The construction industry has historically been considered a slow straggler when it comes to adopting advanced technology to improve project delivery. Funny how quickly these things change. Especially with contractors in the industrial construction sector, this industry has done a complete 180 and is now going all-in on leveraging software solutions to streamline construction processes, reduce costs, and improve performance. To understand why things are changing so suddenly and so rapidly, let’s look at some of what’s been happening to inspire this recent adoption.
First of all, the industry itself is changing. Projects are getting more complex, specialized, and regulated, which puts a much greater burden on the contractor to oversee a myriad of moving parts; to the point where they’re far too complex to reasonably manage in a spreadsheet. Additionally, clients are more sophisticated, and are now demanding a much greater level of transparency, cost control and quality delivery – in addition to the increasing numbers of disputes and claims clogging up cash flow. This all again falls to the contractor to clean up their act, so to speak, in being able to satisfy customer requirements and avoid mishaps that can cause legal and cash flow issues. The other thing worth mentioning, is that the workforce is getting younger, and among the gen-x, gen-y and gen-z in the office and jobsite, there is an expectation that they’ll be using modern technology as part of their job. It’s hard to attract good talent when you’re using paper, spreadsheets, handshakes and napkins to manage a major project.
Likely the biggest contributor to this shift towards technology adoption, is that the software itself is just getting far better. It used to be that construction technology was clunky, old and difficult to use, so getting staff to jump on board was a tricky sell. They’d get frustrated and revert back to their trusty old spreadsheets – as painful as they are. The great news is that this is no longer a barrier, as modern software is a zillion times easier to use, much more powerful, and truly succeeds in making things a whole lot easier for all members of the project team.
To unpack that a bit, let’s take a peek at some of the fundamental changes in construction software technology that has made it more attractive for contractors and owners everywhere.
Software is Easy to Use
User interface design has come a long way in the past 10-15 years, and modern software systems are placing “Ease-of-use” as one of the most important aspects of software development. Users are presented with a streamlined interface that’s easy to navigate and flush with interactive dashboards, user-designed charts, single-click reporting, drilldowns and much more. Software is built to keep users “in-the-zone”, meaning that they don’t have to jump all over the place to find the information they’re looking for. When software is intuitive and friendly, users are much more likely to jump in and make the most out of it, rather than avoiding it like a bad flu.
Software is Cloud-Based
Mentioning The Cloud might seem a bit of old news, but cloud-based software for construction hasn’t really been around that long. And cloud has made an especially big difference in construction software as, first of all, it enables a distributed team (office, jobsite, etc.) to work in a single collaborative system sharing data and workflows in real-time. This has a significant effect on projects as communication and real-time data are so important to the smooth execution of the day-to-day work.
Modern software platforms are not-only equipped with a suite of intrinsically integrated modules – such as project management, project controls, contract management, cost tracking, documents, RFIs, etc. – but they’re also designed to be “Open”. This means that they can easily synchronize critical information with other enterprise systems so that the same data can be shared across multiple systems, business units and disciplines: such as accounting, scheduling, payroll, project management, etc.
One very important advancement in construction technology is how systems can automate workflows and processes to eliminate wasted steps, human error and countless hours of grunt-work. By predefining the rules of certain processes, the software can crunch through thousands of steps in micro-seconds that would have otherwise been done manually over the course of days. Examples include,
Powerful Reporting Engines
The value of information can’t be understated, as it forms the foundation for a company’s ability to successfully deliver projects. The entire project team depends on the quality and availability of data to make good decisions, take corrective action and inform key stakeholders. Information, however, is only as good as the tools available to report on it. This is where modern software systems really shine: providing a vast array of reporting options. This includes ad-hoc reporting with interactive dashboards, all the way to utilizing business intelligence platforms for mining data in infinite ways and pivoting it to gain insight into what’s going on. This is available for both current data, as well as for historical data, as history can be a great resource for benchmarks and lessons learned.
Mobile friendly systems have also been a big leap forward for construction software. There are obviously mobile apps for nearly everything else, but it’s a particularly nice advantage for construction as workers often find themselves in locations where they can’t flip open a laptop, but they always have their phone or a tablet.
Work Smarter and Streamline Worker’s Jobs
There are some in the construction industry that have been around for a while that feel somewhat burned by promises made by software vendors that their system will make them better, smarter, faster, simpler, easier, handsomer and, of course, richer. When, in reality, many systems, which may have been well-intended, were just badly designed and far to cumbersome to use, required endless training, and ended up collecting dust on a shelf. Luckily, we in the software business have learned from past mistakes and are now truly delivering on all those promises of what software should and can do. Ultimately, to gain maximum buy-in from staff, the system has to actually make their job easier and more streamlined. It’s as simple as that. If they can’t see the value, they are going to find ways to sneak around it.