As the construction industry has grown into the digital age, content management methods have developed in a rapid and diverse manner, encompassing the full spectrum of data that fuels stages along the project life cycle. Companies throughout the sector have integrated a wide range of tools and techniques to ensure that they maintain a firm grip on the content and processes that make up their project management procedures, creating a specialized niche of construction-specific ECM technologies built both in-house and by vertically-oriented service providers.
While this specialized segment has made plenty of progress, there are still many areas in which business leaders must refine and improve their ECM strategies. Here is a look at four major trends impacting the world of content management, and what these developments mean for leaders in the construction industry trying to master this increasingly important element of IT.
1. Information governance ramps up: Between IT demands, compliance requirements and day-to-day business functions, information governance is quickly becoming the most vital element of enterprise content management, determining how organizations file and classify documents and data across the enterprise. While governance efforts have traditionally been orchestrated upon the initial deployment of an ECM platform, a blog post from RSD recently pointed out that companies are returning the drawing board more often to ensure compliance and accuracy.
"Information governance is not a one-time project, it's a continuous program that must be backed within the organization and IT infrastructure," explained Bassam Zarkout, CTO of RSD, according to the source.
2. Mobile content management improves: There are few industries more eager to embrace the power of mobile computing than construction, and organizations in this field recognize that ECM deployments deserve a special place in their mobility strategies. Considering how many projects and stakeholders must be supported by these systems, synchronization between the back office to the mobile domain is critical. As SearchEngineJournal recently noted, more than 50 percent of business Web traffic is mobile, meaning ECM must be prepared for the on-the-go functionality.
3. Integration across apps becomes key: Emails, blueprints and progress reports may be the cornerstones of ECM in the construction sector, but unless applications are engineered to interact with other critical resources in the IT environment, they aren't likely to fulfill their complete potential. SearchEngineJournal pointed out that tech departments are becoming frustrated with the lack of fluidity between various enterprise apps, suggesting that cross-platform integration will be top of mind as organizations leverage new ECM strategies down the line.
"Aligning content management with the daily functions of business applications can be a challenge, which is why there is demand to see increased integration with systems such as accounting, CRM, and ERP," explained blog contributor and CircleClick Media founder Anne Ahola Ward. "Developing data workflows into these systems creates tremendous gains in productivity."
4. Security and privacy remain top priority: ECM platforms are designed to maximize performance and productivity on and off the job site, but cybersecurity is a concern that simply can't be overlooked by business leaders in the modern era. In order to ensure safe and secure practices, companies should select ECM applications built specifically for their industries and weed out consumer-grade solutions that are prone to vulnerabilities.
Contractors handle a wide range of digital content across their operations, and now that more organizations are adopting a paper-free standard in the office and on the job site, construction software plays a vital role in the management of these key documents, images and design files. That's why these companies can't take a one-size-fits-all approach to their ECM programs, and must instead select a suite that reflects the unique requirements of the construction operation. With these three keys in mind, contractors can make the best choice for their organization's content management.
1. Choose the right ECM vendor: The best software deployments begin with intelligent vendor selection, and for contractors in need of ECM systems, decision-makers must find a service provider that knows the construction sector especially well. For instance, the types of content managed by a contractor are quite different from the standard document variations found in the typical enterprise environment. Not only do construction firms handle financial reports and contracts, but they must also track blueprints, 3D models, images and other sector-specific files.
An article from PiF Technologies suggested that vendor relationships should be a priority when it comes to ECM strategy, as support from service providers can make or break a deployment. Contractors should run a thorough background check on potential partners to ensure they know the ropes of their industry and can deliver a vertically-oriented solution built with construction operations in mind.
2. Ensure cross-app integration: Content management systems are most effective when they automatically aggregate files and documents from across the digital domain, minimizing legwork for IT teams and allowing end users to quickly access key resources from an easy-to-use repository. As an article from Document Media pointed out, this requires close integration with an organization's multiple database systems and applications, ensuring that no file is left behind when ECM systems collect various types of digital assets on the fly.
