The pandemic has undoubtably accelerated the rate of technology and software uptake in construction.
Much of the focus has been on making jobsites work with social distancing measures in place and on shifting office-based staff to a remote-working environment.
The latter has meant that new tools and processes have been added to people’s working lives, especially around collaboration and communication. But, with pandemic-related impacts likely to continue well into the medium-term, it’s time for businesses to take stock.
What software has worked well and what needs improvement or replacement? And, for those that have not yet made the leap, what are the key things to consider?
Construction software and technology
The construction industry is littered with tales of software bought and never used.
For small businesses, the perceived cost of implementation is often enough to pause. Often, they have their own way of doing things and are comfortable with the solutions they have.
At the larger scale, concerns focus on implementation and compatibility with existing systems. These systems have sometimes been created in-house, at great investment and may be hard to move away from.
Whatever the size of business, it’s likely that improvements can be made. So, how do you choose the right software for you?
Scope it out
The first question is whether the software is replacing an analogue solution. If so, it’s useful to map out the existing workflow in full and then overlay where software can do the same thing or remove stages. This will highlight the functionality that you need in a way that is comparable with the current situation.
You should also consider:
- What is the main business need that the software must address?
- Is there anything already available within the business that can do the task?
- Can software replace existing tools or processes?
It’s important that when you evaluate your existing software stack you review your costs, whether the tools that you have are siloed (used independently of other software or only by select people within the organisation) or whether they integrate with other tools and workflows. Don’t forget to consider the resource cost of these tools, such as maintenance time and equipment requirements, and whether any complementary software or plugins are also used.
When you know what you are looking for, it’s time to see what is available.
Customers often see three barriers to entry when purchasing software:
- Software cost (initial outlay and/or subscription)
- Perceived risk of being “locked in” with a provider
- Time needed for implementation, including training
In addition to addressing these areas, the selection process should clearly tie back to your original business need.
Choose the right wins for the right audiences
The person using the tool will want to be more effective or do something in an easier way. For the management team, it might be having more data to spot trends or an overall uplift in productivity and margin. Having the right examples and an understanding of what is valuable to everyone who will benefit from the software is important for when you communicate.
You should look for:
- Time-based improvements—does the software make a process quicker? Is there a spin-off benefit further along the process?
- Connectivity—how well does it integrate with existing solutions and technology?
- Wastage—does it remove wasted effort, duplication or problems from the workflow?
- Risk—does it mitigate or remove risk from the process? Will it help with QA and ensure that issues are spotted early or tracked effectively?
- Implementation—can it be easily rolled out?
These will all help to determine the relevant Key Performance Indicators (KPI) and ultimately, where you will get your ROI for the software.
The key to any new software rollout is to consult with the team beforehand. This will help you to get buy-in to the process. During this process, you can identify champions, too. They will become the power-users within the business and support implementation.
It’s then all about how much friction is caused during the initial rollout. Some software may require a huge exercise to reconfigure systems and deploy new equipment. While some are plug and play. It all depends on the needs of the business and the level of customisation needed.
And customisation can be highly effective when it comes to successfully implementing a new system. Tactics such as introducing bespoke staff profiles or skinning the product to match the organisation’s brand and terminology all create familiarity, which improves take-up.
Other tips for a smooth transition include:
- Ensuring that the training documentation (including guides, tutorials, etc.) is straightforward and will be understood by your staff
- Checking whether the software is compatible with your systems
- Updating any existing workflows to incorporate the new technology (or make new ones)
Stagger your approach
If you are just starting out on your construction software journey, use tools that are quick and easy to adopt that deliver recognisable gains as quickly as possible. This will lay the groundwork for further additions later down the line.
When you have software with multiple uses, it can also be useful to bring in one piece of functionality at a time. Taking this staggered approach avoids overwhelming people—one of the failure points with new software is when people feel that they cannot use it properly and therefore slip back to the old way of doing something.
And, if the software is replacing an existing process, you need to phase that process out as soon as possible. Otherwise, it will be tempting to fall back to the old methods if any teething issues are experienced with the new tool.
Once you’re up and running, it is important to look back and make sure that the software has delivered what you set out to do. Common measures of success include:
- The number of people using the software (perhaps a proportion of your workforce)
- Time and cost savings achieved
- User feedback—has it solved a problem and made things easier for your staff?