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By Erica Konieczny
April 10, 2016
If you find yourself thinking, “How is it possible I have to upgrade my software already?” then it’s time to shop for a future-proof solution.
Technology’s rate of change can seem dizzying. But rather than adopting an “any port in a storm” approach to buying software, using a few key criteria to vet products and determine the best fit for your company’s needs will help you select a solution that provides long-term benefits.
As a new year begins, it is natural for companies and research organizations to make predictions. In the world of rapid change brought about by the Internet, there are many innovations to call out and new trends to highlight. Some of them seem like a major shift. Did you know that Michael Wolf, founder and CEO of technology consulting rm Activate, Inc., forecasts that soon more people will use message apps than use social media? Or that Nucleus Research contends that big data is already here (although its prevalence is somewhat disguised by the fact that it is being used by companies in modestly sized—and manageable—pieces)? Yet, while pondering “the next big thing” is always exciting, there is a familiar underlying theme to almost all 2016 predictions: the elimination of barriers between technology platforms, and more importantly, between people. Bigger data sets, better flow of information between formerly standalone computer programs, and improved collaboration among team members are still on the rise. And, as in years before, these trends will impact the way you do business, so make sure your 2016 business strategy is informed by changes in the technology arena.
Digital project management is not new to 2016. For years, construction teams have been transitioning to computerized solutions. First, architecture/engineering/construction (AEC) companies put desktop computers in offices and in the job trailer. They invested in on-premise servers. Forms, drawings, and other documents were emailed as file attachments, and with any luck, recipients’ computers had programs installed that would open those files.
Desktop computers were a big improvement over pen and paper, but applications designed in the 1990s and programs run on in- house servers provide limited accessibility to project data. User licenses and virtual private networks (VPN) access requirements drastically inhibit communications and collaboration as team members wait to retrieve newly updated information before continuing their work. Project staff are required to suffer through slow VPN connections and remote desktop applications, and are routinely forced to hunt through emails containing outdated attachments.
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With thousands of emails and multiple revisions going back and forth, the volume of communication can seem endless, and this makes keeping updates to contracts, insurance documents, project plans, RFIs, and change orders impossible. With no streamlined system in place, there will undoubtedly be details (and dollars) lost.Projects are also slipping their schedules due to a lack of information and communication. Keeping projects on schedule is imperative to profitability, and avoiding delays requires every party to deliver their work on time. Without the ability to monitor deadlines and anticipate delays in permitting, inspections, or obtaining equipment, valuable time and resources are lost.
Recent developments—most notably, cloud computing and mobile devices—have offered a dramatic improvement in efficiency. More data storage and greater accessibility, (which in turn improve project-wide accuracy and turnaround time), are the hallmarks of the latest technologies. But so much has happened so quickly that you may have ended up buying software that isn’t serving your company’s needs. Perhaps it didn’t fit your requirements from day one... or perhaps it did, but lately its developers haven’t been keeping pace with industry advances. Predictably, some of the software solutions that were state-of-the-art just a few years ago are now atrophying or being phased out. In fact, several major project management software providers have moved their most popular releases to a support or maintenance-only model. All developments of these products have stopped.This isn’t entirely surprising. Every business must be forward-looking, building upon their successes and cutting losses. For software providers, especially those that o er a wide range of offerings, this means “sunsetting” some of their products. When a software is “sunsetted,” it means the provider is diverting time and money away from the solution you—their customer—were using, in order to put their resources toward anew business endeavor. Meanwhile, you are left with an old system fraught with sluggish operations, system freezes, and questions that won’t be easily answered, because technical support from your vendor has been discontinued.
Choice 1: Upgrade. In some instances, the software companies will provide an upgrade path from their current solution to other solutions, which are normally added via acquisitions. Generally, the transition does not occur seamlessly. However, in addition to fees, customers are faced with the same obstacles they would confront with an entirely new purchase: new implementation, training, roll out, pilot, project go-live, and ultimately company-wide go-live. Furthermore, extensive data conversions are required if the old system is to be shut down and no longer supported. And these “upgrades” to other acquired applications beg the question “When will they be shut down?Choice 2: Stay Behind. Sometimes, construction firms choose—often by default—to stay behind and not implement any form of new software. After all, the announcement that a product is being sunsetted is easy enough to ignore, because in the near-term, the program you’re using will function pretty much as usual. But technology platforms—new operating systems and new versions of Java and browsers—continue to evolve at a swift rate. Soon your legacy software, with its outdated system requirements, will be slowing down your organization’s ability to work effectively. And in the long run, if you stick with an outdated software for too long, the valuable data it houses may be lost. As you’ll know if you still have any floppy disks hanging around your office, it is all too possible for entire data sets representing your company’s work to become unreadable.
Choice 3: Move to the Next Generation of Project Management Solutions. Investing in a new software can seem daunting. What’s worse, is that it can seem like another futile move in a game of catch-up that you’ll never win. However, if you make your next software purchase based on proven developments within the industry, you can not only get up to speed with the latest technologies right away, but you can ensure that your investment will keep you solidly up-to- date well into the future, even as the tech landscape continues to evolve.
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