Jan/Feb 2015

Where Will Mobile Devices and the Cloud Really Take Construction?

Recently, Cecilia Padilla, CEO, On Center Software–a highly respected estimator and project manager in the drywall industry—recently took time out of her hectic schedule to sit down with Peggy Smedley, editorial director, Constructech magazine to talk about the future of construction, and how contractors and estimators can use can mobile devices and cloud solutions to improve bottomline profits anytime.

Why are mobile devices and cloud solutions revolutionizing construction workflows?
Today’s construction jobsite is not unlike a jobsite 30 years ago; there are still field crews, foremen, project managers, and superintendents. The difference is not the personnel required to complete a project, but the speed and availability of the data the personnel requires to complete the project. Mobile devices and cloud solutions have eliminated the technological limitations that restricted access to project information only to those in the office. Project information such as a timeline, costs, projected production rates, and much more relevant data can now be delivered to a device as small as an iPhone. Advances in technology like cloud services enabling anywhere anytime access of information and mobile devices have created a new playing field for construction companies. The competitive edge now lies in the ability to leverage technology to transform dated, manual, and inefficient workflows into a more efficient and ultimately more profitable way of delivering a project.

As the workforce demographic changes and the fresh out of school tech-savvy professional begins their career, technology will be a deciding factor in their choice of workplace. The new construction professional has grown up in a world without limits where information is always just a “google search” away. Mobile devices and cloud solutions are embraced heavily by this demographic and their expectation that these technologies will be used by their companies to achieve new heights. Construction firms looking to attract, retain, and develop the next generation of construction professionals should look for ways to integrate mobile and cloud solutions into their everyday construction operations.

What is cloud takeoffs?
Cloud takeoff is less about the takeoff and more about the ability to access the takeoff information. Traditionally, a construction firm would purchase a server(s) and a database (typically Access or SQL) and use those resources to perform a takeoff. The challenge with this model is that if there is ever a need to access the data outside of the network where the server is based, the firm would have to build a virtual private network or some other method to access the data. Today’s speed of business demands the ability to perform takeoff on the fly at the home, office, or field location. Cloud takeoff is the answer to simplifying access to information, enabling estimators to perform takeoff collaboratively, and minimizing the risk of data loss, corruption, or failure that the traditional in-house server model creates.

How is the construction industry benefiting?
Reduction costs, redundant efforts, time wasted, etc. are an over simplification of the impact that the technology wave is having on the construction industry. The industry has a whole has a troublesome problem with the amount of time wasted on the typical construction project. Estimates project that the average amount of time wasted on a project is between 45-60%, simply stated “almost half of the time spent delivering a project is waste.” With that level of inefficiency it’s not hard to understand how the industry became so litigious. Firms are left to fight with each over the slim profit margins left behind by the current methods of construction project delivery.

Technology is bridging the communication gaps and optimizing the business processes that create the current inefficiencies. Cloud services are making the most up to date project information available to the foreman and his construction crews in real time, stopping wasted efforts before they begin. Mobile technology is enabling a holistic view of the performance of a project from a device as small as iPad Air.

How can companies accelerate productivity, collaboration, and facilitate communication by sharing tasks in the cloud?
The key to understanding how the cloud enables all of the aforementioned benefits is to first understand how the cloud works. The cloud is essentially a database that is stored on secure off-site servers which grants access to information regardless of physical location. The traditional in-house server limits information sharing and collaboration, as the system design is built to handle a one to one information request model. One user requests information on the project from the server; the server delivers the requested information to the user. Multiple users request the same information on the project from the server; the server delivers the requested information to each user individually. Each user then makes their updates and sends the information back to the server individually, with no visibility to the changes other users have made.

Redundant efforts=lost productivity; ineffective communication=wasted time; restricted collaboration=slow delivery. 

The cloud enables the sharing of the information at the server level, creating a one to many information request model. Multiple users request information on the project from the cloud; the cloud enables access to the project for all requestors simultaneously. The work done by one user is instantly updated to the other users increasing the capabilities of the team to work concurrently complete the task at hand. The users are in continuous communication with the cloud and the cloud is in continuous communication with the users.

Imagine a team of estimators working towards a deadline; the team of three must wait one by one to complete their tasks as the current base bid is in use by estimator one. Now imagine a competing team of estimators working towards that same deadline in the base bid together simultaneously. Their ability to work in parallel with each other via the cloud enables the team to meet the deadline two days earlier than the competing team. Freeing everyone to work towards delivering the next bid, while their competitors are still trying to deliver the first bid.

Redundant efforts=eliminated; ineffective communication=eliminated; restricted collaboration=eliminated. 

What do contractors need to know about the cloud?
The cloud need not be a scary and misunderstood technology. It is truly a way to level the playing field between the enterprise construction company and the small-to-medium contractor. Enterprise firms have the resources to hire expensive IT personnel, the average company does not have the means nor should they be in the IT business. This is where the cloud becomes an advantage for your business. Cloud service providers must employ highly skilled systems engineers, security administrators, and network administrators all tasked with keeping your data available, safe, and secure. Shifting this responsibility from your company to your cloud service provider enables your business to obtain enterprise level IT systems and services at a fraction of the costs. Just make sure to do your homework on your cloud service provider’s reputation and reliability.

As BIM and other collaborative tools make their way into the industry, the only way for a firm to share information with another firm across their two systems is through the cloud.

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