This is the third installment of a five-part series on how innovative technologies and software are helping project managers streamline processes to build faster, smarter projects
All battle plans are perfect—until the battle begins. Construction project managers probably relate to that statement more that anyone. A construction project can be planned out down to the very last nail, but even in the best-planned project, something always goes awry.
Construction projects have so many people involved and so many moving pieces of data flowing at any given time that something is bound to get missed. Effective project management means controlling the data flow and staying on top of transmittals, submittals, RFIs, email communications, change orders, materials, inventory, job cost and WIP reports, labor hours and wages, union rules, safety regulations, insurance and bonding, compliance data and a whole lot more. Still, that does not mean planning should go out the window just because even the best-laid plans will always change. Technology is helping project managers plan better, work smarter and be more adaptable during the project. It provides the ability to change on the fly without negatively impacting end goals or bringing projects to a halt.
“Because of the size of our industry, there is a momentum and a demand from our customers to innovate and provide more value, more cost-effective solutions, reduced timeframes, higher quality. Probably what's enabling that more than anything right now is technology. Technology is quickly changing our industry in ways we haven't seen before,” Dan Johnson, president of Minneapolis-based Mortenson Construction said in a recent interview with Construction Dive1. “Right now, the one that’s having the most impact for us is building information modeling (BIM), virtual design and construction. When you combine that with the collaborative tools that are now available in the advent of mobile devices, we are literally collaborating real-time, anywhere, out on the job site with all the stakeholders. That's accelerating a lot of the innovation.”
Here are just some of the modern technology tools leading construction companies are relying on to streamline and better analyze data and build better projects:
- BIM/Virtual Design—Building Information Modeling, or BIM, is the process of designing a building collaboratively using one coherent system of computer models instead of multiple sets of drawings. By using multi-dimensional computer modeling, BIM can save significant time and money and reduce errors. The process has been billed by many contractors as the future of construction, opening the door to new design and building ideas that might not have been realized before.
- Complete ERP systems—More and more, contractors are turning to full-service construction software that combines functions like accounting, job costing, project management, equipment management, human resources, inventory management, document management and more under one platform. By using one system, data can be shared instantly across all facets of the project without having to do multiple data entry across multiple software programs—programs that might also present or manipulate data in different ways, making it harder to analyze when needed.
- Document Imaging—It used to be that a contractor’s office was a sea of filing cabinets, crammed with plans, specs, invoices, change orders, submittals, time cards and reams upon reams of other paper documentation and correspondence. With the advent of scanners and powerful document imaging and archiving solutions, contractors are digitizing their data. This makes it easier to store, easier to find, and, with some construction management software packages, easier to attach to other data, reports or collaborative communication tools.
- Automated Workflow Tools—As construction software advances, so to do the opportunities to simplify and automate processes. Dedicated workflows being built directly into construction software packages are helping improve both collaboration and efficiency. Specific tasks or whole processes can be set up to occur automatically, and items that need approval can be routed to specific people, groups or even defined roles within the organization. By creating an automated flow of data and alerts when tasks need attention, projects can move quicker—and smarter—while reducing workloads.
- Intuitive Dashboards and Kiosks—Another technology driver of efficiency has been the design of intuitive dashboards that provide not just a snapshot of construction project data, but a way to drill down into the data—right from the dashboard itself. This both saves time and confusion of navigating software menu systems. It also puts the most relevant data the project manager needs to see right at his or her fingertips every day. Special kiosks and portals built into software packages allow select groups to view and work with information relevant to them. For instance, subcontractor kiosks allow a single portal for them to see all project data related to their individual work and submit compliance documents.
- Project Management Mobile Apps—With the explosion of smartphones and devices, mobile apps are being created specifically to handle project management tasks. From mobile apps that provide bid management and communication alerts to apps that allow viewing of plans and specs to on any device to markup tools and more, there is a multitude of choices where contractors can keep business moving with a few taps or swipes of their mobile device.
“Managing the information is one of the biggest challenges of project management today,” said Scott Builders’ Vice President and General Manager Dallas Williams. “Modern technologies and construction software are really helping to control the information and disseminate it so it can be available and useful to our project teams.”
In part four of this series, we’ll look at how cloud computing and mobile devices are changing the face of construction projects and the ability to access real-time data that is more relevant.
1. Interview in Construction Dive, June 2016: http://www.constructiondive.com/news/mortenson-president-construction-industry-is-a-prisoner-to-bids-but-ch/421141