From the Great Pyramid of Giza to the Transamerica Tower, the construction discipline has been doing just fine without the bells and whistles, thank you very much. The Empire State Building is a good example. Launched in the depths of the Great Depression, this globally iconic office tower took a scant year to build, involved no overtime, and came in ahead of schedule and on budget. The steel framework rose at a rate of 4 ½ stories a week, to this date a vertical speed record for a build of that scale. Construction technology? We’d have to go with the homemade wooden tool boxes the workers schlepped onto the jobsite every morning.
Which is to say, given the brute, bare-handed dynamism that has typified construction through the centuries, it’s no surprise that many in the construction business today smile and shake their heads at being told construction now needs to happen in a “cloud.” A cloud?!
The Mislabeled Productivity Miracle
“The Cloud” may sound like ninny talk, but all this chatter is really about your project documentation—and the incredible efficiencies fueled by the transparency and collaboration that are the hallmarks of digital construction management. The so-called “cloud” is a series of state-of-the-art, geographically dispersed data servers that redundantly host your project information, and present it to your people in the field and office as clear, actionable information. In other words, the “cloud” is a machine in a room somewhere, bolted to a concrete slab and probably humming. Note: it’s a hum you will never hear. All that complex project management technology is happening somewhere else, in a secure digital vault maintained by construction management pros awaiting your orders. This model—which takes the machines and the headaches offsite and delivers only productivity to your team—is called Software as a Service (SaaS). The effect is dramatic.
Project Status Clarity
Your construction project’s data is pulled out of drawers and file cabinets and briefcases and timeworn three-ring binders, collected from the cluttered front seats of trucks, paper-strewn jobsite trailers, soccer practice bags, and jam-packed back pockets—and digitally boosted into a collaborative virtual space where you and your team can see everything, 24/7, and from anywhere in the world. This goes for plans and specs, observations, daily logs—all the paper-based project elements whose laborious copying and sharing from one team member to another used to open gaps in the process through which errors could enter.
This is the “cloud”; the sharing of synchronous, real-time project info—drawings, punch lists, RFIs, inspections, observations, specs, change events—through the cloud creates a single source of truth, and a productivity miracle. Miscommunications, misunderstandings, expensive “two-sets-of-plans” missteps; these are yesterday’s news. Your previous blizzard of papers, forms, and reports become digital assets that are easily summoned to your smart device in the field—your cell phone or tablet—with actionable crystal clarity.
One System. Tools for Every Role
The evolving construction technology era is a process revolution that increases construction project margins and saves resources by squeezing out inefficiencies. Word is spreading. But many construction decision-makers remain hesitant. The idea of an all-inclusive digital construction management system can strike fear into the construction pro, who wants the straightest, simplest line from start to finish with no complicated “solutions” or other intervening b.s.
“Cloud-based” construction management technology provides exactly that. By offering specifically designed digital tools for every role in the build and making all project data transparent, digital construction management removes the familiar process stumbles that would steal uncounted hours from the project. CM closes loopholes and eliminates wasted time and resources. Workers in the field summon the necessary information the instant they need it, without a walk across the site, an email or phone call. And there are no “versions” or copies of documents, no old reports. Updates are pushed out to everyone and there are single-source documents that everyone alike can view, 24/7. Connectivity and collaboration are the watchwords.
Evolution of a Revolution: Tiered Transparency
Early digital construction platforms were focused on being the best-in-class project management solutions. As more refined and integrative digital tools were added for specific construction roles, project players began to instinctively hunker down around their own data in a collective “share scare”—the newfound transparency actually causing more information silos at first, as teams sought to protect their data—from their project colleagues. Today it is, of course, understood that project-wide info sharing squeezes out knowledge gaps and adds octane to project productivity. Data transparency combines with a tiered permissions model to allow maximum project visibility, adding nuance to project data sharing and collaborative power to the project.
One API to Rule Them All
API means Application Program Interface. This simply means you can plug third party construction applications into your CM platform. The result? All the role-specific construction innovations available in the marketplace can be added to your CM platform’s offerings—from drones to BIM. A digital construction management solution with an open API is future-proofed, because it makes your construction management solution completely customizable, such that it flexes with the changing construction environment going forward.
Building Is Information
The word “data” has somewhat cold connotations, but the warmth of “data” is in the richness and gravity of what it communicates. Construction data in particular bears the burden of needing to seamlessly support the contractual soul of the build. A construction project is steel and glass, wood and wire, nuts and bolts, skilled workers, and record keeping—a managed storm of assemblage and critically important documentation. Cloud-based construction management is above all a gap-free, tightly controlled, and user-friendly document management system.
The instinctive hesitation to adopt a cloud-based construction management solution is partly the misplaced fear of buying into a single all-purpose package. The fact is, today’s construction management platform is an à la carte feast—role-specific tool suites and separable packages make SaaS a partnership that is as tailored to your construction needs as you want it to be, and as scalable.
Cloud-based construction management also standardizes your project data, presenting it uniformly across projects, and across individual roles within each project. This means that from RFIs to punch lists, the variety of project data share a common language—familiar, comprehensible, and easy to bat back and forth with your teams in discussion. This uniformity of project data also allows its use as a powerful analytical tool for your company. Collect and pool data from several projects and let the software reveal work patterns and possible vulnerabilities previously invisible to you; a bird’s-eye view you can use to reassess and tighten your processes.
Cloud-based construction management isn’t magic. It is simply the outsourcing of your project data processing, storage, and reporting to powerful machines you don’t have to deal with or maintain. Neither is it an all-or-nothing, monolithic commitment. The playing field is increasingly crowded with builders who are parlaying these new management technologies to save the client time and money.
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For a more an in-depth look at construction technology, check out these ebooks: