Futuristic-sounding tech developments regularly make the news. In comparison, “going paperless” can seem very 1990sBut paper is still used daily in the construction industry, so technological developments that help reduce reliance on it are imperative. 

Projects that are over schedule and over budget are so common in the construction industry that they are practically business as usual. According to a June 2016 report by global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, “Large projects across asset classes typically take 20 percent longer to finish than scheduled and are up to 80 percent over budget.” A decline in productivity, accompanied by low profits for construction firms, are also noted. The same report suggests technology-related “big ideas” that the construction industry should adopt, among them the use of digital collaboration tools, with the goal of going paperless. 

How does going paperless manage to rank alongside cutting-edge, and sometimes glamorous, tech trends like the Internet of Things and geolocation? The answer is: because paper-based systems are still costing the industry countless millions of dollars each year. Paper has been around for a long time and it is the basis for almost all of the industry’s existing systems, so many construction industry personnel question whether completely changing those systems can result in efficiency gains. But paper-based systems have fatal flaws—and digital solutions can go a long way toward addressing those flaws. 

Completeness 

A line on a form that isn’t filled in…a page missing from a packet…an entire binder, perhaps, that isn’t on the shelf: these scenarios are all too familiar. Often, they’re compounded by other “missing” items: calculations that don’t get performed, unsigned paperwork and photographic evidence that is no longer attached to the documentation it is supposed to support. All of these situations can slow the resolution of claims, change orders, etc. 

Having a preset electronic process and document set—especially one that has been customized by the team to be project- or company-specific—is a good way to overcome the problem of missing or incomplete paperwork. Forms that use conditional, “if-then” logic enable personnel to fill out documents correctly and completely by prompting them for responses that fall within certain parameters. Files created in different applications (such as photo files, signatures or calculation sheets) are easily stored together.  

With paper-based systems, stakeholders often get left out of the loop when documents are circulated. Expenses such as courier services can be involved with moving documents, too. When desktop computer workstations came into common use, cc’ing all team members became easier, but licensing fees often prevented key players from accessing important files. A software-as-a-service (SaaS) delivery method, on the other hand, allows all team members to have access to the data, greatly enhancing its completeness. 

 

Timeliness 

Even if paper documents could be completely accurate, their relay does not happen in real time, which creates an inherently slower rate of progress. Traditionally, offices have had to employ layers of administrators and office personnel to organize and store data; those employees then had to turn the data back around in the form of new reports and documents. There’s a reason, after all, that these management layers were called “paper pushers.” All of the efforts at collecting, organizing and repackaging information led to enormous amounts of rework, snowballing errors, and substantial overhead costs. 

By using tablets or mobile phones to access cloud-based documents, these problems are dramatically reduced. Personnel can view and edit all files associated with a project, either from the office or in the field. They can do so even when an internet connection is unavailable. Once a connection has been restored, data syncs via the cloud. 

Electronic updates, which happen instantaneously, also lead to clearer chronological organization of documents. Many software solutions offer date- and time-stamps, workflow and role-based permission settings and protection against alteration by non-authorized users. These controls make it clear what version of a document is most recent and establish a chain of custody that keeps progress on track. The flexibility of SaaS-based documentation also streamlines the schedule: follow-up reports can be quickly and seamlessly attached to preceding ones, for example, eliminating the need to sift through multiple files. 

 

Lifespan 

Customized electronic forms provide cumulative advantages. They are flexible enough to be adapted to each new project, yet there is no need to “reinvent the wheel” each time. This represents savings in both time and money. 

Furthermore, when using paper-based systems, the loss of historical performance data or analytics can mean that lessons learned on one project don’t carry over to the next one. With digital solutions, contracts, forms, calculations, procurement information and more can be carried over from project to project, improving efficiency each time.  

Ultimately, the digitization of information sharing underlies most other gains. When important decisions rest upon paper documentation—which is slow to move from place to place, hard to duplicate, and not always easy to access when and where it’s needed—the entire decision-making process can get bogged down. Using technological tools to eliminate these steps becomes invaluable.  

July 2018 Issue

Article Published in CoatingsPro Magazine July 2018, pg 22-24

Accidents, especially on construction sites, are not uncommon. That is why companies need to be responsible for training employees not only for productivity but for safety, too. And because legally it doesn’t matter whether the accident is the result of employer negligence or employee carelessness, employers are bound by various regulations to establish processes to protect their employees from injury. It’s important to note that even when the employee’s own behavior leads to an accident when on the job site, the employer is still responsible for ensuring workers’ safety.

