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.
While 3D modeling and other high-tech methods have dramatically changed the way contractors and designers create and share their construction plans, the old fashioned blueprint still plays a major role in the project execution process. In many cases, a clear, hand-drawn sketch of a building can be a powerful way to convey new ideas to a construction crew or present clients with a proposal that changes the direction of a contract. A detailed layout of a plan can often be the key to initiating progress and taking a project to the next level.
Same idea, new tech
Just because blueprints have an old-fashioned feel, however, does not mean they haven't received the 21st century treatment with the help of construction management software. According to AV Network, digital blueprint drafting and collaboration capabilities have already allowed contractors across every corner of the industry to deliver accurate, up-to-date visualizations of their project goals. Here are 3 ways that construction document management solutions can revolutionize how contractors approach the blueprint creation and review process.
1. Ready for takeoff: Starting a contract off on the right foot will often mean smooth project execution from end to end, meaning that construction leaders must nail their blueprint and client presentations off the bat. AV Network explained that software such as Bluebeam Revu has tools capable of creating detailed, precise blueprints that remain relevant throughout the project process. The source also mentioned that measurements can be exported to a CSV file that takes into account factors such as cost and scheduling for a complete view of the blueprint's financial implications.
2. A team effort: What good is a blueprint if clients and employees can't easily view, critique and adjust the plans as the project lifecycle advances? With the right construction project management solution, collaborators can safely store documents in the cloud for easy access whenever updates or revisions need to be made. Bluebeam Revu even holds onto the original copy of the blueprint and colors any change marks to distinguish unique contributions, AV Network pointed out. With its comparison tool, contractors can also examine the differences between multiple versions of a document.
3. Never left behind: The mobile revolution is in full swing, and construction document management capable of on-the-go use will be a key differentiator as business leaders flesh out their mobility strategies. Entech recently noted that without the ability to view and manipulate resources via mobile devices, construction leaders may be left behind as the trend takes off. The source even listed "full-force mobile computing" as one of its top four construction trends for 2014.
"Seventy percent of construction professionals already view mobile technology as important to their businesses, planning to use it to access and share information such as customer and job data, drawings, schedules, photos and plans" a Sage Construction Industry Technology Trends survey stated, according to the news source.
With these capabilities, a construction firm can build a more collaborative, high-speed environment for its blueprint creation and management.
With the pressures of the digital age mounting, more companies are embracing cloud computing and migrating IT resources to off-premise locations. Light Reading recently pointed to a Verizon Enterprise Solutions survey revealing that 74 percent of cloud adopters claim they have gained a competitive advantage in some capacity. Simplifying tech outlooks is also a major motivator in this trend, as 71 percent of respondents said they reduced the complexity of their systems by moving their resources into a cloud environment.
Could it be so simple?
With so many aspects of the tech landscape in flux, construction executives across the industry find themselves posing the same question in the boardroom time and again: What is the best way to manage our internal IT staff in light of these major infrastructure changes? While there is no definitive answer to this inquiry, IT thought leaders appear firm in their belief that in-house teams are able to do more with less thanks to the outsourced nature of cloud setups. This could have a dramatic impact on the way companies approach their construction management software demands.
An article from Processor recently explored the simplification afforded by the cloud phenomenon, citing the productivity and innovation benefits that users have seen offloading traditional IT management tasks to third-party providers. The source pointed out that cost savings, flexibility and reduced IT footprints are just a few of the advantages granted by cloud, all of which can be very compelling in the context of construction project management solutions.
Although the cloud can reduce data center workloads for internal IT teams, this doesn't mean that tech staff members get to hang around the water cooler all day. Processor explained that even though some IT tasks can be crossed off the list thanks to outsourcing, in-house pros should still have their hands full with plenty of company-specific responsibilities.
"Having a third party take over a lot of the menial tasks associated with managing an application workload or, even if the customer is still managing the application layer themselves, managing the infrastructure it runs on, is really helpful," said Amy DeCarlo, principal analyst for security and data center services at Current Analysis, according to the source.
For many firms, this is a breath of fresh air, as tech staff members who were previously swamped with maintenance tasks can now focus in on creating forward-thinking content and optimizing construction software for performance.
Companies that can act as a jack-of-all-trades are poised to lead the construction industry today, as clients demand more streamlined, integrated service throughout the project lifecycle. Contractors need to be masters of many elements of the construction process rather than specializing in a particular niche if they want to make a run against the biggest names in the design-build portion of the sector. Of course, they'll need a highly integrated construction management software solution if they want to bring it all together without sacrificing efficiency, speed and quality.
