What areas should contractors focus on as the economy rebounds?

Jack A. Callahan 
Partner, Construction Industry Practice Leader
CohnReznick LLP

As the economy steadily rebounds, contractors must focus on maintaining the equity and the liquidity of their businesses.

Contractors need to keep the “cash is king” mantra in mind. For example, while contractors typically own equipment while keeping debt service payments as low as possible, those with current operating losses may find it difficult to refinance and access equity, leading the contractor to be forced to sell the equipment. Maintaining a positive relationship with the bank and establishing a line of credit are crucial to securing future sufficient working capital.

To strategically plan for the demands of a growing market:
  • put the right team in place;
  • reevaluate policies and procedures;
  • establish an insurance risk management program;
  • maintain strict contractual compliance;
  • carve out a niche;
  • choose customers wisely; and
  • formulate cash flow for each new project.
How does the financial impact of moving to the cloud vary for small, medium and large contractors?

Jon Witty 
Vice President and General Manager
Sage Construction and Real Estate

The smaller your company, the easier it is to make the leap to the cloud. Recordkeeping for small contractors is mostly manual, so there isn’t a lot of electronic data to carry forward. Consequently, there is little migration cost. This is another reason why cloud computing is so attractive to small contractors that are using it to increase their IT capabilities—and competitiveness—without paying for in-house IT staff.

Medium and large contractors have more legacy data. The larger your company and your projects, the more data you have. Migrating this information takes more time and often requires consulting services, which increases costs to move to the cloud.

Many larger contractors take a hybrid approach in which the bulk of their data still remains on-premise, while cloud-based mobile apps are used in the field to access and add to the data. This prevents data migration costs and reduces costly disruption to the business. It leverages the  most important aspect of the  cloud: mobility.

How can mobile software help eliminate costly legal disputes?

Oliver Ritchie 
Vice President, Product Strategy
HIKUU Construction Cloud

Documentation is very important in a construction project because it acts as the physical memory of what went on during the project’s life cycle. It is essentially the only record of what was actually happening at any given time during the course of the project, as human memory is flawed and there are various perspectives to any given event.

Photographic documentation is the framework on which a claim is built; without it, there is no evidence to prove a claim and, thus, little chance of a fair outcome.

In the past, it wasn’t possible for construction professionals in the field to document issues. Often, problems would arise and there was limited ability to document and communicate an issue, which often led to disputes with no backup evidence.

Integrated mobile software has since changed the field of documentation and communication. Now, it is possible to quickly settle issues that might otherwise take far longer to resolve in court.

Should I invest in cloud technology now or wait?

Fred Ode 
CEO/Chairman
Foundation Software

In 1974, I quit my job teaching outside Buffalo. The classroom was not for me. So I took off in my Ford Pinto across the country for over a year until I ended up in Ohio teaching again. And it still wasn’t a fit. We sometimes think if we go somewhere else, things are going to change. But guess what—we’re still us. In the late 1980s, half the contractors that signed with me didn’t even own a computer, and most of the other half didn’t really know what to do with it yet. They just hoped it would somehow make them more efficient, even though their business was still the same.

This sounds like I don’t believe in the cloud, right? Wrong. Buying technology doesn’t necessarily benefit you without the right applications and the right processes in place to leverage them. The cloud has advantages if implemented with good software, such as low startup costs, access anywhere, automatic backups and system updates, and added data security. Just remember, it’s not going to magically solve problems.

How has data retrieval become a better user experience during the last five years?

Mark Liss 
President
Explorer Software

Data retrieval used to be cumbersome and something that was reserved for IT professionals who had a detailed understanding of the database or extensive training in report writing. But the landscape is changing. Savvy software companies understand that today’s users expect software that is not only powerful, but also extremely easy to use. No one wants to rely on third-party products or outside consultants anymore, so an intuitive, friendly interface is crucial when designing software. A positive user experience can increase efficiency, accuracy and even drive adoption.

Take field data collection, for example. Paper timesheets are quickly becoming obsolete as technicians are embracing the ability to enter jobsite information from their mobile devices. With a few taps, information is instantly transmitted to the back office for review, approval and processing. Some software even allows users to customize entry screens to create a familiar interface with virtually no learning curve. It’s this simplicity that many find so appealing.

What does the Affordable Care Act (ACA) mean for applicable large employers (ALEs) in the construction industry?

Mary Baumes 
Chief Operating Officer
COINS

Although the ACA was enacted in 2010, the mandatory reporting requirement for certain employers is just coming due for the 2015 calendar year. The Employer Shared Responsibility provisions of the act require that ALEs either offer minimum essential coverage that is “affordable” and that provides “minimum value” to their full-time employees (and their dependents), or potentially make an employer shared responsibility payment to the IRS. To comply with the provisions of the ACA, applicable employers will need to track offers of coverage, affordability and enrollment elections for the year and provide statements to their employees and the IRS by early 2016.Compliance can be a daunting task.

Many of the larger ERP providers have developed software to assist their users with ACA compliance and reporting.

Third-party specialty reporting solutions also are available. Ask your attorneys for legal advice, recommendations and assistance in formulating a plan for compliance.

As jobsites and projects become more intelligent, what are the most important areas to bring up to date for mobile and remote reporting and control?

Tom Cook 
Director of Mobile Software Development
Viewpoint Construction Software

Ensuring that everyone on the jobsite has current data and documents is essential. This can be increasingly difficult due to the pace and inclusion that mobility brings. Collaboration and content management systems are no longer helpful; they are required.

Another challenge is data security, which means that only authorized people should be able to access and see certain data. With mobility, devices can be lost or stolen, previously authorized people may leave with their own devices, personnel might mix company-sensitive information such as contacts with personal information, and so on.

A solid Enterprise Mobility Management system (EMM) substantially reduces security risks. EMMs control which devices can access sensitive data, provide separation between corporate and personal data on devices, and can wipe corporate data when devices go missing or when personnel leave.

What are the financial benefits of mobile and remote reporting and management systems?

Carl Oliveri 
Partner, Construction Practice Leader
Grassi & Co.

Mobile devices provide instant access to documents and plans, as well as to workflow, scheduling, estimating and other enterprise-wide systems directly from the field. Benefits include:

Increased oversight and reduction of waste. Mobile technology can provide immediate notification that a project has experienced an unforeseen issue, allowing managers to respond accordingly and timely. Enhanced project oversight also will help alleviate project materials misappropriation and eliminate absenteeism.

Increased accuracy and teamwork. Mobile technologies enable the integration of data from multiple jobsites, as well as the transmission of financial data to accounting. Today’s devices also enable companies to share data via live streaming, which allows managers to assess the status of all projects and make accurate financial decisions quicker than ever.

Michael Dickran 
Major Accounts Manager
ExakTime

Mobile workforce management benefits the bottom line by eliminating paper time cards. With digitized time and attendance tracking, companies know—to the minute—how long an employee has spent working that day and week. No longer is a business owner reliant on after-the-fact time reporting, a breeding ground for time rounding and guessing. Erroneously billing for sick or vacation days is over.

Another area affected by mobile time tracking is payroll processing. With time records coming in electronically, time spent collecting and entering payroll is cut dramatically. Fewer personnel hours spent on payroll means greater productivity in other areas—a net positive for the bottom line.

With accurate payroll updated daily, companies can address job costing and budgeting proactively rather than reactively. No one wants to find out a week later that they have gone into the red because they mismanaged a job, failing to add or trim resources where needed.