Technology Adoption Challenges for Construction Businesses

(This article reprinted with permission. Thanks to Josh Groves, President of jobtrio.com, the largest directory of construction contractors on the web. The goal of jobtrio.com is to efficiently connect contractors with consumers who truly value their services.)

Within any company, it is never easy to convince the workforce that a new, technological advancement has made an old way of doing things obsolete. For instance, no matter how my staff tried to explain to me the advantages of the new Windows 7 operating system over XP, I dragged my feet and resisted the change. From my observations, this aversion to technology adoption is far more present in the construction industry than any other major field.

For the most part, construction companies live and die by their continued presence and productivity on the jobsite. Typically, there is little thought given by management to company-wide initiatives or employee training because these acts would necessarily pull the workforce out of the field. Therefore, even if one day of training on a new technology might result in large future gains in employee efficiency, managers usually are not willing to take the risk.

I experienced this first hand as a construction industry Operations Manager for a medium-sized company. Every day I would watch at least thirty minutes get wasted by each employee as they struggled to determine which tasks were to be priorities for the work-day.  The fix seemed simple to me: adopt a basic, web-based system which could allow workers to login and view updated project management information. My estimate was that this system, taking into account training and maintenance, would pay for itself in a matter of a month.

Needless to say, I encountered tremendous resistance from my boss and from all of the workers in the field, and the initiative never got beyond my written proposal. 

This is just one example of what I experienced time and time again -- PDAs, driver GPS, field laptops -- I could never get my company to consider any of these technologies, and, from speaking with others whose businesses rely on their contractor's license, this sort of stone-walling is quite typical.  But, what is to be done? 

My first inclination is to say that until a younger, more tech-savvy generation of contractors who understand the value of technology investments steps into management positions, we aren't likely to see a change anytime soon.  However, if you are dedicated to your company's long-term success, it is wise to fight the good fight, and eventually your supervisors might adopt some of the new, money and time saving technologies which could be key to your company's survival.

 Scott Hutchinson
 scott@builditsystems.com
 1 866 585 5050 ext 1

BuildIT's Top 10

It struck me the other day...

BuildIT has been around for almost a decade - and I've been with BuildIT since the beginning.  Over the years, the questions I get asked by prospective customers (and new ones) are basically the same.

Here are the top 10 questions, in no particular order, with our carefully prepared responses.

1. Is my data safe and secure? And what happens to my information should you go out of business?

A: Absolutely, your data is safe much safer with us than on your own laptop. Our servers are located in a large professional hosting facility in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Our customers' data is stored on servers with RAID (multiple redundant) hard drives, immediately backed up to other servers with RAID hard drives, and regularly copied offsite to increase redundancy of backup protection. For more information on the security of your data, click here.

We understand that anything is possible. We want to assure our customers that they own their data. So at any time, their data can be downloaded off our server, and copied over to their computer. We can also do a "data dump" of all customer data, burn that to a DVD, and send it to a customer.

2. What does "area" and "code" mean when you create a new scheduled task?

A: Area and Code fields are for customers that wish to further differentiate/sort their tasks.

Imagine you have 100 tasks, and you want to filter out just the 8 tasks that are related to "inspection". Type in "inspection" into the "Area" field. Now, this value "inspection" will be available in the picklist for future tasks.

When viewing your schedule, you can adjust the filters in the left margin. One of those filters is "Area" - you'll see the value "inspection" there. Select, and refresh your list, and the view of those tasks related to "inspection" will display.

Those fields are really user defined. "Area" could mean 1) area of the project, 2) geographic area (SW, NE, County), 3) area of responsibility (financial, preconstruction, warranty).

"Code" could mean 1) CSI master format division code, 2) accounting code, 3) PO number, etc.

3. What is the difference between a "to do", a "note" and a "task"?

A: "To do's" are like virtual Post-IT notes. They are related to a BuildIT user, and can be connected to a job. They allow you to deal with the slippery items that if not "written down", cost you time, money and aggravation in the end. One BuildIT user can create "to do's" for him/herself and for other users.

"Notes" are related to a BuildIT user, can be connected to a job, AND can be connected to ONE contact in your database. Use "Notes" to log conversations, verbal commitments, and any potential litigious situations. Remember that a short "digital" pencil is better than a long memory!

"Tasks" are the individual elements of a "schedule". Like "notes", "tasks" are related to a BuildIT user, can be connected to a job, AND can be connected to ONE OR MORE contacts in your database. Tasks can be displayed in LIST view, GANTT chart view, and CALENDAR view.