The integrated era
What does it really mean to offer an design-build service in the digital age, and what do today's clients want from their contractors? To put it simply, they expect a lot more than they used to, especially with regard to the visibility of the schedule and budget details of a project's progression. This means that construction companies must be willing to collaborate with clients on a frequent basis and view these relationships as a vital part of project development and execution. A generation ago, clients were eager to hand over complete control - now, they want to be a part of the action with construction project controls.
Best practices emerge
Building Design and Construction recently gave contractors some insight into how they should optimize their construction practices to succeed with design-build in this new era of client demands. According to the source, The Design-Build Institute of America released a report titled "Universally Applicable Best Practices Applying to Any Project Type, in Any Market Sector, of Any Size," with the intention of getting contractors up to speed on the most effective approaches to procuring, contracting and executing design-build projects of all types and sizes.
"The 10 Design-Build Done Right Best Practices serve as a single source that clearly defines design-build fundamentals to significantly enhance superior project outcomes," said Lisa Washington, executive director and CEO at DBIA."With design-build currently at 40 percent of all non-residential design and construction, the impetus for owners to engage in Design-Build Done Right is at an all-time high."
While many of the DBIA's suggestions were geared toward owners looking to make the most of their design-build options, Building Design and Construction pointed to several contractor-specific recommendations from the report. Here are five suggestions that apply directly to how companies should approach the design-build process in the modern era:
- When developing a contract with the owner, project coordinators should clarify the client's expectations and standards for both the design and construction elements of the project
- The contractor should explain how the design-build process differs from traditional, segmented construction processes and further clarify its approach
- Project leaders must teach their own teams the distinct elements of the design-build delivery method to ensure a cohesive construction project management effort
- The project team needs to lock down the logistics and infrastructure necessary to meet its design-build needs and client expectations
- Commissioning, turnover and design management processes should be established up front, especially if a team is unfamiliar with these components
The DBIA revealed on its website that design-build methods can yield faster project delivery speeds, lower costs and less schedule growth than design-bid-build and construction management at-risk methods. However, contractors need the digital resources to make the most of the design-build approach. This means leveraging a suite that has it all, from building information modeling technology for design to robust ERP tools for construction financial management.
As design-build continues to grow in popularity and clients demand even more insight into their contracts, it will be crucial for companies to get on board with best practices and acquire the tools necessary to execute their objectives.
Contractors new to the digital landscape will likely find themselves both confused and excited when beginning to explore the construction software marketplace. In recent years, the sector has been flooded with solutions that seek to deliver the optimal project management experience and cater to the specific needs of contractors across the industry.
Since the sheer volume of options on the market can be overwhelming for even the most tech-savvy contractors, a bit of guidance may be necessary to implement an effective construction management software solution that will last.
CIO recently aggregated the recommendations and predictions of industry thought leaders in an article discussing the ERP search and implementation process. Here is a five-point checklist that will help decision-makers make the most of the technology available at their fingertips.
1. Select a tailored solution
It may seem obvious that contractors choose a system that meets the specific standards of a construction operation, but many companies overlook this step and end up with a one-size-fits-all service that doesn't make the grade. While many systems come with the option to configure settings and create a more intuitive experience for end users, there's no substitute for a readymade solution.
"Find an ERP system that is industry-specific, with tools and features designed to solve your business requirements," said Daniele Fresca, director of marketing at IQMS, according to CIO.
2. Get everybody on board
A new set of construction project controls won't do a company much good if its employees lack the skills to get the most out of the system. User education and training is key to maximizing any tech investment.
Although on-the-job experience is the best way to learn the ins and outs of a new setup, decision-makers can't underestimate the power of a more formal, classroom-based setting to ease workers into the flow of the software.
"Identify department-specific needs, allowing for sufficient time to develop and deliver training programs," said Joel Schneider, cofounder of Liberty Technology Advisors, as quoted by the source.
3. Prioritize mobile capability
A construction management software solution may have everything a contractor is looking for, but if it isn't optimized for mobile flexibility, it might as well be obsolete. These days, mobility is a must-have for any competitive firm, and those who fall behind the curve on this trend will fail to realize the potential of their IT setups.
"As mobility and BYOD increase across industries, accessing ERP systems from desktops only is no longer an option," Ilan Paretsky, vice president of marketing with Ericom Software, told CIO.
