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5 Ways construction software improves partnerships


It's impossible to find a contractor that has a perfect track record with all of its business partners and clients. Even the smoothest projects tend to encounter some bumps in the road as a result of partnership challenges, and a seemingly minor dispute can become a full-blown feud if not managed quickly and effectively.

In order to prevent these blowouts from marring a company's reputation, contractors must deploy construction management software that bolsters bonds between collaborative parties. According to Construction Global, technology is one of the most effective peacemakers and risk reducers. Here are 5 ways in which these solutions can strengthen contractor partnerships for long-term success: 

1. Access documents from anywhere: Without fast and easy access to vital financial and planning documents, there are plenty of opportunities for contract partners to point fingers at one another. Design flaws or budget miscalculations can lead to some nasty accusations if decision-makers aren't able to swiftly access the definitive resources that reveal the truth of the matter. 

2. Ensure all files are synchronized: Even with instant-access capabilities, documents won't be of much use unless they are automatically synced up across the construction software suite. Subcontractors and clients that have the latest updates to critical files won't raise any fingers when it comes time to make a key decision moving forward. 

3. Open channels of communication: Construction document management tools make sure that key information is always on hand, especially when coupled with mobile technology. Communications can fire up and down the chain of command at a rapid clip when fortified by collaborative and dedicated channels. This speeds up the decision making process and diminishes crossed signals. 

4. Reduce margin of error with BIM: A botched materials order or schedule misalignment is a sure way to flare tensions on a job site between partners and even internal team members. Traditional procurement and supply chain communications are subject to error from a number of different areas. Thankfully, modernized solutions such as BIM ensure that everything happens on time, within budget and according to plan with subcontractors and clients. Crystal-clear 3D models and integrated ERP support transparent operations from the planning stage through completion and maintenance.

5. Remember client details with CRM: Today's clients expect that their chosen contractors know their preferences and parameters inside and out, meaning construction companies must have relevant information on hand when conducting communications with these parties. CRM should be included in the construction software lineup to build client trust and loyalty. 

Address these 3 critical areas of IT risk


Contractors have more than enough components to their risk management profiles, factoring in the safety of employees, subcontractor relationships and the legal ramifications of their construction parameters. These job-site concerns are only the tip of the iceberg, however, as the impact of IT on enterprise operations has opened up several new avenues of risk for the average organization to identify, gauge and control. Because the digital arena is still a relatively new environment for many contractors, the pressures of these assets and agreements may seem disproportionately concerning. 

To get a grip on enterprise IT risk and develop a strategy to effectively mitigate its reach, here are three areas that contractors can focus on as they adopt new hardware and construction project management software assets:

1. Develop partnerships based on trust: As construction project management relies more heavily on the coordination of disparate teams and organizations, decision-makers will have to view their IT service providers as an integral part of their missions, just as they would include a subcontractor or external construction consultant. A recent article from CIO Magazine recommended that companies strengthen relationships with their vendors to effectively target and dissolve risk.

"This is paramount if we are to bridge the gap between realizing the business drivers to its adoption, balanced by the risk introduced from a security perspective," said Marc Vael, international VP at the Information Systems Audit and Control Association, according to the news source.

2. Educate the masses on next-gen IT: Even the simplest solutions come with a learning curve, and failing to properly train end users on the ins and outs of new construction software can result an extended adoption period and a major loss of momentum. Since the integration of these services is so central to operational efficiency at large, any hitches in deployment can have negative repercussions across the job site and the back office. Education and awareness promotion are paramount to risk control.

3. Patch up any gaps in mobile security: With the saturation of mobile devices on the construction worksite, a variety of newfound risk elements have been unveiled. In light of the past year's data breach epidemic, it has become imperative that decision-makers secure their remote access points, especially if they contain construction financial management details. Addressing and eliminating network vulnerabilities must be a core feature of any modern risk mitigation strategy. 

