Construction Tech 101

Posted 30 January 2017

Construction Tech 101

Construction tech 101: How to choose the right software for your business

This post was provided by Mitch Harmer, CEO and Nick Wodzinski, Account Manager - Sign on Site

If you own or run a construction company, chances are you’re aware of technology’s potential to improve safety, streamline processes and support informed decision-making. And while you might be a long way from adopting technologies like drones, 3D modelling and mobile apps, you probably know of companies that have.

However, like many industry professionals, you may also be unsure about where to begin. How do you select software products? What outcomes can you expect? Where could technology fit in your business? In this upcoming series, we’ll pull back the shroud of choosing software for your construction business.

These questions don’t have one correct answer. Every company will have varying technology needs depending on their objectives, existing IT investments and business challenges. What’s important – especially if you’re in the early stages of your technology journey – is to identify the problems you’d like to solve, and understand the ways in which software can impact your business.

Doing your homework before you start looking at software options will guide your research in the right direction. It will also increase the likelihood of ending up with a solution that delivers lasting results.

Put the problem first

Think back to the last time you heard about a new construction technology. Maybe it was an unmanned robot that 3D prints bridges, or a drone that conducts site inspections. (Both are real technologies used by construction companies around the world today.) When it comes to tech, we see two types of reactions:

a) “Wow, how could I use that technology in my business? I need this now.”
b) “That technology is interesting, but it doesn’t solve my biggest problem.”

There’s nothing wrong with being excited about innovation. But chasing shiny things because they look nice (answer A) shouldn’t come at the expense of investing in technologies that will make the biggest impact (answer B).

We see this in construction all the time. Someone says, “We’ve got all these paper forms. We want an app to replace them. We need the app to work on iPads, and we want our guys out in the field to use it.”

Then we dig deeper, and discover that paper forms aren’t actually the problem. The issue might be that workers have to fill in lengthy reports to mark jobs as complete, when there may be a more efficient way to access the same information.

For this reason, we encourage companies to define the core problem they need to solve well before they’re ready to purchase. Few things sting more than implementing a new software product, only to discover it has low adoption and little impact on business performance as a result.

Optimisation over replication

When you’ve spent years navigating the same processes, it’s difficult to imagine doing things differently. Even if you have a clear idea of the challenges you’d like to solve, you can’t always identify how technology can help.

The problem is that if you stick with what you know, you risk replicating your current procedures with minimal changes, just in a digital format. One example that we see often (as you might expect in our line of work), is a business moving its sign on register online, while keeping all other processes the same.

In this scenario, a worker arrives on site, parks the ute, walks into the site office and types his or her name into the register instead of writing it by hand. At lunch, they report back to the site office to sign off. While this approach is more advanced than an end-to-end paper process, signing on is only slightly more efficient. The business benefits become limited.

The smarter way to harness technology is to view it as a tool of optimising existing processes and potentially introducing improved ones. For example, instead of replicating paper sign on processes online, a company might consider the bigger picture. They might think about how they can make sign on processes more convenient, and introduce an app so workers can sign on with their smartphones.

Once workers are comfortable using their phones to sign on, the company might then identify new problems to solve. They might look to streamline other site management processes like evacuation by delivering evacuation messages directly to workers’ smartphones, and giving site managers mobile access to a list of everyone on site at any time. They ask, “Okay, how can we achieve the same outcome in a better way, rather than repeating the process in a different way?”

There is no one-size-fits-all approach for choosing construction software. There are, however, ways to make the process easier. Define your key problems, adopt an optimisation mindset, and you’ll be better prepared to start your technology journey on the right foot.

Stay tuned to learn about how to choose and compare the apples and oranges of software out there.

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