"Usually, content has been stored in network file sharing systems, email inboxes/sent boxes, local desktops/laptops and removable media," explained ECM expert Len Asprey. "However, changes in technologies have widened the scope of storage locations."
3. Prioritize end-user mobility: The mobile standard has been embraced by contractors from around the construction industry, but many ECM systems lack the on-the-go functionality required to make the most out of device and software investments. Whether an end user is looking to access blueprint materials on the job site or needs to send photos back to headquarters, ECM platforms are key to bridging the gap between mobile and back-office teams.
"Mobility is now a key business driver in many organizations," continued Asprey. "The business case for ECM is complex because of the growing demand for mobile access to documents and content, thus, enabling field staff to collaborate and contribute and executives to review and approve content from a diversity of devices, including mobile phones, tablet computers and remote desktops."
By accounting for these critical factors, a contractor will be prepared to make the best possible ECM investments for its unique content needs.
For contractors in all areas of the construction industry, cost overruns are a primary risk factor when executing building and renovation projects. When a contract goes over budget, a construction firm, its business partners and the clients in question all suffer by enduring delays and additional costs, resulting in further challenges and frustrations for all involved. Continuous overruns can not only weaken operations from a financial perspective, but can also reflect badly on an organization's reputation and diminish its ability to gain business in the future.
Since overruns can bring about so many negative effects, it's important that contractors develop risk-averse project management strategies that ensure protection against these types of problems. Decision-makers should identify common causes of overruns, target these issues with dedicated construction software and uphold cost-conscious policies on every contract.
The cost of miscalibration
In many cases, ongoing cost overruns can entrench an organization in financial uncertainty, causing project forecasts to be overshadowed by a lack of planning and insight. This is the situation that decision-makers in with the Office of Veterans Affairs find themselves in, struggling to regain their footing after budget problems plagued their past several projects. According to the Montgomery Advertiser, the organization recently had to bring a contract to a halt after discovering the cost to be nearly twice what owners had anticipated.
"Over the past few years it has become very apparent that VA's ability to control costs and deliver major construction projects on time is and should be viewed as a great concern," said Ray Kelley, legislative director for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, according to the news source. "Veterans are not being served when construction projects take years longer than expected to complete and the price tags inflate."
In this scenario, insufficient planning and project management resources left the VA incapable of fulfilling its duties to serve its constituents and accomplish its construction goals. For contractors, a similar level of accountability is in place when running their cost estimations and keeping their operations within budgetary boundaries.
Solutions make an impact
As an article from the Houston Chronicle explained, risk can stem from each of these phases, but is typically the result of minor mishaps throughout the project life cycle. For instance, designers need data from estimators to make smart choices about the materials and dynamics of a structure long before building ever starts.
"Sometimes, the designs or drawings that form the basis of the project are not realistic," explained contributor Bert Markgrad. "Executing the project as specified will either cost extra or cause problems that must be resolved later at additional cost. As project manager, you have to continuously compare plans with executed work to find such discrepancies early and correct them."
The ideal project management software deployment will guide a contractor through each step of the way, utilizing a core set of data that informs end users from one stage to the next. Thankfully, a number of programs exist to help contractors navigate construction design, planning and execution processes and actively avoid cost overruns.
Customer relationship management software has not traditionally seen many deployments in the construction industry, as conventional methods of client communications and subcontractor interactions were based on in-person engagement and direct forms of contact. Even though contractors have long expressed enthusiasm in software tools such as ERP and project management solutions, CRM has lagged behind. Now, decision-makers are opening their minds and seeing just how powerful these tools can be in aiding their sales, marketing a customer retention efforts.
