Automating Construction-Management Workflows
From drones and wearable devices to BIM modeling, robotics for design and prefabricated building, it’s clear that the construction industry is no longer content in the shadows as a slow adopter of new technology. Now, as advanced cloud computing infiltrates nearly every aspect of daily life (e.g., Amazon and Netflix), contractors are realizing the potential of web-based software to streamline and simplify processes across their entire operations—from the back office to the field and beyond.
Today’s leading construction- specific software platforms feature automated workflows that take advantage of real-time data and collaborative sharing tools. Among the benefits cloud platforms provide are expanding collaboration across the entire project team, automating tasks and processes to replace multiple steps or duplicate data entry, intuitive dashboards and alerts to ensure action items are addressed and project data is always current, and powerful business intelligence tools that utilize automation and workflows to provide accurate, real-time analysis of current projects and intelligent forecasting of future ones.
These features are changing the construction management game by streamlining back office and field tasks that traditionally have been a productivity killer. Beyond that, modern software’s power to automate and streamline workflows helps contractors dramatically mitigate project risks, cut overhead costs, and realize both profit margin gains and untapped revenue potential.
The Automated Office
Automated workflows built into construction ERP solutions are boosting office productivity. Document-related tasks that required significant management oversight and labor hours—change orders, purchase orders, routing of invoices and many more—can now be handled in mere minutes, in real time.
These workflows route tasks to the appropriate party as soon as they are created or updated so the next responsible party immediately has that task in hand. Alerts let those with ball-in-court status know they have an item that needs attention.
This prevents important tasks and documents from getting lost in email chains, buried in paper or flat out ignored as responsible parties are queued up to keep work moving.
Automated workflows also prevent contractors from having to redo work because something was not addressed, or potentially lose money on change orders that were not properly approved.
Workflows also are helping solve critical compliance issues by ensuring that all documentation is in place when needed, before work is started or problems arise.
Additionally, workflow automation builds in audit trails, further mitigating errors and misplaced documentation.
Streamlining HR and Payroll Management
Another way automated workflows boost office productivity is by streamlining human resources and payroll processes across the entire construction organization.
Numerous web-based time collection and management applications allow employees to enter both the time and type of work done using mobile devices from the field, rather than waiting until a supervisor or project manager gets back to the office. This data instantly synchronizes with back office software applications to update multiple data fields (e.g., time, wage rates and union codes), triggering instant workflows for review and approval. These applications and workflows make payroll processing quicker, easier and less error prone. They also alleviate payroll professionals’ manual tasks.
Meanwhile, employee kiosks, online portals and other applications allow workers to log in wherever they are and instantly see their pay statements, read employee memos and change benefits options.
These often are integrated with, or are a part of, time management applications. This gives both HR professionals and employees a central location to store files, document issues and streamline tasks in real time.
As the skilled labor shortage remains a significant problem for contractors, HR teams are under even more pressure to find qualified workers and get them ramped up quickly and efficiently. This is another area where contractors are turning to web-based technology applications for help.
HR management applications and portals are making it easier to onboard new staff. Once a new employee is hired, automated workflows streamline the onboarding and training process, including features such as electronic document delivery and electronic signatures and verifications, and automated training or skills assessments.
As employees settle in, these HR management applications help automate ongoing processes such as time entry, professional development, certification tracking and performance management. HR teams can track key employee metrics from centralized locations, with data updated automatically once tasks are completed or milestones are triggered. This gives the HR teams more time to focus on growth, development, analytics and effective succession planning rather than corralling and managing heaps of paperwork or manual tasks.
Redefining Field Work
The impact of automated workflows is extending to the jobsite as well, powering data sharing and automating processes between the field and office. In addition to mobile tools for time and personnel management, workers in the field can get critical project updates, enter job progress, submit project reports and checklists, handle closeout and punch list items, and perform customized tasks.
Using pre-built or custom forms and templates, these mobile tools allow data to be collected in the field with a few clicks or scans and automatically routed to the back office. There, the data is synchronized and updates back office processes such as job costing, project financials, inventory and materials management, and work in progress tracking.
On the service side, smart applications can use workflow automation to empower service technicians in the field. Intuitive dispatching systems easily route technicians to the right jobs and provide instant, accurate work order updates. Workflows provide the ability to invoice and collect electronic signatures directly from the field to speed work order approvals and billing in the office.
When routine repairs or maintenance tasks are carried out, or when emergency work needs to be done, client records and service contracts can be automatically updated—creating a full, current, historical archive of all work done on a jobsite.
And, workflow-driven interactive web portals allow service contractors’ clients to self-serve by managing requests to see status updates, making changes, signing and submitting documentation, and making payments. This results in a faster, more transparent experience for the client, as well as simplified processes for the contractor.
Field solutions are allowing contractors to focus on what they were meant to do: build more projects smarter and faster.
As cloud technologies—and the intuitive workflows, dashboards, portals and other tools being developed for them—continue to advance, there are even more opportunities to connect the office, team and field with integrated solutions and streamline construction management. Contractors already taking advantage of these time-saving tools are seeing significant boosts to both productivity and profitability.
Manolis Kotzabasakis manages and drives worldwide operations for Viewpoint, a Trimble company, to best meet the growing and progressive technology needs of the construction and capital projects industries