How is business intelligence adapting to new technologies?

Norbert Orth
Chief Transformation Officer
Viewpoint

Business reporting can be like exercise equipment in the garage. You know you should probably be using it more, but you haven’t managed to fit it into your schedule. You can keep going without it, just like your business can keep running without the deliberate use of reporting.

Every company must do some amount of reporting. However, companies that commit to using reporting tools to improve business performance are finding that these tools are becoming more powerful, easier to use and more useful across their organization. A key driver for this is technology.

A confluence of recent advancements in cloud computing, mobility, new data sources and app integration is delivering more relevant information to more people than ever before, and this trend is accelerating. Forward-looking companies are moving business information beyond the boardroom and into the hands of teams who can use it to make a difference. This is turning traditional, after-the-fact business reporting into real business intelligence.

What’s the most important thing contractors should know about moving data to the cloud?

Fred J. Ode
CEO/Chairman
Foundation Software

Moving to the cloud has several benefits. It’s a more secure environment, you don’t have to worry about backups or managing updates, there are minimal infrastructure investments to make, and it’s accessible everywhere. These are things that will leverage what you already have in place in your business.

Specifically, you need the right people, processes and software applications in place. Your people are going to be your end-users who work with the technology day in and day out. Your processes include things like internal controls and security policies. 

But any software you move to the cloud also has to be right for your company. The cloud alone won’t make your accounting system better if it’s not a fit or if it’s not being used to its fullest potential.

That said, when construction companies are ready to implement it, I do recommend the cloud as a convenient and cost-effective way to leverage the right pieces you already have in place.

Rick DeLand
Vice President/Owner
JOBPOWER Software

Construction software as a service (SaaS) in the cloud is not new, but the rate of adoption has been slower in the construction industry than in many other sectors. 

The benefits are significant for small and medium construction companies, one of which is lower cost overall than for onsite servers and their administration. 

A newer benefit is ransomware avoidance. Currently, the only defense against ransomware is having good and frequent backups. Many companies maintain inadequate backups and possibly do not take them offsite. We have seen our on-premise customers struck weekly by ransomware, creating painful and expensive recovery. 

With SaaS construction software, that is not so much a concern. While SaaS servers can get infected, it is rare. The provider maintains good offsite backups and recovers at no cost to the customer as part of the service. Also, SaaS software and data remain safe and accessible via tablets or home computers in a pinch.

Why should a contractor use an electronic solution when preparing payroll data?

Woodrow Chamberlain
President/CEO
eMars Inc.

When the government gives contractors funds to execute a construction project, it expects the contractor to submit a payroll that has been certified as accurate. Harsh penalties can be imposed if the payroll data is inaccurate, including fines, exclusion from future bid opportunities and, in the extreme, jail sentences. 

In spite of these penalties, many contractors continue to manually prepare and certify payrolls even though separate studies have confirmed that at least 20 percent of these payrolls are in error. 

This happens despite the availability of electronic certified payroll systems that would eliminate all errors and save anywhere from to 25 percent to 80 percent in the preparation of these payrolls. 

Additionally, the DOL normally does not conduct random audits on companies using electronic solutions because these systems are in fact the first level of audit. 

Remember, it is the executive that bears the risk, not the payroll clerk.

Construction firms face increased scrutiny and prosecution of safety incidents. Can technology help?

Roshan Vani
President
Cloud EPC

A common issue throughout the industry is that not enough safety data is being captured and analyzed to help prevent future
incidents from reoccurring. 

Unfortunately, many companies are not using data to help improve their safety program because the reporting process has been time consuming, tedious and unavailable to most employees. This is where next-generation EHS management systems are helping transform safety in construction. 

Utilizing mobile technology, new systems are making data-gathering easy and readily available to everyone on the jobsite. Incidents are now reported in a matter of minutes, and with built-in workflow and push notifications, project executives can receive immediate alerts and assign corrective actions, helping to reduce the risk of recurrence. Additionally, as more information is compiled, dashboards and data analytics are helping organizations diagnose specific risk areas and take a proactive stance on safety across their portfolio.

What steps can business owners take to prevent security breaches?

Steve Maughan
Director, Information Technology
Explorer Software

The greatest cyber security prevention action is keeping employees (users) vigilant in understanding that their actions are the single greatest factor in security breaches.

Users’ actions in password security, email attachments, websites, account or computer sharing, and unsecured connections can all be exploited and breached. Users should not only be aware of the risks, but also how they can prevent breaches and strengthen a company’s cyber defenses.

Stop using passwords; instead use passphrases. A passphrase is a statement or question that is personal to the user. Example: “Baxteristheworlds#1dog!” 

The recent increase in ransomware is directly related to users’ actions with attachments. When users open attachments with no understanding or regard of the risk associated, the company’s security defenses will be compromised. Devices connected to or sharing company resources should not be used for unapproved activities.

When is it appropriate to move from BIM 3-D model-based design to BIM 4-D or 5-D?

Jon Witty
Vice President and General Manager
Sage

Knowing when to move to 5-D BIM ultimately comes down to meeting project owner needs. When the owner wants constant updates on the cost and risk impact of numerous design decisions, 5-D BIM delivers that information almost instantly. 

Due to 3-D models, owners can make changes right up to when construction begins, and beyond. In response,
estimating teams often create hundreds of estimates on just one large project. Consequently, 5-D BIM, which connects cost components to the 3-D model, is being adopted to respond faster to owners’ cost analysis requests. For many contractors, the estimating staff hours saved by reducing estimate cycle times offsets the cost of 5-D BIM tools.