Accelerating business growth
Since CRM is typically thought to be geared toward companies that facilitate short, linear sales cycles, it makes sense that construction leaders would not adopt these tools on a very large scale. However, the nuanced relationships that exist throughout the contract life cycle and the project execution processes are beginning to change the way contractors look at CRM. Since project request, bid and design protocols are so prolonged and in-depth, it follows that a dedicated relationship management suite would be beneficial to enhance transparency and build trust.
As a recent blog post from Naylor Network pointed out, CRM tools are actually the perfect fit for construction firms, as they tend to juggle a range of complicated partnerships extending across various projects and business objectives. When it comes to the high-stakes sales and marketing processes that define business development in this industry, the value of well-organized, easily accessible information cannot be denied. In many cases, the statistics speak for themselves, showing dramatically improved sales performances.
"In cases we have reviewed, sales increases arising from advanced marketing and sales information technology have ranged from 10 percent to more than 30 percent, and investment returns have often exceeded 100 percent," explained Rowland Moriarty and Gordon Swartz in Harvard Business Review, according to the source. "These returns may sound like the proverbial free lunch, but they are real."
Maintaining key connections
Of course, boosting sales is only a part of the CRM value proposition - the software is also engineered to promote client retention and ensure that business partnerships maintain positive momentum for all parties. Since the construction operation involves so many stages and interactive checkpoints, it's important that contractors leverage a CRM platform that offers a robust set of engagement tools and other resources aimed at keeping long-term clients and subcontractors in the loop.
"CRM is not only for tracking customers but can be extended to all business partners for a company," noted Naylor Network blog author Steven Mulka of SIS Software. "Subcontractors, architects, banks, general contractors, competitors all can be entered into CRM so that employees can quickly find the details on a particular company, contract or bid."
Since CRM has yet to saturate the construction environment completely, the time is now for forward-thinking strategists in the field to gain an edge on the competition by leveraging these software components. With stronger marketing campaigns, improved sales initiatives and plenty of client engagement resources to ensure long-term retention, these systems can surely offer a leg up for any contractor in the digital era.
Construction leaders in the digital age recognize the importance of a strong ERP deployment in their business operations. After all, tracking and organizing capital assets is an essential part of any for-profit endeavor, regardless of the industry in question. However, the unique parameters of a contractor's financial responsibilities mean that not all ERP solutions are up to the task of supporting a construction operation. Contractors must be especially conscious of the special requirements that impact their ERP selections, and let these factors guide their software decisions.
It's can be tempting for enterprise leaders to quickly scan the ERP market and pick a solution that appears to fulfill their needs, but without a thorough examination of their operations, a company risks missing out on key features that should really be top priorities. It's important for decision-makers to take a measured approach to these evaluations, ensuring that they account for the demands of stakeholders from across the organization and leverage a solution that delivers comprehensive functionality rather than a half-baked set of capabilities.
In the construction industry, this means considering the project life cycle as a whole and all the financial elements that promote excellence throughout each stage of the contract. The best ERP deployments will offer insight into the connections that comprise the supply chain, provide details on every capital investment and operational expense, and ensure that employees and subcontractors are paid in a precise, timely manner. As a blog post from Apprise Software explained, the time taken to assess the desires and demands of the company is well worth it when it comes time to invest.
"Every industry is unique," noted the source. "Lack of industry specialized capabilities within your software is a common cause of failure for an ERP software implementation. Often "horizontal" solutions that serve many different industries need to be significantly customized in order to fit your business model and to integrate with your other internal systems."
Implementing with care
Picking an ERP solution is only a small step on the way to achieving value from a software deployment, and any seasoned IT veteran knows that the implementation process requires even more attention and care from the tech department and other teams from across the business. This means that a company should devote significant portions of time and energy to ensuring the successful deployment and integration of its construction software, especially if a solution is completely unfamiliar. Thankfully, strong vendor support can drastically accelerate and simplify this process.
"Avoid vendors who are not in sync with where your industry is going," explained the Apprise Software blog post. "Instead, look for a partner who both knows your industry and knows where your industry's future is headed. Your vendor should be very knowledgeable with new industry standards and incorporate related processes into their standard ERP software solution to handle these requirements."