3 Crucial steps toward construction IT modernization


It may be hard to believe, but construction organizations are still struggling to push past legacy systems and into the next generation of IT. Despite their best efforts, many decision-makers simply don't have the internal resources necessary to create the integrated construction management software suites that end users and stakeholders demand. For those boardrooms that need to jumpstart their initiatives, here are three steps leaders can follow to bring their systems up to speed with the digital age. 

1. Get the full value of ERP: A main reason why contractors fail to effectively leverage next-gen tools is that they enter the IT procurement process without a clear vision of what they want from their construction software deployments. According to an article from Works Management, modernization projects should begin with enterprise resource planning systems, offering financial insight and inventory tools that will streamline the core processes of the construction operation.

"Ultimately, the purpose of the exercise is better control and not simply to undertake ERP integration for its own sake," EMS operations director Chris Mulvihill told the source. "Capturing the data and integrating it with other systems is pointless if it doesn't actually add value." 

2. Fully integrate CRM: Standalone solutions such as CRM are powerful on their own, but when they can receive, generate and sync data across other elements of the infrastructure, contractors can realize a new level of value from their investments. Works Management suggested that by consolidating the features of CRM and scheduling within the ERP environment, companies can reduce their software spend while synchronizing data and resources more effectively across applications.

"Just because you use a 'point solution' now - be it finite capacity scheduling, CRM , or quality management - doesn't mean that you necessarily need that same point solution going forward," said Nick Castellina of the Aberdeen Group, according to the source. 

3. Mobilize all end users: Requiring that employees return to a desktop workstation to complete even the most minor tasks is a sure way to waste precious time, money and talent. When construction project controls are standardized for mobile functionality, contractors can take the power of their software on the go, eliminating the need for tedious manual recording processes and updates back at headquarters. This not only saves a great deal of strain for employees, it also expedites nearly every aspect of the construction process and reduces waste and error. 

3 Keys to the perfect mobile implementation


Mobile device integration is the latest holy grail of construction site efficiency, with contractors in every corner of the industry striving to make the most of the mobility revolution. While every forward-thinking business leader has a clear idea of what they want from these strategies, the details of achieving these goals may not be so cut-and-dried. Even the most experienced IT veterans may need a bit of guidance as they attempt to revitalize operations with mobile construction management software. Here are 3 keys to executing an optimal enterprise mobility integration:

1. Recognize current weak points: Like any IT solution, mobile must address specific problems within a company's operations to yield tangible results. The boardroom must ask themselves what pain points they're looking to alleviate with mobility. Do on-site employees lack channels of communication with superiors? Are subcontractors not being kept in the loop on key project checkpoints? Identifying these shortcomings and targeting a mobile solution for those exact purposes is a powerful strategy. 

2. Look at the big picture of IT: While mobile has been the subject of an endless stream of hype and excitement, it's important to remember that this technology is only a small component of the construction project management equation at large. RCR Wireless Network suggested that taking a macro approach to IT development is crucial to supporting mobile, as honing in exclusively on device integration may result in a lack of balance.

"Addressing the full spectrum of enterprise mobility management is often overlooked in favor of focusing on the immediate pain point of having to manage the plethora of personal mobile devices and applications that continue to flood the workplace," said Tracy Crowe, director of product marketing for NetMotion, according to the news source. 

Decision-makers should consider making high-level construction software overhauls if they're behind the times.

3. Develop sufficient user support: RCR Wireless Network explained that with trends such as BYOD flooding the enterprise environment, internal IT must be prepared to deliver quick, dependable service whenever end users encounter roadblocks. Whether connectivity issues block communications or employees are struggling with software learning curves, support networks must be in place to help work out the kinks of a mobile integration.

"[Bring-your-own-device] and the 'consumerization of IT' continue to challenge many IT organizations but this doesn't mean there isn't relief," continued Crowe, as quoted by the source.

If these demands grow to be too much for in-house teams, it will be vital for companies to be able to rely on third-party service providers to step up and handle trouble tickets.

