company is coordinating a major, long-term project. Such transparency, however, needs to be promoted in a more holistic sense in order to bring stakeholders, clients and subcontractors in sync with project objectives and sticking points. With construction management software that loops third-parties in on these progressions, a team can more successfully navigate big-budget contracts and build positive business connections.
While mobile integration may seem to be a logical step forward for contractors and design firms, actually incorporating a mobility strategy into daily enterprise operations is not such an intuitive process. For companies that have only just begun experimenting with policies such as bring your own device and mobile-enhanced app environments, maximizing the value of these investments requires a bit more guidance from end users and expert service providers.
In many cases, however, business leaders don't even know where to start making improvements to their mobility blueprints. For contractors that need a bit of direction to get their mobile enhancement efforts off on the right foot, here are four areas to focus on in order to bring their construction project management initiatives into line with mobility.
1. Improve end user education: Simply distributing devices and licenses to construction teams is not enough to reap the full range of benefits modernized solutions can provide. Administering a complete profile of training resources and user support tools is key to ensuring a quick turnaround from implementation to utilization. With the assistance of a third-party provider, educational efforts can be made easier with online portals and a host of customized materials. The faster a workforce can grasp the ins and outs of the construction project controls, the better.
Decision-makers must remember that not all training methods are created equal, with next-gen solutions demanding fast-paced, multi-platform educational support whenever possible. They should consider steering away from the lecture-based learning strategies of years past and embracing approaches such as online courses, social feedback-based education and other forward-thinking techniques. An article from Midsize Insider pointed out that in the area of cyber security especially, businesses need to promote best practices through a wide array of channels to get key points across.
"Awareness training performed as a seminar, aka 'death by monologue' or 'death by PowerPoint,' will not get the attention and retention needed to affect change," David Monahan, research director for security and risk management at EMA, told the news source.
2. Beef up privacy protection: When personal devices are incorporated into enterprise IT strategy, security is a two-way street. Executives must ensure a secure network to safely harbor sensitive data, just as employees need to feel confident logging into company infrastructure on their own smartphones and tablets. With personal information on the line, decision-makers must respect these boundaries with sound policies and limitations. This is especially important for first-time adopters just entering the mobile environment for the first time.
An article from Mobile Enterprise suggested that with the widespread integration of personal hardware in the workplace environment, it is more critical than ever to build strong regulatory guidelines aimed at cultivating end user comfort and data protection. The source pointed to findings from a Zix Corporation report, revealing 71 percent of respondents would avoid using personal devices for work if they knew their employer could remotely wipe their device. Policies should make staff members feel safe, rather than cornered into compliance with construction management software.
"For many employees, the personal data on their mobile device is priceless," said Zix Corporation CEO Rick Spurr. "In turn, it's vital for companies to have a BYOD solution that not only meets the security needs of business but also the convenience, control and privacy demands of employees."
3. Develop a support network: Entering the world of modernized construction software is a daunting enough task for most contractors, let alone the prospect of incorporating a fleet of mobile devices on top of this new infrastructure. Ensuring that third-party supporters are readily available to provide assistance is one of the greatest assets an organization can have when embarking on a mission to improve team mobility. Whether IT needs guidance in deploying new user licenses or encounters roadblocks in the adoption process, the best solutions vendors will be reliable partners every step of the way.
Contractors can't let the addition of a mobile strategy hold their operations back in any capacity. Developing a strong network of IT support is critical to make sure mobility projects hit the ground running.
4. Ensure mobile continuity: Disaster recovery is one of the most overlooked components of corporate IT at large, and when mobile solutions are factored into the equation, such strategies are often pushed even further under the rug. Mobile Enterprise noted research from the Disaster Recovery Preparedness Council, explaining that three out of every four organizations fail to fully prepare for an emergency situation.
"The proliferation of mobile computing is a large concern for businesses attempting to prepare for disaster," Chuck DeLouis, vice president of product management at Intronis Inc. told the source. "Organizations no longer have one main system to worry about, but multiple mobile devices that are often difficult to keep track of."
