Three Key Technologies Driving Collaboration Among the Office, Team and Field

Three key technologies are fueling the transformation to digitize operations—redefining how construction companies collaborate both inside and outside the organization to achieve a competitive edge.
By Matt Harris
August 9, 2018

With the size and scope of today’s modern construction projects and the need for real-time project data to keep pace with demands, the traditional ways of running construction firms and managing projects are no longer feasible. Traditional, of course, meaning departmental silos within the construction organization, each with disparate software programs and data; manual and paper-heavy processes that are cumbersome and vulnerable to errors or lost data; and email, FTP sites, phone calls and the burden of in-person meetings as the vehicles for sharing information and project collaboration.

As technology has advanced and permeated everyday lives, most of today’s thriving businesses have realized they too need to adapt and innovate. The construction industry is no exception as leading contractors are digitizing operations and deploying powerful construction management solutions to automate processes, streamline workflows, increase profit margins and grow their operations by tapping into new opportunities.

Three key technologies are fueling this transformation, redefining how construction companies collaborate both inside and outside the organization to achieve a competitive edge.

Cloud computing

Whether it’s shopping or banking online to on-demand entertainment, just about everyone utilizes the cloud in some fashion today. Contractors, once wary of storing and moving their information via the cloud, have become proponents of web-based software for managing operations and streamlining processes. Cloud-based software today is providing what most on-premise systems cannot—increased security, improved capabilities for backing up and protecting data, expanded accessibility beyond physical walls and scalability to adapt to future technologies. Furthermore, cloud computing lowers the IT overhead and burden for a contractor, allowing them to focus on the business of construction.

Whether choosing to operate securely in the public cloud or through private cloud services (self-hosting data onsite), moving to cloud-based software can significantly increase access and collaboration throughout the organization. Working in a web-based environment means simply launching a web browser to get working — from virtually anywhere on any device. This is a dramatic departure from remote access and virtualization, where software functionality was still reliant on a PC workstation in the office.

Integrated software solutions

Cloud computing has made it much easier to connect software programs and expand real-time access beyond the back office. But unless the software is truly integrated, using the same data sets throughout the organization and among project teams, there can still be challenges.

Application programming interfaces, or APIs for example, can connect two different programs to transfer and translate data between each, but APIs require significant oversight. They can break when one vendor updates their software and need to be rebuilt. They can take time to write and can have some limitations depending on their interfaces with software systems. They can also be vulnerable from a security standpoint. Meanwhile, remote access programs that allow connection to on-premise systems in a back office can be both cumbersome and unreliable. These technologies often require even more resources from IT staff to manage.

The answer lies with integrated, cloud-based construction software platforms designed for the cloud. These platforms remove those extra layers of bolted-on technologies and provide anywhere, anytime access to feature-rich applications across the entire construction organization. From project management to accounting to document management to materials and equipment management and beyond, these complete construction ERP packages utilize one source of data.

This allows for information to be shared collaboratively in real time between departments and across project teams without having to reenter data or rely on third-party connectors. It also allows for true automation of processes and streamlined workflows between departments, jobsites and team members at all times. The access to integrated data and business intelligence tools across the office, team and field is changing the face of construction by leading to better project decisions and faster, more efficient projects.

Mobile device innovations

More than three quarters of the U.S. population now owns a smart phone and/or tablet device, according to a 2017 Pew Research Center report. And 88 percent of Americans have an online presence or work online. These devices do not need to be designed to run today’s more powerful applications or store an ever-growing amount of data. They are designed to make rich media — everything from a high-definition movie to a full set of construction plans — available to users wherever they are — and give them tools to manipulate and create their own content.

It is already possible today to download, mark up and share changes to construction documents from a tablet at a jobsite, process electronic signatures or access and update work orders in the field, or even capture job photos and drone imagery onsite, to be fed back into core systems for collaboration and analysis.

In fact, with such a high utilization of mobile devices, one of the biggest issues revolves around use-your-own-device policies. This is where contractors allow end users to utilize their own mobile products to access company data with strict guidelines and safeguards. In some cases, companies issue their own devices to be used on jobsites or other areas in the field that are standardized with built-in security and safeguards.

Technology is changing our lives each and every day, opening up new opportunities to explore, grow, connect and prosper. Construction firms that embrace these changes and get out front of them are realizing new opportunities. Those that do not are very likely setting themselves up for significant challenges for their organizations.

by Matt Harris
Matt Harris is Vice President and General Manager at Portland-Ore.-based Trimble Viewpoint, a construction management division of industrial technology company Trimble. He is responsible for Trimble Viewpoint’s overall business, including its long-range strategy and execution while leading a global team who is passionate about making a difference with construction technology.

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