BIM delivers 3 massive cost saving avenues


The benefits of building information modeling software have been illuminated in nearly every aspect of the construction process, but decision-makers overlooking enterprise contractor operations may want a bit more evidence that BIM actually delivers cost savings for the bottom line. Without the ability to connect tangible efficiency gains directly to the technology, business leaders won't be convinced about any IT investment, let alone a next-generation solution such as integrated BIM. Here are three rock-solid ways in which BIM software brings real, sustainable cost saving opportunities to the enterprise.

1. Precise design diminishes error: Every contractor has had to deal with lost time, energy and money as a result of the misalignment of materials procurement or coordination mishaps on the job site. With BIM, these errors can finally be a thing of the past - according to Construction Manager, the organization behind England's HS2 project has already attributed upwards of $400 million in cost savings to the accuracy of BIM's design and financial planning mechanisms. 

"We don't want to see redesign, reworking, man-marking. We want to see efficiencies from methods and materials used in other countries and other industries," HS2 Ltd strategy director Alastair Kirk told the news source.

2. Automation closes skills gaps: On-site professionals are already tasked with enough responsibilities, so putting complex software expertise demands on their shoulders rarely bodes well for productivity and morale. That's why integrated BIM software is such a powerful tool for streamlining operations. With ERP and schedules embedded into the design interface, tedious tasks can be eliminated and allow for increased focus on the task at hand. 

3. An ally for the whole supply chain: On a massive project such as HS2, the supply chain can become a tangled mess of complex contracts, change orders and delivery dates. Luckily for stakeholders, 94 percent of the supply chain uses BIM, and more than 60 percent have clear financial and scheduling goals integrated with the software. This boosts collaboration and communication across the many checkpoints of the chain.

"BIM offers a unique opportunity for our whole supply chain to work collaboratively and to share crucial information on design data, stakeholder interactions and asset information before, during and after construction," Jon Kerbey, HS2 Ltd head of management systems, told Construction Manager.

Whether a company is building the next high-speed railroad or renovating a house, BIM offers compelling cost saving opportunities from end to end. 

5 forthcoming tech trends key to construction


This week, research analysts at Gartner released the 'Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2015,' peering into the future of the tech world and the innovations therein. While contractors may not find value in every one of these developments, a handful of entries on the list could prove pivotal for construction firms in the coming year. Here are the five most relevant tech trends as they relate to construction project controls:

1. Mobile mastery: Enterprise mobility remains a critical discussion point for leaders in the construction industry, and Gartner confirmed that personal devices will continue to saturate the business environment throughout 2015. Contractors must hop on the mobile bandwagon now if they haven't yet done so.

"Phones and wearable devices are now part of an expanded computing environment that includes such things as consumer electronics and connected screens in the workplace and public space," said David Cearley, vice president and Gartner Fellow.

2. Analytics abound: While big data has conventionally been viewed as an IT entity separate from the core operations of the business, trends indicate that individual applications are beginning to generate enough information to warrant the development of isolated analytics ecosystems. This could bring huge insights to contractors seeking to expedite their project processes.

3. Apps coordinateDisparate databases and out-of-sync applications don't do an enterprise any good on a busy, congested job site or in a hectic back office environment. With technologies such as consolidated construction software suites and cloud ecosystems that automatically synchronize data across apps, supervisors won't have to ever question whether their data is relevant.

4. Software-defined 2015: Companies that rely on legacy IT systems may find themselves frustrated by the amount of manual monitoring and labor required to keep assets running smoothly and at maximum efficiency. With software-defined networking, contractors can focus on executing key project checkpoints rather than wasting time and money in the data center.

5. Security gets smart: There's no telling when the next major data breach is going to hit, but contractors must always be on their toes to ensure they stay fully protected. 2015 will bring a host of new network defense tools that bolster the security of financial data, client info and private employee records. With the guidance of a third-party solutions provider, companies will be able to develop even stronger file protection profiles and promote security best practices throughout the enterprise.