From an IT perspective, mobile resources should be given just as much attention as desktop workstations when preparing these plans. No application or storage unit can be left behind when recovering mission-critical assets.
Today's construction team end users expect a greater level of connectivity than any previous generation, but delivering mission-critical applications on and off the job site requires a lot more than high availability and network resilience. Construction software solutions need to be highly integrated with one another if contractors want to realize the complete potential of their digital tool kits, especially with executives, project managers and trade professionals dispersed across several work sites at a given time. Legacy systems still struggle to meet these rapidly-changing demands.
A solution has arrived
Attempting to run next-gen application blueprints in an on-premise environment can be done, but not at an optimal speed and price point. Thankfully, the cloud represents the pinnacle of enterprise app integration, offering a highly flexible and scalable environment upon which to build a unique construction management software ecosystem. According to a recent article from Enterprise Apps Today, off-premise systems also remove a major burden from IT's back, as this department is often tasked with the majority of implementation responsibilities.
Stefan Ried, a principal analyst at Forrester Research, explained that companies no longer have to rely on internal expertise to leverage cutting edge tools. This frees up time and resources to pursue avenues of innovation while assuring stakeholders of an up-to-date IT infrastructure.
"In the cloud you can integrate one app to another, and you don't need to install anything. The effort is far less than it used to be, and that is very, very important," Ried told the source. "If you try and add systems of engagement functionality to your old systems of record, you'll probably find that it can't be done because they are not flexible enough to accommodate that."
There is more than enough on enterprise contractors' to-do lists. The cloud makes high-level app integration a fast and painless process.
The construction industry is a no-nonsense environment, and top-tier contractors are quick to dismiss any strategies or tools that don't deliver the goods in a clearly defined, cost-effective way. Perhaps that's why the cloud hasn't caught on with the same level of enthusiasm in this sector as it has in others - business leaders in construction want to know that their investments offer quantifiable value that they can count on for years down the line. This is especially true in when discussing IT solutions, an area that is already met with skepticism by construction site management experts.
However, the cloud has finally come into its own as a standalone technology, and with enough positive testimonials making their way to the fore, it's time that contractors take off-premise solutions seriously. Here are three ways that cloud computing offers tactile, tangible benefits to those in the construction sector.
1. Winning IT support: Even the most stubborn contractors will admit that tech is a necessity in the modern economy, but the cloud is just too foreign a concept for many to wrap their heads around. What these skeptics may not realize, however is that off-premise procurement actually makes IT easier to manage and manipulate than conventional, in-house assets. Thanks to the support of a dedicated cloud provider, services can be quickly and precisely configured at the drop of a hat. Forbes recently pointed out that this concept of "IT renovation" is one of the cloud's most compelling benefits.
The source also explained that with the rapid development of applications and suite features, businesses in all sectors would be wise to utilize cloud to stay ahead of the game from an innovation perspective. For contractors, this means leveraging construction project management tools before the competition gets their hands on the apps. Even a minor edge can result in major results.
2. A must for mobile: While most contractors have made mobile connectivity a part of their operational profile, few have recognized the role of the cloud in these initiatives. The truth is, construction management software falls short of its potential unless connected to the cloud, as a lack of such connectivity limits end users in their synchronization, functionality and collaborative capabilities. Truly forward-thinking mobile advocates will take full advantage of the cloud's all-encompassing environments to bring their teams together in highly orchestrated efforts.
3. No more cost mystery: With capital expenses such as on-premise data center and software assets, financial demands can fluctuate drastically from one month to the next. Between the addition, reduction and optimization of servers, there's no telling how much a company will be forced to spend on its infrastructure at the end of the quarter, let alone several months or years in advance. The cloud makes pricing crystal clear by turning IT into an operational expense. Businesses only pay for the resources they use, making for a painless, predictable bill rather than an unsolved financial mystery.
Every seasoned executive leader knows the heart-wrenching feeling of being short of IT resources for a mission-critical project, or finding out that those last few servers will probably gather dust from a lack of use. It's these frustrating mix-ups that hold legacy systems back from achieving their full potential, leaving decision-makers at a loss when determining their next move in the data center. Scale up? Scale down? Consolidate? These questions never need to come into play when contractors turn to cloud services - third-party providers ensure total efficiency of all IT resources.
Protecting the bottom line
When miscalculated, tech asset allocations can wreak havoc on a company's financial outlook, bringing on a range of expenses that often only worsen with time. Not only is it difficult to recover from a data center procurement error from a capital perspective, but there are also concerns of personnel requirements and other hidden costs that can quickly add up as things become even more out of sync. WebRoot recently pointed out that in addition to IT staffing issues, companies can run into problems of poor data center real estate investments and misjudgments of electricity needs.
Scale swiftly and smoothly
The speed of the construction industry has accelerated dramatically in the past few years, and the time it takes to procure on-premise system can leave a company lagging behind the competition. With the cloud, contractors can quickly scale their IT solutions without ever worrying about issues of overuse or underutilization in their data centers - everything is controlled by expert vendors who make automatic adjustments when clients are experiencing a fluctuation in resource demands. With this agile, efficient setup, cloud services are well deserving of their popularity in the world of construction management software.
At first glance, today's construction software solutions may not seem like a significant leap from the offerings of the past. End users still crunch the same numbers, organize the same inventories and deal with the same clients and subcontractors as their counterparts in previous generations. So, what has changed over the course of the past decade that makes modernized contractor software suites different from those of yesteryear? The answer lies in the integration of these contemporary digital tools, and the way that each application and database interacts in a cohesive ecosystem.
A fragmented history
Those who work with state-of-the-art construction project management solutions may be hard-pressed to believe that there was a time when ERP, CRM, BIM, payroll and scheduling all required their own applications and unique user interfaces. These environments could not communicate with one another, requiring employees to synchronize databases manually and communicate disparities to avoid reporting erroneous information. With this fragmented approach to construction management, teams were unable to smoothly and swiftly process information.
These inefficiencies not only led to frustration in the back office, but translated to diminished productivity on the job site, as supervisors could not issue orders with the precision and timeliness necessary to meet objectives. With deadlines and budgets under constant strain, contractors often found themselves struggling against their IT solutions rather than working harmoniously with their tech investments. The initial iterations of construction software were a better approach than paper-based records, but sometimes proved more troublesome in terms of project execution.
No more manual
Nowadays, construction technology is highly interconnected, with applications engineered for specialized purposes and collaborative capabilities. No longer do teams have to manually comb their databases to get records up to date, as underlying systems are synced with changes made in any of the app environments. For example, solutions such as Textura ensure data integrity across a company's financial documents to provide accurate payment and invoice reports every time.
"Before we started using Textura-CPM, we were performing most of the payment management processes manually," said Todd Guthrie, President, W.E. O'Neil Construction Company of Colorado, in a press release. "As the economy is starting to grow again, we needed to become more efficient, and Textura has helped us achieve that by automating processes and reducing the reliance on paper."
Contractors can now count on their construction payment management solutions to deliver precise results, rather than risking error in traditional spreadsheet or paper approaches.
Sometimes, less is more when it comes to construction management software, especially for companies that demand integrated solutions. Too many disparate applications can not only overwhelm end users as they try to make sense of a jumbled array of digital tools, but these overloaded app arrays can also leave networks on the fritz with heavy traffic and processing demands. A fractured IT environment is one of the most common problems facing construction firms today, and decision-makers must actively work to streamline their systems for maximum efficiency.
Despite the many issues that result from a disjointed application deployment, developing a cohesive approach to construction IT isn't on the top of many business leaders' dockets. Companies must prioritize an IT ecosystem that offers an intuitive experience for on-site end users and back office administrators. Here are three essential elements of an integrated system that must be considered when stepping into the modern era of construction project management.
1. Make collaboration a priority: End users on the construction site can't stand isolated, silo-based operations, whether manifested digitally or physically. Collaborative applications are vital on even the most rudimentary contracts, and must play a role in every stage of the project life cycle. This means leveraging construction document management tools capable of simultaneous editing, adopting mobile tools for enhanced communications, and promoting real-time scheduling that keeps everybody in the loop at all times.
