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.
Every contractor has experienced the stress and strain of managing a project that has gone on for far too long. Whether materials shipments get put on hold, subcontractor communications become scrambled or a team simply lacks the coordination to meet crucial deadlines, it sometimes seems like a company will never see the completion of the project.
That's why having a reliable construction management software solution is so essential in the digital age. More than ever, clients demand results - even if progress isn't apparent on the job site itself, contractors must be prepared with accurate reports and regular updates to keep stakeholders satisfied and in the loop. The right software speeds up all of these processes and puts projects on the fast track without sacrificing quality.
High-stakes projects, high-speed solutions
Common sense would suggest that the more complex and sensitive a project's requirements, the longer the construction process will be. With modernized construction software, however, this script it flipped on its head. According to The Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce, a cutting-edge medical facility called Providence Medical Park employed a range of innovate processes and tools to kick construction into high gear.
Stakeholders simply couldn't afford to put objectives on hold, and played by their own rules to see results. For instance, the team saved five weeks of time by strategically sequencing the delivery and development of infrastructure components.
BIM streamlines and simplifies
While the managers of the Providence project had top-notch resource planning tools at their disposal, they also had an advantage that served to boost speed and accuracy of the process to a new level - building information modeling software. The Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce explained that by harnessing the power of BIM, design and construction teams were able to coordinate a multi-stage building initiative that significantly sped up the center's development.
For example, project managers were given instant feedback regarding building system conflicts, allowing them to make quick adjustments and avoid issues down the line.
"Projects frequently suffer from adversarial relationships, low productivity rates, high rates of inefficiency and rework, frequent disputes and lack of innovation, resulting in time or cost overruns in several projects," said Sunil MK, head of the AEC division at Autodesk India and SAARC, according to Construction Week Online. "BIM aims to change the situation for the better."
Of course, a contractor doesn't have to be responsible for massive, high-profile project to reap the benefits of construction management software. Projects of all sizes and scopes can be accelerated with this new era of versatile solutions.
In the construction industry, risk is simply a part of the game. ERM360 pointed out that risk management is a vital element any firm's strategy at the office and in the field. From the procurement process down to project execution and employee safety, the job site is riddled with potential pitfalls that managers must actively work to avoid.
While risk can never be eliminated entirely from the equation, construction financial management software can help to mitigate some of the more prevalent concerns associated with budgeting, scheduling and other cost-related factors that affect decision-making.
A single solution can cut risk
Where can a modernized construction software solution chip away at some of these issues? Here are five ways that the right software can help contractors keep risk at bay:
- Improved financial visibility: A firm without a complete capital project management platform is essentially blindfolded when it comes to its financial outlook. While advisors may be able to do a reasonable job at forecasting a few weeks in advance, a company will always find itself shortsighted when tasked with long-term budget planning.
- Stronger client relations: In the digital age, a business's IT profile is a sure sign of its overall competence and capabilities, and today's clients know when a firm has let its systems collect dust. To provide customers with the most accurate, timely financial reports possible and stay on top of other critical deliverables, an overhauled software setup is a must for any construction competitor.
- Better subcontractor management: Who wants to partner with a firm whose financial management system is stuck in the 20th century? Contractors limit their pool of potential business alliances by refusing to upgrade to a cutting-edge solution. Making the technological leap means that a company can maximize its opportunities and reduce the risk of falling behind.
- Enhanced project quality: Rolling the dice on a project's quality is the last thing any contractor wants for its reputation. Even one shoddy renovation or flawed building can haunt a firm for years after the final bricks are laid. With construction software in their corner, supervisors remain in control of their budgets from end to end, ensuring that objectives are executed exactly according to plan and promoting proper resource allocation.
- Bolstered IT security: The recent enterprise emphasis on network security isn't just a craze - protecting vital documents and resources from exposure and theft is a core part of risk management in this business landscape. A comprehensive construction project management solution can safeguard key data and significantly reduce the chances of a breach.
An intuitive setup process is one of cloud computing's most well-known and applauded advantages, affirming that this technology is truly the great equalizer of the IT era. Companies can leverage applications, platforms and entire infrastructures more quickly than ever before, bringing newcomers and veterans alike up to speed with cutting-edge tech assets. However, contractors must not overlook their own responsibilities when it comes to integrating next-gen construction management software - namely educating employees to get the most out of these solutions from the get-go.
Let cloud live up to its potential
Any contractor that has already made the leap to a cloud based IT blueprint knows how simple and fast the migration process can be if expert guidance is leveraged. But just because a system has been well-integrated with a company's operations, employees may not necessarily have the know-how to best use these solutions. For instance, legacy project management technology may have an entirely different layout and documentation process than a newly deployed suite. Decision-makers can't leave their workforces hanging when it comes to teaching them the ins and outs of these updated systems.
