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In the construction industry, digital transformation is a term that has often struggled to find resonance. While other fields are readily embracing the digital transformation and adopting mobile applications to stay competitive, construction is not keeping pace. 

This isn’t surprising given the decentralized nature of the business. Despite the increasing availability of digital solutions, rolling out new technology across multiple sites and stakeholders, while adhering to regulatory frameworks, is no mean feat. 

Another often-overlooked hurdle is that digital transformation simply isn’t a priority. Builders and construction firms are too immersed in the day-to-day tasks of getting materials from A to B, paying employees and contractors on time and securing plants and machinery to pay heed to how digital transformation can benefit them. Such modernization is not part of their daily language.

Ironically, these very tasks and workflows are a sweet spot for any digital transformation project. Consider the following: for many construction firms, the way they collect information from employees, contractors and suppliers (time cards, inspections, health and safety compliance and change orders, etc.) is done with pen and paper in the field. It’s an inefficient process that introduces errors and requires a lot of paper pushing on site. Meanwhile, back in the office, administrators must decipher messy handwriting and re-key information into a computer before they can do anything with it – often days and sometimes, weeks later.

Digital transformation can fix this. 

Dare to Digitize

In the construction industry, selecting the right digital technologies and changing cultural expectations to enable the business to get more from a digital operating model can be a scary prospect. But as contractors assess their readiness to modernize, it’s important to know that an “all-in” approach is not necessary. Simple transformative steps, like tapping into mobile technology and the power of the cloud, can pay dividends in terms of greater efficiencies, time savings and reduced costs. 

For example, easy-to-use cloud-based mobile platforms are enabling construction firms to move their most commonly used paper forms and workflow process to smartphone-based apps, creating a standardized process for collecting and sharing important information across the business. 

Consider construction site checklists, an underappreciated tool, and a great way to make sure safety officers haven’t forgotten a crucial item in the work zone. Yet, they can also be a source of substantial financial liability if not used properly. Why? Contractors who rely on paper-based checklists may have no idea if their workers are completing them on a regular basis – putting machinery and even human life at risk.

But when the process is digitized and mobile checklists are introduced, inspections can be completed on a smartphone. Required fields aren’t skipped and the information is shared in real time via the cloud with a supervisor or safety manager. Data is stored for easy access at any time to demonstrate OSHA compliance. In addition, the data can be analyzed to spot potential trouble areas – and provide the potential to prevent accidents before they happen.

Transform at a Pace that Works for the Business

When considering a digital transformation strategy, knowing that going full throttle isn’t necessary for adoption can help. What matters is identifying the pain points that need immediate attention. Automating workflows associated with safety checklists is just one example, but it doesn’t have to end there. With the reassurance that one piece of the workflow can easily be digitized with concrete results, the company is more likely to see the value in extending these tools to other facets of the business. 

Going digital means doing more than paper ever could. For example, if site inspections are an inefficient part of the workflow, then mobile digital platforms can smooth the process. Traditionally, collecting inspection information is a multi-step and laborious process. Inspectors fill out the information by hand at the various sites and forms are relayed to the office hours or days later. Finally, an employee manually enters this information into a database. Only then can management access this important safety information. With mobile data capture platforms all these forms are submitted immediately from the field to the cloud for easy access by site managers. 

Other pain points for construction firms such as tracking time, managing payroll and processing work reports can also benefit from a digital workflow. Time cards or work orders can be collected on any device, while administrators back at the office can seamlessly export the information into systems like QuickBooks. Because such solutions are cloud and mobile-based, they are easy to roll out across the business without integration headaches. 

A Journey Without a Finish Line

Old habits can be hard to shake and change can be scary, but transformation is possible if approached iteratively. Instead of jumping right into a new technology, select a workflow (such as safety checklists or time sheet management) and conduct a pilot project versus onboarding a whole program. As stakeholders grow more comfortable with the technology, they can apply it to other tasks and workflows easing the way into the digital transformation and improving workflow without the trauma that sometimes occurs. Think of it as a journey without a finish line, but getting started on the track to modernization is probably easier than one might think.

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