Six heavy construction software trends for 2021
While COVID-19 adds uncertainty and new challenges, the overall outlook for heavy construction in North America remains relatively consistent moving into 2021. There is a lot of work to be done in most sectors and regions, and funding for much of it will remain tight. As a result, contractors will operate in the low-margin and highly competitive environment they have grown accustomed to.
Software technology will continue to play a growing role in creating opportunities for these companies to get more efficient and profitable. Aside from specific technologies and applications, these are six general software-related trends we expect to see emerge or gain momentum in the new year:
More focus on strategy and platforms versus isolated investments
As contractors deploy more and better software for construction, the challenge of unifying that technology is growing. Added efficiency or productivity can often be cancelled out by effort and cost needed to integrate various applications, devices and data and get them to communicate with each other both within and across workflows.
Contractors that step back and take a more holistic view of how current and future technology investments fit together and support specific business processes will get stronger results, ROI and competitive advantages.
Mapping out a realistic plan and timeline for deploying technology is an important part of the strategy too. This is the best way to avoid some the main reasons technology initiatives fail, including siloed solutions, lack of company-wide buy in, incompatibility and taking on too much at once.
An increase in cloud hosting
The cloud is certainly not new, but an increasing number of companies will choose to host software there as opposed to on their own servers.
Contractors are simply using more software for estimating, operations and other areas of their business. As they do, some will find it more effective to leave the sourcing and maintenance of servers to outside specialists so they can focus on their core construction expertise. The cloud can ensure peak software performance on the latest server technology, free them from maintaining in-house IT resources and take away responsibility for physical and technical security.
The coronavirus has also amplified an already existing need in construction for remote access. Employees working in the field, at home or elsewhere can access software on in-house servers. The cloud just makes it easier, eliminating the need for VPNs or other extra steps for logging in. Similarly, a cloud deployment can make it easier for contractors to install software updates.
Real-time cost management in the field
Rather than operating on instincts or waiting weeks for accounting reports, contractors will use software to get more immediate, agile and data driven in how they assess performance in the field and adjust operations to keep projects on schedule and under budget.
Customizable electronic field logs are a powerful enabler, making it easier for them to capture more and better data daily on productivity as well as labor, material and equipment utilization, and other company-specific variables. Importantly, the field tracking software behind these logs also turns this data into actionable intelligence. Daily reports and dashboards can be populated automatically in formats designed for the requirements teams in the field, not accountants. The data shows them where the project stands versus plan and helps them make more informed operational decisions while there is still time to protect profitability.
Immediate software-driven alerts and notifications
As more and more information is captured within software applications, as opposed to on paper, a bonus benefit is emerging for contractors. That data can trigger immediate alert and notifications delivered by text message or e-mail to selected recipients. These software-driven messages are instant and organized and they leave a record of what was communicated and when. Look for them to gradually replace fragmented phone calls and messages that are often delayed or incomplete.
On an electronic safety form, for example, checking a box to indicate that an accident resulted in an injury could prompt an instant, automatic alert to the safety director. Similarly, indicating on an equipment inspection form that repair work is urgent could prompt an alert to the maintenance director.
This type of capability is especially beneficial in scheduling and dispatching. Software can alert users when actions like a new assignment, an update or change to an assignment, or the removal of an assignment may require attention. The system can then assist them in sending it in an automated manner to appropriate recipients such as employees, foremen, transport crews or an outside trucking organization.
Automation of the preventive equipment maintenance process
Equipment maintenance remains a major expense in heavy construction, and a compelling ROI case is driving more and more contractors towards managing it with specialized software instead of spreadsheets and paper. The payoff of proactive preventive maintenance is a big reason.
Software obviously cannot perform maintenance automatically, but it brings automation to the PM process. That is a big step in an industry where many companies remain reactive, addressing maintenance issues when something breaks.
With maintenance software, meter readings from equipment — input manually or automatically via telematics — trigger alerts at the proper intervals. The system tells the maintenance team what should be done and when. PM work is far more likely to be done on schedule, cutting the cost of the work itself and the unplanned downtime. Visibility into when PM intervals are approaching delivers the added benefit of scheduling the work at the most efficient and opportune times. Mechanics, for example, can get upcoming preventive work out of the way on a machine that is in the shop for another reason or they can service other equipment in advance while they are at a job site for a breakdown.
A stronger connection between estimating and production in the field
The opportunity to earn a profit begins with the estimate, but estimating is not an isolated activity.
Unified software will play an increasing role in allowing contractors to communicate data and logic from the bid to the field. This eliminates the errors and extra work of redundant data entry and makes it easier for teams in the office and the field to collaborate, so jobs can be built the way they were bid.
As jobs are in progress, cohesive software will also be leveraged more effectively to deliver information on actual production and performance back to the estimators. This can improve the processes for change orders and time and materials work and increase the accuracy of future bids.
Paul McKeon is the founder and CEO of B2W Software. With an extensive background in the construction industry, he plays a major role in shaping a responsive, client-driven product roadmap. He also mentors the sales organization on a solution-based selling model.