Construction Information Technology Blog

Are we going mobile any time soon?

Posted by Dave Robertson on Mar 19, 2013 8:29:00 AM

I am often asked for my perspective on the potential for using tablets in the field for construction. I was in attendance at the Associated General Contractors of America’s recent annual conference. It was clear from the presentations delivered to delegates and the company’s attending to display their wares that information technology (“IT”) is quickly being recognized as an essential tool in creating increased efficiencies throughout the life cycle of a project, both off site and on. Many of the presentations were entirely focused on IT issues and solutions and the majority of the vendors in the Constructor Expo pavilion were pitching their IT solutions. I am old enough to remember when the majority of issues and vendors at these conferences related to methods of construction or construction materials.

mobile construction

There was a good deal of attention paid to the use of mobile applications. Presentations were made on its use for safety management, for superintendent’s daily reports, using it to submit time sheet/payroll data as well as functions like creating and managing punch lists and accessing documents and project information. Some of the applications could be utilized on a smart phone but most are designed for tablets. Key to all of this is having adequate access to high speed internet connections to make it all work. So the answer to this question is short and sweet … mobile is already being used on the jobsite and its use will only grow from here.

Topics: Online tools, Construction industry, Cloud computing

Bidding, Digital Documents and Blogs

Posted by Dave Robertson on Sep 15, 2011 7:18:00 AM

What do online bidding, digital documents and blogs have in common? Not much, except possibly this blog that attempts to discuss issues relating to those topics. There is a lot of noise today about social media, blogging and similar topics and how they are an essential element to every business. Does your construction related business really need a Twitter strategy? Probably not … but possibly.

For obvious reasons I pay attention to what is happening in the blogosphere, on the internet and in social media. If, by chance, your company is one of those interested in how to do blogging well or for that matter you have an interest in marketing I have a recommendation for you. Seth Godin is one of today’s most popular marketing and technology thinkers. He is a prolific blogger and is a great example of how to do it right in addition to that fact that his material is very useful. This is an example of his latest work.

organization chart

Manu's funny brilliance aside, this collection of org charts might help you think hard about why your organization is structured the way it is.

Is it because it was built when geography mattered more than it does now? Is it an artificact of a business that had a factory at its center? Does the org chart you live with every day leverage your best people or does it get in their way?

You can check him out at http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog.

Topics: Online tools, Construction industry, Social media

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

Planrooms – yesterday and today

Posted by Dave Robertson on Jan 19, 2011 5:32:00 AM

Where I come from it’s called a planroom. Others call it a plansroom or a plan room. Whatever you label it the function is still the same. Planrooms have traditionally been the construction industry’s solution to the problem of sharing and distributing project documents like drawings (plans), specifications and addenda. ‘Blueprints’ and spec’s were expensive to reproduce so some bright person decided to put a set or two in a room and invite all the people who needed to see them to travel to the documents to view them in a common place. Over time the concept evolved to creating one location where contractors and suppliers could view many projects in one location. The result was the origination of Construction Association Planrooms and Builders Exchanges (they were exchanging documents) about 100 years ago.

Despite the evolution of reprographic technology through the years very little changed in the planroom world; that is until the mid 1990’s. At that time the list of projects and project information that was typically distributed as a Bulletin or Project News on a weekly basis began to be available online in some form. In the late 1990’s the online project information was supplemented with the addition of access to view the documents as well. It was early days for sharing documents online and there were very few companies enabling this type of activity. Ours was one of the few at the time. At that time there was virtually no sharing of digitally formatted documents between the design team and contractors. Virtually every document was scanned from paper originals and then made available online.

Since 2000 the trend towards using digital files for viewing and distribution through online planrooms has accelerated to the point where scanned documents represent only a very small portion of the information made available online. Lots of paper is still produced but it is dramatically less than ten years ago and the percentage continues to shrink.

online planroom
So what has been the impact of all of this on Planrooms? It is significant. Digital files are becoming the overwhelmingly common way to share project information. A great many Owners, Design Consultants and Contractors now operate their own online planrooms. They take many forms from simple FTP sites with little control or functionality to very sophisticated systems with tools to help manage various document related workflows. The relevance of the online planroom is changing as this transition to a digital construction world continues. The key benefit of a centralized planroom continues to be the ability for contractors and suppliers to access large numbers of project opportunities aggregated in one location with one single technology.

In my opinion the significant change is not over yet. The introduction of online bid submission technology, online submittal management tools, document control systems and other new products will continue to change the offerings of Planroom operators and Builders Exchanges. The progressive ones will survive and thrive. The others will go the way of the ‘blueprint’.

Topics: Online bidding, Electronic document management, Online tools, Online submittal, Online planroom

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

Is your time worth anything?

Posted by Dave Robertson on Aug 20, 2010 7:15:00 AM

People love free. Whether it is hot dogs, concerts or software people are big fans of getting good value. Paying zero for something you value is usually a good thing. Consider Google ... it is ubiquitous and is so popular that it has become a verb in the common language. It is a great service, delivered for free to anyone who has access to the internet. It is designed so that the ads are not that invasive and as a result people are not deterred from using it. If you want additional services from Google they offer some that are paid and others that are free. Facebook, Linked In and other very popular web services use a similar business model.