4. How many customers do you have?

A: For competitive reasons, we can't disclose any numbers. But we can tell you that we've been in business for many years, and have enjoyed building a customer base, and a valuable application that solves real problems for real construction professionals. Each of our customers has a contact database of their customers and business associates, and each of those has access to a free website from BuildIT that allows for collaboration between our customer, and our customer's contacts. And many of our customers have multiple users in their company that access the system. So when you add all those up, the number gets quite impressive!

Really, the question reflects the concern of the prospective customer - he doesn't want to be the first guy taking the plane up into the sky on it's maiden voyage. No worries there, we welcomed our first retail customer back in 2002 - I was there when they delivered the cheque... it was a great day at BuildIT!

When we hear this question, we realize the underlying question is "If I choose BuildIT, will I be in good company with other customers like me that are finding success with the program?".  The answer is a resounding YES.

5. Are you the only one who answers the phone?

A: Most of the calls get sent through to my line — I like to talk!  And it frees up the rest of the team to focus on development of the application, and other corporate stuff. But with a simple, easy to use application, online help system and online video tutorials, most folks get up and running with BuildIT wil very little input from our tech support line. Still, we encourage you to call !

6. How do you print out a schedule to send to a client/builder/subtrade?

A: You can print from your browser, or from the yellow "do this" control in the top right. If you want a PDF of the schedule, you'll need a PDF driver on your computer. If you don't know what that is, call, and we'll help you create a PDF at our end.

Alternatively, you can share the schedule in real time with anyone in your contact database. The big win here is that you're online schedule is "real time", whereas a printed schedule gets out of date quickly which can be a pain in the pocketbook when someone builds the wrong thing from the old printed schedule.

7. Do you have linked tasks / Critical Path?

A: Kind of. While our scheduling system is simple, and we haven't complicated the task editor with "linkages", we do have a simple way to create a Critical Path... so when you make a change to one task, that has a cascading effect on the rest of the schedule from that point forward, then yes, we have a way to do that. More on that at this link.

8. What happens when the Internet goes down (or I don't have access to the Internet)?

A: It's like asking what happens when you're car runs out of gas? We find another way to get to our desitination, or we don't go anywhere. The same could be said of BuildIT's "web-based" application. Being "web-based" means just that. Without access to the Internet, you can't access the application. However, the benefits of having 24-hour access – even while on vacation – easily make up for the other possible problems like being unable to get back to your office, fire, theft, broken computers, etc.

For most BuildIT customers, Internet access is ubiquitous - it's everywhere, available 99%+ of the time. So it's really a moot point for them - but they have asked the question too!

For you iPhone and Blackberry users, you can access your BuildIT email right from our server. And version 5.0, being worked on as I write this, will give you mobile access to optimized screens of the BuildIT application - expect this in early 2010. 

9. What is your pricing?

A. Low. Way less than most comparable construction software products – and reasonable.  With BuildIT you easily achieve a rapid return on investment, literally within weeks of getting up an running with the system. For current pricing, check out our pricing page. We'll help you determine the optimum number of user accounts to get started with, and the subscription plan that best suits your budget. 

10. How do I organize my contacts?

A: There are a number ways to organize contacts in BuildIT: by job, by contact group (client, contractor, subtrade, design professional, etc.), by user defined fields in the contact record, and alphabetically (by First Name, Last Name or Company Name). BuildIT's "contact picker" allows you to select contacts for assigning to jobs, tasks, notes - and for sending out email, web faxes and text messages. Each customer has unique contact organization needs - we'll help you with that as we configure your account to suit your unique business requirements.

Didn't get your question answered? Well, it may be in the Top 20 or Top 30 list. Or it may be an original. Give us a call. See if you can surpise us with a "never before asked" question, and put our customer service to the test!

 Scott Hutchinson
 scott@builditsystems.com
 1 866 585 5050 ext 1

Trends in Construction Scheduling Software

10 years ago, you'd be hard pressed to find many residential construction professionals giving serious consideration to desktop construction software. Web-based construction software was in its infancy and contractors were generally reluctant to delve into these unproven digital power tools.

About the time the "dot-com bubble" peaked in early 2000, the founders of BuildIT saw a need for a "mobile office" approach to managing construction businesses. A laptop computer or tablet PC, connected wirelessly to the Internet via an "air card" would give contractors access to their critical business information, job schedules and communications from literally anywhere at any time.

Since then, there has been a convergence of trends that has made web based construction software a hot ticket item.

Convergence of Trends

  1. Wireless internet access has expanded to the point of being ubiquitous, and expected.
  2. Laptop computers have come way down in price, and up in speed and screen size, and have built in Wi-Fi.
  3. Handheld wireless devices such as Blackberries and iPhones are becoming standard issue for mobile construction professionals.
  4. Web based construction software tools like BuildIT have been in development for years, building on user feedback from a growing group of "first mover" construction professionals.
  5. As we end this decade, those that were still in school during the "dot-com bubble" of 1998 through 2001 are now in project management and supervisory positions; many of them now own their own construction business. And these folks were raised on technology, so web based construction software is a natural fit for them: short learning curves and high adoption.

