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Are Your Crews Truly Mobile?

In 2013, research and advisory firm Forrest Research Inc. defined an employee of the mobile workforce as someone working from multiple locations and using three or more devices and multiple apps for work.

The construction industry has always been mobile—even before mobile devices were available. Yet, construction professionals have been slow to adopt new technologies that can help remote team members stay connected to each other and easily access the tools and documentation they need while on jobsites.

Technology and its implementation in the construction business is vital to increasing productivity in the field, says Philip Barlow, associate professor in the Construction Management Department at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, Calif. While other industries have seen 200 percent increases in productivity during the last 40 years, the construction industry has had trouble increasing or even maintaining productivity in the field. Barlow stresses that the industry really needs to bring that productivity curve up, and experts seem to agree that this can be done by leveraging technology and software to streamline processes.

Here are a few tips to help construction professionals make crews truly mobile—and more efficient.

Equip Employees: Adopt ‘Bring Your Own Device’ Programs

As of January 2015, nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults own a smartphone, according to Pew Research Center. On the jobsite, this roughly translates to six out of every 10 team members. In January 2014, Pew Research also found that more than 40 percent of U.S. adults own computer tablets. And, according to a recent survey by EMA Contractors, a specialty group of marketing firm Eric Mower + Associates, not only are 68 percent of contractors using smartphones as part of their work day, but 22 percent also are using tablets.

Add in the new products being introduced in today’s marketplace, including smart watches and eye wear, and there soon could be a new surge in mobile device ownership.

Save Time and Money: Go Paperless

From handwritten notes that an employee plans to later type into an email or daily log, to drawings and plans that must be reprinted every time updates are made, there really is no room for paper on the modern jobsite. Instead, construction professionals equipped with mobile devices can use construction software with mobile applications to manage all of their project management tasks directly from the jobsite.

Brian Schmidt, senior project manager with Martin-Harris Construction Co., says his team members use project management software to digitally access the most up-to-date drawings, and his superintendents have found a huge time-saver in the software’s daily log app with voice-to-text functionality. Before using the app, it took superintendents 20 to 30 minutes to summarize the day’s activities. Now, there’s no need to sit down and summarize. The daily diary is just something that happens throughout the course of the workday as they walk through project sites.

Shaving half an hour from daily activities adds up to big savings over the course of projects that can take months or years to complete. Plus, using digital documents helps eliminate paper waste and hefty printing costs—not to mention the time it takes to print what could be thousands of plans and drawings for just one project.

Keep Crews Connected and Informed: Use Cloud-Based Software with Native Mobile Apps

Industry-specific solutions like cloud-based construction software provide remote workers with vital project information, in real time, from one centralized repository. For example, team members don’t have to leave the jobsite to have immediate access to up-to-date project data, which means they can make informed decisions and keep the project moving forward from their current location.

Project management software solutions that include mobile apps for iOS and Android devices allow users to quickly and easily access project data—from anywhere—with just the tap of a finger. Within the apps, the user can perform all of the functions they would have from a desktop computer, including submitting and responding to RFIs, reviewing product specifications and current drawing sets, and sharing punch list items with up-to-the-minute open or closed statuses. Team members are automatically notified when RFIs, project changes, and updates are made.

With these mobile capabilities, in-the-field team members have all project data at their fingertips with the power to immediately answer any project question.

The JobSite is a Mobile Office

By bringing cloud-based software and mobile apps to the field, remote team members no longer have to run from the jobsite to the office to the trailer to access the information they need to keep projects moving. All they need is their mobile device and software access.

Following are examples of how mobile devices and apps are being used in the field:

  • view purchase orders, floor plans, site plans, etc.;
  • scheduling and payments;
  • submit and respond to project changes, RFIs, etc.;
  • take jobsite photos, attach them to files and distribute to stakeholders;
  • look up building codes, specifications and manufacturers’ instructions;
  • track weather and any other external events that could impact a project;
  • sign off on paperwork;
  • access project costs and budgets;
  • make calculations;
  • share documents and plans; and
  • communicate with other team members.

The industry is already answering the call to be more productive, efficient and connected while in the field. The number of people using technology to accomplish their daily activities is increasingfrom project managers and vice presidents to project engineers and assistant superintendents. Even foremen are using software to help manage projects to make them more productive, and, according to Cal Poly’s Philip Barlow, that trend is not going to change anytime soon.

4 Replies
  1. Hi,

    Good article on the benefits that proper mobile tools can provide for organizations. The only thing that I was wondering, was the requirement for native apps. Sure all cloud based platforms need to have mobile capabilities, and this can be handle with native or web based mobile applications. Web based mobile applications doesn’t require extra downloads and the update process is much more controlled that way. One of the biggest issues is also the mobile first thinking and user experience. Poorly designed mobile applications will surely have on impact on the user satisfaction and also productivity.


    1. Native apps support a lot of featured that the mobile web could never do, they’re faster and can be more fault tolerant, they can support offline usage and sync when you come back online, offline cache to access documents without an internet connection, and push notifications based on actions from your team. But you’re absolutely right, featured without usability is useless.

      1. Hi Mike,

        Thanks for your reply! You have made some good points. Still I must say that the HTML5 web based mobile applications can sure handle offline usage with mobile devices local storage and syncs the information when network is restored. They can also take pictures, use GPS and store cached offline information. The speed is probably an issue in complex solutions that require lot’s of calculation, might be that native apps have better capabilities there. Still for basic apps I can’t tell the difference based on speed.

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