April 2018


by Tyler Riddell, eSUB

Construction is one of the largest industries in the world with an annual market capitalization exceeding $10 trillion. Despite its tremendous potential, many contracting firms are struggling due to a shortage of skilled workers, weak productivity growth, and new data showing that the industry generates immense waste, both in terms of human productivity and physical materials.

Today’s proponents of technology have pointed to a lack of automation and adoption of technology as the primary reasons for the industry’s poor performance—construction is one of the least digitized industries worldwide, and has resultantly failed to significantly increase worker productivity in decades, all while productivity in sectors like retail and agriculture has grown by 1,500 percent or more since 1945.

It’s time to shake things up—there’s nothing to fear but fear itself in the construction industry, and we think that automation technologies are the next big thing that will help construction firms thrive over the next 50 years. In this article, we highlight some of the most alarming drags on subcontractors and the important automation technologies that subcontractors can adopt and apply to enhance their productivity.

Relying on Old Methods for Project Delivery

Many commercial subcontractors reach the inflexion point when the need to implement new processes and technology is required to make them more efficient. The current way of doing business (i.e., using paper time sheets or Excel spreadsheets) may have adequately served the needs for many years, but unfortunately, it does not provide the adequate infrastructure to scale and grow.

When a subcontracting company is in its growth phase, the management team recognizes the value of technology to scale. However, the team is so busy working on projects that there is little to no time available to explore and successfully implement new technology.

The resistance to investing time in new technology is compounded by the seasonality of different industries of the subcontractor. Depending on the region and type of specialty contractor, the work is very seasonal. For example, construction and concrete contractors in the northern regions are more susceptible to inclement weather and busiest from late spring to fall with summer serving as the peak time.

The Fear and Risk of Delaying Adoption of Technology

The misconception that training takes away from actually doing the work is the biggest hurdle to implementing technology during a busy time. But, this busy time is when construction project management software is needed more than ever.

Scheduling mishaps—Managing the time and resource constraints to deliver projects on time and within budget can become a big puzzle for a subcontractor. Without project management software to manage the puzzle, there becomes a strong probability that labor and equipment are double-booked or sitting idle because preceding tasks were not completed for work to begin. Poor scheduling can result in financial losses and project delays.

Undocumented changes—When there is frantic energy to complete jobs to move onto the next project quickly, it is too easy for important items to slip through the cracks. Forgetting to complete a change order is a reality, and those undocumented changes are the biggest source of disputes in construction. Without project management software that connects the field operations with the team at the office to manage the paperwork, this greatly increases the risk of the subcontractor not getting paid for the work completed; or, even worse, the subcontractor may lose money and need to do significant rework for work done out of original scope.

Employee frustration—Although the team may be too busy to implement new technology, the main source of their “busy-ness” is the result of inefficient workflows. If your company is using paper or spreadsheets for timecards, daily reports, RFIs, change orders, or submittals, they are likely spending hours capturing, searching, and tracking information and then transporting it from the field to the office. Without project management software, employee frustration festers on many wasted hours and lost productivity spent on tasks that could be completed more quickly and easily.

Implementation: Minimizing Pain to Maximize Gain

Coaches drill “no pain, no gain” to push hard and even painful work in their athletes to take their performance to the next level. However, construction software implementations do not need to be painful to quickly gain the benefits. First, selecting subcontractor-designed software by experts in your field, make implementing technology much more manageable. Begin with one or two projects accelerates seeing the value from your investment then you can expand to other teams and projects.

The key to successful technology adoption is simple: Use It! Leverage online and unlimited training services offered by the vendor.  New technology can be intimidating, but you have options where project management and document control software is incredibly easy to use for subcontractors. However, it must be designed for your business.

Mitigating Risk and Avoiding Claims

Unfortunately, stories are rampant across the industry where subcontractors and general contractors are caught in disagreements because of verbal favors or undocumented work. So, subcontractors must protect themselves from these situations with precise document control and project management best practices.

Many general contractors provide their subcontractors with a user license into their project management software platform. In fact, we’ve heard that some general contractors even mandate that their subcontractors utilize their project management tool and will no longer respond to email communications. This is not an acceptable arrangement.

When the subcontractor enters daily reports, RFIs, photos, issues or change orders into the general contractor’s project management solution, the general contractor owns all the valuable documentation and information. In the event of a claim or dispute, the general contractor can and will likely revoke access to the subcontractor. In the event that happens, will the subcontractor have backup documentation to support their claim? If duplicate entry into two project management platforms is required for a project, so be it. You’re still protecting your construction business and avoiding expensive financial pitfalls.

The workflow of a subcontractor and business model drastically differs from that of general contractors. A large majority of construction project management solutions are geared toward general contractors. Subcontractors must utilize a solution that enables them to track their labor productivity on projects, provide documentation control to mitigate risk and avoid claims and manage all their projects holistically to ensure growth and profitability.

The question shouldn’t be what chance do we have, it should be what choice do we have. Today represents the opportunity to use software designed exclusively for construction subcontractors.

Subcontractor software that is connected to the office and field using mobile apps can address many current challenges and incorporate new automated workflows. Construction software, such as project management, can help overcome challenges and provide additional benefits as indicated below.

Improved Collaboration

Cloud-based construction software unites all the members of the project team regardless of their location. The crew in the field can document jobsite activity from the field. The team in the office receives real-time updates to process paperwork in a timelier manner. With construction software, communication between the field and the office is improved to enable a more collaborative work environment. Everyone becomes more productive with all the necessary project information at his or her fingertips.

Professional Development

Whether it is the desire to earn more money, improve their skills, or advance their career, many employees enter 2018 with a desire to improve themselves. Many job advertisements request their foremen and project managers have experience with project management software. Take this opportunity to invest in the professional development of your employees. Installing new construction software will provide them an opportunity manage their projects more effectively as well as provide them the opportunity to learn important new skills that will advance their careers.

Automated Workflows

In many commercial construction projects, subcontractors create hundreds of RFIs and change orders. Construction software provides users the ability to electronically create, email, and track the documentation. This process automates the workflow to ensure that documentation and correspondence does not slip through the cracks. With accurate documentation and improved communication, construction software enforces project management best practices for your busy construction firm.

Data-Driven Decision-Making

Many construction software packages include an extensive number of reports and dashboards. These provide valuable insights for your management team. Reports include up-to-date project information that depicts summaries, trends, and forecasts on project activities. Additionally, a roll up of all projects summarizes the overall financial health of the company. The data provides concrete information for project managers and executives to make important decisions to keep projects on track and maximize profitability.

This is a time of heightened growth in the construction industry, and many subcontractors are busier than ever. Mobile technology enables new productivity tools to assist field workers while cloud-based application services have eliminated the silos enabling the field and office to work more efficiently together.

There may not ever be a perfect time to implement new technology, but every day that implementation is delayed is another day of wasted time, lost productivity, and increased risk. An easy-to-use system that provides a solid implementation plan and expert guidance will accelerate the time-to-value and empower your team to experience workflow improvements quickly. With a stronger and more affordable than ever technology infrastructure to support higher labor productivity and efficiency, a subcontractor will be able to take on more projects and scale effectively for increased profits.

Tyler Riddell is vice president of Marketing for eSUB. He can be reached at (858) 266-8322 or tylerr@esub.com.




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