Construction Software and Digital Transformation of the Industry

Most contractors who have been using the same operational processes for years and who have relied on the same construction software systems are on the verge of a monumental shift. The use of Excel spreadsheets, email, and basic accounting software packages to manage and track their business operations tends to be inefficient and woefully disconnected. However, many business owners are entrenched with using their current systems and are hesitant to change for a variety of reasons. Either they are happy with the margins they have, consider change too daunting a task in terms of time and resources, or they are not technically savvy enough themselves to understand the potential and benefits of construction software.

Taking a leap of faith will be a positive step towards efficiency, profit and growth, which cannot be realized without the acceptance of modernization.

Terms like disruption, transformation and digital shift have been used to describe business evolution across several sectors for years and the construction industry is in the midst of all of this now. There are countless solutions for every part of a construction business’ operations. Companies which recognize the potential and adopt early will realize a significant advantage over those slower to get on board. Contractors stand to benefit greatly from moving to cloud-based, construction business and project specific software solutions.

SaaS (Software as a Service) solutions enable contractors to gain control of their tracking, reporting, accounts payable, invoicing, scheduling and financial accounting all in one location. Once a shift is made to using software to manage and automate common tasks, not only does the business run more efficiently and profitably, but leadership can act proactively rather than reactively. This is often overlooked as a benefit to the adoption of construction-focused software. Being able to plan for growth, take on activities to increase the quality of your business, focusing on staff retention, and other actions to increase your market share or profitability are massive opportunities not to be undervalued.

There are several different categories of software contractors can take advantage of. Some businesses may jump straight into a full construction business management system which combines all of the needed functionality, while others will find targeted software to fulfil specific functions like timekeeping, communication, or health and safety compliance and reporting. However you go about the process, it is key to ensure employees are involved in the planning and implementation, are given proper training and understand the importance of participating in any changes to the process.

An easy first step, like implementing an LEM (Labour, Equipment, Materials) Tracking app can provide immediate benefits. There are simple software solutions, which will put data entry directly into the hands of field staff; freeing up valuable time too often allotted to project managers or owners. I have experienced first hand how an excavation company can rely on its labourers, operators, truck drivers and management to accurately enter their hours, the materials used, and what equipment they are operating. If you think your staff will not be able to adopt this kind of reporting, I can assure you, it is both possible and highly recommended. I have seen it done. The time saving benefits are significant and the data tends to be more accurate as it’s entered by those who’ve done the actual work.

It may seem overwhelming to take on a complete company management software tool all at once, but you can ease into solutions by only utilizing one module or function at a time. Start with the tracking, then maybe look at the health and safety reporting functions. Don’t dive in and try to swim in the deep end right away. Take a measured approach and spread out an implementation over weeks or months. Alternatively, you may choose to apply a software solution to a single project rather than all projects as a trial. This will help you and your staff to become accustomed to new workflows and adapt to how the rhythm of a day, week or project will change.

You may also consider starting with a revamped business accounting package as a first step in getting a handle on company finances. Mobile SaaS accounting software enables business owners to get quick access to pertinent financial data in easy to interpret dashboard views with the ability to drill down by project, staff, equipment or other relevant metrics. Simply knowing where you are spending and receiving this information in real time is incredibly powerful and creates another level of control.. When management staff can analyze spending on a job and know margins as soon as the job is done, you will be able to bid on your next jobs more accurately and with a higher degree of confidence. As well, knowing the state of your finances on a day-to-day basis is the best position from which to run a business. Being able to make decisions based on tangible facts and figures rather than your “gut” will statistically help you make better decisions.

Changing to a new system of business management is a big task, but it will be beneficial in so many ways and is well worth the effort. First, take time to really dig in and understand your needs. This will lead to choosing software tailored to provide solutions to your prioritized challenges, which will in turn produce a quicker return on your investment. Keep in mind, the first software you find may not be suitable for your needs. Don’t be tempted to run with a product designed for a $50 million general contractor if you are a $2 million sub-trade. There are sub-contractor specific solutions, trade specific programs, and even apps designed for service/contract businesses.

Seek out advice from other trades with similar business models to yours or expert guidance from construction business consulting firms who have experience addressing common challenges. Keep in mind, the first software you find may not be suitable for your needs. Don’t be tempted to run with a product designed for a $50 million general contractor if you are a $2 million sub-trade. There are sub-contractor specific solutions, trade specific programs, and even apps designed for service/contract businesses.

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