Construction Information Technology Blog

Top 5 reasons Construction lags other industries in using the internet

Posted by Dave Robertson on Feb 17, 2011 8:12:00 AM

Massive amounts of commerce and business activities have moved online. Everything from banking and insurance to purchasing materials and services can be conveniently accessed over the internet. People and the companies they work for are reaping huge efficiencies from creating new and better ways to access information and services. Generally, the construction industry has lagged others in making use of this tremendous resource. So what are some of the commonly stated reasons for this resistance to going online?

1.     If it is on the internet I have lost control of my information

online controlControlling access to project information and documents is essential. If they are simply placed on an open website or an uncontrolled FTP site then the perception is true and there is little control. The reality is that the document control technology available to the industry today far surpasses the control of the traditional paper based process of managing and distributing project information. Permission based access, detailed access reports, access receipts and other available features actually provide the content owner greater control of their information than is possible from virtually any other access option. Using the right internet based systems actually gives greater control of your information.

 

2.     Fear of changing long established practices that have proven to work

construction online system reduce riskThe Architectural, Engineering and Contractor communities have established common tools and techniques for tracking and managing documents and information. Transmittals, waybills, logs and other records have become the established means to track and control who had access, what they had access to and when it happened. All of this is critical information in the event of a claim for extra costs or delays in a project. Some people are concerned about the risk of changing the system and creating gaps in the process that will cause problems. In reality, using the right online systems actually automates all of this activity with no possibility of gaps or errors in the records.  The result is a better process that actually reduces administration and more importantly reduces the risk of errors or omissions that could lead to problems or claims.

 

3.     The perception that the industry “isn’t ready” for digital documents

online technologyThis is the weakest of the five reasons we have identified. It is quite simply no longer true. There are very few companies that are seriously in business that are not connected to the internet. Email is pervasive. Google searches for business related information is so commonplace that google has become a verb. It may be true that there are still people who are not comfortable going online, not unlike those who still insist on seeing a teller at the local bank. However when given no option other than online access they quickly figure out how to do it and they never look back to the old way because the benefits to them are so powerful.

 

4.     The perception that working with a large drawing cannot be done effectively online

easy online takeoff toolsThis is an understandable but incorrect perception. It relates more to a resistance to change than anything else. Virtually every full format document on a project was created using computer based technology that its creator did using a computer screen. Everything from onscreen takeoff to field review of shop drawings are easily conducted using the right online tools. Undoubtedly there are times when a full format document is required or preferred. Today’s technology doesn’t preclude paper copies but gives the option of printing the information that is required and using digital copies when appropriate.

 

5.     Concern that the internet is too slow to work effectively with large files

fast efficient online systemThis is a legitimate concern but is one that is quickly being erased by more efficient means to manage the digital size of documents along with increased access to high speed internet service via both hardwire and wireless service providers. Using the right systems that integrate tools that more efficiently handle these files adds to the ability to efficiently work online. If your approach is to simply transfer files in emails or via FTP batches then you are likely experiencing problems. If you use more intelligent systems to manage this process your challenges will be greatly reduced.

 

There are few legitimate reasons left why using online technologies cannot bring substantial benefits to a project and the companies working on it at the design, bidding, construction and operational phases. I encourage you to carefully evaluate the technology choices you make as you move towards using the internet to avoid turning these five concerns into truths rather than the myths they really are.

Topics: Construction documents, On screen takeoff, Online tools, Construction industry

How much does it cost to take your bidding systems online?

Posted by Dave Robertson on Oct 21, 2010 9:47:00 AM

Well ... how long is a string? Of course a real answer to this takes a lot more specifics about what systems and how you want to organize them. This is a question I am asked often and I can for the most part confidently say, “it won’t cost anything, in fact you will save money overall.”

The activities I am referring to in this case as bidding systems include; maintaining an accurate list of trade contractors and suppliers, issuing invitations to bid, distributing bidding documents, distributing addenda, quantity takeoff, tracking bid coverage and receiving and tabulating bids from contractors and suppliers. The current transition that is underway from doing much of these activities using paper based systems to digital systems is well underway. The result is a need for an effective way to perform these activities using digital systems that support the old paper based requirements when needed. If your online solution can achieve this then you are well positioned to experience some significant efficiencies.

cost of online biddingSo ... back to the question. How much? In the case of our company I can say that the expense line will range from zero to a few dollars per month per user of the system depending upon the features that you require. It is essentially volume based and you only pay for what you use. The part of the equation we rarely see addressed is what the value of the efficiencies is. How much would it have cost to print and distribute paper? What is the value of the time savings from being more efficient? What higher value work could be done by the personnel who used to manage processes that are now automated? What is the potential cost of claims, delays and other problems that arise after the fact if your systems don’t properly track who had access to what information and when?

