Using Construction Tech - Starting at the Finish Line

Picture this: You want to lose weight. You're up late eating a gallon of ice cream and see an infomercial for a pill that will make your body 'shed the pounds!' Umm…YES. Give me THAT! A pill that will make me skinny without having to work out, eat better or stop eating the ice cream?! HECK. YES.

I'm going to hand it to the marketing experts that sell those things - because they clearly make a lot of money. I'll admit that I catch myself all the time seeing ads like that and wanting to hop on the band-wagon.

And then it hits me.

This is clearly too good to be true. Since the beginning of time, we've known that there's no magical pill that will make all our problems (fat) go away. So we don't fall for it. We don't take the pill. And we realize that if we want to drop the pounds, we need to hit the treadmill. Just good old fashioned hard work and dedication.

So let's parallel this with implementing technology in the world of construction. Initially I thought this was a silly stretch of a comparison. But alas, I think every contractor has been in this situation. 

Picture this: You see you Prime/Owner working with a multi-million dollar software system. You want to keep up, but don't have a spare million dollars. So you shop around. There are lots of options out there, all with different bells and whistles. But you finally narrow it down and pick one.

It's $20,000 a year. But it's well worth it! This is going to save lots of mannhours, put you ahead of your competition and get you closer to your Prime. And ALL you have to do it download it, get your team to start using it, and you're off to the races!

(I hope you can read the sarcasm, here…)

Every time I hear a small construction company talk about new software they're using I get a knot in my stomach. And they should, too. But they're still in the tech-honeymoon phase.

The reason I wince when I see this happen - and it happens a lot - is because it's a classic case of 'shiny-object syndrome'. Again, I'm going to hand it to the marketing folks here. They do a great job of making it seem like it's as simple as 1-2-3 and your saving money instantly.

I personally worked for a company that ran over $100M/year revenue using nothing more than a cloud server. We're talking Dropbox or Google Drive style. Nothing fancy. Nothing automatic. It was really bare bones. And it worked FANTASTIC. When I think back about what made it such a good system, here are some of the highlights:

It was easy. Anyone can pick it up, and pick it up quickly. Every project had the same structure so people knew where to get the info they needed.

It was well-thought out. Not just throw to the wind and hoping for the best. It was structured, everything was put in it's place, and the structure was definitely intuitive.

It was accessible. There were simple apps that allowed access via iPad or phone, making it easy to look at documents on the go.

There was buy-in. It was iterated over a few years, so lots of people had input and suggestions, which created buy-in (along with a better product). Users had a vested interested in using their own system.

So, no matter the tech you choose, keep these things in mind. I'll go a step further and tell you that the very same company that used just a simple cloud server eventually switched to a custom-created solutions that would blow everything else out of the water. And it did. It blew EVERYTHING out of the water - so much so that no one wanted to use it, everyone complained daily and it make lots of basic business processes so much harder than they needed to be. We can dive into those issues in a later post.

So let's take a minute to dive into these 4 items and see what we can do about them.

KEEP IT SIMPLE.

It sounds so basic and elementary, but we often get so wrapped up with the though of going hi-tech that we forget how valuable it is to just keep everything simple. This also has spill-over benefits. When we talk about implementing new process and technology, there are lots of roadblocks. But guess what - the easier it is to use, the easier it will be to convince people to drop their old habits and pick up new ones. 

How to do it: Without thinking of any software or tech in particular, make a list of what you need. These are absolute must-haves. You NEED a way to track RFI's and submit them. You WANT a program that will send and track them automatically. Don't mistake the NEED's and the WANT's. 

TAKE THE TIME TO PLAN.

Yes, some new software comes with pre-laid-out structure. But guess what - it's built for the masses. Not for YOUR company. I've never seen two companies that run the exact same processes and procedures. So you'll need to tailor it. If you're using a out-of-the-box  SaaS program, you'll be constrained to what they allow you to do. If you're working with a more open platform, you'll have the ability to do what you want. 

How to do it: Again, this comes back to the first point and putting some time into thinking about what you need out of the system. But now you're going to think about how you want it all to interact and be laid out. Once you have the list from the previous step, go through each and talk about the whole process and what each one takes.

ACCESSIBILITY.

I've been in more than one priceless scenario where having the right document at the right time and the right place (not in my office) has saved tens-of-thousands of dollars. And it took what? A $3 iPad app. And guess what - if I didn't have that $3 app, I wouldn't have gone back to the office, printed a drawings then checked it for compliance. But it was easy, it was right there in my truck. I had NO REASON to not check that drawing.

How to do it: This is remarkably easier with the overwhelming amount of apps out there. It's more of a matter of picking which one provides all the functionality you want, without going overboard. Sometime, if your using a SaaS program, it will come with an app. If you're going with a server, there are lots of ways to access that same file structure. A quick Google search will be your friend on this one.

GETTING YOUR TEAM BOUGHT IN.

This is arguably the best point on here. Without the team getting on board, there's no point in even deploying the tech at all. It's going to waste time, money and effort.

How to do it: Even though it's the last in the list, it should be at the top of your list. Get your team involved. Talk through things. Plan the solution to the problem. Ask questions, see what everyone would like to have. Not only will you have your team thinking about the new tech (ie - picturing themselves using it) but you'll have a whole crew of people to help do research and help pick a successful solution.

If you're read this far, you're serious about things. This is good. And because you stuck around, you're sure to make it work. This is a marathon, not a sprint. And you're smart enough to know that if you don't start doing SOMETHING, you'll be left behind.

You got this.