How technology enables project managers to remove burdens and work smarter
By Matt Harris
For contractors, the lifeblood of their business is the construction project itself. How projects are managed can make or break the company. Project managers are often the most important—and most scrutinized—role in the construction organization. Whereas others may be responsible for particular tasks or defined roles on the project, project managers have to be somewhat of a “jack of all trades.”
They must know the project plans inside and out as well as all of the players, tasks, goals, budgeting, and more—not to mention representing the company’s mission statements and reputation by producing a finished product that meets or exceeds expectations.
Construction projects can have so many people involved and so many moving pieces of data flowing at any given time that something is bound to get missed. Effective project management means controlling the data flow and staying on top of transmittals, submittals, RFIs, email communications, change orders, materials, inventory, job cost and WIP reports, labor hours and wages, union rules, safety regulations, insurance and bonding, compliance data, and a whole lot more.
As the saying goes, battle plans are perfect … until the battle begins. A construction project can be planned out down to the very last nail, but even in the best-planned project, something always goes awry. Still, that does not mean planning should go out the window just because even the best-laid plans will always change. Modern technologies like cloud-based, integrated construction management software, mobile apps, and project collaboration solutions are helping project managers plan better, work smarter, and be more adaptable during the project.
TRADITIONAL PROCESS PROBLEMS
With today’s modern construction demands there is even more pressure to find efficiencies. Yet, many project managers in construction are still using a mix of manual processes and multiple, disconnected software solutions that lack integration, collaborative tools, and accountability standards they need to improve productivity and profitability. Capterra, a company that helps pair companies with the right software solutions, noted in a March 2018 blog that 59 percent of U.S. workers said communication is their team’s biggest obstacle to success, followed by accountability (29 percent).
Construction projects—and firms’ bottom lines—can suffer from delays, mistakes, conflicts, and other challenges if the data being tracked and reviewed is days or even weeks old. In fact, the Construction Industry Institute’s report, A Guide to Construction Rework Reduction, noted that unnecessary rework resulting from gaffes or lack of information accounts for as much as 20 percent of project costs on average—eating away at profit margins in an industry with already razor-thin margins to begin with.
The inability to analyze project information in real time can make it hard to accurately gauge current job costs or work in progress. Instead, project managers often work with information culled together from reports generated in software systems that cannot pull data until it is fully processed or individual phases of the project are completed. Lacking workflows or alerts that expedite approvals and processing, these disconnected software packages put the onus back on the people to sort, reenter, and process data correctly. Furthermore, having to wait until reaching the office or relying on limited VPN connections to manually enter data into the system means additional delays.
Meanwhile, contractors that have digitized their operations and embraced the latest construction management technologies, are realizing significant competitive advantages.
A CASE FOR TECHNOLOGY
An early-2018 survey by Software Connect on construction technology trends noted that 87 percent of contractors are now open to reviewing cloud/hosted software for their construction management needs. For software to work well in the cloud, it has to be designed for the cloud. And contractors need cloud-based software designed for construction—an integrated enterprise resource management (ERP) platform that connects the back office, field, and extended project team with a common set of data across functionalities like accounting, human resources, collaborative project and document management, materials and equipment management, and much more.
The accessibility to real-time data that connected, cloud-based solutions—like Viewpoint’s Vista or Spectrum ERPs or its Viewpoint Team project and document management platform—provide empower project team members across the organization to work more collaboratively and efficiently together. Connecting to these solutions from their laptops, tablets, or smartphone devices in real time, project managers have instant visibility into project health and can make more informed decisions—mitigating project delays and reducing errors.
With everything from banking to retail to entertainment accessible on the go today, there is much less resistance to use of mobile devices to run companies’ businesses. According to a 2017 Construction Technology Report by JBKnowledge in conjunction with the Construction Financial Management Association and others, 83.1 percent of respondents considered mobile computing capabilities on the project jobsite to be either “important” or “very important.”
Mobile applications being developed for construction extend the functionality of the powerful ERP platforms in ways that are highly relevant to specific end users and their roles. Field crews, for instance, can instantly get access to project data they need, or use their apps to collect information like defects, punch lists and more, automatically updating back-office systems once the data is entered.
By streamlining workflows and automating tasks across project team members, it takes a significant burden off the project manager to be the data collector in chief or have to wrangle team members and tasks that need to be done. And, the project manager has the added benefit of tracking data and productivity in real time through intuitive dashboards and automated workflows of his own.
Beyond the project manager, deploying cloud software can also reduce construction firms’ capital expenses and IT strain, eliminating the need to buy and regularly update server hardware and application software. With cloud-based construction ERPs, software updates can be rolled out automatically, so end users simply log in and start using new functionality.
And, with many new cloud-based construction technologies moving to flexible subscription services and persona-based licensing, contractors are able to smartly scale both their projects and their business not just for today, but for the future.
About the author
Matt Harris is the chief product and strategy officer at Portland-Oregon-based Viewpoint. He is responsible for driving Viewpoint’s overall product strategy and roadmap, ensuring they address the real-world business issues construction professionals face every day. For more information, visit www.viewpoint.com.
Modern Contractor Solutions, June 2019
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