“HOW DO SAVVY CONTRACTORS KEEP UP WHEN TECHNOLOGY EVOLVES FASTER THAN LIGHT?”
Great question, right? With all of the new and improved technology and automation in construction in general, how do you make it work for your company and your employees?
“Easy, Not Hard” is a good read that answers the question clearly: “BY KEEPING IT SIMPLE, SAY THE FOLKS IN THE FIELD.” The post does a nice job of summarizing some of the most important points that you should consider before you try to implement a new or improved technology, specifically in the construction field.
We’re always looking at how we can improve, grow and transition OE Construction and a major part of that evolution includes technology. Here are a few additional thoughts we had on the subject:
Maybe you want to automate your field reporting using tablets and some type of reporting software. Here’s a tip: don’t try to automate field reporting and then add in other tasks and over complicate the initial implementation of the new reporting system.
Before you implement anything in the field, it needs to be tested by others, to make sure the system works as advertised. How? Have a checklist of the important questions and issues that might come up during the testing period. Don’t launch without a fully tested and operational new system. If you do, you could lose the support of the field employees: they don’t like to redo reports because no one bothered to test out the new system first.
Make sure you have good documentation (yes, people still read instructions) and put robust ‘just in time’ training programs in place, ready to go for the new system. Untrained end users will be hard pressed to buy in: you’ll find resistance to the new system that you don’t need and can easily avoid.
Keep It Simple
Don’t over complicate the process you are trying to implement in the field. Prepare a quick, easy to understand list of instructions on how to use the new system or technology. In the example of a new field reporting system, there should be maybe 5 or 6 steps to create, enter and send the daily job report. If the employee has to page through multiple screens, back up, start over or gets lost in the system, you will have a hard time implementing it. This is particularly true when you consider that, for some of your staff, there is going to be a steeper learning curve around new technology than for others.
There are ways to make sure that your processes are simple and streamlined. How about speech to text for areas that require additional typing or text entry? Or perhaps use drop down lists and check boxes for some sections? All of these tools are simple and easy to use.
What Exactly Are You Trying To Accomplish?
When a software company or an end-user (like your company or an individual) designs a process and software application for use, one of the first questions is: “What are we trying to get out of the software system/form/process?”
If we want production related data, then we need to ask specific questions about what we are trying to find out from each employee in the field:
- Do we need to know how many trucks were loaded during the work day?
- Do we need to know how many man hours we are reporting for the day?
- Perhaps we want to track what materials were delivered to the job site and by what company
The list goes on…
Each company will have their own brand of reporting and tracking requirements. What’s true for many organizations is that it’s difficult to get exactly what you need from an off the shelf software program. You might need to develop your own or find out what other contractors in your business or industry are using.
Ask questions about usability, both from a front line user point of view to the person who is analyzing the data at the back end. Consider the price of the software, what kind of enhancements or customizations can be made, what kind of hardware do is needed to run it, how does the field reporting interconnect with the existing office systems? These are just a few of the questions that you should ask before you move to any new system or technology.
Who in the Heck is Going to Look at and Compile All of This Data?
It is great to have field reporting but now what? This is why it’s essential to know what you’re trying to accomplish by adding in a new system / technology to your processes. If you don’t have a handle on what you’re going to do with the data, it’s pretty pointless to collect it.
Who is getting all of this information from the field? What format is the data in? What exactly are they looking for with the daily information from the field? Are they just trying to have an easy and consistent report they can print in the office and put in a file (electronic and/or paper) or are they looking to streamline processes? Are they trying to measure daily information against other data, like the original bid or maybe the job cost budget?
You can’t design new technology until you know who, what, when, where and how the information is to be compiled, transmitted, reviewed, reported and analyzed by both an individual and others in the company. Pre-planning and taking a thoughtful and concise approach to new or improved technology revolves around some very basic core questions and requirements. Take your time and get it right the first time.