As for construction scheduling software, it's important to have a rich feature set. However, there is always the risk of ratcheting up the complexity factor too much, to the point of losing those who just want a simple tool to get their job done. When it comes to residential scheduling, there are a host of options available.  Time and time again the feedback we get is that most construction scheduling software is too complex and way beyond what is needed.

Many potential users suffer from "feature shock" after checking out corporate websites, demo versions, and free online trials of construction software – an enormous number of features that literally bog down the user.

BuildIT Advantage

Our approach at BuildIT is simple - we focus on 3 main areas: organization, scheduling and communications.

Organization – Time and time again, searchers that connect with BuildIT say they are looking to get better organized. They understand that a organized and well run business is a profitable one. BuildIT has a logical place for every piece of information on the job.

Scheduling – Our system allows construction professionals to run multiple projects concurrently, and see the schedules for these projects in one view. This gives them the big picture.  And since the system is web based, they can share the schedules with other stakeholders (vendors, subcontractors, clients, design professionals) and realize the benefits of a real-time collaborative tool. Gone are the days when you'd rely solely on a printed schedule.  In residential construction, a printed schedule is generally out of date about an hour after it has been printed!

Communications – It is one thing to create a schedule, it's quite another to make sure the right people get the right scheduling information at the right time. Web based construction scheduling software allows the construction professional to disseminate time sensitive information to their key contacts, in their preferred method of communication – email, fax, text message, or a website "notice board" where assigned tasks, and related files are readily available 24/7.

Current Trends

Some trends we're seeing:

  1. Pricing - While "enterprise level" construction software packages (software + setup + training + maintenance + consultants + customization $$$) are priced well above the budgets of most small to midsized (SME) residential construction firms, the web based software companies are jockeying for position for the SME marketplace. Competition from agile players like BuildIT is likely having an impact on boardroom discussions – you're hard pressed these days as a construction software company to get away with charging $1,000's per year (some well over $10K), or hundreds of dollars per project per month when that same customer can get a similar feature set and all the main online scheduling benefits from BuildIT for $85 per month.
  2. Schedule creation – Many construction professionals that come to BuildIT are looking for a solution to their problem... today. Rather than mastering a particular software program, what they really want is their problem solved. It's the old adage about the guy who buys a drill bit, but what he really wants is a hole. And their problem is simply this: they need a schedule to satisfy someone – the owner, property manager, design professional, lender, investor, etc. Sometimes, they need this to submit with their bid, and in those instances, time is of the essence. So we offer a service to help them create a schedule, often right there on the spot when they call. They get their problem solved, and they get usage of the web based system, and our support, to help them along the path from "problem solved" to "loyal BuildIT customer".
  3. Handheld devices – Construction professionals are mobile. The days of being anchored to a desktop computer are over. With the advent of Blackberries, iPhones and other handheld wireless devices that can access the Internet, the construction professional literally can have his entire business at his fingertips. BuildIT has strategically invested in building a strong, robust application over the years. With the release of version 4.7 in October 2009, we have the underlying architecture and code ready for a new "mobile development" phase, currently underway and to be released first to our lead users in the next couple of months. Users with small handheld devices will be able to more easily access key information in their BuildIT account.
  4. Disruptive innovations – There is an emergence of free applications, like Google apps, that offer generic solutions.  Construction professionals who have the time to configure and master these solutions may find some of the benefits they need.  Presently, we’re not seeing anything on the market that fits the specific needs that our customers are demanding: like job-centric organization, related construction timelines, construction-specific terminology, etc. However, the challenge for all construction software companies will be to continually improve their apps, and deliver value which ultimately helps their customers become more efficient and generate greater profits.

BuildIT Systems is a great company (we’re biased) that builds even greater construction scheduling software (so say our customers). We started a lean company while the air was quickly escaping the dot-com bubble to provide SME construction companies with an online scheduling, information management and communications tool. Today, many of our first customers are still with us (thanks, we’re honored, really!), and are joined by construction professionals around the world who want better control of their information, and job scheduling. We get up each day eager to meet our next customer, while servicing the dickens out of our loyal user group.

BuildIT Systems sells BuildIT – a web based application, on a subscription basis. We also do custom software development for clients who use BuildIT… and others. Have an idea you think our team can help you with? Call us.

 Scott Hutchinson
 scott@builditsystems.com
 1 866 585 5050 ext 1