Combat disruption risk with disaster recovery testing


Construction companies build their operations to be maximally averse to risk of all types, as even the most minor business disruption can send ripples across the enterprise and result in lost productivity. This is why IT needs to be resilient to interruptions, ensuring that end users have continuous access to key documents, executives can keep an eye on project progress and clients have as much insight as they need into contract checkpoints and financial statuses. Teaming up with a service provider that promotes high availability and disaster recovery capabilities is a must for success in this sector. 

Putting systems to the test
While decision-makers have stepped up their continuity and recovery efforts dramatically over the past several years, there's still a lot left to be desired with regard to the testing and adjustment standards maintained by most construction organizations. A recent TechTarget question and answer session with IT thought leader Kevin Beaver affirmed that recovery testing is one of the most overlooked aspects of this strategic branch, with approximately four-fifths of organizations failing to put their plans under the actual stress and strain of a crisis scenario. 

"The most important thing to remember is to make sure that your DR plan and your staff members have what's needed to recover your information systems and business functions in the event of an emergency," Beaver told the source. "This may be once a year, once every three years, or only after there have been major changes in the organization, its line of work, or its facilities."

How can a company know it's optimizing its IT investments? Building a strong recovery profile and frequently testing its capabilities is a crucial part of tech management in this cutthroat environment. Business leaders shouldn't be afraid to consult with their construction software providers and internal teams to make sure servers, storage and communications will hold up in any situation.  

5 Crucial mobile construction software tips


By now, nearly every construction executive has recognized the importance of integrating mobile tools on the job site - the advantages have been made clear by the huge momentum of the enterprise mobility movement at large. Due to the unique nature of the construction operation, however, there are a handful of mobile device management features that only apply to competitors in this industry. Here are five keys to mobile success as they relate to the specific needs of today's enterprise contractors: 

1. Ensure BYOD for all involved: Mobile is all about agility, and clunky integration processes go against this core tenet of the trend. FierceMobileIT even pointed to IDC research revealing that one-third of enterprise devices will be employee-owned by 2017. That's why BYOD policies need to be upheld throughout the mobile environment, allowing end users to quickly leverage construction software tools and avoid tedious adoption learning curves. BYOD is also a major weight off of IT's back. 

2. Develop dedicated channels: Today's construction software ecosystems are complex, with many modules forming the entirety of the solution. Without purpose-built channels of communication to connect teams with specific superiors, subcontractors and trade professionals, messages are much more likely to get lost in the fray. Vertically integrated software offers answers to this common issue.

3. Bolster connections with HQ: Too many contractors rely on conventional approval methods to move their projects along. This can lead to hours of wasted time and frustrated construction teams waiting for answers from headquarters. Mobile solutions should be able to expedite these processes by empowering both supervisors and employees with the ability to snap and send photos, correspond with decision-makers and get the green light on critical project checkpoints. 

4. Centralize database collections: Employees may sport flashy mobile devices and cutting-edge software, but without centralized data sets to draw from, construction operations will likely fall flat. Mobile deployments must be linked back to reliable database resources to ensure the synchronization of teams across job sites and office locations. 

5. Prepare for trends to come: While it has already come a long way, the enterprise mobile landscape is still in its infancy, especially on the construction site. Contractors need to maintain flexible attitudes when it comes to adopting unique new digital tools, and ensure their infrastructures are ready for adjustments if necessary. The guidance of a third-party service provider can offer the support a company needs to stay ahead of the curve while avoiding the pitfalls of the integration process. 

Track end user application trends to improve construction software


The story is familiar to any contractor navigating the demands of the digital age: Employees, clients and project stakeholders all demand next-gen IT tools to be implemented on the job site and in the back office, but nobody can come to an agreement about which applications and services to integrate. A tenuous compromise is formed, but soon enough, staff members begin to download unauthorized apps onto their personal devices and use them for work-related purposes. Before long, it's too late for IT to identify and remove all of the unprotected services swamping the infrastructure.

