Overcoming the Construction Productivity Gap

As project owners demand real-time views of project progress, productivity and finance, contractors realize the benefits to real-time workflows, deeper insight into projects and streamlined processes that boost productivity and profitability.
By Jeremy Larsen
February 8, 2020

The productivity gap is one of the biggest issues contractors have had to wrestle with on their projects. Unlike most other industries — manufacturing, for instance, where work is carried out and tightly controlled in a central location — work is not uniform. Each project has its own unique set of challenges — from remote locations and disconnected jobsites to weather and environmental issues to communication, collaboration and ineffective data mining across project teams.

Compounding those challenges is that many contractors have, for years, gotten by with manual processes and/or disconnected software, an accepted amount of project changes and delays, errors and rework, and teams working from data that is days, weeks, even months behind. Ask just about any project manager who has had to work with these challenges and they will likely say, “It’s just how things have always been done.” Many work in the dark as to performance and productivity until data can be properly analyzed long after the work is already done.

However, as technology continues to transform both business and personal lives around the globe, that rationale of “good enough to get by” may no longer be good enough. More and more, project owners are demanding the contractors they work with utilize the latest connected software and cutting-edge field technologies. They want real-time views of project progress, productivity and finances. Meanwhile, younger generations of construction professionals are less and less willing to work without modern tools at their disposal that help them be more productive.

And contractors too are realizing the immense benefits to real-time workflows, deeper insight into projects and streamlined processes that are boosting not just productivity, but profitability.

Modern Tools for More Productive Trades

Just how are these modern tech tools helping close the productivity gap?

Today’s leading contractors are embracing a technology shift to cloud-based platforms and integrated, construction-specific software solutions to run their projects and organizations. These platforms leverage the cloud to extend powerful software features across entire project teams with anywhere, anytime access and easy-to-use functionality relevant to specific end-users. These solutions make data collection and sharing much quicker and more effective through simple mobile applications and online portals.

The ability to work in real time means a much more connected construction operation, with data and collaborative communication flowing fluidly between the back office, the field and the extended project team at all times. Contractors can see work as it is happening and make immediate adjustments when productivity gaps are identified.

Additionally, automated workflows built into modern, integrated construction ERP solutions are eliminating cumbersome manual processes, while ensuring better accountability. Processes that once required significant management oversight and labor hours in order to reconcile data from paper forms or multiple, disconnected software programs can be carried out with a simple click or swipe. 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 means important tasks like purchase orders, change orders, routing of invoices and billing and labor hours — all vital to keeping business moving — can now be handled in mere minutes versus the hours, days or even weeks that were needed prior.

Automation also prevents important tasks and documents from getting lost in email chains, buried in paper trails or flat out ignored as responsible parties are queued up to keep work moving. It also prevents costly re-work and project delays because something was not properly addressed or errors were made due to lack of current data or information.

Building a Foundation for Future Success

Modern construction software platforms are worth much more than simply closing productivity gaps. Leading software vendors are helping contractors achieve new capabilities, realize untapped opportunities and effectively scale for the long-term future by leveraging the power of the cloud today.

The digital transformation — removing manual processes, digitizing data and automating workflows — is the first step. The next is a data transformation, and using the cloud to implement emerging technologies that will change how construction data is collected, stored, analyzed and used, subsequently transforming the very way construction operates. Just some of these technologies include:

  • Drones. Already being deployed by many contractors, drones are being used to survey projects in progress and jobsites to collect data ranging from measurements to safety issues and beyond, faster and safer than if done by human hands.
  • Virtual Reality. Essentially the next level of 3D-modeling technologies like BIM, this creates virtual models of projects or plans. It places the user in a virtual environment, often through wearable devices and integrates data into real-world visualizations.
  • Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. AI a term for when machines mimics human cognitive functions like problem-solving or pattern recognition. Machine learning, a subset of AI, uses statistical techniques to give computer systems the ability to “learn” from data, without being explicitly programmed (think of a large excavator knowing when and where to dig on a construction site without an operator based on data like plans, timelines and data on project status).
  • Advanced Data Analytics and Business Intelligence. Data analytics solutions compile the mountains of data that construction projects generate into digestible reports, visualizations or dashboards, finding patterns and trends in that data that might have otherwise been overlooked. This lets contractors gain deeper insights into their projects’ true health, spot issues faster, create more effective benchmarks and better forecast future work through predictive modeling. The result is real construction business intelligence for the entire organization.

These and other emerging technologies are all being built for the cloud and need a central, integrated data platform to draw from to work to their full potential. It’s just one more reason why a cloud-based construction platform in place to take advantage of these tools makes sense.

by Jeremy Larsen
Viewpoint is a leading global provider of integrated software solutions for the construction industry. 

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