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As construction companies look for ways to save time and money, many investigate custom mobile apps to improve the processing of workflows and as a strategic move to embrace technology. But where to even begin? What are the most important things to consider and what questions should team leaders ask? 

There are five essential tips to getting the most out of working with a mobile app developer.

1. Know the current reality

The first question to ask is: “What does our current reality look like?” It is imperative to know exactly how the company’s internal processes are carried out, step by step, and from there, identify the problems. What parts are sluggish and could use improvement? Is it field data capture? Managing contractors’ time? Too many forms? Time sheets taking too long? Document exactly how these processes are being carried out in order to provide an app developer a good snapshot, a baseline of the current reality. From there, the app developer will understand what they are working with and will be able to expand on that. A good app developer won’t tell their clients to change company processes; they should understand that they aren’t the construction industry experts. Instead, their job is to augment those processes and convert them from analog to digital. But before that can be done, they need to understand what that analog looks like, i.e., the current reality. Together, the company and the app developer can commence a productive discussion on how to implement the best possible digital capabilities.

2. Communicate what the company wants to accomplish

This is probably the most important tip. Sometimes companies enter a conversation with an app developer with limited information and big expectations, such as, “So they have an app, we want an app. What can you do for us?” Without a clear idea of what the contractor wants a custom app to actually do, frustration is inevitable for both parties. Companies interested in procuring a custom-tailored app need to realize that the more input they provide an app developer on what their current reality looks like plus what they want improved, the better. For those in the construction industry, perhaps it’s as simple as starting the conversation with, “We’ve done X this and that way for the past 20 years, here are the areas we’ve identified that need to be more streamlined.” 

Gather leadership and managers together to brainstorm the company’s needs, but also talk to the field reps who are more familiar with the day-to-day – details are key. The more information available, the more prepared companies will be when speaking with an app developer. Know the high-level benefit desired and communicate direction and insight to the app developer about how the industry and processes work for best results. 

“You really have to define exactly, from soup to nuts, what you want this thing to do,” comments the IT director of a national electrical contractor that recently had a custom app designed. The app was then pre-loaded onto newly branded tablets and deployed to a crew of more than 300 foremen. “The app developer will make it happen, but you have to tell them what to make happen, and that is a hard thing to define if you're not a developer, but even simply understanding what you’re asking for and understanding who is using it is so important. You don’t want an app that does rocket science – unless you know rocket science.”

3. Reality check on budget

Oftentimes, once companies’ eyes are opened to the endless possibilities of what a custom app can do, it’s easy to get a little excited. It’s very important to know the budget and maybe even be prepared to spend more. Companies need to know upfront what budget is available for technology investment for the present year, and even better, over the next few years. As needs change or as technology advances, updates and tweaks to the app are common. Then they can come to the app developer with a budget, the app developer then communicates a proposal and the budget will dictate how much innovation is possible. The philosophy is similar to building a house: It’s up to the homeowners’ budget how decked out and advanced the house can be. The goal for both parties will be to figure how to best allocate the budget to optimize the app to get the most value. 

4. Be open-minded and willing to take risks

It’s no secret that construction is the second least digitized U.S. industry, which means it’s a huge step outside the comfort zone integrating technology such as a custom-designed mobile app. But the benefits from trying something new can be emboldening. While this next tip is about being willing to be open-minded and taking risks, it’s also important to remember that a company’s overall goal is to deliver something that makes life easier. Don’t make an app for the sake of making an app. Be purpose-driven and keep in mind the people who will be using it.   

There are also two types of perspectives to keep in mind: that of an engineer and that of a contractor. Ideally, the app developer will take more of an engineer approach, crafting and building out what is possible using the information given. A contractor approach is accepting a blueprint and building it, which may work for some. But an engineer approach is more of a partnership, challenging the company they’re working with to innovate since they’re able to “pull back the curtain” on possibilities. Most app developers work with many different industries, which means they can share all those learned best practices. It is often in the company’s best interest to be open to ideas, thus guiding the construction industry toward a more digitized future.

5. Ensure all users have the same device

And finally, with a plan to create a custom app, it only makes sense to ensure they comply with all the mobile devices they’ll be used on. All users should have the same device. In fact, the technology budget should include not only the development of the app, but the rollout of devices pre-loaded with the app and any other branded digital content users will find helpful to make their jobs run smoother, faster and more cost efficiently. 

It would be a major disadvantage to the company should they go through the work and expense of developing a tailor-made app if there are those in the workforce who don’t have a device or have outdated devices. There will be compliance issues if these workers can’t download the latest version of the app, or when some capabilities of the app won’t function correctly or at all on an old device. 

Mobile devices such as tablets change frequently, features change, apps get tweaked, etc. A good app developer will be forward thinking and, for example, will know that a cool feature like face ID will be coming out on the tablets the company purchased, so they’ll develop that technology into the app. There are other benefits to having company devices that are identical, such as full management control of the device, security protocols, productivity management (e.g., removing Facebook) and collecting them at the end of the work day. Look for a full-service app developer who can not only design and develop the app, but also who can handle ordering the devices needed, customizing them with additional branded digital content, printing the company logo onto the devices themselves and onto brand new packaging so the mobile devices (and shiny new app) are beautiful and ready to go upon rollout. 


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