Pretty much across the board, smartphones and, to a lesser degree, tablets have become a go-to tool for consuming content these days. While they’re still far from supplanting the mighty laptop (or even the desktop) computer, there are admittedly few things you can do on a Mac or PC that can’t be done at least serviceably well on an iPhone or Android tablet.
But, surely, when we’re talking about tasks as large and complex as managing an entire commercial, civil, or industrial construction project, we run into an exception. We must still be years away from the point where a general contractor can literally run a jobsite from their phone… right?
Surprisingly enough, we’re not far from that point at all. If you’re a general contractor, this may be a complete surprise, or it may raise instant skepticism. Or, you may have already seen evidence of this in your own recent projects, and have even experimented a bit yourself. Whatever the case is, we’re pretty sure you’ll find this brief rundown of what’s possible on today’s mobile-friendly connected jobsites. Please share your own experiences in the comments, we’d love to read them!
What does “from your phone” actually mean?
The first thing that needs to be understood is that mobile-friendly construction solutions are not all created equal. And, in many cases, the list of available features that can be accessed from your smartphone are sometimes limited compared to what’s available in the desktop versions we’re all more familiar with.
So, as we discuss various ways in which you can carry out your responsibilities on-the-go, we’ll be pointing out where and when certain activities will require some desktop-version preparation, or where you’ll need to be aware of mobile limitations before getting caught without the data you need.
But, at the same time, there are some pretty incredible jobsite management solutions out there that work flawlessly and with full features from a phone or tablet. So, we’ll point out when that’s the case as well.
What CAN you do today to run a jobsite from your phone or tablet?
As a general contractor, your key responsibilities can be summed up as follows:
- Coordinating the activities undertaken in every phase of a construction project
- Providing for the labor, materials, equipment, and services required to complete each phase
- Monitoring and managing to owner-approved schedules and budgets, and facilitating any needed adjustments with various stakeholders
- Hiring and managing employees and/or subcontractors as needed, and facilitating all needed personnel management involved with doing so
- Maintaining the safety and security of the people and assets on the construction site
- Keeping the owner and other stakeholders apprised of project status
Interestingly, every single one of those general responsibilities can now be handled — in full or in part — on your mobile device. Let’s break down some available solutions with either full or partial mobile features, and tie them to the responsibilities outlined above:
- Although the BIM design and detailing powerhouse, Tekla Structures, is not yet available for mobile use, there is BIM software that offers the next best thing: a professional tool for construction project collaboration. Team members can share their models, combine them, check for conflicts, and comment/share information using the same BIM environment. Teams can even identify and solve issues flagged in the design phase before construction begins. It’s also available for fabrication.
- While many other powerful BIM solutions available today are not yet available to be used Tekla directly on a mobile device, a platform that connects everything and includes a wide array of integrations can put nearly any 3D model onto the screen of your phone or tablet. Streamlined import/export functionality and cloud storage make it easy for stakeholders to access information when they need it. With one simple platform, it’s possible for anyone to explore every detail of the constructible model at any time during and after the project.
- Powerful tool tracking solutions are designed specifically to help you manage all the “stuff” a busy construction site needs, including tools, vehicles, rented equipment, and PPE (Personal Protective Equipment). Not only can you know where everything is located at any given time, but it also helps you track costs on a project basis, receive reminders for routine maintenance or compliance inspections, and attach individual worker accountability to specific assets (reducing shrinkage from loss and theft). And, it’s fully functional via your phone or tablet.
Personnel and safety management
- Mobile-first labor management solutions incorporate standard labor tracking capabilities along with a robust, RFID-based access control system to keep your construction site secure. Safety boundaries are set up within the site to keep untrained or unqualified workers out of restricted access areas. In the case of an emergency, labor management apps should include an emergency muster feature as well as instant access to every worker’s contact information and last-known location onsite, so headcounts are fast and accurate.
- Time and attendance solutions automate the capturing and tracking of workers’ time on site. This means that the crew doesn’t have to log in, clock in, or fill out timesheets manually. All you have to do is enroll your workforce once and let the system do the rest. Readers or “beacons” are placed at entry and exit points of a site and also on workers’ hard hats. The beacons then ‘passively’ communicate with one another to let management know who is coming, who is going, and when.
- Cloud-based SaaS solutions offer robust project management features covering budgeting, scheduling, change order management, communication between stakeholders, documentation management, and contracts. Fully-featured iPad applications are available for mobile use that include an optional offline mode for when connectivity is limited. Via integrations with platforms like Trimble Connect, stakeholders can even be given mobile access to view and (to a limited extent) manipulate constructible models.
- A robust set of tools with integrated accounting and project management software is available from a trusted company that has been in the industry for more than 40 years. By using integrated software for ERPs and project visibility, for instance, you’ll increase margins, improve efficiencies, and reduce risk.
What CAN’T you do running a jobsite from your phone or tablet?
Thus far, the real heavy lifting that goes into generating constructible models, job estimates, and detailing isn’t able to be done via mobile devices. When you think about it, even if the application could be perfected, trying to accomplish those tasks on a phone or even a tablet screen wouldn’t really be very practical. The creation of job submittal packages, formal bid presentations, and other required documentation can’t be easily done via mobile devices either.
But, even in these cases, the resulting models, drawings, reports, and other documentation can certainly be viewed, shared, and in some cases, edited on a phone or tablet as needed, usually via the device’s web browser.
To learn more about how and why you should take full advantage of these and other modern construction technologies, download our free guide: The General Contractor’s Guide to the Modern Connected Jobsite.