By Paul McKeon — June, 2015 – Companies that leverage an advanced approach to operational data will have a distinct advantage in meeting construction needs and enhancing profitability.
Capturing and using data more effectively represents an opportunity for many companies to streamline workflows and improve cost competitiveness. The challenge is that information vital to efficiency and strategic decision-making is often static, disconnected, or bogged down in inefficient systems:
- Labor or materials for a job may be tracking 10% above the estimate, but managers are not alerted in time to compensate or adjust upcoming bids.
- A foreman has to drive back to the office to deliver paper time cards so the accounting department can reenter the information manually.
- A dispatcher leases a bulldozer for a jobsite, unaware that another bulldozer is available at another jobsite.
- A mechanic repairs an excavator, unaware that the parts and labor should have been covered by the manufacturer under warranty, or that routine maintenance scheduled for the following week could have been done at the same time to decrease downtime.
These examples illustrate how the construction industry trails other industrial sectors in employing IT solutions that could streamline processes and fuel real-time, data-driven control over strategy, production, and costs. These solutions are exactly what will be required to combat the increasing margin pressure, risk, and complexity that will define future projects.
Sorting through available software options to help contractors transition to more advanced business processes can be confusing. Companies moving away from paper- or spreadsheet-based systems for managing the operations side of their businesses are presented with many partial, niche solutions for estimating, field tracking, asset maintenance, and resource planning. These options are specialized, but they are also disparate. Making them work together can be impossible or require so much added effort that data invariably remains within each independent application.
At the other end of the software spectrum, large-scale platforms designed for accounting or resource planning frequently offer add-on operational components. The drawback is that these add-ons may not be optimized for operations or for construction, making them inflexible or difficult to use.
Unified Data & Networked Applications
An alternative to these software options, a unified operational database can help construction companies gain efficiency, accuracy, and real-time visibility to information with a unified operational database. The fundamental principle is a single entry point for data and a single resource that supports each operation’s application.
Entering data once and maintaining it in one place eliminates redundancy, errors, and inconsistency. More importantly, this concept opens the door for specialized software applications to be truly networked. Unified data can be shared immediately across the entire company and across multiple applications used to manage operations. The applications can operate independently, or they can operate cohesively as a unified suite.
Resulting opportunities to enhance accuracy, visibility, and control are extensive. Add, remove, or change data in one application, and the updates are instantly available in the other applications. For example:
- Accurate, up-to-date employee information maintained centrally is available to the foreman using a field tracking application on the jobsite to record hours or complete a safety form.
- An equipment repair work order entered in that field tracking application is immediately visible to the mechanic using the asset maintenance application. That work order will also be visible in the scheduling and dispatch application, alerting the dispatcher not to assign that asset until it is repaired.
- Data on labor, equipment, and materials for a job (or for multiple jobs) can populate management reporting modules in real time.
The entire enterprise has access to comprehensive data in real time in order to take action and make decisions that maximize profitability.
As companies evaluate this unified approach to operational data, it’s important to acknowledge the distinction between “integrated” and “unified.” Integration means making independent software systems work together; however, it is rarely as seamless as envisioned. Often, a third layer of additional programming or syncing is required, adding complexity and making the individual applications more difficult to use.
A unified platform, on the other hand, is designed from the outset to work together. Data is shared collaboratively through a workflow from the estimate to field operations covering scheduling, planning, dispatch, field job tracking, and equipment maintenance and repair. The advent of this platform, differentiated by a unified data approach, is made possible by a single SQL database that serves as the common denominator linking all elements. Integration, syncing, and redundant data entry are eliminated, maximizing efficiency, accuracy, and the opportunity for more timely and effective decision-making to drive profitability.
Contractors seeking to become more cost competitive must optimize all of their assets – including their operational data. That means capturing more data with more speed, accuracy, and efficiency and using it across the enterprise in real time for collaborative, data-driven decision-making and analytics. As they pursue this strategy, a software approach built around unified data and networked applications can deliver distinct advantages.
Paul McKeon is the CEO and founder of B2W Software. With an extensive background in the construction industry, Paul is intimately involved in all aspects of the company’s daily operations and has a passion for driving ownership and excellence throughout the team.