Contractors that recognize the importance of strong evaluations and implementation processes will surely stand to benefit most from modern ERP solutions, even if it takes a bit longer to execute their deployments.
End-user experience is one of the most vital aspects of enterprise software strategy, yet far too many applications in the business environment fail to meet the expectations and demands of the workforce. With a growing variety of software offerings on the market today, there has certainly been a shift toward more user-friendly design and streamlined interfaces, but decision-makers need to recognize how critical these elements truly are to the long-term value and effectiveness of their IT investments. Prioritizing user experience is the new frontier of software optimization in the business world.
Defining the concept
It's understandable that user experience took a backseat to basic functionality and compatibility as the digital standard first saturated the enterprise environment, but now that most organizations have highly complex suites of applications structuring their workflows and fueling their operations, it's time for decision-makers to take a closer look at how end users interact with these software components. As the Nielsen Norman Group pointed out, strategists must examine every aspect of the user experience to get a complete understanding of the factors that impact usability and satisfaction.
"True user experience goes far beyond giving customers what they say they want, or providing checklist features," explained the source. "In order to achieve high-quality user experience... there must be a seamless merging of the services of multiple disciplines, including engineering, graphical and industrial design, and interface design."
In the context of the construction industry, this means getting hands-on with the applications used at every stage of the contract life cycle. From the design and planning stages to procurement and on-site project management, supervisors and trade professionals need to feel comfortable with the digital tools at their disposal, minimizing confusion and troubleshooting to maximize value. Strategists must also examine how multiple applications interact with one another to reduce data silos and ensure that information is evenly and accurately distributed across the enterprise.
New territory for change
While user experience initiatives were once restricted to desktop workstations and the occasional laptop computer, a wide array of new devices and platforms must now be taken into account as IT leaders craft their strategies to improve usability and performance. According to a recent article from Information Age, Forrester has highlighted a "Mobile Mind Shift" in which consumers, executives and employees have all embraced mobility as the new standard for communication and productivity. Simply put, mobile deployments must be built on strong user experience to succeed.
"In order to deliver an exceptional user experience, it must be delivered consistently across multiple device and platform configurations," wrote author Archie Roboostoff of Micro Focus. "Ensuring that mobile apps provide a good level of performance and responsiveness is a critical dimension of user experience, as is consistency of this across all platforms."
In light of the new mobile paradigm, enterprise leaders should ensure that software deployments not only be optimized for an exceptional user experience, but must also maintain equal levels of functionality and performance across multiple platforms and devices.
At this point, contractors in every area of the construction industry understand the power of an ERP solution, using such software to gain deeper insights into their financial outlooks and map out the future of their capital assets. Unfortunately, many decision-makers limit themselves to basic functionality when deploying these programs, forgetting the importance of project management in the scheme of the construction operation. Tech leaders in the sector should leverage project-oriented solutions that offer the advantages of ERP while helping teams navigate the contract life cycle.
Beyond asset management
While the availability of accurate financial data is indeed necessary for successful project execution, today's construction leaders are beginning to recognize that they need supplementary software to fully support the complexities of project delivery. This includes elements of workforce management, risk assessment and integration with design platforms such as BIM - a much more involved set of features than is typically found in an ERP deployment. As Gadget Magazine pointed out, software must address every project stage to ensure efficient, expedient operation.
"In today's risk adverse and competitive environments, technology plays an important role in supporting and fostering best project management practices," wrote Thabo Ndlela, director at IFS Africa. "The logical solution is to select and implement enterprise software designed for the project environment, with project management functionality that shares data, in a natural, event-driven way, with the rest of an enterprise suite."
