In an industry as dynamic as construction, staying ahead of the curve is paramount for success. As technology continues to advance at a rapid pace, adopting new tools and innovations is essential for specialty contractors looking to improve efficiency, reduce costs, enhance overall productivity and combat challenges like labor shortages. However, selecting the right technology for your construction business can be challenging.
Procore’s Brian Davis recently had the opportunity to speak with Athena Chiera, vice president of Business Development at Athena Engineering, a California-based mechanical contractor. Chiera shared the various ways she is helping lead the way at her organization to make decisions about what is the best technology for her business. Athena has been actively using Procore for many years but also uses many other construction technologies such as Sage 100, Bamboo HR, and Kojo.
The pair discussed everything from integration capabilities to evaluating user-friendliness and much more. Check out their conversation below:
1. Identifying Business Needs and Goals
Before diving into the world of new technology, it’s crucial to identify your construction business’s specific needs and goals. Take the time to assess your current processes, pinpoint areas that require improvement, and establish clear objectives. This initial step will serve as a foundation for evaluating potential technologies that align with your business’s unique requirements.
One of the ways Chiera identifies business needs that can be solved through tech is by creating swimlane charts that clearly map out processes and highlight gaps, pain points, or pinch points that need to be addressed. Creating swimlane charts provides a really insightful way to see how a process is impacting individuals and teams, according to Chiera.
“We’ve started to evaluate that there are too many steps that could be easily changed or easily condensed utilizing a software solution. We built out the process map and found out that there were like 40 steps to just getting an order in,” said Chiera.
Once she was able to identify redundancies in her process they could evaluate software options with greater purpose and specificity in terms of what success looked like for their team. This gave them “a way to analyze the software intelligently instead of just picking something for fun.”
Chiera touches on a great point. Instead of just chasing new shiny software options it’s important to spend time to properly evaluate the biggest pain points your team is facing and have internal clarity on the outcomes you hope to achieve.
2. Research the Technology Landscape
It’s important for leaders to stay informed about the latest advancements in construction technology. This can be achieved by attending industry conferences, reading industry publications, and engaging with online communities to understand the landscape better.
Familiarize yourself with emerging trends, including machine learning, artificial intelligence, interconnected equipment, drones, augmented reality (AR), and of course any new advancements being made with BIM and laser scanning. This knowledge will help you make informed decisions when evaluating new technology options.
However, not all new ideas should come from the top down. In fact, some of the best ideas at Athena Engineering are coming from employees in non-leadership positions. In fact, many new ideas come from her staff.
“A lot of times our team members will approach us with a problem and say, ‘we run into this issue often and we have some suggestions about what we can do to fix it’ and then sometimes they’ll even come to us with software ideas that we go through together. A lot of it bubbles up from the people that are dealing with the problem on a day-to-day basis. And I think that a culture of ‘questioning’ encourages people to find solutions and then come together and address it on an interdepartmental basis,” explained Chiera.
Creating a culture where new ideas and creativity are welcome and supported is a critical component of being able to successfully identify the most efficient places to consider implementing new tech solutions.
3. Conduct a Cost-Benefit Analysis
Investing in new technology can be a significant financial commitment, so it’s essential to conduct a cost-benefit analysis. A cost-benefit analysis can come in many different forms, but at its most foundational level it should be a quantitative exercise that can be measured. For example, you can evaluate the potential return on investment (ROI) by comparing the costs of implementing the technology with the expected benefits, such as reduced labor costs, increased productivity, and improved project outcomes. Consider both short-term and long-term financial implications.
Chiera conducts a cost-benefit analysis on every new technology initiative her team considers.
“We look at the steps it takes to complete a process and then we actually assign labor hours to that process. Then take the total time and multiply by the wage of the person who’s doing that activity in order to figure out a rough labor calculation of how much it’s costing in labor to do these additional step and then we compare that to the cost of the software,” Chiera explained.
4. Evaluate User-Friendliness
User-friendliness is a crucial factor when evaluating new technology for your construction business, especially the field. Consider how easily your team can adapt to and utilize the technology. User-friendly solutions are more likely to be embraced by your workforce, leading to a smoother implementation process and quicker ROI realization.
The best time to determine if software is user friendly for both your office and especially your field employees is to involve them in the evaluation process. This step is critically important to Chiera when determining if a new tech solution is right for her business.
“They’re involved in the whole process. We always try to involve the direct person in the department who comes up with the problem, because it’s absolutely their right in my mind to be part of the solution. They looked at it, they evaluated it creatively, and came up with ideas. So they’re involved with everything from the demo all the way through implementation,” said Chiera.
Another important point is to make sure your end users are involved to ensure the adoption process goes smoothly. In a research study Procore did with Dodge Data and Analytics they found that one of the top reasons specialty contractors struggled with tech adoption was due to resistance from the field. Chiera has seen this first hand but has learned that involving field crews in tech evaluations early can help curtail resistance.
5. Integration Capabilities
In the construction industry, various software tools and systems are used to manage different aspects of a project, from design to project management and accounting. As your organization strengthens its ability to adopt new technologies it becomes increasingly more important that systems are able to integrate and share data across multiple solutions. Creating this interconnectivity allows you to avoid double entry of data, increase automated workflows, and ensure consistent data and reports. Since Athena Engineering uses Procore as their primary construction management solutions Chiera makes sure that the team member that manages their Procore account is involved in every new technology consideration to make sure it integrates and works in harmony with Procore.
“We always have our internal Procore champion involved in every conversation. And he’s also involved in many of the evaluation phone calls too, because he’s looking at tools we’re considering for how well they integrate into the wider ecosystem – our tech stack,” said Chiera.
6. Training and Support
Lastly, consider the training and support options provided by the technology vendor. Ensure that they offer comprehensive training programs for your staff to become proficient in using the technology. Additionally, assess the quality and availability of customer support and maintenance services to address any issues that may arise.
A unique way that Chiera ensures there is leadership focused on training and development of employees is by having a separate point person or “champion” overseeing different tech solutions. Not only does that create deeper technology expertise across her organization but it also helps to have a single person overseeing training and education for each tool.
As the technology solutions Chiera employs adapt and improve it’s also beneficial to her team to have a single point of contact to ensure updates and releases are communicated throughout the organization.
“There’s so many new releases. I mean, on a monthly basis, there could be 50, 60 new improvements across all our tech tools that are important to have someone paying close attention to instead of letting those release notes just go unnoticed and everyone is expecting somebody else will handle it. This way somebody’s directly responsible for that software and how it can interplay with the others,” Chiera said.
In an ever-evolving construction industry, adopting new technology is not a choice but a necessity for staying competitive and efficient. However, selecting the right technology requires a strategic approach. By identifying your business needs, conducting a cost-benefit analysis, and thoroughly evaluating potential solutions, you can make informed decisions that lead to successful technology implementations.
Moreover, consider factors such as user-friendliness and integration capabilities to ensure that the technology aligns with your long-term business goals. Finally, don’t overlook the importance of training and ongoing support to maximize the benefits of your chosen technology.
With these steps in mind, your construction business can embrace innovation and thrive in the modern digital age.