Traditional project reporting using pen and paper or Excel spreadsheets is on the way out. Today’s construction industry needs advanced reporting and thorough documentation to ease the flow of information from the field, back to head office, and among key stakeholders.
The methods of the past fail on many levels, including any lack of visual proof of what’s been written. The time commitment to enter information by hand can also lead to procrastination — reports don’t get written for a few days, leading to inaccuracies.
However, old processes are hard to change and new software platforms are expensive. To justify the change and the investment, company-wide acceptance of any new reporting software is mandatory. The faster that acceptance comes, the better. That’s a challenge for many companies that use a top-down mentality.
“You need to roll out software from the bottom-up, not from the top-down,” says Raken, a construction field management software development company based in Carlsbad, Calif. The warm fuzzy feeling experienced by head office immediately after purchase can soon be replaced with concerns over the lengthy time acceptance of the new system takes. “Once the people responsible for entering the information, both in the field and the office, get their hands on it, things inevitably grind to a halt.”
Often the fault lies in the software purchasing process itself. These decisions are usually determined by upper management. Executives have likely sat through sales pitches from competing construction management software vendors, each making fantastic claims. However, as compelling as the software features might be, management must ask, “Are the guys in the field and the folks in the office going to use it?”
Problems arise if field and office personnel don’t understand how to use the new software, or if it takes too long to enter the required information. They will stop using it — it’s just too complicated. That leaves executives frustrated because they aren’t getting the response they expected after making a major investment in a system that no one seems to be using.
New software purchasing decisions must focus on end-users. The entire team needs to be sold on the concept of efficiency and to recognize how that efficiency translates into benefits for them personally. “It’s hard to turn down your proposal if it gets them home earlier,” says Pete Schott, Senior Product Marketing Manager at PlanGrid.
Equally important is setting up a pilot program. Rolling out the software company-wide right off the bat is simply the wrong path to choose. Depending on the size of the company, deploying the software to one or two projects might be a good starting point. Smaller companies could consider testing with a smaller team. This will help define a process and set expectations for how everyone should use the software, says Schott.
“Start by selecting just a few key software functions, and learn to use those well,” says Schott. For believable test results, Raken further suggests a pilot program using the least tech-savvy, non-voluntary individuals in the company. “Volunteers are eager to try and adopt new technology and you might get skewed results that aren’t representative of how the rest of the users feel. The best-case study for your construction management software pilot program is going to be the person that you would expect the most resistance from.”
Look all the way down the line in terms of workflow for your pilot program. Include a superintendent, foreman, project manager and possibly an owner depending on the project, says Schott. “Software that improves teamwork and communication will encourage others to use it organically.”
If the right software was chosen — if its technology has been designed for the field — Schott believes it can be rolled out with little or no training. Of course, any offers of onsite training and online webinars from vendors should be used.
Can this bottom-up methodology shorten the six to nine-month acceptance period often experienced? Raken boldly suggests that positive results are possible immediately, or at most after one or two months.
John Bleasby is a Coldwater, Ont. based freelance writer. Send comments and Inside Innovation column ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.