Contractors share insight into effective use of mobile management software

Mobile access to accurate and reliable project data is essential to job site productivity in today’s construction industry. But while leaders are increasingly investing in mobile construction management software, effective technological deployment remains a challenge for many. In August, software company PlanGrid and management consulting company FMI released the results of a survey that uncovered two critical problems with how companies are using mobile technology:

  1. Three-quarters of general contractors and subcontractors provide mobile devices to project managers and field supervisors, but only 18% of those companies use those devices to access project data.
  2. Fifty-two percent of decision makers said the needs of their field staff are a top consideration for investing in technology, but only 28% are gleaning feedback from those workers before making a purchasing decision.

During a PlanGrid-led panel session at the Associated General Contractors of America’s 100th Annual Convention, leaders from three construction companies shared insight into how they were able to deploy mobile construction management software effectively.

For general contractor Webcor Builders, the opportunity to transition from outdated and sometimes inaccurate paper documentation to an iPad with project information such as photos, documents and punch list specifications accessible from anywhere was appealing, said project director Greg Scott. He noted one story of a layout foreman who went from not being able to turn on a computer one day to running into work the next morning to get his iPad and see updates to project drawings.

“As soon as the field crews saw the benefit of it, it caught like wildfire,” Scott said. The success in the concrete division led to integration in the company’s interiors group and core-and-shell construction group.

Subcontractors and specialty trade companies are also reaping the benefits, said Alan Dillon, senior superintendent at DPR Construction. While DPR is a general contractor, Dillon said he has noticed foremen at mechanical, electrical and plumbing companies spending time with building information modeling engineers and looking through BIM drawings to find coordination issues with things such as overhead fixtures or underground utilities in a slab.

Meanwhile, other specialty trade companies such as ISEC are taking a leading role in technology deployment. As operations manager Zeeshan Haider explained, ISEC tested PlanGrid at its Northern California location before deploying it throughout the rest of its locations. Localizing that effort allowed the company to learn how to tailor the features of the platform specifically to its work. ISEC gave training to people and gave them real examples of how the application could apply to them on a day-to-day basis. The company also carried out an extensive effort to ensure it had personnel in place to support adoption after the initial training.

While the session primarily focused on PlanGrid experiences, Ralph Gootee, co-founder and chief technology officer at PlanGrid, noted that getting field staff actively involved in the selection and testing processes is a critical factor in successfully adopting any new construction technology. But while the experiences of Webcor, DPR and ISEC show the potential of what’s possible with mobile management software, the overall technology landscape is far from perfect.

As Haider and Scott noted, a lot of construction technology platforms tackle individual components of the workflow, but contractors need more options for integrated solutions that streamline all aspects of work. Haider added that contractors like ISEC also deal with the inefficiency of entering the same data “over and over again” across the chain of command from vendors all the way up to architects and owners. Moving forward, Haider would also like to see construction technology software that can help contractors analyze productivity as well as scanning technology to discern how far along a project is.

“Just to get one question answered, the amount of effort that is expended is phenomenal,” Haider said. “That’s why we really need true integration so data can flow … seamlessly.”