Security should be top of mind
Ecommerce Times recently emphasized the crucial role of employee training in any new cloud scenario, pointing out that most of today's workers aren't aware of the security risks that can come with a lack of user familiarity. While building construction project management skill sets is important to getting employees on board with recent upgrades, poor security practices can defeat the purpose of this hard work and heavy investment.
Why are fundamentals so essential when developing a training strategy? International Business Times pointed to research from the British Standards Institution revealing that a lack of security awareness is the biggest concern of 37 percent of survey respondents.
"Employees don't necessarily have to be malicious to put a company at risk; they may just not understand the possible risks associated with their actions," said Suzanne Fribbins, risk management expert at BSI, according to the source. "Research has shown that effective staff training can halve the number of insider breaches, by ensuring employees understand the importance of information security and their role in protecting businesses' critical information."
The source recommended that business leaders begin by teaching basic concepts and gradually introduce more user flexibility to ensure that policies are upheld throughout. A well-balanced training program will help employees master construction software tools while promoting air-tight security practices across the organization.
Contractors who have been around since long before the digital revolution know how tedious paper-based construction payment management can be. Not only is filling out and filing these documents tiresome, but countless hours are wasted when records need to be retrieved and updated for auditing purposes.
Luckily for today's industry competitors, new construction software solutions include powerful automated systems that handle the payment process from end to end. With these tasks taken care of, contractors can focus in on the objectives that will drive their business toward success.
Pull ahead with payment automation
When a company starts signing contracts left and right, it can be easy to get bogged down in the paperwork that comes with these agreements. Executives can only add so many accountants to their back office staff - to expedite the document organization and payment process, a software solution is the only answer.
A press release from Textura recently pointed out the many advantages of a next-gen payment system, suggesting that these solutions can differentiate a firm from the pack. By letting managers leave paper behind, this technology can help to build stronger partnerships with subcontractors and clients already attuned to the digital standard. In addition, revamped construction accounting systems make compliance concerns a thing of the past.
"Textura-CPM has helped us stand out from our competitors," said Mike Weber, president of Island Acoustics. "We are able to focus less on completing paperwork and more on our core business. We can stay on top of compliance and legal documents better using CPM."
Cut costs in unexpected places
Although the cost benefits of construction document management software may not be immediately apparent to contractors, savings can easily snowball over time. The price of a paper-based payment system is hidden behind the walls of convention - eliminating this extra overhead can be a major boost to company budgets.
"We've even saved some money since we started using Textura," said Tom Garcia, CFO at Safway Atlantic. "Not only do we spend less time filling out paperwork and are getting paid faster, we've also reduced costs by eliminating courier and document storage fees."
Safe and secure
Bank Info Security recently noted that 60 of organizations faced actual or attempted fraud loss in 2013. With a secure, streamlined construction payment management platform, contractors can mitigate the risk associated with unstructured paperwork floating around the office. With advantages from operational, financial and security standpoints, it's no wonder why companies are eager to adopt these solutions and gain an edge.
The words 'tall' and 'towering' are no longer sufficient to describe today's skyscrapers. According to CityLab, the construction industry has deemed 'supertall' the term now used to signify structures that exceed 984 feet in the air (anything over 1,968 feet high is categorized as 'megatall'). The sheer size of these towers represents an exciting future for city skylines worldwide, but things can get complicated for contractors that take on the task of building these modern architectural titans.
"Structurally, there are a lot of very unique challenges, especially for a building that wants a high degree of special views," said Vishaan Chakrabarti, a partner at SHoP Architects and the director of the Center for Urban Real Estate at Columbia University.
Overcoming contractors' fear of heights
Chakrabarti and his contemporaries may acknowledge the difficulties that accompany the development of supertall structures, but these innovators are not afraid to dive into this unexplored territory. This is where construction management software can push the boundaries of what is thought possible, according to a recent article from Tech Page One. The source highlighted the rapid adoption of modeling technology that provides builders with a fast, reliable way to test various designs in conjunction with specific materials.
These tools let contractors not only experiment with unconventional building styles - such as those required for many of today's supertall towers - but also gauge exactly how much these projects would cost upon execution. Now that enterprise resource planning solutions are integrated with BIM services, managers have a one-stop solution that grants them total visibility over their projects' physical and financial dimensions. Tech Page One spoke with Ross Wimer, AECOM's lead architect for the Americas, who designed the award-winning Cayan Tower in Dubai, a structure well over 1,000 feet tall.
