by Tom Schell
In many ways, construction has remained authentic to its roots, an orchestra that’s learned to play together more effectively despite playing the same instruments they always have. Project success is still largely dependent on human acumen, a rare proposition within a climate desperate to oust manual processes. We’re still concerned with the nuts and bolts (so to speak), the two-by-fours, and the caulking, traditional tradesmanship no computer has quite mastered yet.
In 2018, construction represented a $1.18 trillion industry, roughly one-fourth of what the U.S. government allocates for yearly expenditure. Only, the $1.18 trillion doesn’t support an entire nation of 300 million people, it accounts for a singular industry. That being said—a lot of money is at stake here, on both global and individual scales, and unfortunately, contractors come with costs beyond their labor. Sticking to a budget and solidifying a project timeline has become increasingly paramount to operational stability.
The more humans involved the more opportunity there is for human error, and while we can’t take the contractor out of the construction contract, we can mitigate erroneous calculations and projections with automation technologies.
Next-generation, construction technologies are designed around ongoing pain points related to risk-management, parameter assessment, work management, and profitability. The idea here is, if technology can reduce extraneous handouts, drive productivity, and increase accuracy, workers inevitability become more productive within the environments they’re already accustomed to working within.
Custom construction management software offers a modular, a la carte approach to the historically erratic relationship between construction and information technology. Remaining on-budget, on-time with delivery begins with reducing human error and preserving big picture perspective, and we now have the technology to do both.
A COLLABORATIVE WORKSPACE
One of the greatest challenges for the construction industry is creating cohesion between all parties—the developers, the visionaries, the clients, the labor. Visualization and Building Information Modeling (BIM) tools are an extremely effective way of unifying those different energies colliding onsite. After all, 65 percent of the human population consists of visual learners. Why not engineer a workspace around the needs of the majority?
Platforms like Autodesk Forge cater to those visual learners, allowing all parties involved to view and upload documents that contribute to the big picture. Autodesk Forge then aggregates those files and assembles the data into an actionable form, all in real time and over a cloud-based network.
Not only does the cloud aspect make Autodesk Forge accessible from anywhere with an internet connection and viable credentials, but it also removes digital storage limitations from a long list of concerns inherent to new construction.
Whether it’s Autodesk or a custom visualization platform, 3D modeling allows workers to visualize the project in a much more holistic way then they have ever been able to before. It’s easy to let the big picture get away when working within a single niche. Having the ability to revisit the visuals and refocus keeps timelines on track and disparate teams connected.
STICK TO YOUR ESTIMATES
The construction industry is not one to come in below budget; it’s more accustomed to using every last penny allocated in the estimate and then some. The same underestimation rings true for project timelines, as well. Large-scale construction projects typically run 20 percent longer than anticipated and go up to 80 percent over-budget. Everyone involved loses at this point. The investor is pressured to front more, and the contractor’s schedule shifts, influencing other jobs and compromising client relations. Even the individual worker is subjected to instability and unrealistic expectations.
Rather than treating the symptoms of poor planning, diagnose the root cause and eradicate. It’s safe to say human error is the first roadblock on the path to greater accuracy, followed by uncontrollable and unforeseen money pits that often present themselves after peeling back the first layer.
There’s no way to eliminate happenstance all together, but it is possible to mitigate guessing games with automation. One of Chetu’s clients, Advanced Claims Technologies (ACT), combined geo-tagging and drone captures with a proprietary estimation software to issue price estimates on roof repair and replacement jobs. The software generates a first-order, magnitude estimate that is proven to be 10-15 percent within the actual cost of execution.
Construction firms cannot reduce enterprise-level projects down to the single dollar or any size project for that matter, but any contractor would consider finishing within 10-15 percent of the original budget a success because it happens so seldomly. It’s important to take into account that ACT’s software focuses on one component of a much a larger picture.
Allowing each sector to fluctuate 10-15 percent compromises the integrity of a project. Segmenting components like roofing, flooring, structural support, electric wiring, out onto their own estimation platforms fails to acknowledge how each will interact in the context of the other and what that each means for the project as a whole—in both time and money (if they’re not one and the same).
The best estimation platforms syndicate the different channels and are intuitive to how they ebb and flow. They draw from 3D model views and building material databases to marry the cost of materials and cost of labor, all within a much broader construction management platform.
Construction Management Software = Ultimate Sustainability (and Profitability)
In lieu of shiny new tech, construction operations sometimes forget the power of basic accounting and ERP software. It’s impossible to see success from visualizations and estimation software without nailing down the basics, one of the most neglected basics being how money is managed. Accounting is more a horizontal technology, meaning it transcends industry.
Businesses must invest in accounting software that parallels their financial workflows. Off-the-shelf solutions often come with a high price tag and a bunch of features that never get used.
Custom-build is a viable alternative to a blanket accounting solution and allows businesses to tailor modules to their own needs. Rather than paying for licensing costs, custom is a one-off price. For a need as a constant as accounting, custom-build is an option worth considering.
Scheduling software falls into the same category as accounting. Eliminating as many manual, clerical processes as possible, assuages human error, allowing the operation to run more productively.
A SINGLE PLATFORM
An orchestra is nothing without the conductor. Together, these software solutions synergize operations, and they work best when they are under a singular platform. When we bring visualizations, drafting, accounting, ERP, and estimation together we get an unstoppable construction management platform. Suddenly, those nuts and bolts are hammered with less resistance, and human error becomes an archaism.
Modern construction is about optimizing preexisting resources and using software to identify how to best leverage them using automation algorithms. Construction management doesn’t take a new path; it just retools a path that already existed and scratches below the surface to cultivate unparalleled efficiency.
About the author:
Tom Schell, director of sales at Chetu (www.chetu.com/aec/project-management.php), has extensive experience in strategic construction development, engaging with C-level executives within the industry to match them with the best IT solutions. Chetu is a US-based software development company that provides businesses worldwide with custom construction technology solutions.
Modern Contractor Solutions, April 2019
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