4. Ensure rock-solid security
All aspects of a company's IT profile, especially construction financial management, must be protected at all costs in this hazardous digital environment. Compromising sensitive personal or corporate information could mean a rapid decline in client trust and the beginning of the end for contract acquisition.
TechTarget recently affirmed the importance of ERP security, urging decision-makers to partner with a service provider that has a strong track record of data protection. When looking into off-premise options in particular, companies must be sure that their vendors are prioritizing security with the same level of stringency.
"With a cloud system, they are making the investment in developing a top IT team that is dedicating all of their time to keeping your data stored on their system secure," Pat Garrehy, CEO of Rootstock Software, told the news provider.
5. Be ready for the future
Given the rapid pace of technological evolution, contractors need to make sure that their construction software can grow and change with the times. This means teaming up with forward-thinking solutions providers and maintaining a flexible attitude when confronted with disruptive tech options that present themselves down the line.
Every contractor knows that cloud computing has made a big splash in the construction industry, and a growing number of companies in the sector is leveraging these tools to gain operational advantages in the field and the back office. Despite all of the cloud's clout, however, decision-makers must not let themselves be fooled by any service provider claiming to have the off-premise solution for contractors.
In a recent blog for Manufacturing Business Technology, Apptricity co-founder, CEO and president Tim Garcia exposed some common trickery employed by sales reps in the competitive resource planning solutions space. Contractors should be wary of the following lines and remind themselves to dig a little deeper when they are out on their search.
- "Sure, we can meet that deadline. No problem."
- "We don't have that capability now, but it's on our short list for development."
- "Our warehouse management system will definitely integrate with your invoicing software."
Expect the best
Only a select few construction management software products justify forking over those hard-earned dollars, and it's up to business leaders to discover which solutions deliver the goods. TechTarget recently posed a handful of questions that CIOs should be asking themselves when purchasing new cloud based tech solutions. Here are the three that apply most to the construction management software world
- How is internal IT involved in the project? Are in-house IT staff members prepared to get hands-on with a cloud integration or would they prefer to stand aside and let a third-party provider to the heavy lifting? If a contractor is developing its own construction software resources as part of a separate project, it may be smart to let internal IT focus on those tasks rather than participate in the implementation of external solutions.
- Does the provider meet all GRC needs? Governance, risk and compliance aren't just buzzwords - they're critical components of any business strategy that centers on sensitive data such as financial information. Making sure a service provider is up to par with regulatory standards is a must when picking any new IT tools, especially construction payment management and accounting software.
- Planning a full or partial migration? Creating a clear vision of how a cloud setup should be integrated is essential to make the ideal IT layout a reality. Determining which assets should be moved to a cloud environment and which legacy assets should be kept around is a good first step in the right direction.
Construction technology is widely recognized as a powerful tool used to boost project efficiency and maintain control over financial outlooks. As software has developed over the years, however, an increasing reliance of construction data has changed the way that project planners approach the design process. By using collected information to make more informed choices on how to design and execute their projects, contractors are optimizing their methods and discovering best practices for their unique styles and abilities. Construction management software is the key to acquiring these data points.
Let the data guide you
Building Design and Construction showcased a variety of powerful advantages that the appropriate use of data can bring to the table for contractors. For example, designers can capture performance metrics from previous projects and determine which methods will prove most effective for future endeavors. Advanced tools can also provide simulation environments to test, prototype and evaluate experimental design plans without long-term investment.
"Instead of using building information as a capture of the final design, it's fed back into the early design process to help the team make decisions that will ideally lead to a better building downstream," said Nathan Miller, associate partner and director of architecture and engineering solutions with CASE.
Cloud makes it possible
While terms such as 'big data' have been thrown around the corporate world for nearly a decade, construction firms that incorporate advanced analytics tools are finally getting an idea of what the hype is about. Thankfully, these digital resources aren't reserved for the business elite. In fact, a big portion of cloud computing's success has been due to the speed and cost-effectiveness with which enterprise-grade analysis platforms can be leveraged by companies across sectors.
The next frontier for data-enhanced construction project management? According to Tech Page One, real-time analysis and streaming data resources have the potential to bring even more efficiency gains to the job site and the back office.
"Companies assume that they have time to store, clean, and integrate data before using it," noted Decision Management Solutions CEO James Taylor, according to the source. "Big data arrives much more rapidly, often as real-time or streaming data, and needs to be used more rapidly: Real-time data only adds value if turned into real-time insight."
For construction competitors in particular, the future looks bright - facilities management software and other tools mean that in-depth analytics platforms are finally within reach.