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Construction business managers, vendors and contractors are all facing pressure to increase profits. In the face of global competition, rising materials and labor costs, and changing regulations, online project management technologies can help construction companies become more efficient by improving collaboration, modernizing IT solutions and streamlining workflow processes. Taking advantage of these new technologies not only helps lower operating costs and reduces building time, but it also helps increase profits. 

Managing employees, vendors, contractors and clients on a project can present many challenges. Construction executives need to keep the team up to date on every aspect of the project, share feedback, review and send files, and coordinate deadlines and deliverables. On top of all that, project information must be available and accessible at all times, whether people are in the office, on the jobsite or anywhere in between. Embracing new forms of technology, such as cloud-based project management software, can help improve communication and make companies run more efficiently. 

Coordinating and Communicating in Real Time

An architectural firm based in Portland, Ore., was selected to lead one of the federal government’s largest building renovation projects, the 18-story Edith Green/Wendell Wyatt Federal Building. The renovation involved 21 people on the design team, 16 people on the engineering team and roughly 50 contractors, all working to complete a 24-monthdesign cycle to be ready for construction in nine months. In addition,the project was funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which entailed meeting standards of the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA). EISA requires federal buildings to incorporate technologies and practices that will result in zero net energy consumption by2030. 

Because the project involved so many people from different organizations,the firm’s project architect decided to employ a cloud-based project management solution. In the past, important communication such as meeting notes, design documents and activity updates would have been shared with the extended team via email. But for this project, it was critical to be able to update and share information with multiple people in real time.

The project architect asked vendors the following questions to select the most appropriate solution.
  • Is it easy to use? Do users instinctively understand, or is training necessary?
  • How easy is it to share information with members of the team? 
  • Could the project leader establish different levels of permissions or access?
  • Are there ways to automate workflows and processes without doing any coding?
  • Is there enough flexibility to capture notes and provide feedback from multiple sources?
  • Does it help increase operational efficiency?
By thinking through each aspect of the renovation and asking these questions in advance, the project architect found a cloud-based project management technology solution that met the team’s needs and helped bring the job in on time and on budget. 

Modernizing IT Infrastructure
A lumber supplier based in St. Paul, Minn., had to address a different set of issues that were impacting the company’s profit margin. Twenty years ago, this fifth-generation lumber company created an advanced IT infrastructure based on client-server architecture using mostly Microsoft technology. However, relying almost exclusively on Microsoft products had become quite expensive and created an atmosphere of vendor lock-in. The availability of new forms of more powerful and less expensive technology meant it was in the company’s best interest to explore other options. 

In addition, the firm was feeling the financial pinch of the housing market crash combined with increased competition from rival firms in Eastern Europe and Japan. Getting squeezed from all sides forced the company to look for ways to become more efficient and competitive.

With a limited IT budget, the lumber company set out to find ways to improve business operations– from distribution to tracking inventory and production processes. Overhauling the entire IT infrastructure seemed like a daunting task that could be costly and time-consuming. Knowing that making the wrong choice could destroy the entire company, the owner worked closely with the IT department to create a list of the following requirements that would be needed from a project management software solution.
  • How does collaboration technology reduce IT infrastructure costs?
  • Are cloud-based technologies secure enough to use with outside contractors and vendors? 
  • Does the software offer the scalability and flexibility needed to support a variety of departmental needs?
  • Can the software integrate with other core technologies? 
  • Is the information accessible to anyone at any time via mobile devices?
Identifying issues and asking questions in advance helped the lumber supplier find a cloud-based project management software solution that was easy to use and flexible enough to grow with the company over time.

Lessons Learned
The architectural firm and the lumber supplier took the necessary steps to carefully examine existing business processes and make sure the software they selected would address their specific needs. By doing so, both companies improvedcommunication between internal and external resources, streamlined business processes and made their organizations run more efficiently.  

Jodi Sorensen is marketingdirector for Smartsheet. For more information, visit www.smartsheet.com.

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