To protect employees, customers, and themselves, it is imperative for employers to take measures to safeguard their employees from accidents at work. Safeguards can be as simple as putting up signs reminding workers to wash their hands after visiting the restroom, and they can be as complex as multi-step field inspections. The bottom line is that no safety measures will work without a culture of “safety first.”

So the real question is how can companies instill a safety-first culture? And more importantly, how can employers protect both their employees and their mutual livelihoods?

Benefits of a Strong Culture of Safety

A simple but necessary first step in creating a safety culture is to require staff to conduct daily safety meetings. Often, this is required by law, but even when it’s not, holding regular safety meetings will instill an attention to safety and help build your safety culture. The following are benefits of a strong safety culture:

  • Strong Teams: Safety incidents degrade the performance of the team and the job’s progress, which can impact completion bonuses. Further, repeated incidents erode trust in the company from both employees and clients. Consistent safety training can increase team confidence and performance, give employees a voice in the process, and make for a more profitable company.
  •  Marketability. Any workplace that has a great safety culture — and the data to back it up — is more competitive in the marketplace. Not only is it easier to tap the talent pool, but a strong safety record can be a huge marketing advantage when selling to new customers. A safety record backed up by real data is a huge competitive advantage.
  • Profitability. A culture of strong safety leads to less turnover, better customer acquisition and retention, and fewer costs associated with fixing lapses in safety (i.e., accidents). All of these things hit your bottom line — why let them?

Having a strong safety culture is great, but to protect customers, employers, and employees, companies need to take the next step and document and preserve safety actions. Why? Because accidents happen — even when you’ve done everything reasonable to prevent them — and proper documentation can protect you from the inevitable legal review when a job site incident occurs.

Collecting and storing safety documentation can be overwhelming, and using paper may increase your risk of losing critical, legally-protective data. For this reason, you should consider electronic documentation and mobile data collection technologies to support your safety culture.

Mobile data collection has revolutionized safety-related processes, and it may significantly decrease costs and regulatory liabilities, help build a culture of safety, and ultimately save lives.

Mobile Data Field Collection

Mobile technology is part of all our personal and business lives. Mobile devices are readily available, whether they are personal devices or corporate-owned. This means that many of your workers are probably already familiar with this type of data collection. Additionally, it’s easily accessed from remote sites and can often be obtained through lightweight devices, a plus when working with heavy tools. Leveraging new mobile data collection technologies may improve your processes and increase profitability. Therefore, it’s important that you pick the right one.

There are several things to bear in mind when evaluating a mobile data collection solution:

  • Network. If your team is out of range of a mobile network, either WiFi or cellular, your system should be able to still collect data, then seamlessly sync and upload it when you are in range.
  •  Foundation. Mobile data collection solutions can either be web- or app-based. We recommend the app-based approach as that allow will you to continue your work unconnected (i.e., you don’t have to have web access to make it work). This doesn’t mean that the solution shouldn’t have a web portal that you can use to generate reports or analyse results — or even make those reports available to your customers — but it does mean that you need to be able to use the application in the field, just as you would with paper and a clipboard.
  •  Connection. Your mobile app should be flexible enough to map to your current (and evolving) safety meeting work process. Most of this will be standard, but if you need to change something, it should be easy and cost-effective to do so, whether this is done by your vendor or by yourself.
  •  Storage. Once the data is collected, you need to make sure it’s stored appropriately and securely — and that it’s available only to those who should have access. Consider leveraging the cloud for this. Some vendors offer on-site storage, but this can be more expensive to maintain the storage servers and to staff them. However, not everyone is comfortable with the cloud yet, so take that into consideration.
  • Reporting. Your system should be able to generate reports that both your team and your customers can use. These can be custom reports based on your safety processes or standard industry reports, but they need to be available both online and offline. Having this data will also aid in the analysis of your safety procedures and history.
  •  Accessibility. By having the data always available, you will be able to show auditors, customers, prospects, and even employees that you are maintaining safety records appropriately and instituting a culture of safety. If the reports are accessible, sharing pertinent information will be difficult.

Safety and Beyond

Documenting your safety meetings and procedures using a mobile device can be easier and more cost-effective than traditional paper-based forms. You can map the forms, notes, and photos directly onto your smartphone or tablet, then push that data into whichever reporting format your company uses. The data will always be there — no more transcribing back at the

office or, worse, in the hotel room at night. And this may mean fewer mistakes or missed opportunities for you.

