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5 Dangers Lurking in Single-Purpose Applications

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It seems that all of a sudden the cloud age is on construction’s doorstep. And, it’s not because of the efforts of traditional software makers, but rather because mobile devices, applications, and the cloud are finally offering tools that cater to construction’s unique needs. But there’s a problem; With all the single-purpose applications the tech sector is offering construction these days, it’s too easy to select a dead end solution that only solves a selection of your pain points.

Software applications and cloud services that only do one thing, are fine for companies serving consumers, or those that are satisfied with most of their technology and just want to improve one area of their business. But, if you are serious about harnessing all that technology has to offer construction today, single-purpose solutions need to be able to integrate. So, before you go too far down the rabbit hole of adopting apps and cloud solutions that just have single purposes, consider the following danger zones.

1. Cost

A single purpose application is a very inexpensive way to tackle a specific business problem or to improve a business process. For example, if you really want to improve your estimating function, ditching the spreadsheet, and getting hooked up with a cloud estimating solution, will pay off very quickly. But the problem arises when you want to integrate your estimates with your back office accounting system, or with your scheduling system. Suddenly, a low-cost, quick solution leads to a bunch of new costs.

And, this is only be the beginning of the cost spiral. As you pile on more single-purpose apps, costs expand. You have the initial and ongoing application costs along with new costs for integrating them with your current and evolving technology. It’s also highly likely that as you adopt single-purpose apps, some of them will come with functions that are the same, or similar to others. That means you have to decide which app you're going to use for which purposes, but at the end of the day, you're paying double for the same functionality.

2. The Silo Effect

Information used for any particular function is also necessary for other functions. For example, estimating data informs your customer relationships, accounting, scheduling, project management, and more. When you rely on single purpose application, your data gets placed into each application’s own little silo. There it sits, available for that application alone, and largely unavailable for your other business processes––unless of course, you invest in the tools needed for integration. 

Your communication and collaboration will suffer from information droughts, followed by information floods.

The further downside is that all of this information in silos hampers your communication and collaboration efforts. It segregates your business functions and causes each of them to sequester the data directly related to their functions. You may find you are still perfectly able to run your business, but you will miss out on the added efficiency and productivity that comes with better communication and collaboration.

3. The User Adoption Blues

Those seven new cloud applications you've just rolled out mean your people are going to have to maintain seven different login credentials, and during the course of their busy business day will need to log in and log out multiple times on multiple sites. But that is just the beginning of the user woes. 

Each new application has its own interface, and it's a good bet that interface is not going to look anything like the interfaces of the other applications. That means your users now need to master multiple interfaces. And while they might get good at that, it's a good bet they're not going to become pros at it and will miss out on at least some of the functions available to them. Sure, you can turn to training to solve the issue. But that’s just added time taken away from their work week and lost productivity to training that won't apply to the next new single-purpose application.

When users get frustrated with application interfaces, they tend to avoid using those applications. That becomes just one part of a bigger problem. Some users will go out on their own and find applications they feel more comfortable using. This rogue behavior happens far more than most companies are willing to admit. Once users are relying on their own application choices, new silos are created, along with new integration headaches. You will find it hard to establish baselines, standardize processes, and many users will be measuring business indicators differently.

4. Scalability

Not every single purpose application will allow you to scale your account based on the number of users as well as the types of users. While you might have a few people who need to use the single purpose application almost daily, you will probably have others who perhaps only need to use it weekly. And, what about your subcontractors, vendors, owners, government agencies, and other stakeholders in the typical project? Involving all the right people at the levels they need to be involved becomes a major challenge when you are relying on single-purpose applications.

5. The List Goes On

Single-purpose applications don't play well together and that will hinder your data analysis and business intelligence efforts. Forget about custom reporting beyond the reporting available within each application. The advantages of many new technologies are very time sensitive. Ten different disparate applications will make it difficult for you to make sure that people receive the right insights, at the right time, regarding what's happening on at the jobsite. Your communication and collaboration will suffer from information droughts, followed by information floods. A single point solution might have excellent tracking tools, but when changes to information occur within each application, the tracking is impossible.

Many companies started on the single purpose application path simply because they wanted to take a gradual approach to investing in technology. However, for construction companies that are seeking the best return on their investment in technology, a single purpose application approach is the equivalent of trying to build a house using the foundation blueprints from one architect, the wall blueprints from another, and the roof blueprints from yet another. In the end, it takes longer, and it's highly likely the pieces just won't fit.

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