Last week I went along with one of our product managers to visit a local client—a large general contractor in the Seattle area. The purpose of the visit was to get some feedback on a few new construction management software features we’re developing. As always, these folks gave us great input to help prioritize our efforts. But in talking to employees from both the business management and operations sides of the company, I also came away with a new way of looking at an old issue.
If you’re in the construction industry, you know about the divide between business/accounting and operations, otherwise known as the gap between the office and the field. It represents a natural division of responsibility, and so I’ve always thought calls to “eliminate the gap” to be a bit ill-informed. It does, however, need to be managed. A smooth flow of information and of work needs to take place in both directions. It was this old issue—managing the office/field gap—that presented itself to me in a new light during my client visit.
In speaking with an operations manager about workflow, the discussion turned to the project document management. When it did they became quite animated, pointing out that their day-to-day work revolved around the project document. To them, the flow of documentation mirrored their flow of work. So they were most interested in processes and software tools that would help them better control all types of documentation—plans, specs, estimates, submittals, change orders, and so on.
Later that day, when speaking to the company controller and staff, I brought up the topic of documents and document control. While still important to them, it was clear that they were primarily concerned with the elements of information. They live and work with data, and used documents as sources of that data. They were most interested in processes and tools that gave them access to data faster and that helped them process it more efficiently.
It was on the ride back to the office that I realized something I hadn’t considered before. While the “nuts and bolts” of the construction business takes place in the field, operations folks tend to consume information in the large chunks that are project documents—plans, specs, schedules, etc. And while the folks in the office tend to focus on business issues in a more general sense, their consumption of information is more specific, based on the gathering and processing of many discrete elements of data.
To me, this was more than just a new perspective on an old issue. I believe this view of construction information can help contractors better understand and serve the different information needs of their organization. They should look for construction software that serves both the office and the field in equal measure—that provides a combination of document-centric and data-centric tools. As someone whose job it is to build these tools, that was a very valuable (if unintended) piece of feedback I received on this particular customer visit.
How do you manage your project documents? Is it integrated with your other information management tools? Let me know by leaving a comment.