The problem with handling paper documentation is that you must keep them safe and secure somewhere, then take on additional costs to prepare, send, or retrieve the information from the job site. Paper-based data is not immediately available to everyone and may not be easily accessible but digital data can be.

Proper and accessible documentation is invaluable when working with auditors, lawyers, or others who need access to your safety data. Building a legal case and protecting your company can be much less painful with good data. Through mobile collection and presentation of required documentation, you can immediately demonstrate that diligent, standard processes were maintained in making the workplace safer for everyone.

Accidents can happen anytime, anywhere, and to anyone. We can’t prevent all job site incidents, but you can take proactive measures to mitigate risks. Creating proper safety procedure is only the first step; you also need to focus on developing a safety culture through regular safety meetings — and then document them for analysis, improvement, and legal protection. A culture of safety may reduce risk, save lives, and ultimately minimize organizational liability. And using mobile data collection technology may make the process much more efficient and cost-effective for you to do so.

 

Article Published in CoatingsPro Magazine July 2018, pg 22-24

Over the last few months, we’ve covered topics ranging from selecting a mobile data collection vendor to managing your fleet of devices. One of the major challenges with implementing a mobile data collection solution is overcoming your staff’s resistance to change.

3 Responses to Change

Imagine that you’ve selected a mobile data collection vendor, you’ve figured out the devices, you’ve had staff involved with the selection process, and now it’s time to implement the solution and train everyone. As training is conducted you find that people have aligned themselves with one of three groups. You have the early adopters who embrace the new technology and are excited about the change. Then you have the people who are concerned with the change but go along with the flow. Finally, you have the technology laggards who express frustration over the new changes and how it will make their job much more difficult. Even after you explain that things will be better with the new technology, this voice is louder than the rest and staff cynicism sets in. The success of the solution is at risk, and you feel defeated.

This scenario arises all too frequently with these types of projects. It is why it’s important to consider change management early in the process. Moving to mobile data collection is a cultural shift that not every organization is ready for, but if you incorporate change management early in the planning process you can overcome the potential backlash from employees that are not ready for any change and ensure project success.

How to Successfully Implement Change

Competitive pressures, market changes, regulatory requirements, and other external forces are pushing companies to embrace organizational change in order to remain profitable. Organizations that are successful in implementing change take a calm, measured approach to change, and embrace employee involvement early in the process. Using this approach, you help your staff acquire new skills, innovation is embraced, and your company’s profit margins will grow with the positive influence of change. Moving to mobile data collection is not a trivial undertaking and should be managed like any other project you’ve taken on.

Managing the Cultural Change

We’ve discussed best practices for mobile data collection and the steps to success. Building the strategy and tactical plan is a good start, but you need to be able to manage the cultural change and clearly articulate why you are moving to mobile data collection in a clear, concise manner to all stakeholders. From management to staff, everyone needs to know their role and understand the impact to their role/job function. You don’t need agreement, but you do need alignment on why you are making this change. In the end, everyone should understand the drivers for the project and the expected outcomes. These could include empowering staff with modern tools to make their job easier in the field, reducing office overhead, increasing the visibility of fieldwork, and getting reports completed.

Engage Them Early In The Project

Once you have staff aligned with your plans, engage them early in the project and provide them an opportunity to contribute throughout the process. This will allow the team to give feedback before the solution is finalized, thereby minimizing the employee backlash that occurs when the training session is the first exposure to the solution. No matter how hard you try, you can expect that there will always be someone that will be resistant to change. However, the more people you get on board with the new process, the easier it will be to overcome the objection of these laggards and end up with a successful solution that everyone buys into.

Manage And Incorporate Feedback

Finally, as you deploy your new mobile data collection project, you will need to find a way to manage and incorporate the feedback your team provides on the solution. As you start seeing the benefits of mobile technology, you might want to jump in and start changing things right away based on that feedback. Take the time to let the first wave of feedback, feature requests, and bugs to settle, then start managing and prioritizing these change requests. Review the requests with a group of staff members to ensure that you are not introducing a change that could negatively impact all staff just to satisfy one person’s request.

Change management can be a challenge for any organization, more so if not handled properly. Remember to plan early, include key stakeholders, gain alignment with your plan, and collect feedback throughout the project planning process, and roll out the solution carefully. Most of all communicate, communicate, communicate! It’s much easier to put the effort in early to ensure that change is accepted with less resistance and that your project will ultimately be a success!

I’d love to hear more about your projects and the challenges you’ve faced with change management and going to mobile. Please feel free to contact me anytime if you have any feedback or questions about how we can help with your change management challenges.