"What we do now has to do with speed as well as design," explained Wimer, according to the source. "With parametric modeling we were able to test the costs of the building as we were designing it. You can save the client a lot of money by doing this in advance."
More data, better planning, bigger buildings
BIM isn't the only construction project management tool utilized by today's greatest designers and builders. The source revealed that Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture is aggregating unconventional forms of data in the development of its Kingdom Tower in Saudi Arabia, slated to be the firm's 3,000 foot masterpiece. Cultural patterns, wind speeds, soil temperatures, atmospheric temperature, humidity and sunlight are just a few data points being collected in an effort to perfect the structure's design.
Putting the finishing touches on a building or renovation project is one of the most satisfying feelings in the world of construction. Just because a structure appears ready for use, however, a contractor's job is far from done. In fact, construction firms are often responsible for check-ins and maintenance tasks long after the concrete has dried. For this reason, construction document management should continue to play a central role in a project's follow-up and remain a key resource throughout the lifecycle of a contract.
The work has only just begun
Even if a contractor completes all necessary tasks on a project and hands the keys over to the client once and for all, there are numerous liabilities and risks that come with failing to hold on to the materials associated with that contract. If a client demands that financial or schedule records be presented, a firm must have these documents at the ready no matter when or where the request is made. Construction project controls are therefore an instrumental asset for any company that wants to maintain quality rapport with its customers, building a reputation for accountability and trust.
Business partners such as subcontractors, materials vendors and specialty consultants also expect on-demand service with regard to the preservation and accessibility of relevant contract records. Today's construction project management procedures are highly interconnected, and it isn't uncommon to see several contractors collaborating on small projects to maximize the efficiency of their execution. A great deal of pressure is placed on construction firms to remain transparent in their practices and have full archives of their operational documents at the ready. The right software makes this storage a breeze.
Know how to finish strong
A recent article from the Santa Rosa Press Democrat highlighted the development of a California hospital on the cutting-edge of health care innovation. The source emphasized the close relationship that formed between project directors and the hospital decision-makers who orchestrated the construction. Without construction site management tools to coordinate communications and explain the ins and outs of the structure, the hospital's leaders would not have been able to hit the ground running once building was complete.
While resilient, quality construction is traditionally the first thing that defines a contractor's reputation, things are a bit different in the digital age. Technical competency and a willingness to embrace IT trends are often major factors in a firm's success. This isn't only because construction management software ensures on-site best practices, but also due to client expectations aligning with new criteria for tech-based efficiency. From start to finish, the right software solutions are essential for success in the construction space today.
Contractors throughout the construction industry are well aware of the importance of proper document management, especially as subcontractor and client parties come into more frequent contact with a firm over the course of a project. While a company may have its internal information-sharing practices secure and streamlined, things can become dicey once data is distributed and tracked outside the walls of a business' private network. Decision-makers need a reliable and safe way to ensure that construction document management remains in line with best practices no matter where data is directed.
Circulate and protect construction content
From project timelines to budget estimations and architectural blueprints, construction firms have a lot of digital and physical documentation to collect and organize on any given contract. Most construction management software solutions can process and secure this information effectively, but what about when this data travels beyond office walls and into the hands (and hard drives) of third-party affiliates? Today's industry requires that data be made readily available at all times without sacrificing security. However, most legacy construction software systems are not built with these complex demands in mind.
Just how important is safe and streamlined construction document management in contemporary practice? According to online file sharing service provider Box, the construction industry is a top producer of digital content and ranks as one of the most collaborative sectors in terms of information sharing. The source explained that the intra-organizational distribution of content is especially prevalent in this field, suggesting that construction project controls must be optimized for access across multiple locations and platforms in order for companies to maximize the efficiency of workflow and productivity.
Data makes its way to the job site
Unlike other industries highlighted in Box's research, construction is unique in its on-site data requirements, demanding that information be quickly and reliably transferred from office to project zone and vice versa. In fact, the sector was cited by the source as facilitating external collaboration more than the software, media and entertainment, financial services and manufacturing industries. Not only do construction firms team up with subcontractors and clients to develop worksite strategies, but they also bring in outside collaborators to handle back-office tasks such as billing, payroll and progress reports.
Since this standard of 'information decentralization' is so prevalent in the world of construction document management, it isn't surprising that business leaders are seeking more secure and efficient ways to collaborate both on and off the work site. With such a wide range of stakeholders factoring into the success of a project, a team-based approach to content creation and distribution is essential.
Why the right software is critical
Whether a firm will be able to keep up with quickening pace of the industry will depend on its willingness to embrace construction software that features collaborative and secure sharing solutions. With advancements in private cloud networks and real-time document management, a company can safely access and manipulate documents without compromising the integrity of its data or reputation.