The source also pointed out that factors such as occupational health and safety must be taken into consideration when decision-makers fortify their project management solutions, noting that regulatory compliance is often overlooked in comparison to productivity suites. No matter which aspect of the project life cycle is in question, firms require comprehensive construction software that facilitates reporting in real time, ensuring data visibility across the workforce. A solution should standardize a stronger level of transparency for clients and other business partners as well.
Genuine ERP integration
Cross-platform software integration is a commonly cited goal for modern IT leaders, but in the construction industry, leveraging interconnected applications is a vital part of project management. Since information must be drawn from a wide range of sources and constantly made available in a digestible format for on-site teams and subcontractors, there can be no barriers between data sets and the applications that rely upon them. Gadget Magazine suggested that tech teams evaluate the fluidity of their app ecosystems, honestly assessing whether they promote maximal visibility and access.
"In evaluating project-based enterprise solutions, bear in mind that there is a tremendous value difference between ERP with native project management and point-to-point integration with external project management software," continued Ndlela. "It pays to ensure that data flows freely between project management and the rest of the application set."
As contractors begin to focus on building integrated app structures, dedicated vendor support will be an essential success factor. Organizations should create partnerships with ERP service providers who truly know the construction industry and can generate an optimal project management environment.
Enterprise mobility has experienced a rapid and impressive evolution over the past several years, as contractors have gradually chipped away at the obstacles holding their organizations back from full-on mobile functionality. No longer are tech teams concerned with BYOD compatibility issues or policy-building - software is now the star of the show, and companies are seeking to maximize the value of their apps in the mobile domain.
As 2015 rolls along, business leaders in construction should continue to push for app development and optimization, promoting the highest standard of mobile mastery.
Apps become a priority
When mobile strategies first came onto the scene years ago, organizations struggled to integrate these new hardware components, making software a secondary factor. Now, according to Information Age, applications are top of mind for enterprise leaders, who have since overcome the initial device management challenges of mobility. The source pointed to a report from Claranet, in which 76 percent of the 900 IT decision-makers surveyed considered applications their No. 1 priority in 2015. This proves that device details are playing second fiddle to software and data.
"The software revolution is in full swing, affecting every industry - applications and data, and the IT teams that manage them, are more important to a company's success in the market than ever before," said Neil Thomas, Claranet's U.K. product director, according to the source. "The reality is that organizations will increasingly need to use a blend of services to arrive at the optimal solution."
The source argued that third-party application support will be a critical success factor for enterprise applications in the months and years to come. For contractors tired of crafting substandard apps for their mobile workforces, it may be time to consider upgrading to a more comprehensive construction software system that integrates back-office operations with on-the-go staff members' devices.
Expecting more from mobile
An article from Enterprise Apps Today echoed the sentiment that a streamlined mobile experience is crucial for business leaders in all sectors, pointing out that inconsistencies across databases and applications can cripple employee productivity, regardless of their device flexibility. The source explained that there should be no structural silos separating the mobile and desktop domains, as this can lead to communication breakdowns and a lack of coordination. This is especially important for contractors, whose operations are heavily collaborative and demand close synchronization.
"Users are looking for apps that don't just allow them to look up information in separate data sources; they are looking for seamless interactions with their enterprise that enable them to get stuff done," said Peter Price, CEO of Webalo, according to the source. "I want to approve employee-related requests from my smartphone or tablet, like expenses on paid time off."
By leveraging the services of a dedicated construction software provider, contractors can overcome the limitations of fragmented application deployments, unifying their tools and data sets in a way that seamlessly bridges the mobility gap. With these capabilities, a company can finally realize the benefits of mobility it has always envisioned.
The sustainability movement is one of the most widespread and important trends to impact the construction sector in recent history, and leaders from across the industry are eager to employ the latest green practices to catalyze positive environmental change and remain competitive in their field. According to the U.S. Green Building council, nearly 50 percent of new nonresidential construction this year will be eco-conscious, and by 2018, 84 percent of single-family homes will be built with sustainable materials and methods. Clearly, it's time to embrace the green revolution.
