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The proliferation of project management software and services is nothing less than overwhelming. Even the companies that have established a base level of use of project management software continue to be challenged by whether advancements have overtaken the usefulness of existing systems to suggest an overhaul or implementation of a new system.

It is surprising how many contractors do without formal technology infrastructure for project management. Instead, they use a variety of standalone tools, such as spreadsheets, word processing, scheduling and other applications that they typically host on their own servers and local area networks. Contractors can make it work, but doing so can be error-prone and labor intensive.

Among contractors that have invested in project management technology, many still use software acquired long before the great recession. Technology has changed dramatically since then, and many older, legacy systems are regarded as obsolete. Modern cloud applications have been built for real-time communication and collaboration using a variety of Internet-connected devices.

Optimism in the industry has many contractors considering system upgrades to address a growing construction market. Many applications are available as “point” solutions to a variety of construction challenges. Examples include bid solicitation, file sharing and jobsite photo management—each of which may be perfect for contractors simply filling a gap within their established and well-functioning infrastructure.

One of the benefits of a fully integrated project management solution is elimination of duplicate data entry, which saves time, reduces errors and ensures team members have the most current information faster. Simply tacking on a variety of point solutions may actually add complexity to a project management infrastructure and exacerbate the duplicate entries that are common when multiple systems are in use.

Subscription-Based Software
Subscriptions are emerging as the most popular way to acquire technology infrastructure. This contrasts sharply with the purchase of traditional software applications. Contractors are intrigued by simply subscribing to cloud-based technology, but questions and concerns remain: Where is my data? What happens if I want to change systems? What if my cloud software provider goes out of business?

While contractors have experience with many consumer cloud applications (LinkedIn, Netflix, Dropbox, etc.), they remain nervous about whether cloud software is safe, secure and reliable enough to run their businesses.

Compared to traditional software, true cloud applications are simple to procure, deploy and own. Typically, they have only the most basic hardware requirements (any device with a web browser, including computers, tablets and smartphones), and do not require software to be installed. Best of all, they usually are delivered as fully supported turnkey solutions with all future software updates, customer support and data backup. As a result, they are much simpler to own and scale to meet evolving business needs.

Three Unexpected Benefits: Harmony, Accountability and Differentiation

An accessible location to place all resource documents is reason enough to upgrade project management technology. Project teams must have the latest plans and specifications available, with a history of the revisions accessible in every project superintendent’s laptop or smart device so they can quickly address the legion of disagreements that can occur in the field regarding the scope.

Integrated project management solutions help contractors maintain control over their data (organized and readily accessible, with full metadata), which is essential to building a culture of internal and external accountability.

Finally, the use of cutting-edge project management technology bespeaks a level of sophistication that can be the lever to moving the company into more profitable work and acceptance into the fold of the best owners and contractors.

Impact on Dispute Resolution
Superior project management technology can have a big impact on claims development, analysis and recoupment of recoverable costs, if necessary, when there is an actionable claim. Project management software does not have to be designed principally for the development of claims, but it cannot be overlooked that the contemporaneous and ongoing tracking of the progress of the work will create a work product that will save days and possibly weeks of claims analysis later in the project, and assure that the required documentation is available.

While it may seem to smack of litigiousness to have a highly functioning project management system, the ability to track a potential claim can assist others. For example, a subcontractor with a well-developed claim that reflects delays caused by another subcontractor may be used by the general contractor to present its own claim. If the owner, design professional or lender is documented as the cause for a claim, the use of that information for the benefit of those affected can be viewed as a performance asset offered by the company instead of a threat.

To the extent the company wants to examine the effects of compression of the schedule (delay analysis), the project management system should be able to identify and sort expenses considered extraordinary, as well as tag the areas where the budget is being overrun even when the precise cause for the extra costs is not, or cannot, be identified at the time. In this way, the “heat blooms” of extended overhead can be chronicled in time, and allow a claims analysis to focus on select and discrete periods of time. Warning alarms are also available in certain software programs to call attention to the overruns and caution the company’s decision-makers when notices of claim may need to be contractually made.

Evaluating Options
It is most important to buy solutions designed for a particular type of business. Solutions for residential builders are not appropriate for commercial general contractors or subcontractors.

Cloud solutions will evolve as technology changes. It is important that each team feels like the people providing the project management software understand the business and share the same values. 

Kim Ashby is an equity partner in the Orlando, Fla., office of Foley & Lardner. Michael Wright is CEO of RedTeam Software. For more information, email kashby@foley.com or mwright@redteamsoftware.com.

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