Today’s technology is also making 5-D more practical. Integration between model-based design systems and estimating software is now available. This new technology recognizes that models are still evolving and often are missing estimating-related information. To address this, some 5-D BIM tools can supplement 3-D takeoff with 2-D input.

How can a company safely access its critical business documents in a mobile-first world?


Seth Dawson
President, CEO
Paperless Environments

Storing business critical documents in a central enterprise content management system is essential to the long-term health of a construction company. At the same time, access to these documents must be swift and available both in the office and out in the field. 

ECM systems, such as the Paperless Environments pVault system, are designed to safeguard your documents and serve them out to employees, subcontractors and clients wherever they may need them by local client, web portal, tablet or smartphone.

How should construction executives look at technology procurement?


Mike Wright
CEO
RedTeam Software

As a commercial contractor who got into the business of selling construction software, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with hundreds of commercial construction business owners about their companies and their challenges. Interestingly, we seem to universally agree that the industry is profoundly difficult, but we love it nevertheless.

Most contractors are rightfully careful about staging tools and materials on jobsites to maximize efficiencies. This level of care also needs to apply when managing information workflows. 

Time is every contractor’s most precious commodity, which means that what people do each day is just as important as how they do it.

Investing in technology is foundational. Procuring technology should be a collaborative process that engages every level of your organization—helping to get the team’s buy-in. 

Selecting a system that is a good fit for your business is the key to enabling project teams to work efficiently, minimize risk and achieve top performance.

Explain the impact of IoT on the construction process.

Zach Scheel
CEO
Rhumbix

The most promising impact of the internet of things (IoT) is the ability to bring meaningful technology solutions to field workers. 

For many decades, the construction industry was unable to take full advantage of technology because of the distributed nature of the jobsite. Limitations in connectivity, and the clunkiness of using a laptop outside of a work trailer, resulted in technology being limited to home office solutions. 

IoT has changed all of this: Broadband internet connectivity is widely available, smartphone use is in abundance, and IoT-enabled sensor technology has overcome the barriers to creating a truly connected jobsite. 

Construction firms that are taking full advantage of IoT solutions look and run more like a manufacturing shop floor. Manual data collection processes are digitized, and formerly siloed data sets are unified and immediately available to project leadership including foremen—to make proactive decisions that impact productivity. The outcome is more accurate project estimates, remarkably simple budget management, improved worker safety and increased profits.

How will big data and artificial intelligence shape the future of construction?

Kyle Hamer
Vice President, Marketing
On Center Software

Other industries have been talking about big data and artificial intelligence (AI) for several years. We are now beginning to see the impact of their combined use in practical ways. Google uses both to personalize search, and Tesla uses both to power its driverless car.

In construction, big data exists as a part of BIM with more jobsites automating drones’ participation in the building process with help from AI. Big data and AI continue to remain cost prohibitive for practical application and everyday use. However, advances in 3-D printing, drone technology, software platform integrations and further adoption of BIM could lead to radical impact in the preconstruction workflow and build-out processes. As big data and AI improve, contractors can expect the benefits to become financially approachable.

It is likely, with AI and big data, that contractors will be able to automate many labor intensive preconstruction activities such as takeoff, pricing and project selection and focus their time on lean construction methods for increased efficiency and maximized profitability.

What advice do you have for contractors with complex payroll challenges?

Jeff Weiss
EVP, Global Sales
CMiC

Construction companies face unique time and attendance problems while staying compliant with ever-changing regulations. They need to be certain that employees’ hours and earnings are accurately captured and applied accordingly. 

Companies that contract with the government must comply with project- and location-specific prevailing wage and employee benefits under the Davis-Bacon Act. Those without an automated system must monitor prevailing wage trends for every location where their employees work, while ensuring that employees get the right FLSA-compliant overtime rate. Contractors that work on government projects also need to submit certified payroll reports each pay period to prove that they paid out compliant rates for the work each employee performed. 

A unified system that assigns day-of-week and other logic for certified payroll reports is extremely beneficial to easily produce required federal, state and local reports, and guarantee that calculations have been correctly applied to each paycheck.

What is the future of risk management and UAVs?

Trevor Wichmann
Senior Director of UAS Ops Consulting
Skyward

When large organizations are in the R&D phase of building a drone program, it’s often risk managers and legal teams that present the strongest opposition. They see a drone program as adding an unaffordable amount of risk to their operation, especially because the laws governing the commercial use of drones are so new.

But there are already great use cases in construction where drones are proving to be a safer alternative, eliminating the need to put people at risk. These uses include roof and cell tower inspections, volumetric stockpile assessment and data-gathering in dangerous or unstable areas—to name just a few. In the future, drones will be recognized as a safety asset, not a liability.

How does technology accelerate the implementation of lean construction methods?

Josh Newland
Enterprise Strategist
Procore Technologies

The lean movement is gaining popularity in the construction world, and with good reason—it’s about cutting out waste and increasing value-added activities. Among a myriad of other benefits, removing waste from the process drives greater profits, reduces risk, improves safety, shortens schedules and improves relationships. 

Some types of waste as defined by lean are: excess transportation, inventory, unnecessary motion, waiting, over processing, overproduction, defects and under-utilized talent. Construction companies should be considering six types of technology in their efforts to cut waste: web and mobile-based project management/collaboration software, virtual design and construction or BIM, augmented and virtual reality, worker enhancement, sensors and wearables, and automated scheduling tools. 

Top companies will achieve dramatic efficiency gains over their competitors through technology. Top talent, especially young talent, will want to work at the companies with the most innovative systems and processes.