Despite the massive uptick in enthusiasm and capital for these projects, many construction leaders lack the experience and insight necessary to execute green initiatives in a profitable manner. Decision-makers should look into these three technological advantages to maximize the impact of their environmental endeavors and ensure that business continues to boom for years to come:
1. Strategic vision of ERP: The concept of resource efficiency is at the core of the sustainability movement, and from the perspective of a construction company, there's no better way to improve this standard of operations than by improving their capital management processes with an ERP solution. As a recent article from TechTarget pointed out, organizations are realizing that the key to many green goals lies in data generated in these software programs, as they provide decision-makers with the insights necessary to tackle new project types and engage with different construction methods.
"It's not tree-hugging stuff," said Debbie Altham, co-president of Sustainable Dynamics, according to the source. "It's basic commercial business sense. Businesses need to be smarter, and this is one way of being smarter. I realized there is a huge [potential] in building measurement tools to help them manage their sustainability."
2. Connectivity of CRM: A great deal of sustainable strategy comes down to strong communication among the various stakeholders who embark on green projects, as these initiatives require exceptional coordination of resources and expertise. CRM platforms optimized for the construction sector are the best tools available to promote connectivity across departments and collaborative teams. With frameworks such as Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) certification, leaders need to be on the same page with one another as they navigate the project life cycle.
CRM can also dramatically enhance the visibility of the supply chain by keeping closer records of collaboration and improving upon key supplier and delivery relationships. All of these elements can solidify connections with the clients and collaborators that make green construction possible, promoting sustainability from at every stage of a project's execution.
3. Transparency of BIM: Few technologies are as directly beneficial to sustainable construction as Building Information Modeling, as these 3D design programs offer tangible value in the reduction of waste and erroneous decision-making. TechTarget explained that BIM allows for more transparent planning processes, as well as real-time feedback into the efficiency of particular building components when implemented on-site. For designers, engineers and job-site supervisors, BIM provides visibility into the key factors that make up sustainable construction.
Every contractor knows that business partnerships are vital to the health and growth of their operations, but many organizations overlook one of the most important connections of all: the relationship with their construction software vendor. Since IT is a such a central element of today's enterprise strategy, companies must prioritize strong, lasting bonds with their service vendors to ensure they reap the full range of benefits these technologies have to offer. Contractors should run down this three-point checklist to see if their IT partnerships are optimized for longevity and value:
1. Industry-specific? Many vendors claim they can tweak their software offerings for construction, but only a few service providers truly know the nuances of this industry inside and out. Contractors need to thoroughly evaluate the experience of potential partners to gauge whether they're prepared to deliver the specialized solutions unique to their operations. The VAR Guy recently pointed out that a vendor's industry expertise is often the most telling indicator of its compatibility with a client, and in the world of construction, this connection is essential for success.
2. Integrated deployments? Any service provider can deliver a slew of disparate applications to a client and call it a proprietary solution, but unless a vendor implements a genuinely integrated suite of services, contractors may be missing out on a host of valuable advantages. Construction teams should make sure their IT partners consolidate their apps whenever possible and reduce the complexity of the software implementation.
3. Mobile-ready software? The bring-your-own-device movement is in full swing, and contractors must have mobile-conscious IT partners if they want to achieve and maintain a competitive edge. An article from Enterprise Innovation argued that future ERP deployments must be ready for mobile functionality, and construction teams should hold their vendors to this standard moving forward.
"An ERP solution that enables access to information anywhere, anytime and on any device empowers users to work with increased efficiency," explained Craig Charlton, Senior Vice President at Epicor Software, according to the source. "ERP solutions that are built with mobile in mind and are able to balance the need for mobile usability will be favored by the buyers and users of tomorrow."
Tech trends - mobile or otherwise - are constantly saturating the market. A trustworthy IT vendor will act as the eyes and ears of its clients in the digital domain, identifying and adopting game-changing advancements as they are introduced over time.