Mobility and Productivity Go Hand in Hand on the Job Site

Communication and coordination of job site details is easier with mobile apps

Mobility and Productivity Go Hand in Hand on the Job Site

PlanGrid offers a mobile extension of its web-based productivity software, which stores and manages project plans, and aids in communication. 

Add up all the time lost while struggling to find the right equipment or product in a truck, workshop or warehouse; now picture eliminating all that wasted time with a single simple tool.

That’s the essence of mobile applications.

Every time you’ve needed to go back to the office for a form, find a computer to dig up a piece of info, or just run back to your truck for a piece of paper to write on — the burgeoning array of products in the expanding construction productivity software market has the potential to save hours of time on and off the job site.

Most fieldworkers today have smartphones, which means any crew with these devices has the potential to be transformed into a collaborative, connected and efficient team.

A better team

According to a study by PlanGrid, a construction productivity software developer, the construction industry at large loses almost $180 billion a year due to lost time while searching for project data, poor communication, and rework due to mistakes while coordinating jobs.

The study also determined that miscommunication and poor project data are the biggest hindrances to productivity on job sites.

PlanGrid offers its productivity software on any mobile device as well as desktop and web browser. 

“What it really means is connecting the field team with the right information to do their job at the right time,” says Stuart Frederich-Smith, vice president of marketing for PlanGrid. “How do you make sure that you have the most recent, up-to-date plans all the time? In the old paper world, it was difficult to make sure that those things were up to date. How do you make sure that the teams are prioritizing the right things, working together? So collaboration is the second piece in that puzzle. And then the third is being able to analyze performance on one project, share best practices with others and make really good decisions for the business.”

Especially for large companies, coordinating over many job sites and dozens of employees, possibly even over great distances, the ability to have a central, accessible database keeps everyone literally on the same page.

“Making sure that when you don’t have physical proximity to your team, you still have consistency of access to information matters a lot,” Frederich-Smith says. “I think a key value for us is to be mindful of the real job site conditions and build a product that works for people in the real world.”

Fleet management

Another common use of mobile applications is in fleet management. SkyBitz is one developer specializing in object tracking and asset management. Its Ops Center Mobile software allows users to not only track assets, but sort and organize from a tablet or smartphone.

“It all boils down to, for whatever reason, asking, ‘Where is it?’ They can quickly go on the mobile app, enter in the asset ID, or they can pull up the map, and say, ‘I’m expecting to find this asset in this location. Let me see what’s there,’” says Debbie Sackman, senior product manager for SkyBitz.

The mobile app can also sort by region, by asset type, and a number of other options to aid managers in keeping a handle on the many pieces of equipment they are responsible for. Another feature allows alerts to be set up for a work site, or “geo-zone.” If equipment leaves that work site when it’s not supposed to, supervisors are notified instantly.

“Any information you look at, it’s the same whether I’m looking at it on my mobile phone or whether I have somebody back in the home office looking at it from a web screen,” Sackman says. “We’re seeing the same set of information, so it’s always very quickly synchronized.”

Best uses

Mobile apps are another technology that are often only as good as the uses they are put to. It’s important to know what your goals are when implementing a mobile solution.

“The recommendation I have is that there be a very clear plan in terms of how it’s going to be used and who’s going to be responsible for updating these things,” Frederich-Smith says. “Have a very intentional plan of how teams collaborate with technology.”

The asset management software allows managers to create custom IDs for assets, and a consistent naming scheme is important. Again, having all your information in one place, easily accessible, isn’t worth much if you can’t make sense of it.

Lastly, getting buy-in from your team is essential.

“We see a lot of cases where a decision is made without real input from that team,” Frederich-Smith says. “The software is not actually adopted, and adoption is all that matters. So involve the field team in a structured pilot, where they review options, think about how they might need to change their workflow, or how software might adapt to their workflow.”

Before that even, you’ll need to spend some time researching to make sure the solution you choose is a good fit for the operation.

It’s OK to be picky, especially with the rapid expansion that this market segment has experienced.

Take the case of Action Auger in Calgary, Alberta. Owner Brham Trim knew that they needed a better way to organize inventory, as they were losing tens of thousands of dollars a year in wasted or missing parts.

Despite a thorough search, he didn’t find quite what he was looking for and instead hired a software developer to create a personalized mobile application solution.

“After we’ve inventoried a truck, we’ve set parameters into the app, that this is what we think it should have, and that’s a living list,” Trim says. “It allows us to know what’s on the trucks and allows it to move from truck to truck.”

By cataloging each truck’s inventory into a single, easily accessible database, Trim’s crew has a fuller picture of the overall inventory, limiting doubled purchases and extraneous parts.

No matter what direction you go, it will involve a considerable investment upfront — both in money and time. To ensure that you see results in the long run, choosing the right software is possibly the most important factor of all.

An evolving field

Mobile applications in the construction field have been around for about a decade, but have gained steam in the last few years.

“I think that it’s evolving, definitely,” Frederich-Smith says. “I think that as technology has become more available, through pervasive smartphones and tablets, it’s created an opportunity for more technology to make its way in the form of mobile apps.”

As they develop, companies who aren’t embracing the changes of the modern world may find themselves falling behind. Fortunately, the possibilities are more limitless by the day, and any company can find a solution that fits its needs.

“It’s really only limited by what our customers are telling us they want us to do,” Sackman says. “From a technology standpoint, so far we have not run into anything that somebody has asked for on a mobile app that we haven’t been able to do. We continue to add functionality based on what our customers are asking for and new features that they feel are important. So it’s like anything in technology — we’re never standing still.”


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