Leveraging Technology for Operational Efficiency

Small businesses in the construction world and other field/office settings are in a major state of flux right now. COVID-19 is accelerating many trends that were already starting to take root, and the need to digitize field workflows is a perfect example. Many companies relying on legacy systems and strategies were forced to adapt when meeting in person was either out of the question entirely or had to be kept to an absolute minimum. With this said, some subcontractors are still either debating digitization or trying to figure out how to implement it best. Here are insights on how to execute digitization for a more productive, efficient operation.

Data-Driven Daily Reports

Information and data are power in the business world, and this is arguably the area where the digital workflow is most important. As a subcontractor, you may be compiling essential information regularly that the general contractor could use for future reference and troubleshooting specific issues. Recording project details on paper is both inefficient and risky, because it requires additional labor to be entered into a digital platform and could end up lost in transit. Also, there’s a limit on what you can cover with handwritten or typed methods. For example, how do you account for activity on the part of the worksite that you cannot see?

Construction project management software is a crucial digitization tool because it helps you capture project-specific data and makes it easily presentable and accessible. How much information has been lost in conventional reports simply due to bad handwriting? The ability to capture worksite data and add your notes in real time helps drive information into field activity and track labor productivity. It’s also possible to create separate versions, one to share with a general contractor and one to share internally.

Field Notes

The old cliché says that a picture is worth a thousand words, and indeed when communicating between field and office teams, there needs to be that visual element. For example, a field team may need visual evidence to corroborate their statement about an on-site issue. However, context is important here. This is where digital tools can be effective for visual field notes. Not only is it possible to save important photos/visuals in the cloud, but you can also annotate with details and additional notes. This is critical when it comes to iterative improvement. You need to have an easily organized internal record to track the history of a specific issue. Digitization makes this infinitely easier, both with deeper and more accessible insights.

Communication Control

On the topic of iterative improvement, there’s nothing more frustrating than trying to dig in one’s inbox trying to find a specific email. You could argue that this is technically already a digital area, but the fact is that there is still room for improvement. Rather than simply relying on your email account, there are digital tools that make it possible to track certain documents and information and how these are distributed. This cuts down a lot of the worry on whether or not a particular document or directive was distributed to everyone that needs it. Another alternative is cloud storage, where you can set certain documents to be accessible by all parties. Just be mindful of web security when going with this route.

Choose Tech Wisely

A final point that we should mention here is that a digitization strategy is only as good as the tools you use to execute it. You need to keep in mind a few main points while you are talking to vendors about what options to use; for example:

  • Compatibility—In some cases, you may just want one piece of software to complement your suite of other options. If this is the case, you need to be sure that it is compatible to avoid wasted money and major headaches.
  • Modular purchases—This is something worth considering because, in some cases, you only need to digitize one aspect of operations for the time being. A module purchase keeps you from dealing with software bloat.
  • Support—Having support for troubleshooting is an obvious example, but support for onboarding matters as well. This can mean courses and demonstrations, whichever suits your needs best.

Digitization has turned from a luxury to a necessity. The good news is that there are more tools than ever to help make a smooth transition. By purchasing the right software, you have all the means to increase the visibility of your daily operations. In turn, this makes it possible to create a data-fueled analysis of where you need to approve, down to single teams and tasks.

Rob McKinney, a self-taught construction technologist, first developed a love for technology with his first Atari game machine. He began his career in construction as the safety director for J.M. Wilkerson Construction, a construction general contractor based in Marietta, Georgia. McKinney furthered his construction and risk management experience at companies like New South Construction and XL Catlin Insurance. McKinney is currently serving as the chairman of the Associated General Contractors (AGC) of Georgia Technology Committee, and is a member of the Associated General Contractors of America IT Forum Steering Committee. This committee meets regularly to develop quarterly roundtable programs focusing on new apps to use on project sites. McKinney also has an online blog dedicated to educating construction industry professionals on new uses for technology integrations on projects. McKinney is now a consultant for JBKnowledge, a provider of technology solutions for the construction and insurance industries.

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