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.
Competitors in the construction industry share a unique vocabulary and culture that simply can't be found anywhere else, and it isn't rare for bits of job-site wisdom to be passed down from one generation to the next within an established contractor organization. While hand-me-down tips can provide ways to improve the construction process - such as an alternative use for a piece of equipment or a faster way to mix concrete - many of these tidbits aren't very tech-savvy. In fact, some traditional business leaders may actively advise against the implementation of next-gen construction software.
Decision-makers should certainly heed the advice of their elders, but be cautious when the conversation shifts to IT - there is a great deal of misinformation that can hold a company back from reaching its potential if taken the wrong way. Here are five myths about construction management software that every contractor should be well aware of as they navigate this competitive sector.
1. Excel spreadsheets will suffice. Cells, rows and columns may allow an accounting team to crunch some straightforward budget numbers and manage inventory, but for multi-tier, long-term projects, Excel just won't deliver the visibility needed to stay on track. This old-school approach may have worked when digital tools first appeared on the scene decades ago, but times have changed. Complete construction financial management programs have raised the bar for contractors' budget and resource planning efforts, delivering insight into every aspect of the organization's assets.
2. Who needs 3D modeling? Building information modeling tools aren't a futuristic dream any longer, and even small projects can benefit from a dedicated BIM platform which contractors can refer back to at any point. Better yet, today's 3D imaging solutions are integrated with ERP and subcontractor management features to provide a wider, more detailed vision of the project lifecycle. These tools are much easier to adopt and use than many think, especially with the assistance of a third-party construction software vendor to guide firms through the process.
3. Always bring physical blueprints. The blueprint is an iconic symbol of construction site management, but how important are physical copies when a digital solution can be used on any connected mobile device? Decision-makers on the job site can't burden themselves with clunky rolls of paper when they need to be agile and responsive in crunch-time situations. Ditching physical blueprints, or at least leaving them in the back office, is a crucial step toward a fully modernized construction operation, and should be a top priority for firms struggling to adapt to the times.
4. Only let supervisors access IT tools. Back when tech was unreasonably expensive, scarce and fragile, it made sense that only authorized, upper level leaders had access to the hardware and applications the firm had leveraged. Times have changed drastically, however, and now every job site employee is equipped with powerful construction project management tools in the palm of their hand. There's no longer any reason to sequester these valuable features within the C-level or supervisor teams when solutions can be easily distributed and accessed by all.
TechTarget also pointed out that today's redundant server models ensure application availability even if hardware fails on site, reminding supervisors that everyone should be able to take advantage of modernized tools.
5. Leave those devices at home. It may seem like a good idea to keep that new iPhone in the glove compartment when arriving at the job site, but construction teams can miss out on massive productivity gains by overlooking the role of mobile devices in the field. Construction site management tools offer the chance for employees to collaborate with one another, update project journals on the fly and stay in touch with supervisors at every stage of the contract's advancement.
Project collaboration is key, not only on the job site but at the management and executive levels as well. The chain of command in a contracting firm can sometimes resemble an intricate spider web, making extended builds difficult to orchestrate. With big budgets on the line and little room for error, teams need to have all the pieces in place when it comes to project planning, procurement and execution. Construction project management software is a must when taking on contracts of any magnitude, and here are three less-known reasons why:
1. Open collaborative channels redefine teamwork. Today's projects advance at a rapid clip, and word needs to travel fast within the company hierarchy to keep complex schedules intact. When employees have clear lines of communication to rely on throughout the project lifecycle, they can complete more challenging assignments with fewer resources and even fewer mistakes. These tools can take the form of BIM platforms, daily journal creation and progress reports that update instantly.
With mobile, these tasks can be tackled anywhere, and remote users can stay on the ball with support from cloud-based delivery methods. Legacy systems may provide a solid foundation for back-office operations, but off-premise deployment is the optimal route when leveraging modernized construction project management tools.
2. Leaders and employees take on versatile roles: With fewer rungs on the ladder of the project team, employees can handle workflow in a more dynamic way. Construction project controls let team members bypass tedious communication channels and shoulder diverse responsibilities. On-site workers are equipped with software that serves many functions - financial insight, building models, and content sharing - which allows them to step up into new roles and minimize redundancy. Desktop capabilities on a mobile device mean greater efficiency at every level of the construction process.
Teams cannot delay operations for a minute when deadlines are fast approaching, and tasks such as blueprint management or approvals need to be fast as possible. Construction management software is built to maximize employee functionality in crunch time situations - saving time, reducing error and lowering the necessary outlay.
3. Security gets a boost with dedicated solutions: Cyber security is on its way to the top of the boardroom docket, but executive leaders may not expect tighter job site collaboration to lock down company networks. A recent article from IT Business edge argued that team-oriented project execution can close the door on attackers targeting personal and financial information. Renee Bradshaw, senior solutions manager with NetIQ, noted that with a dedicated cloud-based solution, hackers have more difficulty targeting any single user or vulnerability.
"At the root of every single data breach is a human being," Bradshaw told the news provider. "The inability of organizations to accept this fact is the cause of every breach - whether it be accidental, or the work of a hacker. When departments do not work collaboratively to understand user behavior occurring within the perimeter, breaches will happen."
Who would have thought that collaborative construction software tools can open up new doors and mitigate risk on any project?
Much of the press surrounding the cloud computing phenomenon has made the technology out to be a cure-all for IT woes. Many companies advertise their cloud offerings as a quick fix for IT maintenance struggles, application compatibility issues and a slew of other tech troubles. While cloud can surely help to alleviate some of these problems, however, decision-makers can' t expect their off-premise systems to be the end-all be-all.
When it comes to moving applications into the cloud, executive teams often find themselves at odds with their internal IT teams, leading to communication problems and a range of roadblocks down the line. As TechTarget recently explained, C-level leaders have the tendency to set the bar too high when launching cloud initiatives. These groups need to band together and view the migration process as a collaborative effort with a service provider, rather than taking a chain-of-command approach.
In the case of construction management software, this also means discussing application usage and best practices with team supervisors and trade professionals who rely on the program day to day. By communicating early and often, contractors can avoid much of the backtracking and last-minute adjustments that end up posing problems at implementation time.
"Business hears the word 'cloud' and thinks it's easy to get it up and running," an IT manager for a Midwest gas company who declined to be identified told the news source. "They're hearing this from the cloud provider and then turning to [IT] and saying 'Make this work'."
Getting the goods
Ensuring that cloud resources are intelligently procured is also an essential step that too many contractors overlook when developing a migration strategy. TechTarget pointed out that in order to prevent the overconsumption or scarcity of servers and storage units, service providers and internal tech teams need to create a precise evaluation of their hardware needs prior to making the leap. It's also crucial to consider how, when and why an application will be used, as this will allow engineers to make more appropriate resource allocation choices.
For example, switching a single app from an in-house server to an off-premise location may only require the addition of a few cloud assets, while transitioning a large construction project management software suite would demand that IT teams look into overhauling their infrastructure on a deeper level.
"With Infrastructure as a Service or Platform as a Service, you might design the app for resiliency," said Drue Reeves, chief of research at Gartner Inc., as quoted by the source. "If it's built to scale up, you might want to rebalance to scale out. For SaaS, usability is key, so you must add security features."
Leaders clearly must make informed, strategic transitions to cloud environments to get the most out of their construction software solutions, and Cloud Tweaks urged companies to take the time to prepare for even the most minor migrations. The high performance and compatibility of the service will pay off in the long run.