The obvious moral of the story here is that the answer is only possible to determine if you have already done the work to determine the existing cost of the potential time, expense and risk avoidance. Our experience is that few people have done this and actually have a clear understanding of what it really costs to do all these activities. Do your firm a favour and give this some thought.

Topics: Construction documents, Online bidding, Electronic document management, On screen takeoff, Risk management, Construction bidding, Saving money, Saving time, Online submittal

IPad’s on the Construction Site

Posted by Dave Robertson on Oct 14, 2010 8:35:00 AM

I have been watching with interest an ongoing conversation with a group of construction professionals about the utility of the new iPad device for the construction site. It’s safe to say that of the 120 or so posts so far the reviews are all over the map. The hawkers of technology and software that can run on the iPad are extolling the virtues. The onsite personnel like Superintendants seem to think it belongs 6 inches deep in their next concrete pour. The majority are in the middle recognizing that there are some benefits but that it will be some time yet before it is a commonplace tool.

The applications talked about provide access to project documents, RFI’s, shop drawings, change orders, punch lists and any number of other pieces of information and forms that are used onsite. Other than its physical size and undeniably cool interface what is the difference between this device and a laptop (ruggedized or otherwise). Not much. A laptop is slightly more difficult to pack around, but really who has a laptop on their person at all times when on the site?

If you are considering using online technology to improve access to information on site the device is a secondary consideration. There are several key factors to consider before picking a device:

  • ipad constructionDoes the software application you intend to use actually make your process better? Is it faster; more reliable than paper; does it automate routine but important activities; does it create an audit trail or some other form of log that can help reduce or eliminate claims? Why are you going digital in the first place?
  • If you are using it to access documents online, will it actually work? Are the documents properly prepared for the internet or are the file sizes so large that they will take forever to download? Would it be better to carry them on the hard drive of your laptop or on a DVD instead? Does the technology help ensure only the latest versions of documents are available? Are they organized well enough that you can easily find what you need?
  • Is it likely that your onsite personnel will carry a mobile device with them and find it easier to work with and use than paper? If it is a schedule, punch list, change order or other document can it practically be viewed on a small device?
  • If you actually need or want paper copies can you print them or order them to be printed?

If you know the application has merit then it is time to think about the right device. It will need reliable and fast internet connectivity; it will need lots of memory; it will need to be rugged enough to be on site in all weather conditions. You should be able to print from it. The device is of limited use if it can only be used in the site office.

Not to be misunderstood here, I am a big advocate of using online technologies to create efficiencies for the construction industry. There are many processes and activities that can be dramatically improved by going online. The key is the process has to be better. Introducing technology in the office or on the site is a waste of time and money unless there is an identifiable benefit. There are clear and definable benefits in the office environment but I am not convinced that the job site is quite ready for the iPad. It’s time will come no doubt, just not yet.

Topics: Construction documents, Electronic document management, On screen takeoff, Risk management, Online tools, Software management, Construction industry

A four step estimating tune up

Posted by Dave Robertson on Jan 28, 2010 7:26:00 AM

construction estimating tune upConstruction estimating is a complex and time consuming process. A good estimator truly understands how a project is managed from start to finish and is able to translate every step into a dollar amount. Estimators today have some very powerful tools available to help them put together the best and most accurate numbers upon which to base their final price. If you are not already doing them here are four ideas that might help you fine tune your process:

  1. Help your Trade contractors and suppliers be more efficient
    On a recent and very large project the General Contractor decided to distribute the drawings and specifications on Dvd’s. There were hundreds of pages of drawings and the cost of distributing paper would have been significant. The information on the Dvd’s was poorly organized and very difficult for anyone to work with and find what they needed. Many opted to simply get it all printed out at significant expense just to figure it out. This was simply a short sighted exercise in transferring the cost and effort on to the Trades and Suppliers. It is hard to imagine how that kind of approach which essentially says ‘I don’t care about your time and expenses to give me a bid’ can ultimately result in that Contractor getting the best price from that Trade. If your attitude up front is that you don’t care, why would it be any different when you get on the site? Given that a significant portion of any bid is usually made up of bids from many Trades and Suppliers it would only make sense to demonstrate that you are good to work with and that you are interested in doing what you can to help them make money as well. A better alternative to the Dvd’s (and subsequent addenda) which still took time and cost money to produce and distribute would have been to make them available in an online planroom like PlanSource for fast and easy access by everyone who needed them. It would have cost less than the Dvd’s, taken less time and would have been far better for everyone involved.
  2. Make sure the right people know when you are looking for pricing
    Sending out Invitations to Bid is essential. There is no doubt that for critical Trades and Suppliers you will still need to have a conversation with them but why not give notice that you are working on the project and let them view the documents in advance of your call to make the exercise more efficient. There are countless stories of how one price from one particular Trade or Supplier made the difference in getting the project. Even for a Construction Management or negotiated contract it is still essential to let people know as soon as possible that you are looking for them to spend some of their time and resources to work with you to put pricing together. Adequate notice simply helps them plan better. PlanSource has excellent Invitation to Bid and messaging functionality that can make the process fast and easy.

