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By John Biggs
November 28, 2017
Paper is as much a part of the construction industry as boots and a hard hat. Your typical contractor is usually buried under a pile of everything from contracts to invoices to bids, change orders, and blueprints–not to mention mail. But in recent years, numerous transformative technological advancements have emerged making the construction industry slowly but surely less paper-dependent.
If paper is the backbone of the entire operation, which is the case in many businesses, it carries numerous–and potentially serious–liabilities. According to Construction Business Owner, an eye-popping 70% of businesses would fail outright within 3 weeks due to a catastrophic loss of paper documents in a fire or flood.
This makes a pretty strong case for moving key documents to the cloud. It reduces clutter, and hedges against a potentially devastating loss of critical paper. There are even document scanners made specifically for scanning oddly shaped things like business cards, and many companies are scanning paper documents and storing the resulting files digitally in a cloud-based storage provider, high above any potential earthbound elemental threats.
The jobsite itself these days has less paper than before the digital revolution, as the now-ubiquitous tablet has all but taken the place of the clipboard, and in some cases becoming the clipboard. Managers can now store file cabinets worth of site plans or other key documents in a device that fits in the palm of their hand, and it’s a whole lot easier to use a search field than to thumb through stacks of pages by hand. This boosts productivity and efficiency, wasting less time desperately searching for that one missing page.
Advanced modeling techniques like BIM have greatly reduced reliance on paper blueprints for collaborating on projects. Using advanced 3D modeling capabilities, project decision makers of all disciplines have a real-time view of the project in digital form, which updates instantly when changes are made. What used to require blueprints and pencils now can be done with mobile devices, streamlining the collaboration process from start to finish.
Respondents in a recent survey say the tasks they most commonly use mobile apps for include inspections, work orders, checklists surveys and invoices. All of which require accuracy. Paper is inefficient. Handwritten paper documents can also be easily lost and difficult to read. Workers could incorrectly report a site they were meant to visit but hadn’t, or wastefully duplicate efforts by repeatedly documenting the same information.
When it comes to site safety and compliance reporting, accuracy is of the essence. Paper-based safety inspection reports are severely limited, and unreliable compared to mobile apps, which include a time and location stamp that can show exactly when and where the inspection occurred, and populates the records in one simple interface for easy reference. Using mobile technology also allows inspectors to take pictures, documenting everything visually. Digital signatures can also be collected to sign off on documents, and agreements can be transmitted digitally instead of mailed, faxed or handed off in person.
Mobile technology has also enabled managers and workers to access the latest version of any project contract, inspection report, change order or scores of other paper documents, from anywhere at any time. This adds efficiency to the process at every step, and empowers managers to make better decisions with less delay.
The continued conversation around the “paperless office” has given rise to companies who offer construction companies services to take their paper-based operations more digital. NoteVault is a platform that promises easily shareable time-saving digital daily reports, as well as a variety of transcription and translation services. Sage Paperless Construction is a content management and workflow automation company that focuses on simplifying the accounts payable process and securely storing vital business documents.
Transitioning to a business that uses less paper is a process, especially in a paper-heavy business like construction. But the technology is out there, and it doesn’t all have to be done in one fell swoop. We may be a ways off from a totally paperless construction industry, but there are unquestionable efficiencies to be gained right now by moving some analog processes to digital.
If you liked this article, here are a few more you may enjoy:
Why Paperless Construction is Taking its Sweet Time
Construction Software Buyer's Guide
The Extinction of Paper-Based Specs
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