No Jitter recently pointed out that most user-centric initiatives in the corporate environment are geared for collaborative objectives, noting that tools such as public cloud storage are becoming increasingly common in end user circles. IT leaders must ensure widespread collaboration without forcing employees to develop their own solutions.
2. Let end user goals be the guide: Today's employees have no shortage of tech-savvy ingenuity, and while it should be the other way around, decision-makers in the construction industry often find themselves struggling to keep up with the fast pace of IT trends and application adoption in their workforces. Business leaders may claim they want the latest construction software tools for their operations, but still fail to get on board with the solutions that will truly drive productivity on the job site.
Employees often know best which apps offer the edge and which will gather dust on their mobile devices. According to Tech Page One, the phenomenon of shadow IT can be used for constructive purposes if executive leaders are willing to keep an eye on the trends building steam behind the scenes within their own organizations. Teams that receive support for the apps they actually desire are much more likely to adopt new construction software solutions in an organized, informed manner.
"Users aren't interested in whether shadow IT applications are considered enterprise-class, but they do care that the applications are "inexpensive, quickly installed, and quickly updated with rapid version/refresh cycles," said David Cappuccio, research vice president with Gartner, as quoted by the source.
3. Maintain consistent security: Many collaborative IT efforts are thwarted by a lack of security awareness, as protective measures must be engineered in accordance with a team-based approach to construction project controls. Tech Page One pointed out that when IT is left in the shadows - unauthorized by tech administrators - defensive protocols tend to be ignored. This leaves networks vulnerable to data breaches and a host of other security concerns.
"Sensitive data processed outside the enterprise brings with it an inherent level of risk because outsourced services bypass the physical, logical and personnel controls IT departments exert over in-house programs," McAfee's Slavik Markovich told the source.
With collaborative empowerment, intuitive end-user features and rock-solid security, decision-makers can build a well-rounded IT ecosystem that will last.
The limitations of legacy systems are many, but manual processes are perhaps the most bothersome of the bunch. End users in the construction industry already do enough with their hands on the job site, and IT solutions can't be the central focus of an employee's attention. Business leaders need to choose construction software tools that automate as many operations as possible so that on-site superintendents can deliver the value they are paid to bring to the table. Project execution should be the primary goal when a contract is initiated, not IT busywork.
Not all construction project management tools are created equal, however, and decision-makers need to pick a software suite that offers automation geared specifically to their operations. Tailored solutions and strong tech alliances must be a priority for any firm. Here are three key IT features that should be automated whenever possible to let teams get the most out of their investments:
1. Order replenishment cycles: Determining the materials and expertise needed for a particular contract can take hours, if not days, depending on the size of the project in question. AutomationWorld recently explained that by updating replenishment cycles on a daily, automated basis, companies were able to save a significant amount of time on their work order processes. This increased frequency also reduced the likelihood of inaccuracy, meaning minimized margins for error and even more time savings as a result.
2. Inventory made easy: Large construction firms can run into endless challenges when managing their inventory, especially if they are responsible for multiple warehouses and must coordinate shipments across regional boundaries. Automating inventory management and synchronizing databases throughout storage units is key to ensuring fast, accurate procurement and avoiding the hassles of last-minute orders. AutomationWorld explained that as more companies adopt lean principles and waste reduction, automated inventory practices will be crucial for long-term efficiency.
3. Analytics and forecasting: It may be impossible to predict the outcomes of future contracts, but automated analytics features can determine workflow months in advance and mitigate the risk associated with on-the-fly budgeting. Capital project management is a critical feature of any ERP system, and when background tasks such as micro-transactions are automatically handled, companies can focus on high-level forecasting and better navigate the challenges they face. In addition, sales and marketing processes can benefit greatly from analytics, offering insight into successful campaigns.
In the world of construction, the typical client experience isn't very involved. Contractors are often selected for their project portfolios and positive recommendations from those who have previously worked with the firm. Now that the Web has put a magnifying glass on anonymous company reviews and opinions, however, business leaders need to be extremely attuned to the client experience at every stage of the project lifecycle to ensure that expectations are exceeded throughout.
