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Some construction companies swear by their cloud-based software for managing project information. As one contractor said, “Hours previously spent copying comments, printing, shipping and filing are freed to serve clients and move the project forward!”

Other companies depend upon behind-the-firewall software to manage all the files on their networks, especially email. As a project manager from one construction company told us, “Many agreements are made via email and are hard to track down since everyone manages their email independently. Providing a central, easily searchable interface for saving project-related emails has helped the company in a myriad of ways, especially in audits and disputes, where we have to pull as many project records as possible.”

And other companies use mobile apps on their smartphones and tablets to manage data collection and dissemination on the jobsite. As one contractor said, the apps are “giving us a competitive advantage by connecting field operations with office operations. That integration is a big win for us.”

Is one platform any better than the others?

Why so many platforms?

You use project information hosted in three locations: (1) your company servers, (2) cloud servers such as Amazon Web Services and (3) your mobile devices. Why so many?

Many senior executives prefer behind-the-firewall information storage because they want total control over their data, and they want to get to it quickly, without the delays that even the best internet connections often impose.

The cloud is excellent for hosting information shared by project teams, because most all subcontractors can operate the web browser used to access that information, and people can access it wherever they have a web connection. Cloud equals collaboration.

And anyone who’s used an app on a smartphone or tablet can tell you how easy, convenient and powerful those devices are for viewing plans, collecting field notes, and other everyday jobsite tasks.

The challenge, however, has been in getting all three platforms to work together.

The 'good, fast, cheap' problem

These three project information platforms have traditionally suffered from the well-documented axiom that we have to pick two of the three qualities we would like our products and services to have. You’ve surely encountered this law in the services you procure and the services you provide:

  • We want them to be high quality – to be good.
  • We want them to readily available – to be fast.
  • We want them to be affordable – to be cheap.
In reality, although we would like to have all three benefits, we almost always have to pick two. For example, if a product is high quality and readily available, it may well cost more.

A similar challenge confronts individuals and companies who would like to see the same project information in the three places they store it: on their servers, in the cloud, and on their mobile devices. So far (although it’s changing soon), companies have been able to provide only two out of the three:

  • Some software companies provide behind-the-firewall products with integrated apps.
  • Some services remove the barrier between behind-the-firewall information and that on the cloud.
  • Some products provide mobile apps that integrate with cloud software.
The holy grail of construction companies is to find project information management software that provides the complete package: products that integrate all three platforms. That way, when you update the data in one location, it updates everywhere else. The information you gather on your tablet at the jobsite shows up at your desk – and the desks of your colleagues – at the office. And data safely behind the firewall in your office is available to the larger project team via a cloud-based website (subject to permissions that you set, of course), also available via mobile apps.

The problem with fragmented platforms

Having multiple places for project information has lots of problems:

  • It means someone is taking the time to transfer (or re-key!) data from one location to another.
  • It limits accessibility to information needed by the larger project team.
  • It means people have to interrupt their work to reply to information requests from other people.
  • It raises the risk that information will differ from location to location.
  • It raises the risk that someone will work with outdated information, leading to wasted time, rework, schedule slippage and worst of all, lawsuits.
In short, it’s the classic problem of information silos. They’re bad, and need to be toppled.

The good news

The good news is that such three-way integration is near at hand. Some software companies are racing to make all the parts work together. I say “some” companies are racing, because many are happy to create another information silo. But very soon, software is coming that integrates all three project information platforms to eliminate mistakes and wasted motion.

Download a free ebook

And for a fuller discussion of information-related construction risks and their mitigations, download this free ebook, Mitigating Risk In Design, Engineering & Construction.

Download Mitigating Risk In Design, Engineering & Construction.
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