  3. Get your database of Trades and Suppliers in order
    We are in a position to see lots of company databases of their Trade and Supplier contacts. Obviously, a key resource for any estimator is the list of contacts they have available to gather pricing from. It appears to be a big challenge for many Contractors to maintain and keep accurate as people and companies come and go. The task of “cleaning it up” is often a once a year exercise for one of the administrators that can take a lot of time and effort to get done. There is a better way. Once again there is software available today that virtually eliminates the need to maintain the list. It can be automatically managed and updated using the management tools available in PlanSource . Add in the available prequalification tools and you have an easy way to screen prospective new contacts to improve and expand your available bidders.

  4. Use On Screen Takeoff software
    Accurate quantity takeoffs are of course a critical element of a good bid. While there is certainly nothing wrong with a scale rule and estimating pad there is no question that good onscreen takeoff software can help you get the work done faster, more accurately and with more options for analyzing and refining your numbers. In addition to the takeoff tools available in PlanSource, there are many options in the market but one well worth looking at can be found at www.oncenter.com .

In a market like the current one where every tender is highly competitive it is more important than ever to make sure you are doing all you can to be efficient with your own time and expenses and to reduce the time and expenses it takes Trades and Suppliers to work with you. Better systems yield better results and ultimately improve your odds of being the successful bidder.

Topics: Construction documents, Online bidding, Electronic document management, On screen takeoff, Estimators software, Risk management, Construction bidding, Saving money, Software management

Surveyed Trades give PlanSource an A+

Posted by Dave Robertson on Aug 24, 2009 3:24:00 PM

Electronic document distribution is quickly becoming the norm for the construction industry.  The advantages of distributing documents electronically are numerous including time savings, cost savings,  improved staff efficiency and not the least environmental sustainability.  There are a several options available to contractors contemplating the installation of an "online planroom".

A recent survey of more 1,000 trades currently using PlanSource showed that 92% of respondents found PlanSource to be equal to or better than competitive system such as reprographers' online planrooms and Company FTP Sites.  Ease of secure access and the easy to use built-in tools for viewing, downloading and ordering documents, online take-offs are some the features that differentiate PlanSource from the others.

"Of all the programs I use, your site is the easiest to manoeuvre around in and the most logical."

                        - Electrical Mechanical Contractor

Of those who responded to the survey, 83% said that they like PlanSource so much that they would recommend it to the General Contractors they work with that are not currently using it.

 "Out of all the sites I've downloaded from or viewed documents, PlanSource is the best.  It's quick, easy and well organized.  I've even recommended it to some of our clients who currently use other servers."

                        - Drywall Contractor

 

Topics: Environmental impact, Online bidding, On screen takeoff, Analysis report

On Screen Takeoff Tools

Posted by Dave Robertson on Jun 18, 2009 9:46:00 AM

The estimating toolkit for Construction Estimators is changing. The days of the scale rule and wheel are being overtaken by sophisticated onscreen takeoff tools. Now that digital files are available for the large majority of projects, using tools that take advantage of that format are making estimating easier. On Center Software, a leader in onscreen takeoff state that, "your estimating team can perform takeoffs with blazing speed and incredible accuracy from digitized plans." This type of technology is no longer limited to only the larger companies in the industry. In fact, many smaller firms are finding it saves them substantial amounts of time and reduces the potential for errors.

The key of course to using on screen takeoff software is having access to digital versions of the documents. With the rapid expansion of the use of online planrooms and document control systems this problem is quickly becoming an issue of the past. Systems like PlanSource include viewers with onscreen takeoff built right in making it even easier for today's estimators to do their work.

Topics: Electronic document management, On screen takeoff, Estimators software