Sept/Oct 2015

Understanding a project’s scope of work internally leads to better communication externally.

Recently, Laura Black, editor, Constructech magazine, sat down with Ed Coffin, electrical and low-voltage specialist and senior technical advisor for ConEst Software Systems, to discuss the importance of strong internal collaboration in the construction industry and how technology can help.

Let’s discuss establishing best practices for implementing technology for internal collaboration. What do construction companies really need to know? Starting with an efficient workflow between estimating and project management is the foundation for using technology for successful internal collaboration. Estimating software plays a major role in building a foundation for an automated workflow process that can then be managed through a comprehensive project-management system, enabling internal collaboration throughout the company.

Today’s technology helps contractors plan and execute a successful project using a work-breakdown structure. Estimators are under extreme time constraints to deliver estimates that require a high level of detail including multiple price breakdowns; the right software gives the estimator the ability to deliver consistent results faster and with greater accuracy. Contractors often sign fixed-price contracts, and budgets are set based on those agreements. Unforeseen costs at the construction phase that exceed those budgets can often become unrecoverable, creating a negative impact on profits. Establishing a work-breakdown structure at the estimate level helps the company guard against such negative impacts during the construction phase.

What considerations are there when it comes to data security and collaboration? The real key for every contractor and owner is keeping proprietary information such as job estimates, supplier prices, drawings, and project data, backed up, secure, and accessible. While on-premise backup and security systems is still a common and widely used method of data storage today, the construction industry is quickly turning to cloud computing as the method of choice. As the technology evolves, contractors are embracing the idea of 24/7 access and file sharing with the confidence and peace of mind knowing that their data is secure.

What do construction companies need to keep in mind when it comes to internal versus external collaboration? Let’s start with internal. Companies should focus training efforts and resources on the personnel who will be directly involved in each project, to help them fully understand the technology they have available to manage a successful workflow, from estimating through project completion. Whether at the estimating level or in field, every individual involved in every project can only be as efficient as their understanding of the software tools the company uses to execute each phase of a project.

Why is it important to have tight internal collaboration, before strong external collaboration? Internal collaboration that keeps all project personnel well informed with up-to-date project status reports and field activities will lead to comprehensive external collaboration by providing essential information to all parties involved in a project. A successful outcome of any project starts with first understanding what we’re building and what is the scope of work? Having a game plan and a cohesive team that fully understands the scope of work is key to any project’s success.

Internal collaboration also leads to pro-active rather than reactive responses. Having a precise game plan will move you toward your goal of submitting accurate bids, winning the job, and earning the respect of your customers. When you stay committed to a proven workflow it can be effectively communicated and demonstrated to the customer. If there is a problem on a job, such as being over budget or falling behind on completion, you can step back and see where the disruption in the workflow process took place and remedy the situation quickly and to your customer’s satisfaction.

Let’s talk a little bit about the technology. Where do you see the technology headed with regards to enabling collaboration? Technology—both software and hardware—is migrating to the cloud. Companies will utilize cloud technology to enable their personnel to quickly and efficiently communicate internally and externally, providing faster response time and less data entry resulting in a much more efficient workflow process.

What advice might you offer to construction companies looking to get started? As soon as a construction company embraces the idea of using technology, the switch from manual methods will be easy. When budgeting for technology it is critical to also budget for training office and field personnel to effectively use the technology. Also consider implementing these changes in small pieces by adopting features over time—don’t try to implement new methods all at once. For example, if you’re estimating manually or using a spreadsheet, consider an estimating program designed specifically for your business type. Once you’ve fully implemented that change, move to the next, perhaps digital takeoff or project management, or whatever the greater need is. Technology provides a level of efficiency that saves labor in the office and in the field—be flexible and understand that changes in the technology you’re using are intended to, and generally do, improve processes and your company’s overall workflow process.

We have covered a lot of ground here, but is there anything else you would like to add that you think would be important to note for our readers? The whole idea of embracing technology and then using it for internal collaboration boils down to a simple process—the formal term for that process is a work breakdown structure. Good software supports a well-planned work breakdown structure that will help contractors manage their projects with greater control and tighter budgets that result in better collaboration and increased profits with every job.

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