Planning for Digitization in a Construction Business

This article outlines tips for owners and managers in the construction industry who are planning their transition to operations apps, management dashboards, field data collection, digital communication, and other business process automation.

 

Construction IS Changing

The slow transition from the old to the new way of doing business in construction comes partly from the wide variability of the sector itself, where no two projects are ever the same. Digitization merely is easier for industries that are marked by repeatable processes and likely scenarios. But with the rise in urbanization and commerce causing more significant demand for homes and offices – and higher pressure to build fast – the costs and risks associated with manual procedures will force most companies to look to digitizing their business processes with software.

Launching new technology means change, and change feels risky. Key questions include:

  • Where should we start?
  • Will my team actually use it?
  • What efforts are needed to maintain digital platforms?
  • What opportunities and pitfalls will a new process reveal?

And ultimately,

  • How can I measure a return on the investment in software?

Biggest Process Pains

Managing a construction or building trades company can be daunting because of all of the moving pieces and people involved. Finding inefficiencies and holding team members accountable can be hard. Every superintendent, project manager, and foremen has a unique skill set and a different way of approaching projects and clients. But to make a company efficient and positioned for growth, there needs to be consistent process adherence. People rely on paper forms, whiteboards, or spreadsheets because it’s what they are used to. These tools may just barely be working to get jobs completed, but they inherently lack the scalability and collaboration opportunities provided with a digital workflow. 

Any digitization solution should reduce bottlenecks, and one of the major bottlenecks in construction comes from the lack of real-time data, which leads to faulty decision making. When considering which employees are right for a job, for example, a manager needs to review many variables – and those variables are often based on stale data. To ensure that the digital project management tool is right for an individual business, it is important to identify where real-time data is needed.

Buy-In from the Team

Before a digitization effort begins, key users from each department should be asked for input on what changes would make the biggest impact on their work. Listen for examples that will equate to measurable time savings, better collaboration, and more accountability through data.  Then, before launching any solution company-wide, use a “Phase 1” rollout to these users, again asking for feedback. What works best? What changes do they need? What does the data show? 

Employee engagement with new tools is a result of shared ownership in the change, combined with a well-executed product that actually helps them with their jobs. Employee adoption is key to getting a clear ROI with software, so seek a development partner that understands how your company and people work and who can configure that into an easy-to-use solution.

Start Small

The first instinct might be to jump into the effort and get it over with, submitting every department to a digital transformation. However, especially for construction businesses who have not been using digital tools, this approach can be a mistake. The better tactic is to start small. Do outline every process that needs to be digitized, but then identify those that will have the most significant impact on your business and put them at the top of the list. To get the fastest return, look first for repetitive and inefficient tasks that employees complete regularly. How can you eliminate double data entry? How can you prevent wasted time driving into the office to communicate or transfer documents?

To get the fastest return, look first for repetitive and inefficient tasks that employees complete regularly.

Build your operations dashboard on daily touch points that will make people’s jobs easier. These small successes will create champions for change on your team who will lead the adoption and provide valuable input for future iterations.

Business Continuity

In construction businesses, relevant information is often known to project managers but isn’t always easily available across crews or departments. Sometimes it’s on a local server, sometimes it’s on paper. This practice can be the source of significant problems, such as when a manager is sick or unavailable. When that essential information becomes inaccessible, the impact can be increased stress among workers, job delays, and client dissatisfaction.

A custom digital solution should include clear dashboards that show all stakeholders the required tasks and statuses for each phase of a job. Modern software should not require a training manual, and by digitizing your data, you can future-proof for when an individual worker is unavailable.

To plan for this on-demand sharing, design your digitization with a few personas in mind instead of individual people. Create user types based on your organizational roles. For example, Project Managers should have transparency into other PM’s jobs and crews so that they could easily get up-to-speed and help out when needed. Custom filters can keep the most important data front-and-center while auxiliary information from other projects sits just a click away.

The crazy thing that we’ve found is that 90 percent of the time, background process information is just in the employees’ heads. So key decisions are being made by just going off of memory.

-Suzanne Motter, Vice President, SPARK Business Works

Opportunities to Automate

Business processes and other company logic should be outlined in detail before a digitization project starts. This step is crucial because if operating procedures are fleshed out from the start and automated in the software product, employees will ultimately be free to give their energy and attention to other impactful work (like proactive client communications).

The outlining of processes is another area in which employee input can help greatly and improve the chances of their buy-in. Employees are well positioned to see opportunities for improvements in the way work is done, but those improvements often never happen simply because people become bogged down with their day-to-day responsibilities. So input from these employees can provide real value to the digitization plan.

Determine what job information needs to be repeatedly conveyed to stakeholders via email or phone calls. When do key personnel need to be manually alerted to changes in project status? What events cause workers to stop what they’re doing to seek input or provide someone with an update? The answers to questions like these can contribute solid insight into how the software automation and triggers should look.

 

About SPARK Business Works

SPARK Business Works builds mobile apps, dashboards, and workflow tools to make people happy and their businesses better. SPARK helps construction clients across the nation improve their businesses by streamlining processes, automating tasks, and positioning data for strategic decision makers. The experts at SPARK Business Works have learned exactly what it takes to create business software that is successful in Construction. SPARK has worked across numerous trades including GCs, Electrical, Mechanical, Finishing, Painting, Hardware, Roofing, and more. See case studies at www.SparkBusinessWorks.com/Construction

Brad Wilson
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