Allow me to share a short anecdote about our experience with offering a free service. We recently launched a managed file transfer service. We allow full use of the very powerful online service called PlanSource FT for free up to certain limits beyond which it is a paid service. If you don’t exceed the limits it can be used for free forever as there are no time limits on the offer. The thinking on our part is to allow people to use it for free to enable them to experience the value it can deliver in helping them be more efficient. If it works well and they like it then we may get a new client for our paid services. Simple deal ... a completely free service within the limits provided ... no commitments ... no hassles.

Within weeks hundreds of people signed up to use the service. One morning we received an email from someone who was angry with us. He thought our tools and the service were great and stated that they would save him a lot of time and money. The problem was he needed to exceed the number of users that were provided for free and for that he would need to pay a nominal amount – less than $100. He was mad at us because instead of using the paid level of the service he had to spend “hours and hours” of his time emailing the documents to distribute them and even with all of that effort some people had trouble receiving them. So ... he thought our services delivered great value to him but that we ought to offer unlimited service for free. Hmmm ...

time worthIt appears that this is an example of someone who places no value on their time ... it’s ‘free’ and doesn’t cost anything. He places the same value on his time as he does on our service. I beg to differ and think his time has value and am happy that this experience is very rare as most people seem to feel the way I do about the worth of their time and effort.

Topics: Construction documents, Electronic document management, Online tools

Social Media for Construction?

Posted by Dave Robertson on Jun 18, 2010 7:58:00 AM

In the last few weeks I’ve had several emails extolling the virtues of social media for the construction industry. Despite my many years of involvement in the industry and in particular the years spent introducing new online construction technologies; I have to admit I think it is still too early for it to have much utility as a construction related business activity.

social media for constructionSome of the available options are clearly more useful to a business than others and we are still in the early stages of figuring how they can be of value to our clients and our business. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Linked In are some of the more notable options to connect and share information about you and your business. Our company has videos on YouTube to help people find us and learn more about our products. I get that. I have an active Linked In account and I find it a useful way to stay connected to colleagues, particularly those that I don’t see that often. We also have a corporate page on Linked In, again to help people learn about our company. So, I get that one too. Facebook is more of a mystery at this point. If your business requires a lot of networking then maybe there is value here. Twitter is the high profile option that seems the least likely of all to have any real use for construction related businesses.

I have had a front row seat on the willingness and readiness of construction professionals to use online tools and technology for their businesses for over 12 years. Based on that experience I don’t expect a mad rush in the industry to sign up for Twitter accounts and start tweeting each other. I’d be interested to hear from others if you are using any of these technologies and how they are helping you in your business.

Topics: Online tools, Construction industry, Social media

Free stuff from PlanSource!

Posted by Dave Robertson on Dec 11, 2009 6:49:00 PM


We are nearing the final stages of developing a new secure online technology that is simply the fastest, easiest and most efficient way to share and distribute construction documents.

Do you receive digital files from others? Do you have access to an online planroom or an FTP site? Do you need to then share or exchange those files with other contractors or suppliers? PlanSource FT is designed to be the most efficient possible way for you to do that. It is like an FTP site on steroids. Unlike a typical FTP site where you can only transfer files, PlanSource FT allows users to instantly view, print, download or order paper copies of documents. It is easy to use and requires ZERO training. There is no software to buy or hardware to install. Just sign up online and in minutes you are ready to go.

plansource viewerPlanSource FT is the latest development from one of the construction industry’s most innovative and successful technology companies. Our experience in delivering online planroom technology to over 15,000 users on over 100,000 projects has positioned us with the technology platform and industry knowledge to develop this breakthrough on demand service for the construction industry.

We will be making Version 1.0 of PlanSource FT available early in 2010. If you would like to be one of the first to benefit from using it we have a great offer for a limited number of participants. The first 50 companies who sign up to use this great new software service will receive 6 months of service free. Simply click on this link to sign up. You will be provided with complete details of all fees (which only apply if you continue to use the service after the first 6 months) and of how the service works prior to the launch date. This offer is only available until December 30th 2009 so we encourage you to take advantage of this no cost, no risk offer and be one of the first to start saving time and money.

Topics: Product Information, Construction documents, Electronic document management, Risk management, Saving money, Online tools, Construction ftp

Scheduling can be a real headache

Posted by Dave Robertson on Sep 10, 2009 11:00:00 AM


Here is a new candidate in the cool tools category.

group schedulingIt is yet another example of how internet based applications are changing the way we work. How many times have you wasted hours trying to get a group of people together for a meeting or event? It can be a real challenge figuring out the date that the most possible people are available.

I recently started using a free online service that borders on brilliant for its usefulness and simplicity. It is online polling software that makes scheduling easier. You can find it at www.Doodle.com and it is so simple that you can create and send a poll in about a minute. A business colleague did me a favour and turned me on to it and I am hoping to do the same for you and save you some time and aggravation.

Topics: Online tools