Smartphones and tablets are coming to the job-site. Now what?
This is a guest post by Yves Frinault, CEO of Fieldwire. A field-first construction management app.
There was a time when mobile devices, particularly smartphones, were dainty, sacred idols too expensive to risk destroying out in the field. Certainly not something to put in the hands of a gruff hammer-swinging-craftsman. But times change. Smartphones are everywhere and construction workers are no exception. Foremen now have access to powerful phones and tablets on-site. They’re common, a tool just like any other. So it’s no surprise that savvy teams begin incorporating them in daily activity, but this raises several questions: What do we use them for? How can they elevate our performance? And who benefits the most from adopting this technology?
For the last few decades, construction tech has focused heavily on the architect, the PM and the executive at the office. Has it helped? Certainly. We design better than ever, we plan and schedule projects more accurately and yet, margins have continued to shrink on projects. The reason? 90% of the money is spent on site. While you can’t stay in business without accurate design and planning, the way you manage your job-site has such a large impact on the project financials that it often ends up deciding your margins. It’s then surprising that construction tech has ignored the problems of the field for so long.
For the longest time, consumer apps were more useful to construction teams than those built specifically for them, often because those consumer offerings were simply easier to use than those designed (poorly) for builders. How many times did you find yourself turning to Excel in a pinch? And just as foremen are the ones holding things together out in the field, they’re the ones that mobile construction tech needs to be tailored to. Not the executive who never leaves the office, not the PM or the architect, but the people wearing hard hats every day – the foremen, the supers, the engineers.
Any task that foremen perform dozens of times each day should be streamlined through mobile technology. Let’s say you’re on-site and need to document field conditions: You don’t need to bring a pen and clipboard or camera anymore, you simply bring your mobile device, snap some photos, and add comments within your chosen construction app. All that valuable data gets automatically uploaded to a server and collected in one place for your team to access. This should apply to all chief aspects of fieldwork so you can manage everything in real-time, allowing all that information to easily diffuse across your team. Those chief aspects include:
Plan Viewing: Keeping your team working off of the most up-to-date sheets and never losing track of on-site logistics by making plan sets readily available.
Task Management: Everyone’s duties and deadlines are assigned and displayed with a single click. Establish priority and view progress updates as they occur. Meetings and scheduling become effortless because everything is already being documented across the team.
Issue Tracking: Punch lists and inspections are simplified when you can organize hundreds of photos by trade and location on the fly while you are performing the walkthrough. And with all the data being stored in the cloud, you can assemble reports within minutes and send them out even quicker.
Productivity: You can’t improve what you can’t measure. Now that all communications are archived and time-stamped, you actually have an accurate picture of what’s happening on site. You can focus on the areas that are most likely to make your schedule or budget slide.
The benefits of this modern twist on construction are unmistakable and unlimited. And while all this information is entered into mobile devices, what else is happening? You’re saving money on printing costs, but most importantly, you’re saving time. Time is the one resource you can’t recoup, so saving time on meetings, legwork, relaying information, distributing materials, and delivering progress reports is an amazing advantage. This can then be either saved or redistributed toward more value added tasks. Technology has simultaneously shrunk the job site and expanded the tool belt, replacing wasteful, drawn-out procedures with proficient tech.
So equip your foremen with those smartphones. Get your team accustomed to logging their progress with a thumb tap, not a pencil. This isn’t some craze meant to get you to buy up gadgets, it’s most likely the biggest force multiplier that the industry will see in the next decade. So start today and put together a process in place to discover, evaluate and adopt construction technology on your site.