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The Future of Construction Lies in Agile Technology


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There are portions of the technology sector that are still not understanding that construction needs agile technology. A recent forecast put the growth of the global construction estimating software market at a little over 10% from 2016 to 2020. 

However, the report stated that one of the major challenges for the market is interoperability, because there is a high probability of incompatibility across the various software offerings and agility demands interoperability.

Increasingly, construction’s future depends on technology that is agile. But, construction professionals consistently point out that software offerings are anything but agile because many of them don’t integrate well with other software. When 30,000 construction industry professionals answered a JB Knowledge survey in 2015, they reported low confidence in the ability of technology providers to integrate their offerings. Very few builders said that all of their applications integrated. And, contractors reporting some integration among software applications said integration barely changed from 2012 through 2014.

The advantage of having your various business functions interacting with each other is that you can save a lot of time, and that adds up to an improvement in your bottom line. 

However, there is movement toward open integration standards in construction software. One industry example is the Construction Open Standards Alliance which includes construction industry professionals and software makers working together so that software from various companies also works together. 

But, construction companies don’t have to wait for industry initiatives to catch up with their needs. Companies can take steps themselves to improve the agility of their technology investments. Strategies like carefully limiting investment in single purpose solutions, buying software that has paths to integration, and selecting solutions that operate on cloud platforms top the list.

You need agile technology because construction is an agile endeavor. How many times in any given day do you need to find critical information quickly that is also changing in real time, while also knowing it is accurate and up-to-date? There are few places where this is more important than with documents and drawings.

Document and Drawing Management

It used to be that you could manage all of your documents and drawings just as quickly and efficiently as your competition. After all, everyone was using filing cabinets and paper. But with software, that all changed. You, and all of those you work with, could suddenly create documents at rapid speed while also duplicating them instantly, and in large numbers. People had to learn new ways of handling and tracking documents and drawings. And they faced the never-ending challenge of making sure everyone was using the right document version. In the early days, there really was little about digital documents and drawings that made them any more agile than paper. 

Today however, much of that has changed. Digital document and drawing management have matured to the point where those who use it have very a great competitive advantage. Having the right document or drawing at the right time happens with great consistency across many construction jobsites thanks to the agile tech of SaaS and mobile devices. For many construction companies, the future is already here as they harness the efficiency and accuracy offered by agile technology. But for others, legacy software is still costing a lot.

Just consider the case of the million dollar loss arising from a single change order. The contractor who told the story was participating in a roundtable discussion at an industry meeting. He explained how everything happened normally right after the substantial required change was discovered. The change order request was created and signed by the owner. The contractor picked up the signed order and headed back to the office, and that’s where everything went wrong. Somewhere between his desk and the filing cabinet, the documentation for the change order went missing. Without it, he couldn’t recover the costs of the change. 

While this is a glaring example of the dangers of rigid systems, there are other places in your operations where a lack of agility has similar creeping consequences.     

Customer Relationship Management

It’s supposed to be all about managing your customers, but what it’s really about is sticking all your customer information into a database that can only be accessed by the CRM solution. The makers of CRM solutions will tell you that using their products will prevent embarrassing errors, like accidentally sending two proposals on the same bid. They’ll also tell you that their CRM will help you sort your customers based on project performance so you can be more selective in the new business you chase. 

But, what they don’t tell you is gaining those advantages means you’ll have to spend a lot of time reentering information that exists elsewhere in your data streams. And, to do the new business planning and sorting of customers most efficiently, you’ll have to manually build connectors between your CRM, your accounting solution, and your project management platform. Plus, all that sequestered information in your CRM will become dead weight when you outgrow it and realize you’d be better off having CRM integrated with your other functions.

Agility Behind the Scenes

The advantage of having your various business functions interacting with each other is that you can save a lot of time, and that adds up to an improvement in your bottom line. You can also experience a big increase in accuracy while reducing mistakes. 

A Midwestern homebuilder claimed a $300,000 increase in net profit after interfacing CAD, CRM, workflow, accounting, and BIM software so the various functions shared information with each other. The builder also claimed a big reduction in the time needed for estimating. The CEO reported a trained estimator could estimate five homes in the time it used to take to estimate one. 

Agility means so much more than simply being flexible. In this instance, the company’s sales operations also benefited from efficiencies and pricing options which netted a reduction in pricing errors. The streamlining effect of getting business functions to talk to each other improves efficiency on a grand scale, making all functions more agile.

In the past, many construction firms spent thousands of dollars to get various business functions to interact digitally. Today that is the old way of doing things. Cloud based platforms use the power of Application Programming Interfaces (API’s) to bring the same benefits of interactivity at a fraction of the cost. These platforms also are scalable according to a business’ needs so you pay only for the computing power you need.

There are plenty of other business areas where agility born out of interoperability is a game changer. Here are just a few:

  • Contracts that have key clauses tied to your project management and scheduling software can help to ensure compliance with contract requirements, while also protecting you from oversights that lead to losses.
  • Payments that are informed by quality control, punch lists, change orders, and contract requirements, can save you from paying out funds before work is complete.
  • Quality control assessments that are tied to the schedule, project management, and payments, yield more accurate schedules, greater control, and more accurate budgeting.

Most construction project activities, and construction project outcomes will improve when your technology is agile and interoperable. You can save yourself a lot of expense and headaches by first reaching for a cloud-based platform as your overriding solution for construction business and project management.