Keep it Simple, Stupid

July 9, 2019 Andy Holtmann

In an industry as large and complex as construction, simplifying processes in any way possible can reap significant benefits for contractors in terms in of productivity, mitigated project risks and profitability. Managing construction projects is hard enough without the additional burden of wrangling reams of paperwork or trying to get multiple software programs talking to each other.

That said, far too many contractors today are still conducting operations with outdated software and/or manual processes. Why? The biggest reasons seem to boil down to familiarity/reliance on the existing systems that teams have been using and assumptions of the costs of a technology overhaul versus return on investment.

Modern technology is simplifying construction processes and reducing user burdens.

Benefits of modern construction technology

The construction industry, once considered a virtual graveyard for technology advancement opportunities, is now moving all-in on modern tech. Today the market is saturated with new solutions aimed at streamlining construction processes or making work easier—and for the most part, they’re doing just that. Among recent advancements:

  • Integrated software packages and platforms make it easier to collaborate and share information by using same set of data across multiple related functionalities like accounting, project management, human resources and equipment management.
  • Cloud computing’s emergence and nearly all segments of business moving to management of their operations via cloud-based software has made it much simpler to access, manipulate and share real-time relevant data from anywhere and make smarter, quicker decisions.
  • Interactive dashboards, intelligent user personas and online information portals for functionality like construction HR management are empowering construction professionals to self-serve to meet needs and goals.
  • Powerful mobile devices and intuitive construction apps are letting construction teams and leaders work easily on the go.
  • Automated workflows and customizable, scalable and user-flexible software programs are making work much easier on the end user—and software more adaptable to companies’ specific needs.
  • Business intelligence solutions are letting contractors dig deeper into their project data to understand where improvements can be made, efficiencies gained and risks headed off at the pass.
  • Newer technologies like artificial intelligence, predictive analytics, drones, robotic automation and more are furthering construction automation and, in many cases, taking some of the painful decision-making out of the equation.

To say that there’s been a technology transformation in the construction industry is an understatement. And, if recent advancements are any indication, it’s only the tip of the iceberg in terms of where technology could take contractors in the near future.

But for an industry that has historically had a hard time adjusting to even less impactful technology changes, some contractors are still finding this tech revolution too overwhelming to jump into. They’re too busy, too focused on maintaining current bottom lines, and unwilling to disrupt business or redirect assets to give new technology much more than a second thought.

The value of simplicity

The technology implementation stigmas holding many contractors back are starting to crumble—especially as older generations of workers retire and younger, more tech-savvy workers start staking their claim. As this transition continues, there is one area of modern technology where adopters and resisters are finding common ground—technology needs to be easy to use.

Ease of use is one of the most-touted selling points of today’s software and technology providers. From simple-to-navigate interfaces to automated workflows to dashboards that boil complicated data down to easily digestible takeaways, users are realizing new ways to work smarter.

However, the “work smarter, easier” message may still not resonate with everyone in construction organizations without a little push from technology advocates. As construction technology champion Andrea Wright—who founded CTP Solutions, LLC to help contractors manage their own tech transformations—noted in a recent blog: “After a valiant effort to assess and choose the best new technology, we buy it, launch it, and many times it is a miserable failure where only a fraction of the technology’s capabilities ends us being used—if it’s used at all. Our teams reject it before they even try it, and we wonder why they couldn’t see how the new tool would be an asset to the company and their own professional development.

More needs to be done within construction organizations to explain the benefits of new technology, she said. And, simplifying users’ jobs is perhaps the key argument. Wright and others suggest getting end users involved in technology selection processes and demoing potential solutions so that they can see first-hand how much simpler their lives could be. A solid implementation communication strategy and both up-front and continual training on new software and technologies are also vital to achieving buy-in. Additionally, many contractors are starting to create tech mentoring programs, where they pair more tech savvy users with those that need a little more help. In most cases, once users get over the initial hump of trying new software, they soon find they can’t imagine life without it.

What to look for:

But how can you ensure the technology you’re considering or implementing will indeed simplify processes, and be easy enough to use and understand in order to have the maximum buy-in throughout your organization? It begins with researching the software and technology options available. Here are just a few things to consider:

  • Is the software easy to access? — Can users access the software remotely, without having to rely on third-party solutions like a virtual private network (VPN)? True, cloud-based construction software provides anywhere, anytime access.
  • Is it mobile friendly? — Devices like smartphones and tablets are quickly becoming the preferred way to access information and make decisions on the go. Does the software easily translate to mobile devices and/or are there construction-specific apps that facilitate work in the field.
  • Can work be done offline? — Even though folks can access the internet virtually anywhere now, there are still places — and times — where the web is unavailable. Does the software allow users to continue to work and input data, storing and synching later when connected again?
  • Is it integrated? — The best construction software platforms are packages with integrated functionality throughout — combining accounting, project management, human resources, equipment and material management, document management and more with one set of data. This keeps everyone on the same page and reduces need for multiple, disconnected software solutions and the time needed to make data compatible between them.
  • Is the interface easy to understand? — The right construction software should also allow users to know, or even anticipate what information they need right from the get-go, allowing them to dive deep into data in just a few clicks (or swipes). If users are still having to navigate a series of clunky menus, tabs or even separate systems, they’ll be less inclined to follow through.
  • Does it save time? — In addition to reducing having to reenter data into multiple solutions, does the software automate tasks and workflows? Does it streamline processes and provide alerts when actions need to be taken? Will the organization be able to find data quicker when needed, bill and get paid faster, and ensure field teams’ work isn’t delayed? Not only do these features reduce significant manual workloads for users, they boost productivity and profitability across the entire organization.

In the end, if you’re diligent about choosing the right solutions, a technology transformation can have an immediate, significant impact on your company’s reputation and bottom line. The alternative is to continue on with the systems and processes in place now. However, as technology continues to evolve, contractors that wait could find that there’s an even bigger cost with doing nothing, finding themselves at a distinct disadvantage in their ability to compete with modern, digital contractors.

Nvoicepay syndicates thought leadership content from our partners. This article originally appeared on Viewpoint's blog.

About the Author

Andy Holtmann

Andy is Marketing Content & PR Manager at Viewpoint. He has worked in the construction software arena since 2011. Previously, he netted multiple awards as a newspaper and trade media editor.

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