This is the fourth installment of a five-part series on how innovative technologies and software are helping project managers streamline processes to build faster, smarter projects
While having the best people in place, working together well and using the latest tools is critical, the construction project can still suffer if the data being tracked and reviewed is days or even weeks old. That outdated project information can make it hard to accurately gauge current job costs or work in progress.
Often, project managers work with information culled together in reports generated in software systems that cannot pull data until it is fully processed or individual phases of the project are completed. Lacking workflows or alerts that expedite approvals and processing, these software packages put the onus back on the people to remember to manipulate the data. Furthermore, having to wait until reaching the office, a connected workstation or even relying on limited VPN connections to manually enter data into the system means additional delays. Thankfully these processes are on the way out.
A Walk in the Cloud
Enter cloud computing. A buzzword in the industry just a few years ago, more and more technologies are embracing cloud computing as a way to deliver data in real time. Cloud-based software is breaking project managers free of the chains to the office, allowing them to work almost exclusively in the field where the action is.
The data processed in the cloud-based software is stored directly on a server and can be hosted internally by the company or externally through hosted services. In either case, the data is secure and encrypted, ensuring that those without the proper authority or permissions cannot access the software.
Cloud computing affords unprecedented access to powerful applications. These applications are more user-friendly and easier to navigate with automated tools to get to better, more relevant data quicker. With more and more technologies moving to a true cloud platform it makes it much easier to integrate between software programs.
Because “cloud” has become a buzzword, however, software and technology buyers need to beware. Some software providers claim their products work in the cloud, but those services might not be designed to take advantages of browser interfaces and mobile access. Or, they rely on connectivity software that still requires back-office support and limits the user to specific types of devices. Some features and functionality may also be restricted in their scalability. For software to work well in the cloud, it has to be designed for the cloud. Make no mistake; this is the future of where almost all software is ultimately headed.
So how exactly are cloud computing and web-based construction solutions providing such a leg up for project managers? Here are four key reasons:
- Accessibility Virtually Anywhere—By working in the cloud, project managers no longer have to travel back and forth between the field and the office to process data to keep work moving. Web-based software lets the data—and the jobsite—flow in real time. In an area without an Internet connection? Not to worry, as leading cloud-based software solutions allow users to work online or offline, synching when the solution is re-connected to the Internet. This means that work could be done in the mountains or deep underground, with the latest data always close by. Or as one contractor recently put it, “I reviewed draw requests from 35,000 feet in the air on WiFi on a flight to China over Siberia.” 1
- Real-Time Project Decisions—With live access to the very latest data, contractors no longer have to rely on data that is days, weeks or even months old. The older the data, the harder it is to gauge a real sense of how the project is going. Accuracy, especially with the data used to generate WIP reports, true job costing projections, change order status and the like, is key to projects’ ultimate success. Working with data in real time not only reduces unnecessary costs and avoids delays, but gives project managers the insight to know where problems on the project might exist and address them quicker. Having real-time data also keeps the owners and financers of the project up to date and ultimately happier.
- Conflict Resolution—As earlier noted, digitizing documentation and having it accessible when needed is critical for project managers. Why is that important? Even though conflicts are significantly reduced when everyone is collaboratively working together, conflicts can still occur. Having the ability to show evidence that a task was not completed or that a particular document was indeed signed off on, will resolve these conflicts. However, instead of waiting for hours or even days for the project manager to track down the paper trail, imagine being able to pull that proof up in real time—right from a laptop or tablet device in the field. This will help resolve conflicts when and where they occur rather than the project stalling while the project manager adds “detective” to his or her job titles.
- Ability to Change on the Fly—Changes happen in construction projects. They’re a key part of construction’s ebb and flow—so much so that the change orders are one of the most critical things a project manager has to manage. In addition to ensuring the project is carried out correctly and to the latest specifications, changes are where contractors have opportunities to make more money. However, changes can also waste a lot of time and productivity waiting for them to be approved. Cloud-based software and modern workflow technologies can route change requests and change orders the moment they are needed and expedite the approval process. Changes on the job aren’t always necessarily related to the materials used or scope of the plans. With the real-time access to data that cloud-based solutions provide, project managers can see if there is a particular area of the project that is lagging behind or if bills and invoices need attention. This allows the project managers to do their jobs better and be proactive rather than reactive on the jobsite.
In the final part of this series, we’ll look at what project managers are looking for out of their software and 10 things to consider when looking at new options.
1. Press release on Alberta-based All Type Electric selecting Dexter + Chaney’s Spectrum Construction Software for its multi-company, web-based capabilities: http://www.dexterchaney.com/news/press-releases/203-all-type-electric-selects-dexter-chaney-s-spectrum-construction-software-for-its-multi-company-enterprise-business-solution