How could automation improve a construction business’ workflow, productivity and profitability?
I think I’m safe in saying the construction industry has never been first when it comes to adopting new technology.
Traditionally contractors have used paper. Hard copies were filed, work orders were faxed and an ingrained “if it ain’t broke …” mentality meant most people were happy to keep using the same old contracts and orders for new projects and the same old administration processes to manage their workforce, their sub-contractors and their suppliers.
Thankfully the tide is now turning; contractors are now embracing a variety of new ways to streamline their processes and improve the efficiency of their workflow across every area of their operations.
There are more and more specialist construction software packages reaching the market all the time. These platforms allow contractors make better use of real-time data by making it easier to share that data across the entire project team easier, by automating certain tasks and by cutting out inefficiencies like duplication and human error at point of entry.
The result is not only greater operational efficiency but also an ability to foresee and react to potential issues more effectively which in turn has reduced the level of risk around certain projects, cut overheads and increased profitability.
However, as there are so many potential applications for technology in the construction sector today sometimes the first problem contractors face is to decide which to prioritise so we would like to share a few of the initiatives we have seen make a positive and almost immediate impact on our clients businesses.
1. Improving life onsite
Automating the exchange of data between your sites and your office (and vice versa) should probably be your first priority.
Aside from simply improving the administrative side – e.g. providing the onsite teams with project updates, recording progress on specific jobs, speeding up the completion and submission of project reports – being able to work with real-time data will also:
- Make it easier to re-cost jobs while they’re in progress
- Order additional materials before they’re needed so time isn’t lost while you wait for them to be delivered
- Allow you to make sure you have the specialists booked in and onsite for when they’re needed so again projects aren’t delayed while you wait for them
- Allow you to identify and remedy any emergency work that may be required and speed it up by allowing you to book it in, approve the cost and sign it off electronically
And if you are using a number of sub-contractors, you will be able to monitor their progress more easily and, if required, sanction additional work or cost for them without having to wait for them to prepare and submit the paperwork.
In short, we have seen numerous examples of just how much improving your onsite solutions will contribute to your ultimate objective which has to be to build more projects more quickly and more easily.
And the good news is the evidence we have seen suggests new specialist technologies developed solely for the construction industry are set to continue to arrive at even faster pace. This can only be good news as contractors and project managers try to balance their client’s increasing expectations and cost-sensitivity with their own productivity and profitability.
2. Automated workflows in the office
Automating chunks of your ERP processes can help boost the productivity of your workflow by allowing everyone to see exactly what’s going on at any given time.
Having that level of access means there is no longer any confusion over who needs to do what next or what is needed to complete a task so the next person in the chain can take over. It also allows you to introduce auto-alerts as to what hasn’t been done; tasks that may previously have been lost in email chains, phone calls or even under piles of paper but tasks that left unattended can quickly cause costly and totally unnecessary delays for a project.
Moreover, the time-consuming manual handling of documents like purchase orders and invoices will be dealt with automatically which will reduce labour and supervisory costs as well as accelerating turnaround times.
But the benefits of automating your workflow aren’t limited to improving efficiencies.
It should also help reduce the number of compliance issues you face. All your documentation will be where it should be allowing it to be accessed quickly if needed and if an audit trail is required for whatever reason, your systems will be able to provide it at the touch of a button.
3. Streamlining HR and payroll
The new online time collection and management applications allow employees to record their hours and the work they’ve done while onsite using their mobile devices. Not only does this mean site or project managers will no longer have to manually record their team’s hours but also that payroll can be reviewed, approved and paid instantaneously and with less human errors to correct.
However, online solutions can also present a way to tackle the shortage of skilled labour many construction businesses are facing. Obviously online job ads and recruitment solutions will help with talent searching but once new employees have been found and hired, better systems will help your HR team get them working onsite much more quickly. Contracts can be signed electronically whilst references and safety & skills certificates can be collected and stored online.
Streamlining all those processes will free up valuable time for your HR team, time they can use to grow and develop your workforce rather than waste working through huge swathes of paper.