There have never been more options for technologies that specialty contractors can integrate with their businesses, and the list grows by the day. Yet the industry is still perceived as being tech-averse. This is not out of simple fear or unfamiliarity, but rather for practical and understandable reasons. Still, construction technology isn’t fading, and fluency with it is increasingly required among contractors.
If specialty contractors want to stay competitive and find their place in this fast-moving industry, they need to evaluate technology and software in terms of solving their problems instead of contributing to them.
Procore partnered with Dodge Data recently to survey specialty contractors across the country, and the research found that the industry has already begun to embrace software and tech. In fact, a majority of them already use software to manage their business: 61% said they have commercially available or internally built software to manage their primary construction activities.
Large companies in particular use software to manage individual pieces of the business, like preconstruction, project management, and construction analysis. With more capital and more projects to manage, it makes sense that they’d move ahead on this — though amazingly, one in five still uses spreadsheets and whiteboards to run projects.
The situation isn’t so advanced for small contractors, nearly half of which reported taking the spreadsheet and whiteboard approach. Why is that? The Dodge Report sheds light on this topic, though it is complex and nuanced. But certainly the main issue is that in construction, there is simply “never enough time, and never enough money.”
Tech touches on common challenges
Projects are moving faster than ever, and the prospect of swapping major processes midway is not something anyone would welcome. Even the best-run project doesn’t have spare time for stalled work while everyone gets used to a new way of doing things. Survey respondents were clear that time is the biggest factor: the time-consuming processes of evaluating new tech tools and training their workforce on them were cited in particular.
There frequently is resistance within organizations as well, especially from field crews. Every company recognizes the importance of keeping field teams productive and efficient — and if leadership impedes them with decisions that disrupt or slow operations, friction is only natural.
Compounding this is the fact that most specialty contractors, especially small and medium-sized firms, reported lacking a sizable technology team. It’s a bit of a chicken and egg problem: no need for a tech team if there’s no tech, but it’s difficult to implement software without a tech team.
The tie-breaker here has come from the technology side, and only recently. Advances in the interfaces and onboarding processes of many software solutions mean that a dedicated team is no longer necessary to get tools up and running in a basic way, and to see early benefits from integration. Of course, care still needs to be taken when integrating new software solutions, but this is far more intuitive than it once was.
It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it
Before taking that first step, however, it is reasonable to ask whether facing these challenges and concerns is worth the trouble to begin with. While one may think that focusing on the benefits of tech is the way to decide this question, it may be more convincing to look at how software offers solutions to specific problems brought up by respondents in the survey.
Take for example, the industry’s labor shortage which is likely to worsen. Respondents indicated that a third of their current workforce is expected to retire in the next five years. A few corners of the industry may weather the storm or encounter a fortuitous resurgence in the labor pool, but most companies need to be looking at ways to increase the productivity of their current staff. That’s one of tech-based solutions main draws: improving efficiency. Doing more with less is an essential part of staying ahead during lean years.
Communication, especially between office and field teams, is reliably cited as a concern among specialty contractors: 30% rated theirs as less than good. Miscommunications between these two essential halves of the business can lead to missed change orders, costly rework, and other losses of time and money.
And miscommunication is far more likely to happen when using outdated tools like email, texts, even fax machines. Projects are growing more complex and demanding, meaning poor communication and collaboration is both more likely and more costly; upgrading communication and collaboration tools is an essential step in ensuring a business is operating smoothly, and tech solutions are the clearest way to do it.
Cash flow is obviously important to any business, and many respondents said that missed change orders and delayed payments are eroding their margins. 32% of profit loss was due to unbilled or unpaid change orders, and payments frequently took 60 days or more — one in ten takes 90 days to arrive. Much of this is attributable to outdated financial management and payments systems.
Managing the change to a new one may be hard work, but the numbers suggest that an update could pay for itself after just a handful of change orders are paid that would otherwise have been lost.
Five steps to overcome challenges in tech adoption
Adopting new technology can be challenging, but there are several things leadership can do to make sure a successful tech implementation is as seamless a journey as possible. Here are five key steps to get you there:
1. Define Success
Take the time to collect and analyze input from team members across your organization to understand what needs and pain points must be addressed, and set goals that are concrete, measurable, and realistic. No one will be motivated by a call to “reinvent the company,” but “reduce time spent on paperwork by half” is easily understood and eminently measurable.
2. Create A Schedule
Use a phased or graduated approach to prevent system shock from introducing too much change at once. Big changes take time, and trying to convert to a new system overnight may result in confusion and frustration. Work with your team to create a thoughtful roll-out starting with low-hanging fruit and leaving time for incremental course corrections as challenges and the inevitable missteps occur. You have to walk before you can run, and small changes also help prepare and energize teams for big ones.
3. Engage All Stakeholders
Ensure your roll-out process genuinely engages with key stakeholders from every part of the company — including your customers. Communication between departments isn’t just a tech problem, it can be the result of a siloed mentality. Tech can open the line, but only people can talk on it, and creating an environment that fosters collaboration and communication should be a primary objective of any tech enhancement you are considering. Executive leadership and management are important perspectives, but so are members of the field and finance teams, anyone who will actually use this tech on a day-to-day basis. Their input and criticisms may well be the most valuable of all.
4. Identify KPIs
Identify clear metrics and key performance indicators that you can use to tell whether your technology roll-out is actually working. Decide on these ahead of time as part of the first and second steps, but be flexible about adopting new ones if your feedback suggests you should. These indicators should measure and allow for shortfalls and failures as well — obstacles and stumbles are natural and if you only measure success, you may be blind to things that are holding you back.
5. Celebrate Success
Finally, be open with your team by celebrating successes, acknowledging shortfalls, and just communicating quantitatively about how things are going. Milestones are important not just for understanding your progress but for sharing it: being able to say you’re 80% of the way to a goal may be all it takes to close that last bit of distance, but if the team doesn’t know where they stand, they may lack motivation. And if there are setbacks, a close communication loop and fast response lets people feel heard and valued.
Specialty contractors are already getting to work
Bringing new tech into an established organization can be a challenge, but it’s clear that specialty contractors are already rising to meet it. Moreover, the trends show that the industry needs to adopt tech to adapt to a new working environment. The good news is that many specialty contractors are already doing so and reaping the benefits.
Between labor shortages, cash flow struggles, and costly miscommunication, there are plenty of problems that tech is uniquely positioned to solve if companies embrace it. The process might not be easy, but with the right tools and a good plan, you can get it done.