By Greg Norris
Getting people, equipment and materials to the right place at the right time is a constant challenge in a heavy construction environment and a challenge with critical profitability implications.
Unfortunately, many contractors continue to manage scheduling and dispatching with a mix of offline tools including whiteboards, spreadsheets, phone calls, emails, and text messages. Moving to a specialized software system provides vital advantages, empowering employees throughout the enterprise to work together to analyze, plan, and dispatch resources more efficiently over time and across jobsites.
These are the nine key advantages of specialized software for construction scheduling and dispatching:
Enterprise-wide visibility. Efficient resource scheduling and dispatching demand collaboration and, to work together, employees across workflows need to know where people, equipment, and materials are supposed to be and where they actually are. With so many moving parts and changes being made on the fly in construction, this is impossible with manual, offline tools.
Efficient resource scheduling and dispatching demand collaboration and, to work together, employees across workflows need to know where people, equipment, and materials are supposed to be and where they actually are. With so many moving parts and changes being made on the fly in construction, this is impossible with manual, offline tools.
A centralized, online system provides one source of truth. Employees get an accurate, up-to-date picture of where resources are, where they are going and where they are needed at any given time. A live map within the software can even let users see jobsites and equipment in relation to each other. Integrating GPS technology provides fool-proof verification of locations.
Real-time insight. Schedules maintained on whiteboards or spreadsheets are inherently outdated. Change orders, equipment breakdowns, personnel issues, weather, material delays, and dozens of other unplanned factors constantly intervene.
With a specialized software solution, the schedule is a live document. Depending on roles and credentials, employees can make resource requests or assign resources, and the changes can be seen and addressed immediately by colleagues in the office, field, and shop. This drives scheduling and resource efficiency while also minimizing the frequency, duration, and cost of in-person resource planning sessions.
Structured communication. Familiar tools many contractors rely on to communicate critical information about resource scheduling open the door to lag time, errors and miscommunication, and an overlapping combination of these tools can compound the chaos.
Whiteboards can only be seen in one location. Phone calls, emails, and text messages include only select individuals. The information must then be relayed to others or reentered into systems, and there is no validation against actual jobs, employees, equipment, or materials.
With software, the way information is entered into the schedule, and the ways it is viewed and communicated, can be structured and standardized, eliminating miscommunication and mistakes.
Unified workflows. Scheduling software can be connected with the software used to manage field performance tracking and equipment maintenance. This allows key players with a stake in the schedule to share information easily in real time. Resource requests made through the field tracking software are visible and actionable immediately in the scheduling/dispatching software as well as the maintenance software. Resource status—maintained in real time in the scheduling software—is visible within the field tracking and maintenance software. Assignments from the scheduling software can be imported directly to the electronic field log. Equipment information from the maintenance software, such as when it is down for repairs or scheduled for upcoming maintenance, is visible in the scheduling software.
Customizable views. Employees across construction workflows benefit when they can view the schedule according to their specific requirements and responsibilities. Software makes it easy to filter or focus on specific time periods, types of resources, or a combination of the two. A superintendent may want to filter the schedule by jobsites and then drill down to see the resources assigned to each one, while a shop manager may only want to see equipment assignments and needs. A central dispatcher will likely find it helpful to toggle between crew-, equipment- and job-centric views and drill down for details.
Users can custom define these views, store any number of them, and view them when needed on desktop or mobile devices. They can select one-day or multiple-day periods and navigate easily into the past or future to review prior schedules or plan upcoming requirements.
Specialized functionality. Specialized software makes employees more efficient and allows them to work faster and smarter. All of the information they need about resource status and requirements is up to date and at their fingertips. They can enter needs, assignments, moves, and any other information online and edit the assignments with drag-and-drop simplicity. The software also assists them in evaluating upcoming availability, resolving potential conflicts, and calculating how to deploy resources for optimal efficiency and utilization.
Accurate move planning and driver notification. With real-time information on where equipment is, where it will be needed, and its repair status, schedulers and dispatchers can use the software solution to weigh all their options and deploy those assets in a way that maximizes utilization, supports project objectives in the field, and optimizes the efficiency of their transport crews.
A big challenge for those transport crews is keeping up with a daily plan for pickups and drop-offs that almost always changes. The software can alert drivers by email or text messages generated automatically when changes are made. The standardized process and clear documentation eliminate errors and ambiguity.
Assisted conflict resolution. Conflicts are an inevitable part of construction scheduling and dispatching—no matter how careful a contractor is. Often, conflicts aren’t recognized until they happen. Dispatchers then go into fire-drill mode, sorting through various forms and spreadsheets and making frantic phone calls in search of the best resolution.
“Smart” software can search in advance for instances when resources are unavailable, double assigned, or being moved to the wrong place and then produce an organized list of these conflicts. The software can also suggest how to best resolve conflicts based on the overall schedule and availability. This doesn’t replace human expertise, but it gives schedulers and dispatchers a valuable assist in redirecting assets in the most efficient and logical manner.
Enhanced reporting and analysis. Evaluating the effectiveness and efficiency of scheduling and dispatching efforts is important. The historical data provides insight into trends and can help contractors identify opportunities to improve. Analog systems, however, make looking up information, putting it together in a logical way and drawing meaningful conclusions a difficult, manual process.
Scheduling software makes it easy to pull data into standard and customized reports automatically. Even though activities like equipment moves and crew assignments took place in the past, the information surrounding that activity remains in the system—it is not overwritten, deleted, thrown away like a printed schedule or erased like a whiteboard.
Moving to a specialized software system for scheduling and dispatching provides compelling advantages over the chaotic combination of offline tools like whiteboards, spreadsheets, and phone calls that many contractors continue to rely on. With a single software system, effectively getting crews, equipment, and materials to the right place at the right time in the ever-changing construction environment is possible, and goes a long way towards keeping projects on schedule and under budget.
About the Author
Greg Norris is director of marketing communications for B2W Software (www.b2wsoftware.com). The company’s ONE Platform connects people, workflows, and data and includes advanced, unified, applications to manage estimating, scheduling, field tracking, equipment maintenance, data capture, and business intelligence. Greg can be reached at email@example.com.
Modern Contractor Solutions, May 2019
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