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By Duane Craig
August 7, 2017
Nobody’s exaggerating when they say “There’s an app for everything.” Some even drag out ‘Eeeeverrryyyything’ when they say it, just to add impact. For small- and medium-sized construction businesses though, it’s also not an exaggeration to say that all these apps are drowning them in a sea of inefficiency. Here’s why.Welcome to App Management 101
Does this sound familiar to you? You’re using between five and fourteen single-purpose apps to manage your business and projects. Actually, Inc. reported the average number of apps small and medium-sized businesses use is 14.3. Maybe if you are a one-person shop, managing them isn’t a big deal. But, as soon as more people get involved you’ve got to:
Then, there is the aspect of app permissions. Many apps demand access to contact lists and your full network. Many also can modify or delete SD card contents, control communication with WiFi and Bluetooth, download files in the background, send and receive SMS messages, change secure system settings, and a lot more. So, under the right circumstances, business information stored on mobile devices might be available to anybody with the will and the skill to access it. Apps can also act as backdoors to your on-premise business network.
In short, using too many apps means you’ll spend more time managing them, and less time managing your business and projects.
Let’s Ramp Up the Complexity, Shall We?
Each app represents a user account. If you have five employees and each of them uses five apps, that’s 25 user accounts where something may potentially go wrong. Security, configuration, integration, support, billing, and setup each represent a step along the way to app chaos.
Too many apps also lead to productivity losses. The most obvious example is when users interact with their apps. Some apps place sign-in on a drop down stuck up in the left-hand or right-hand corner. Meanwhile, others have sign-in on a menu bar. Each app has a different user interface, so users have to first learn each interface, and then remember how to get things done on each interface.
There is another, less obvious productivity drain, and these are sign-ins and sign-outs. Every sign-in only takes seconds, but when you add it up for all the apps, and all the people using the apps, and extend that out over a year period, it’s a great time waster. Twenty people each signing in to five apps every day, for an average of 20 seconds per sign-in, over 250 days comes out to 138 hours of lost time every year.
Silos Work Great for Grain, Not So Much For Data
Construction has always had a problem with silos. People build them within companies and then they are extended to projects. Each department and each project participant collect and sequester information, guarding everything, and sharing only what’s necessary. This siloed datum not only keeps valuable information from others who could use it to improve outcomes at both business and project level, but also hinders collaboration.
Single purpose apps become an extension of the silo mentality. They capture, create and hold data. If you want to use the data for additional purposes beyond the scope of the app, you have to manually create a process for that. Basically, you end up copying and pasting things to a spreadsheet or database just to start using it for something else..
Can’t We All Just Get Along?
Single solution apps get written in the vacuum of providing a single solution. The coder isn’t thinking about how the app’s results might be useful for another aspect of the business. They’re just thinking about making the app do what it is advertised to do. That’s why an estimating app most often doesn’t communicate with a project management app, and why the scheduling app doesn’t talk to the accounting app. The simple truth is that it’s too difficult to imagine every possible integration and include code for them.
However, it is possible to leave the door open for those other uses by including an application programming interface or API. That way, all the apps can share information. There’s a challenge there, too, though. You have to find the right API, test it for the use you envision and then learn how to use it. That’s all way beyond the job description of a construction business owner.
We’re Back to a Platform, But This Time, In the Cloud
Sure, single purpose apps will boost your productivity in the task the app is designed for. And, yes, single purpose apps with APIs and the right approach to connecting them will go a long way toward integrating apps with other apps, as well as with your business processes.
But, single purpose apps and APIs are really only the beginning of what you can do with the available tech. Think of it this way: You don't need an app for everything –– you need a centralized platform that communicates with everything. The platform has all the apps and it links them up for you as you need them. Construction technology just got a lot easier.
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