As time goes on, the needs of your business change. The problems that may have plagued your field workers in the past might not only still exist, but be hanging around with new troublemakers. Mobile applications are a great way to find powerful and flexible solutions to your workers needs.
Over the course of this guide, we’ll walk through a couple key steps every construction manager in charge of IT responsibilities should take. We will also explore sample apps like this Inspection Site app below to give you ideas of what you can do:
We will also share about how innovators like KLB Construction's Richard Glass are spearheading digital transformation.
Look how productive they look! As they say, "Behind every great construction field team, is a... proactive construction IT team?"
The construction industry is being transformed by digital innovation in the mobile space.
Let’s start with figuring out who’s going to be actually using the construction app(s). Each type of user will have unique needs that a robust app platform should be able to accommodate. Four common stakeholders include:
Two other stakeholders that may be relevant depending on the nature of the engagement include:
While it’s tempting to jump ahead and begin looking for solutions, taking time to identify key stakeholders and their unique needs is a time-saving, utility-maximizing process that should never be skipped.
Be sure to speak with at least one person in each category of stakeholders before making any assumptions. Through this process, you can also learn what the current processes are for the given task you’re trying to digitize.
Learning about what existing processes are already utilized can allow you to design apps that provide a more seamless transition for your workers.
If the solution you ultimately create can’t significantly beat the status quo, it probably isn’t worth doing. A well designed suite of tools can help you increase onsite productivity and efficiency.
Constraints of all kinds, while sometimes limiting, also serve as useful guideposts that can help inform product development decisions. A few constraints to consider include:
If only balancing time, cost, and quality were as easy as drawing nice triangles...
With hundreds if not thousands of construction app solutions out there, navigating a technology procurement decision can be tedious if not downright exhausting! The first decision you and your team may need to make is the classic buy vs. build decision.
“Apps that are built for a smartphone and tablet, that have a complex user interface, or that require a significant back-end can cost anywhere from $250,000 to $1,500,000.” Even the simplest of apps can cost at least $25,000.
This is what paying for proprietary mobile app development feels like...
For all but the largest constructions firms in the world, coding your own apps from scratch is not a realistic possibility. Even if you could, in most cases, 3rd party solutions provide better bang-for-the-buck and greater functionality with proven solutions.
Presuming you’ve decided to buy a license to an existing solution, your next decision would be choosing between an out-of-the-box construction solution and using a low-code or no-code platform to build a suite of custom, feature rich apps.
Out-of-the-box solutions on the surface appear to be quicker to set-up, but often that isn't the case in the long run. Not only do these solutions force you to work within preset constraints, but they also cost more to maintain. You know what your business's needs are, so why not design around that?
Platform app solutions are customizable by nature, and these apps may lend themselves to more functional product use-cases in the long-run. With even a limited IT team, no-code platform apps are often quicker, cheaper, easier to customize and iterate.
A well-integrated platform solution can also help IT managers avoid the classic challenge of utilizing too many disparate systems that can’t “communicate” effectively with each other.
A view of your phone after installing multiple apps to do what the one app you create can do...
As an example, consider Richard’s experience from KLB Construction: “Mobile apps are lagging in the construction industry, and it’s under-served by technology. Off-the-shelf software typically does not represent how we do things. Being able to customize the app for our purposes makes it more user-friendly and more likely to be adopted by the field.”
Depending on the app product or platform you choose and your team's initial competency, building and integrating a full suite of construction management apps can take anywhere from a few hours to a few months to get started.
In this time, it’s best to focus on establishing the core functionality of what you need. We all must walk before we can run, you know?
You may even consider building out a product road-map that includes what you’ll include at the start of your initial construction app launch and what features and functionalities you’ll build in over time. This product road-map should synthesize insights you’ve already gathered in your stakeholder, constraint, and app platform research.
Bucketing Similar Functions into Apps
No single tool can fulfill every function you need. Because of this, you might consider bucketing similar functions into a suite of connected apps. A few ideas include:
If you’re building apps through the AppSheet platform, you can get started quickly by integrating your data from Google Docs, Box, DropBox, SQL, and more.
Or, you can copy these generic versions of construction apps to get you started:
Construction Daily Reports
Daily reporting is essential for foreman and project managers who are tasked with staying on top of resources and personnel. A functional app can replace the stream of paperwork and emails that can clutter daily reporting.
Safety inspections are an essential piece of any well-run construction project. This app allows users to capture key information for inspection reports while leveraging cloud-synced photos and GPS/map technology.
Package Delivery Management
Getting the right packages or deliveries delivered to the right building or job site can be a challenging undertaking. An effective internal logistics app can simplify this process for suppliers, drivers, and site managers.
Project management was never meant to be contained in the four walls of a cubicle. Putting the tools for real-time, on-site project management into those on the front-lines can help any organization retain data integrity and manage resources effectively. Learn more about this sample app.
For AppSheet users, here are a few more things to keep in mind:
In theory, practice makes perfect, but with software, testing makes… “better.” No amount of tests can replicate all the realities of a live app, but it can certainly help!
Consider identifying a subset of the construction team to engage in field tests. A simple way to go about doing this would be to provide them with basic training and ask them to complete a battery of standard field tests (i.e. processes they would normally use the app for).
Have participants report back to you with data on functionality and usability. You can modify this simple Google Form to suit your needs if your solution doesn't have built in feedback functionality. For AppSheet users, users can always provide feedback to app creators through the "Feedback View" on the menu (see below).
Once your testing consistently returns satisfied end users, you’re ready to deploy your app to the team.
You made it! You’ve successfully procured and created an app solution for your team. Before you celebrate too soon, expect the unexpected as you deploy your apps to live users.
Even stock photo models need time to celebrate!
In the process of releasing your app, consider hosting a universal team training event either in-person or through a webinar. Be sure to cast a compelling vision of why your team is making the change and how this change will ultimately benefit them. Change isn’t always appreciated and habits can be difficult to break.
Even after the app is fully deployed, bugs, user error, and unexpected challenges are par for the course when it your apps makes it to the field. What’s important is keeping a level head and having a platform with strong help documentation and support options.
"If we make it easier than paper, we increase adoption.” -Richard Glass, IT Manager at KLB Construction.
In today’s ever-changing world, no product is every truly “done,” but that's a good thing! Users change. Needs change. And great software should have the ability to change too.
As an IT manager or someone functioning in an IT leadership capacity, it’s your job to stay ahead of the game and ensure that the apps you build meet the needs of your team.
Here’s a checklist of questions to keep your apps ready-to-go:
So there you have it! 7 steps to transform your construction firm from technology laggard to industry trend-setter.
What have been your experiences implementing mobile apps across your construction firm? What lessons have you learned? We'd love to hear from you in the comments below or join our community forum and talk to others in your field and beyond!
This post was updated on November 14th, 2019.