Nearly every growing business has had its struggles with the dreaded silo. People tend to separate themselves by department or function and then don’t do a great job collaborating with people in other parts of the business to resolve issues, optimize processes and improve efficiency and productivity. This lack of effective communication and collaboration can be the downfall of a business, especially in the construction industry, where tight deadlines and razor-thin profit margins rule the day.
In today’s modern construction environment, collaboration — both internally and across extended project teams — is vital to success. Contractors that can communicate and share data and information in real time across all team members have a significant advantage over those that cannot, as their projects stay moving and endure less risk. But where do contractors begin?
Here are four key steps to a winning construction collaboration strategy:
1. Review Current Processes and Identify Collaboration Logjams — The first step, really, is acknowledging that problems exist. But step 1-A is digging into current processes to understand why silos exist. In many cases, processes have been in place for years and people don’t scrutinize them regularly. These processes could be sowing division, especially when considering how people are currently held accountable within them.
For example, in most construction organizations, a project manager is responsible for ensuring a job stays on time and on budget. In many cases, though, this person isn’t involved in the process of setting that budget. And if there’s any miscommunication or friction between the project manager and the field manager, project owners or subcontractors, this can leave the project manager without total control over what happens in the field, making it difficult for them to do his or her job of staying on time and on budget. In another example, let’s assume the wrong materials were ordered and field crews — who were not aware/informed of the issue in a timely fashion — used them. By the time the work is reviewed and the mistake uncovered, it could lead to costly rework that impacts the contractor’s bottom line.
In cases like these, management may need to rethink the way the company holds people accountable. A more collaborative preconstruction phase and having the means to provide automatic updates during live construction would benefit everyone throughout the project. And, it means situations where people point fingers could be avoided.
Contractors all have their own way of doing things, but the important thing to remember is processes can change. And if silos seem to be a big problem and teams blame each other for them, then the processes contactors use are the first place they should look to identify the root cause. And, if processes vary from project to project, that’s all the more reason to take a closer look at the way work is being done.
2. Modernize Operations/Move to the Cloud — Businesses in just about every sector today are not just becoming more comfortable with cloud computing, they’re increasingly moving their entire operations to hosted environments. These companies realize that enterprise-class cloud-based software can and does provide high levels of security, increased accessibility and real-time information sharing, transactions and data analysis. And the cloud is helping lower costs by automating processes and increasing productivity — lessening demands for additional labor overhead. An early-2018 survey by Software Connect on construction technology trends noted that 87 percent of contractors are now open to reviewing cloud/hosted software for their construction management needs.
Cloud-based construction software is helping contractors manage projects in real time —something they couldn’t easily do before. Whereas previously it could take days, weeks, or more to collect and analyze construction data from multiple sources and locations, cloud-based software expands access to project information and applications beyond the back office to the field and to everyone on the project team. This allows for instant visibility into project health and provides collaborative tools for project teams to make more informed decisions in real time, mitigating project delays and reducing errors.
Deploying cloud software can also reduce capital expense and IT strain, eliminating the need to buy and regularly update server hardware and application software. With cloud computing, software updates can be rolled out automatically, so end users simply log in and start using new functionality. Network World, reporting computing trends for 2018, noted increased cloud storage capacity, the rise of internet quality and 5G networks, and the exponential growth of cloud services are making it even easier to do business in the cloud.
Today’s modern digital contractors are realizing stronger profit margins, a significant reduction in project and safety risks, happier employees, better quality projects and more impressed clients. The streamlined operations and functionality the cloud provides is also letting contractors smartly scale for future work and diversify into new fields and develop innovations of their own.
3. Embrace Integrated, Construction-Specific Software — One of the biggest challenges to construction collaboration and productivity is the reliance on multiple software systems and data sets across different departmental and operational functions — or, even worse, manual processes and collection of data. Having non-standardized data throughout the organization creates extra work when data needs to be entered (or re-entered) into multiple systems for processing by different departments or teams. It also increases the chances for mistakes, missing data, project delays, conflicts over work done or documents in place and much more.
Even when contractors’ IT department can find ways to import data between software programs or connect them with APIs, there is still a ton of work and vigilance necessary to ensure data is flowing correctly and efficiently. And, when updates are made by one software vendor, these connection points can easily break or close, causing upheaval to construction processes caught in the middle.
That’s why many contractors have turned to all-inclusive enterprise resource planning (ERP) platforms — designed specifically for construction — that feature integration between functionality for different departments, using one set of data. From accounting to project management to HR and payroll to equipment and material management — these platforms create a one-stop shop to run the entire organization smoothly and effectively. For example:
When a purchase order needs to be facilitated:
A superintendent in the field enters the pending purchase order into a mobile field management portal;
The project manager is instantly alerted and can then review and approve the purchase order and properly route through a transparent workflow;
The purchasing agent receives a task to create an active purchase order in the back-office ERP
The automation of these workflows allow these tasks to be completed in a matter of minutes, whereas with traditional methods, it could have taken hours, or even days for a project manager to get back to the office, review and approve the purchase order, enter the approved purchase order and send the request to accounting or purchasing teams to facilitate.
4. Simplify Work — Technology as a means to improve collaboration is a great thing … unless people don’t use it. One of the biggest reasons companies have trouble getting buy-in for new software and technologies is that the end users don’t understand how to use it (or simply don’t like using it). Contractors looking to modernize should focus on integrated, cloud-based software that is easy to use. That means intuitive dashboards where users can see and quickly take action with the data that is relevant to them; automated workflows and other built-in functionality that reduces workloads or removes steps of redundancy, repetitive processes; navigation throughout the software that is simple; and mobile solutions that let specific teams or users work on specific tasks without having to worry about understanding the rest of the back-end software platform.
For instance, field teams’ tasks might include recording daily logs, creating punch lists, recording safety observations and inspections or logging defects. If they can do these from a smartphone or tablet knowing the information they enter is automatically inputted into their project manager’s work progress or safety reports without having to do this all by hand later in an office trailer, they’ll be much more likely to use these tools. Conversely, if a field supervisor knows he can get the real-time project data he needs in the field with just a few clicks, he is much less likely to “take a chance” with suspect materials he has on hand or the correct placement of a doorway.
When end users realize how much easier their lives can be with modern software, they start using it more — and ultimately improve collaboration across the board.
To learn more about how your construction organization can achieve true construction collaboration, contact us today, or visit our ViewpointOne page to see the power of an integrated, cloud-based software platform designed specifically for construction.