Are you considering new software solutions at your heavy civil construction company? Here are some straightforward definitions for the most important software and technology terms contractors need to know.

Chances are, these terms aren’t completely foreign. Still, many people have a vague or partial understanding of exactly what they mean. Brushing up will help you sound like a pro, cut learning curves and communicate more effectively when evaluating software functionality and benefits.

    • Enterprise-class: An adjective referring to software applications or architectures that are robust and high-performance, allowing them to be used for more complex functions. Enterprise-class software runs fast and reliably and handles multiple, simultaneous users without crashing, eliminating those frustrating losses of time and effort. Unlike many lower-performance options, enterprise-class software can scale up, eliminating the need for a total system replacement when a company grows and needs to add users, features or functionality.
    • Cloud Software / SaaS: Cloud software is hosted in “the cloud” on third-party servers and delivered to users over the Internet. This is also referred to as a SaaS (software as a service) model and is an alternative to on-premises software installed on a company’s own servers. Companies that opt for a cloud model usually pay ongoing subscription or hosting fees but minimize their requirement to buy and maintain their own server capacity.
    • Unified Applications vs. Integrated Applications: Unified applications are designed specifically to work together as a platform to manage an interrelated series of functions (scheduling, field tracking and equipment maintenance, for example). These applications communicate with each other, have a common user interface and they update and access information from a single shared database. Integrated applications are independent software applications that can be combined and used together, but this typically requires intermediary integration and synching steps to align multiple databases and interfaces.
    • SQL Database: A scalable, distributed and load balanced set of transactional database engines. B2W operational applications use this technology as a repository for data, making it fast and easy for the software applications to read, create, update, query and delete information. An SQL engine also supports a “multi-tenant” architecture (multiple groups of users accessing a single instance of a software application) and can host data for reporting.
    • Big Data: Big Data refers to data sets that are large or complex, making it difficult or impossible to analyze them with manual techniques. Large heavy civil construction projects generate huge quantities of data from employees, machines, and sensors, and companies can use this “Big Data” to make better decisions about how to design and execute projects. The aggregation and analysis of this data is too much to do manually, but software applications automate the process, allowing contractors to capture more and better data in structured formats and to generate reports and dashboards.
    • Operating System (OS): The software application that is responsible for interfacing with the computer’s hardware and managing the other software programs on the computer. The choice of operating system has a great deal of impact on the other applications that can be run. The most popular modern operating systems for computers are Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux, as well as iOS and Android for mobile devices.
    • User interface (UI): The ways by which a user interacts with software. Most business software applications use a graphical user interface (GUI) with elements such as icons and menus. The UI is an important part of designing an intuitive, high-quality user experience (UX) that makes the software easy to learn and easy to use.
    • Telematics: A term coined by combining the words “telecommunications” and “informatics”, telematics refers to sending data wirelessly over long distances using telecommunications devices. In heavy civil construction, telematics is typically used to track and report data about how vehicles and equipment are performing. Accurate telematics data generated automatically can eliminate the lag time and human error associated with manual entries and help companies drive more automated, fact-based preventive maintenance programs.
    • Dashboard: A key feature of many software applications, a dashboard is a business intelligence tool and control panel with a visual user interface, like the dashboard in a vehicle. Dashboards display summary information about the software’s functionality and the company’s metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) in a consolidated and easy-to-understand way. Many also make it easy for users to drill down to more detailed information.
    • Applications and Elements: An application is any program that runs on a computer, such as a web browser, the most basic example being a web browser. The term simply indicates that it serves a purpose for the user. Software suppliers may refer to independent, specialized applications as “Elements” when they also work together as part of a cohesive platform.

Greg Norris