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Avoid ‘Appageddon’ on Mobile Work Devices

There’s absolutely no question that mobile devices and cloud-based technology have drastically changed the dynamics of the construction industry.

Employees in the field and office are instantly connected. The field team receives real-time updates to project documents, and the office team receives real-time updates on jobsite activity. The improved collaboration and communication between the field and office have enabled employees to save time and companies to save money.

Gradually more and more construction companies are realizing the benefits that can be gained with such technology investments. While there has been a slow adoption of software among construction companies, there has been a rapid explosion of construction technology among software companies.

How can a construction company navigate the crowded marketplace to determine which solution(s) will provide long-term value?

Construction App Explosion

Today’s software marketplace provides a low barrier to entry for many startups seeking high rewards. Ten years ago if someone had an idea, they would need to pitch it to investors to raise thousands of dollars in capital for a software development team to create a prototype which could take years to release. Now, tools are available for rapid application development to support the delivery of new applications in a matter of days or weeks instead of months or years.

Combining the rapid delivery of software development with the increasing need to capture information in real-time from the construction jobsite, the number of mobile apps are disrupting the construction marketplace. These mobile apps can be described as a point solution solving a single problem rather than a construction management platform that can address all the requirements for a construction company to run their business. They are enticing to construction companies looking to digitize and automate their workflow for many reasons slowly:

  • Free to low cost. Many companies offer a free or low-cost version for users to test out in a pilot phase.
  • Easy to get going. With limited features available in the free version, users can view online help and videos for a quick onboarding.
  • High value. The value of efficiency is quickly realized when placed in a low-cost solution.

Diminishing Returns

As the construction app explosion has gained momentum, have it reached the point of diminishing returns? According to JBKnowledge’s 2016 Construction Technology Report, almost 40 percent of construction companies are using four or more software solutions. Mobile apps may have bridged the great divide between the field and office, but are teams more productive if they have to use several different applications to do their job and none of them are integrated? Field workers are opening up one app to manage time entry, another app to view and markup blueprints, another app to complete daily reports, another app to process RFIs, submittals, change orders, etc., another app to monitor safety and compliance, and so on.

On the other side, the team in the office is gathering all that great data input by field—from all those different applications. Respondents from the 2016 Construction Technology report stated that most often their software applications are not integrated and data is transferred manually. Collaboration has been achieved, but inefficient workflows and data silos remain with unintegrated solutions.

The construction industry is ripe for disruption which is why there are so many point solutions in the market today. The problem with point solutions is that the data goes nowhere and effectively makes them orphans. Construction management platforms operate like a virtual hub of point solutions with its own integrated set of modules that can be turned off or on depending on the needs of the user.

Recognizing the lack of integration among construction software, the Construction Open Standard Alliance is a community of construction industry professionals advocating for the development of open application standards to facilitate the transfer of data across different applications. While COSA has made great strides, gaps still exist, and builders need to demand open APIs and integrations from their technology vendors.

A Consolidated Construction Project Management Platform

Construction executives can take great care in selecting a construction project management platform versus a single application. Several construction management platforms have been built from the ground up to offer an integrated enterprise solution—a Swiss Army tool of construction software. Why use multiple apps when they are available in one consolidated construction project management platform?

A survey participant in the 2016 Construction Technology report stated, “We are in the middle of going from eight software tools on our job site to two.” Also in indicated in the report, “with frequent changes published on the jobsite, digital plan management helps firms ensure field teams have the latest revisions in real-time, avoiding costly rework and change orders.” The apps with multiple capabilities listed in the 2016 report continuously update with new features and improved integrations.

In an ideal world, a field worker uses one mobile application to complete all tasks:

  • document issues in the field;
  • enter time; track materials and equipment usage;
  • complete daily reports;
  • view and annotate drawings;
  • create and track RFIs, submittals, and change orders; and
  • access project files; and record meeting minutes.

All of these activities that were previously completed in several different applications can be entered only once in a construction management platform. A single unified experience for the field and office where information is seamlessly transferred to different modules but within the same construction project management application for greater efficiency.

Mobile devices have transformed the way contractors work, making them more informed and productive. The number of mobile apps available demonstrates a great potential to make the job easier, but make sure that the apps are not a one-trick pony that create new inefficiencies. A construction management platform that integrates different solutions or consolidates multiple functions into one tool improves the entire construction management workflow for the field and office.

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