A fragmented legacy
This is the saga of shadow IT, and for many business leaders, it is a reality they live day in and day out. Not only does this behind-closed-doors approach to software heighten risk in a variety of security and privacy areas, it also indicates a grave absence of communication between executive leaders, IT teams and end users. If shadow IT reveals anything about an organization, it's that its operations aren't very organized at all - end users have flipped the chain of command and hijacked construction software for themselves. An article from CIO recently highlighted this epidemic of the digital age.

"I used to call it dark IT," said CBS Interactive CIO Steve Comstock at Interop New York, according to the source. "It was basically the scary monster under my infrastructure, the data going somewhere that we didn't know about, the software being deployed that wasn't being managed."

Advantages to shadow?
Believe it or not, decision-makers can actually benefit hugely from looking into the patterns in their company's shadow IT movements and determining which apps are enhancing productivity and communication. In fact, examining these underground developments is one of the most reliable and efficient ways to map out the future of the infrastructure. When done correctly, tuning into the pulse of shadow IT collapses the gaps between the C-Level, IT administrators and the end users who actually leverage the apps for project execution. 

For instance, a team dissatisfied with its current construction project controls may decide to try out a free app members discover on an online storefront. Within a few days, they've determined they can save a substantial chunk of time by simply employing this service. Rather than leaving the company's software to gather dust, IT leaders can take note of this change and switch out that piece of construction software for a more streamlined and intuitive application.

3 Urgent ERP user demands


Gauging the preferences and desires of the modern workforce is a critical part of the overall construction software adoption process, providing a basis upon which executives can steer their deployments toward maximum efficacy and value. Without end user feedback, a company may not know if it's truly realizing the full potential of its current software suite, or missing out on a solution more tailored to its specific needs. Knowing the strengths, weaknesses and pain points of a deployment is key to mapping out a plan to improve any area of the IT environment.

This evaluative process is especially important for integral software platforms such as enterprise resource planning solutions, which often form the core of the contractor's digital arsenal. Leaders must understand which ERP components are delivering value while recognizing which aspects may be coming up short of expectations. InformationWeek recently pointed to a report from Epicor, highlighting the most common ERP problem areas for end users. Here are three of the most urgent demands that appeared in the responses:

1. Speedier adoption processes: Executives may think they're the only ones frustrated by tedious deployments, but end users are the ones who actually have to wade through slow adoption processes and scale steep learning curves. Simplicity was cited among the most prevalent demands for ERP users, according to the survey, along with speed of implementation.

Epicor technical strategist Erik Johnson explained that with an intuitive interface and plenty of third-party support, ERP can deliver fast, reliable value. In the context of construction management software, on-site employees should be able to easily navigate their way around a software suite without constantly referring to upper management or peers for guidance. 

"We think the right strategy for ERP is to make it easy for users to surface the data and the transactions that they want to see," Johnson told the source. "They can click into the transactions and do the business tasks that they need to perform."

2. Social channels and connectivity: On the job site, social connectivity doesn't refer to Facebook and Twitter - it's a standard of communication under which employees, subcontractors, managers and clients can interact via open, reliable channels at any point in the contract life cycle. With the majority of Epicor's survey respondents citing collaboration as important to the future of their businesses, the time is now to give end users what they want. The source explained that this will require productive partnerships to be formed with third-party vendors. 

"The need for social features is more acute with ERP because it cuts across all departments," Johnson said, according to InformationWeek. "Much as vendors have tried with attachments, email threads are too difficult to tie to data. CEOs don't always get social, but if you put it in the product, a community will eventually emerge."

3. Mobile functionality for all: Only half of end users have mobile access to the ERP data, Epicor pointed out. How can business leaders expect to maximize their construction software ROI if every other employee can't access key information when they need it most? Developing a sound mobile infrastructure is crucial to the success of all future ERP deployments. 

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