Before I co-founded Dexter + Chaney in 1981 with my friend and colleague Mark Dexter, we both worked for a consulting company. It was far from the norm for our construction clients back then to have computers in the office, let alone at their job sites. After we left the firm to start Dexter + Chaney and develop construction software, this remained the case throughout much of the early years of our business. I even recall a marketing pamphlet we created titled “Why Your Contracting Business Could Use a Computer.” Or something along those lines.
The construction software industry may not have been the first out of the gate in the race to embrace digital information technology, but it was not, in my opinion, due to fear of technology or resistance to change. It was because construction people are above all else practical. And the nature of construction work has always involved remote job sites and diverse teams of people from different companies doing their best to work together. This was not the ideal environment for the (then) desk-bound PC.
Nevertheless, the market for a construction industry software did grow as managers in the construction office realized that the big box on the desk could be more than an expensive electronic typewriter or filing cabinet. Applications such as the one Mark and I were developing could apply intelligence to construction data, giving it context and turning it into information that was meaningful to construction managers. Information such as WIP or cost-to-complete reports could be created with relative ease using up-to-date data.
This use of PC-based computing technology was all well and good (and I’m certainly grateful for it), but it did not address the fundamental issue of construction management: most work is performed in remote locations by a large diverse group of people. And where work is done tends to be where most information is generated and needed.
Now fast forward to just a little more than five years ago and the explosion of smart phone technology and cloud computing. Software developers like myself now had a means by which we could extend our applications into the field by making them available via the Internet. Exciting times for sure, but those of us who remembered the initial introduction of computing technology into the construction industry remembered a key lesson. The practical managers of construction companies are not going to invest in something just because it’s shiny and new.
As cloud computing and mobile data began to transform the landscape of information technology, two things became clear about the direction we needed to take our construction managment software. First, for applications to be accessible virtually anywhere by anyone, it had to break ties with specific operating systems and client hardware specs. A person standing at a job site with, for example, an iPad mini would need to be able to perform the same functions as a person sitting behind two monitors and a desktop PC at the office. Second, if the software was going to be of real use to people in the field, it had to be easy to use and do more than pull up files or present reports. It would have to help folks manage their work.
So, instead of dumping our existing client-server software onto a hosted server and calling it “Cloud Enabled,” we embarked on a long, sometimes frustrating, but ultimately successful journey. We transformed our Spectrum Construction Software into a product that is designed specifically to work in a mobile-friendly cloud computing environment. Today, users can pick up virtually any device with a web browser, login to their construction software, and get to work wherever that work happens to be. We’ve replaced complex menus with intelligent navigation that serves up information you need for task at hand. And we’ve developed (and continue to develop) mobile apps to deliver, receive, and share field data.
Regular readers of this blog know that I rarely slip into marketing mode or even speak at all about my company’s products. But since so many of my opinions have been informed by the story of the continual development of our software over the past 34 years, I thought I might be forgiven this one self-involved post. As for the title? That came from a demonstration I gave of our new workflow application to a seasoned project manager at our recent Users Conference. “It’s pretty magical how all the pieces work together,” I gushed. He nodded slightly and said “Maybe. I’ll admit it does have its practical applications.”