Establishing a lasting, positive reputation can't be accomplished with strong construction alone - service is now a key element of loyalty and long-term business momentum. Just as contractors have adopted construction project management software to remain on the cutting edge of job site IT, customer relationship management solutions have become the go-to tools to enhance the client experience for the digital era. Here are four CRM features specific to the construction industry that contractors must have to maintain the edge in service and support:
1. Transparent financial planning: No client wants to be left in the dark with regard to the budgetary outlook of their contract. From the project kickoff to every step in the construction process, today's clients want to have total visibility over their financial assets and know exactly how much they'll be expected to pay at the end of the day. Modernized capital project management solutions are engineered with the fast-paced construction job site in mind, delivering precise budget reports that keep all stakeholders in the loop.
2. Document collaboration and sharing: Blueprints can no longer be tucked away under supervisors' arms at all times - clients want unrestricted access to relevant planning resources and expect to be a part of the collaborative design process. Luckily, today's construction document management tools are built to facilitate a team-based construction atmosphere, letting clients get in on the action by making alterations and suggestions to digital blueprint files. This offers users greater control than ever before, setting a standard of constructive peer review and feedback.
3. Optimized contact management: Keeping track of every minute detail that comes up in client conversation is a challenge for even the most skilled sales and service representatives, making automated databases that organize relevant data a powerful feature for any CRM solution. In the context of construction, this means managing ongoing subcontractor relationships, supply chain contacts and an endless stream of client correspondence. According to DestinationCRM, users need an intuitive system that feeds into the natural momentum that characterizes stellar support.
"Regardless of how new, hip, or innovative a technology may be, employees must be comfortable with it," said Tony Compton, director of marketing for Infor CRM, as quoted by the source. "If staff do not understand, enjoy, or find benefit in a new technology implementation, they likely will not use it effectively and there will be no measurable [return on investment]."
4. Analytics for constant evolution: The best contractors always strive to improve their operations on the job site, and the advancement of client service practices is no different. Analytics tools that analyze successful sales and support patterns can unlock the keys to CRM enhancements that couldn't have been seen otherwise.
The debate surrounding the pros and cons of legacy systems and cloud-based deployments is heated as ever, with decision-makers across the construction industry finding themselves in boardroom gridlock over the matter. What more business leaders are realizing, however, is that they can have it both ways, integrating off-premise solutions with in-house assets for a tailored hybrid configuration.
Of course, forming a compromise is never easy for opinionated executive leaders, especially when the discussion turns to the nuanced world of IT. Coming to a conclusion on hybrid cloud may require a bit of extra education for advocates of both legacy and off-premise technology, and with these three benefits in mind, decision-makers should have no trouble meeting halfway.
1. Keep those strong building blocks: Some companies have spent years, if not decades, crafting an IT infrastructure tailored to their exact specifications. While these systems may not deliver optimal performance when tasked with modernized construction management software requirements, databases and servers can still offer a trustworthy support system for underlying network integrity. Decision-makers who pick the hybrid cloud don't have to abandon their legacy systems, allowing them to be repurposed for next-gen demands.
2. Scale and expand as needed: Off-premise cloud offerings are known for their ability to scale rapidly and deliver extra performance and storage at a moment's notice. Companies once had to leverage new physical assets every time they needed more computing power, but hybrid setups put these resources at their fingertips whenever support is scarce. If a firm wants to invest in some more in-house servers to support sensitive construction software needs, however, that option is still on the table with a hybrid approach.
3. Deploy apps with agility and security: Contractors can't be too careful when it comes to app deployment, as end users expect a high level of performance and security for each of their digital tools. TechRadar spoke with Sarah Lahav, CEO of SysAid Technologies, who argued that hybrid delivers the optimal balance of data protection and agile app management.
"Hybrid cloud is generally a good option for those organizations that want to move to the cloud but perhaps still have concerns over data security or sensitive operations," Lahav told the source.
No more C-level bickering - hybrid setups deliver the best of the public and private cloud while offering the chance to hold onto the legacy units that form the foundation of the infrastructure.