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Technology is moving fast, with more gadgets, devices and services around for work (and entertainment) than ever before. But just because new technologies exist doesn’t mean that they are right for every contractor—or that every contractor is ready to use them. Many believe buying the latest and greatest technology will immediately solve all of their problems, which rarely happens. Contractors must approach potential solutions with an end goal and a solid plan for achieving the desired results.

Software as a Service (SaaS) and mobile solutions are two of the more prominent technologies taking the spotlight in the construction industry. Both offer ways to increase efficiency and give contractors tools to run their businesses better, but a few things should be kept in mind when assessing options.  
SaaS is a pay-as-you-go subscription-based method for companies to securely use software from any location or device with Internet capability. The application is hosted and operated by a software vendor, which maintains responsibility for all hardware, software installation, updates and system backups.

One of the biggest benefits of SaaS is convenience. Contractors do not need to invest in expensive equipment to operate it and applications are accessed through the browser of any device with Internet access. Plus, SaaS vendors regularly back up data, update the software, and offer improved data encryption and security to ensure an excellent product.

Working with SaaS evens the playing field by allowing contractors of all sizes to use sophisticated solutions without the large upfront costs of purchasing software, hardware and other equipment.

The following questions can help contractors determine if SaaS is a good option for their business.
  • Can most of the company’s applications and software be moved to a hosted environment?
  • Does the firm want to reduce IT and equipment costs?
  • Does the firm have a reliable Internet backup and a reliable 4G network?
  • Do employees who work remotely need to log into the software on a regular basis?

With improved IT infrastructure and application deployment in geographically dispersed locations, SaaS is something to consider as it becomes more prominent in the construction industry.

Mobile Solutions
Mobile solutions allow contractors to quickly add and access data directly from the field, reducing double entry and the risk of errors from manual entry. They give a more accurate picture of financials with real-time data updates from the field to the office (and vice versa) and offer more flexibility—allowing employees to be productive out of the office and after normal work hours. Mobile solutions help bridge communication between the field and the office to keep everyone on the same page.

A variety of applications are available to the construction industry via smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices.
  • Field timecard entry. Enter time by employee or job, run proofing reports and make changes from the field—potentially eliminating handwritten timecards.
  • Equipment usage. Monitor equipment usage information by employee or job.
  • Quantities complete. Record quantities completed by employee or job.
  • Project management. Enter field logs, including comments about the job, weather and delays; send pictures back to the office and sync data with accounting or job costing software; and track correspondence and project manager documentation from the field, including submittals, RFIs, RFPs and RFCs.
  • Materials usage. Track materials received and used at a jobsite, pull inventory items from stock and determine job costs in real time.
  • GPS. Record when employees arrive at or leave a jobsite, which can verify labor hours and cost accuracy.
  • Service dispatch. Track labor on service calls, the location of a field technician, materials used, and arrival and departure times; obtain signatures from the field; push billings and work orders back to the office; and give real-time updates on employees in the field for dispatch to  schedule new calls.

A few things must be considered before jumping on the mobile bandwagon. First, determine policies on cost and proper use of the mobile devices (personal versus business). Second, make sure people are willing to learn and use the mobile devices, and that a process is in place to harness all the data collected from mobile devices. For example, a contractor that wants to implement a mobile timecard entry application that uses proper cost codes and determines everything by job first must buy construction-specific accounting software capable of handling that type of information breakdown.

Choosing the Right Solutions
When it comes to investing in new technology—particularly SaaS or mobile solutions—contractors must look at their specific business needs and conduct the proper research before making any decisions. With SaaS, make sure the firm is ready and able to support the platform properly. With mobile solutions, it is crucial to have people and processes in place before choosing an application or device. Only then can contractors begin harnessing these new technologies to grow their business.

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