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By 2020 the construction industry is expected to be one of the fastest growing industries in the country. Driven by population growth, infrastructure revitalization projects and a push for renewable energy, sources predict the industry will grow to $1.2 trillion. Yet, in an age where other industries are embracing technological innovation, this prosperous industry is still lacking a digital edge. 

There are several reasons for this lag. For instance, digital transformation and modernization are simply not a priority for many construction firms. Or, they’re worried about integrating new technologies into their existing systems and workflows. This reticence is a mistake. With the right approach, a business can profit enormously from digital transformation.  

Change is Never Easy

Overcoming a fear of change is never easy, especially in construction where the old way of doing things has historically worked well. Or has it? On any jobsite, most processes and workflows are highly manual. Yet, firms continue to burden themselves with paper and labor-intensive processes which can cost thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours over the long run.  

For example, the paper system of time cards, safety inspections and project reports is notorious for slowing down processes. How? On a busy jobsite, it’s easy to make errors, miss fields or lose information entirely. Construction sites are also dependent on communications between field and office workers, particularly in the realm of tracking time, payroll costs and work reports. But data tends to be contained within the ecosystem of the project site and paper reports must be transported from the field back to the office where they are re-keyed into systems, adding more hours to the process. 

Manual processes also introduce a lack of standardization and accountability. With paper forms, employees have free reign to collect information as they please. Required fields can be skipped, miscalculations are made and accuracy can be questionable. 

Mobile Apps Can Help

The paper forms and processes used today may be familiar, but they also hold businesses back from greater success. Digital transformation can solve these issues, and it’s as simple as embracing the mobile application technology employees and contractors are already familiar with. 

For example, easy-to-use cloud-based mobile platforms are helping construction firms move their most commonly used paper forms to smartphone or tablet-based apps, creating a standardized process for collecting and sharing important information across the business. Every inspection, time card or checklist is filled out in the field and the data is sent straight to the cloud. From there, the information can be exported into a variety of back office systems from Salesforce to QuickBooks.

Transform At Your Own Pace

A company does not have to go “all in.” An iterative approach is key to adoption, and these apps are designed with that approach in mind. 

To begin, start with one process that is used daily. Every construction site, for instance, has a daily safety inspection. Make a list of what information is needed and what is wanted from that data. Paper forms are often lacking in the detail they can capture, but mobile forms allow for the capture of photos of the construction site to validate inspections and provide visual confirmation of compliance. It’s also possible to automatically add time and date stamps, GPS location or pre-populate forms with helpful information such as labor and material descriptions.   

To ensure the capture of necessary information, certain fields can be deemed required. So, if someone forgets a section of the building inspection, they can’t submit the inspection until that section is complete. Whether on Android or iOS, mobile apps that are customized to solve a business need can create an easy user experience, encouraging workers to enter the information now, not later. Once that part of the process is complete, details can be shared across the business as PDFs or via seamless cloud integrations with everyday business software and existing systems.

Take it To the Next Level 

With the reassurance that it’s possible to easily digitize one piece of the workflow and see concrete results, construction firms are now more likely to see the value in extending these tools to other facets of the business. 

There are literally hundreds of use cases for sharing data within construction. Some of the possibilities include templates for managing subcontractor agreements, filling out work orders, change orders, timesheets, project punch lists, inventory, invoices and more – all of which can be accessed from a single platform and tailored to a firm’s specific needs; no need to purchase point solutions. Start with one and expand from there to other workflows or use cases.

For example, a growing multi-regional Australian-owned contractor struggled with a paper-based, manual workflow for site inspections. Unless employees audited each site, it was difficult to ensure that their various locations were in compliance. In addition, each site supervisor was burdened with large amounts of paperwork. Any time a form was updated, someone had to send it to each site, slowing down their work and hindering communication. However, once they switched a trial group of users to a digital mobile platform with an intuitive user experience, the group took to the mobile app quickly. Today, the firm has moved its most commonly used forms, like plant entry permits, weekly site inspections, handover certificates and excavation permits to mobile apps – saving tens of thousands of dollars in the process.

Taken one step further, mobile apps also make it easy to expand and analyze data. Paper-based processes can hinder insights. But trusted data, captured in real time in the field, can be fed into data analytics engines for insights into business performance and trends, so better decisions can be made for the company. 

Modernization is Not a Dirty Word

Modernization and technological innovation needn’t involve ripping out old systems or drastically changing the way people work. It’s about identifying the business pain points that need attention, gathering and sharing information in new ways, and streamlining processes to eliminate manual workflows. Approached iteratively and over time, companies will see a measurable impact on productivity, cost efficiencies, compliance and growth. 

And with the simple smartphone or tablet as a gateway to digital transformation, it’s possible to quickly reap high impact outcomes making modernization easy to embrace – without significant investment, disruption or technology know-how.

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