“Money saving technologies” may be misleading, because when it comes to technology applications for construction businesses, there really can be no other kind.
Saving money should be the litmus test for any technology decision a business makes: any technology that costs more money than it saves is not a good business decision. But that’s not to say that there isn’t a little bit of nuance when it comes to business technology.
Generally speaking, new technology often comes along in two phases. There’s the initial phase when a never-before-seen technology is first introduced and completely transforms a way of doing things. Think of the automobile and combustible engine replacing the horse and buggy, or the fax machine replacing pen, paper and mail delivery. And then there’s the all of the improvements that come after that introduction – some relatively minor small steps, some truly groundbreaking innovations that can almost be considered completely new on their own merit – that improve the original technology, always making it somehow better at the very least.
However, for new technology to be lasting, it can’t simply do something better – it has to also do it cheaper. Even though the Concorde flew at speeds more than twice as fast as conventional passenger aircraft, the iconic plane was retired from commercial service in October 2003. The cost of flying the plane simply exceeded the revenue it generated.
Head for the Clouds Whenever Possible
One of the easiest ways for a construction business, or any business, to save money through technology is to utilize cloud computing whenever possible. In fact, cloud computing has only one true requirement – an internet (or other adequate data) connection. But assuming there’s a reliable internet connection, all that’s needed to take advantage of all of cloud computing is an internet-enabled device.
Of course, the cloud is already everywhere, both in business and at home. Gmail and similar email providers are probably the most common example. Gmail isn’t installed directly on a computer – users access it over the internet. And the fact that Gmail can be accessed from all devices from anywhere, is the very essence of cloud computing.
The Cloud Defined
- The Cloud: First used to describe the global telecommunications network, the cloud new refers to the internet itself;
- Hosted Software: software that’s accessed via the internet as opposed to being installed directly onto a computer;
- SaaS: Software as a Service. Hosted software such as Quickbooks and even the Microsoft Office Suite is almost always available these days as a service accessed via the internet; and
- PaaS: Platform as a Service: Originally this meant using the internet to access a computer’s operating system (i.e., Windows) itself, but in the recent years, the term has been used to describe a collection of integrated apps (or platform) via the internet, such as Google’s G Suite.
Construction in the Cloud
In order to save money, look for other opportunities to move some of the core business functions to the cloud. If using an accounting program like Quickbooks, for example, the hosted version is cheaper (paying a monthly fee instead of a larger payment for a one-time install), safer (it’s automatically backed up), easier to access (can be accessed from any internet-enabled device), as well as faster and more efficient (because the team can collaborate in real time). These days almost all business technology can be accessed via the cloud, from the ubiquitous Microsoft Office Suite (Office 365) to document sharing and collaboration.
The construction industry has seen in recent years a massive shift to cloud-based technology. Many general contractors are now using cloud-based document storage and collaboration services such as Box to share and collaborate on important project documents in real time. There have been many new SaaS technologies created specifically for the construction industry in recent years. The first such company to achieve unicorn status (meaning, a market valuation of $1 Billion or more) is Procore, but there are other examples of innovative SaaS companies serving the construction industry, including eSUB (project management software for subcontractors, Plangrid (construction app designed for the field), zlien (lien rights management) and many others.
With business operations and personnel spread across multiple jobsites in the field, the benefits of technology for a typical construction company are especially obvious, which is all the more ironic considering the industry’s reputation as a technology laggard. However, as the recent flurry of investment and entrepreneurial activity in the construction tech space shows, the industry’s reputation is changing, fast.