Modernization Efforts

While the construction industry enjoyed further growth in 2016, the sector still faces significant challenges that can limit firms’ ability to grow both their top and bottom lines. For starters, the construction industry continues to be impacted by thin margins and an ongoing shortage of skilled workers. In tandem, public entities are increasingly under pressure to find cost-effective solutions to challenges such as aging infrastructure, including roadways, bridges, utilities, and more. Private sector organizations, meanwhile, are looking for ways to optimize their capital projects spending to drive growth amid new regulatory requirements and other operational challenges.
Large capital projects, from schools to shopping malls to bridges, all too often are delivered over budget and later than expected, sometimes significantly so. A compounding problem is that many companies still lack a technology strategy and toolset to modernize business processes and leverage data to more efficiently and effectively plan, build, and operate critical assets. But a sea change is underway in terms of how the industry views technology.
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While construction historically has lagged other sectors in terms of IT investment, such spending is now accelerating as more and more organizations wake up to the need to move beyond the industry’s traditional business and building practices. At the same time, the speed of technology development has increased the availability of robust, customizable solutions, which is lowering the barrier to adoption.
One clear example is Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and mobile technology delivered in the cloud. These advancements are fundamentally transforming how information is managed and how construction work is done by enabling real-time collaboration and data sharing between the worksite and the office—and across all stakeholders. Such technology dramatically streamlines and accelerates the flow of information, improving project management and making organizations more nimble.
With cloud tools, organizations can easily access worksite information to quickly pinpoint issues, such as equipment problems, and make informed decisions about resource prioritization. Such tools can also provide new levels of process standardization, control and transparency to support risk mitigation efforts. In addition, innovations in construction technology are enabling the integration of historically siloed systems and teams, driving synergies in core construction business processes such as cost and schedule management and even subcontractor payment. The opportunities to improve both processes and outcomes across the asset lifecycle are tremendous.
But simply buying the latest tool is not enough. Positioning for long-term success and minimizing time to value requires a comprehensive approach to implementation that considers three key pillars: technology, people, and process. The way an organization approaches this triad can make or break a digitization venture in the construction industry.
Although the technical aspects of an implementation are critical to its success, organizations too often focus on these aspects at the expense of organizational change management. In doing so, they fail to adequately consider how best to manage the experience of end users whose acceptance is critical to successful use of any new tool. In addition, they often fail to drive appropriate process changes—including attendant education and training—needed to deliver a smooth transition to a new operating model. Implementing technology without providing adequate onboarding and training for users—and other stakeholders—greatly reduces the likelihood that the tool will positively impact the business.
In light of these common pitfalls in technology implementations, here are some key best practices that can help construction industry leaders break down barriers to technology adoption:
Set your goals: Define the initiative’s objectives and be crisp and clear in communicating to the organization how the technology achieves them when used appropriately. Make sure that those using the system understand both how to use the system as well as how it benefits both the organization and users. When implementation begins, the approach should be deliberate and efficient. Prioritize critical areas for improvement. This allows time to measure early successes, identify pitfalls, and adjust the approach before expanding roll-out. Technology at its best reinforces desired behaviors by creating significant process efficiencies. The resultant improvements in the day-to-day work of users create evangelists who can help engender organizational support for full implementation.
Establish processes and protocols: Critical to the success of any technology implementation, best practices and protocols standardize use of the tool and the processes it supports. As such, it is important that both be established early on in an initiative. Leadership needs to ask: “How do we apply the solution directly to our own use cases?” By defining and implementing protocols linked to use cases, organizations can ensure technology solutions are used effectively across teams, job functions, and projects. A best practice embraced by many leading construction organizations is the development of a project controls office, a governing body that determines the technology strategy (i.e., “What problems are we trying to solve?”) and enforces the right user behaviors (i.e., “How do we best use the tool to solve those problems?”) across the enterprise. Absent such a governing body, even organizations that recognize the need for process standardization can fall short of realizing the full benefits, as they often focus their efforts on only the largest projects.
Streamline and enhance employee education: A pile of paperwork and handouts is likely the last thing most employees want to see during their work day, yet most organizations still facilitate employee onboarding and educating through the timeworn practice of supplying stacks of manuals, handbooks, and other product documentation. Onboarding should instead be handled in forums that facilitate the “high touch” aspects of learning how to use new technology. Emphasis should be on functionality (the “how”) and use cases (the “why”), with a particular focus on the benefits to end-users. One way to accomplish this is to bring in an expert team from the company that developed the technology and host an interactive training session that includes demos, simulations, and discussions.
By keeping people, technology, and process equally top of mind, construction organizations can address their evolving business needs and project demands by capitalizing on digitization. Doing so will enable them to connect project participants—wherever they may be—to improve outcomes for all stakeholders. ■
About The Author: Garrett Harley is director of construction and engineering strategy at Oracle. He has more than 18-plus years of project management experience supporting both owners and contractors within infrastructure, industrial, commercial, and residential markets. For more, visit
Modern Contractor Solutions, March 2017
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