For a sector that relies on documentation, registration and communication, the construction industry has been surprisingly slow to adopt IT and digitisation.
After all, taking a project to completion involves working with a number of stakeholders, including architects, construction managers, builders, government bureaucrats and subcontractors. Large amounts of building materials, permits and regulatory inspections need to be organised on an ongoing basis. Each of these needs to be noted and approved by the project manager.
But there are changes underway that make life easier. The process began when mobile phones became commonplace in the late 1990s. Suddenly, it became important on site to be tech-savvy – at least to the extent that you could receive and send a text!
When tablets took over from phones, the level of expertise stepped up a notch. It was a natural fit: project managers are either scouting a site, onsite during the construction phase or going between meetings with clients and subcontractors. With the move to digital, there was no longer a need to cart reams of agreements and approvals back and forth. Smartphones and tablets made communicating plans and taking measurements much more efficient.
Fast forward to today and efficiency in IT is front of mind for project managers. The forecast for Australia is that software will help the construction industry save $25 billion a year over the next decade. The savings in better resource management will redirect to other parts of the industry, adding value to the sector overall.
IT solutions now include strategy roadmaps, budget planning, infrastructure audits, plus day-to-day services and support. Once a system is established, the digital exchange of information proceeds smoothly, leaving project managers to concentrate on making the important decisions that affect the build.
Here are some of the ways in which construction companies can use IT to improve communication and operations - in turn boosting the bottom line.
Building information modelling software (BIM)
Building information modelling (BIM) is the digitisation of the built environment. Software from industry leaders like Autodesk shows 3D models of a proposed structure for a virtual walk-through. From this model, plans can be made and the effect of changes to materials, spec and design observed.
These plans or modifications can be onsite and in the hands of construction managers and crew as soon as they are introduced into the model. Everyone from architect to client, concrete layer to site manager is looking at the same blueprint.
According to the 2017 Digital Foundations report, just 45% of Australian construction professionals had an advanced or expert understanding of BIM.
Yet research into BIM use in construction found:
- 84% of BIM users say it eliminates unnecessary rework.
- 69% of BIM users say it reduces costs and materials waste.
- 60% of BIM users say it brings in the material supply chain earlier and mitigates risk.
- 82% of companies using BIM say they’ve achieved a positive ROI.
Team communication and collaboration tools
There are limitations to phone calls on a busy site. The solution is team messaging, which has been growing over the last several years. Tools like Microsoft Teams allow instant communication and are designed to work across all devices. Importantly, they allow communication both inside and outside an organisation. External stakeholders such as material suppliers and clients can be added to a communication channel as needed.
With a team communication tool, a message can be sent immediately to a team member that’s on site for instant response. The benefit over standard text is that the platform captures all communications. If a team member is sending field photos, these can easily be referenced later in the team application – rather than being limited to the original recipients’ smartphones.
Visual project management applications
There are multiple moving parts in the construction field and people managing those parts have to know what their responsibility is, deadlines for their areas of a project, and where dependent tasks are in relation to theirs.
Seventy-seven per cent of high-performing projects use project management software. Companies investing in good project management practices reduce wasted money by 28 times.
Project management applications such as Workflow Max, Aconex and InEight offer varying levels of project management. They allow team members to see at a glance where every phase of a project is at, and alert each other when their phase is complete and the next group needs to take up the baton.
Digital estimating software
If you’re still using spreadsheets to calculate coverage areas or materials costs, software that is designed for estimating construction projects can streamline the process, reducing errors and saving you time and money.
Today’s estimating software is specific to the type of project being handled and includes templates for different processes like estimating and bidding for a motorway project or bidding on a building renovation. This detail allows more accurate estimations that ensure you’re not bidding higher or lower than needed.
Cloud document management
Have you ever had to try to reduce a file size to get it to email to a client? Had issues with different file versions? Cloud document services like Microsoft SharePoint make it easy to maintain a central file storage that’s secure and easily searchable. You can create quick sharing links that can be emailed or messaged, without the headache of trying to transmit a large file.
Digital document management systems offer:
- Time savings – no more time lost trawling through filing cabinets.
- Revision tracking – history with each document.
- Optimal security – docs can’t be accidentally left on site, in transit, etc.
- Better compliance – regulatory checks are easier if you know where the approvals are.
Cloud storage platforms also help ensure business continuity, keeping your files safe should you suffer data loss due to a hardware malfunction, device theft or natural disaster.
Reconsidering your company’s IT plan?
NetCare creates construction industry focused IT development plans. If you would like to discuss your current IT strategy and its future, contact us on (02) 9114 9920 or reach us online.