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Construction Technology How to...

10 Steps for Selecting & Implementing Technology in Construction

It was 6 am, and I was in Pittsburg, on my way to conduct a training session for a roofing company that was one of our early beta clients. I had spent the previous months writing code and incorporating their feedback on their pain points.
This was to be our first “real” deployment, and I felt confident that we had done everything possible to prepare. Boy was I wrong….

The first step in our training was to install the Harness web app on everyone’s smartphone or tablet. I had prepared a list of written instructions and also had slides projected on the wall.
The first instruction was “Open Your Web Browser.”

The response came almost immediately…

“What the f!$k is a web browser?”

I had to rethink my whole game plan.

Construction: The Last Frontier Of Technology

Construction workers are a special breed. I mean that in the best way possible. These are the guys that build the roofs over our heads and giant skyscrapers that define our cities; they are incredibly talented.

They’re great at taking ideas from drawings and blueprints and turning them into reality. But when it comes to technology that most of us view as commonplace – smartphones, apps, computers – these mighty workers often struggle.

Lawyers, doctors, truck drivers, and restaurant workers are all using apps to help them with their daily work. These apps solve critical operational problems, such as sharing documents, promoting communication, and billing customers, yet penetration rates of these solutions in construction, lag far behind.

Recent studies have shown that unlike other industries, productivity has not improved over time in construction. In fact, it may actually cost more and take longer to complete a project today than it did twenty years ago.

How Worker Age and Culture Sets Construction Behind

Age is certainly a factor. Older workers began their careers before cellphones were in everyone’s pockets. They didn’t grow up surfing the web and touching screens like Millennials and Gen Z do.

Plans, work orders, and schedules are printed out, and there is likely a clipboard for every foreman. They like it that way because “that’s the way they’ve always done it.”

These workers still dominate the industry, which means lots of processes that should have evolved have stayed the same to accommodate their resistance to change.

But that won’t last forever. In fact, as the baby boomers are now reaching retirement, they’re beginning to leave the workforce in droves. The construction industry is now facing a shortage of skilled workers, and companies don’t have the luxury of taking a wait-and-see stance.

This is especially true when you consider that it takes eight to twelve years for a worker to acquire the skills and knowledge of a trade professional.

Obviously, these workers need to be replaced with new, younger employees.

It’s become quite clear that the younger generations are looking for ways to work smarter, not harder, and therefore aren’t attracted to the construction trades’ paper-centric processes.

They’re expecting to use technology to perform their daily work. That’s a big problem for firms that don’t embrace change now, making it impossible for them to recruit and retain workers.

Employee Efficiency in Tools vs. Tech

As the materials, techniques, and tools they use on the job have advanced, construction workers have adjusted very well because they can see the benefits for themselves. Why use an old-fashioned hammer when you could use a sleek nail gun and get your work done faster?

Some companies have pushed back on the technology resistance and moved forward with new processes. They have found that even older workers are able to adapt to change if they understand why it’s necessary and how it can make their job easier.

Although, it is a tougher sell when it comes to technology like smartphones and tablets because they don’t appear to impact their actual work as much. But they can.

There are amazing apps in the marketplace that enable better daily production reporting, time tracking, safety, and material ordering.

10 Steps To Overcome Construction Industry Challenges

As we’ve discussed, technology is the key to addressing challenges in the construction industry. Labor shortages, more competition, and increasing costs for materials mean that companies MUST look for solutions in order to stay in business. Here is how to find the right ones for your company.

1) Set Your Priorities. Keep it Simple

When you start out, you may be tempted to dive in and try to tackle all the challenges your company faces, but that may be overwhelming, and you have a high chance of failure if you take on too much.

Instead, make a list of priorities and choose one or two items. Those could be the simplest issues to fix or the most impactful. It’s up to you.

2) Make a Map of the Status Quo

Whatever the process you’d like to change, you need to know where your current gaps are. Creating a visual map is a great way to do this.

Get together with your team and create a swimlane document. Make sure to thoroughly document what the current process is and who it affects.

3) Draw The Best Case Scenario

Use your process map and identify improvements that could be made. Do this WITHOUT considering a change in the method.

For example, if your time tracking process is done on paper but it’s touching more people than it needs to, consider removing those extra steps before changing the technology involved.

Often companies can find efficiency gains simply through this examination. Make a new map to reflect any changes made.

4) List Your Requirements

This is an important step and when companies don’t spend an appropriate amount of time to do it, they can run into problems later on when evaluating or implementing solutions.

An example of a requirement could be “The ability to show us a dashboard of safety issues by type and crew.”

The goal here is to be able to clearly identify if a particular solution will work for you. Breaking this list into ‘Must Haves’ and ‘Wish List’ can help determine the best solution down the road.

Obviously, we want to choose the solution that satisfies all our must-have requirements and as many from the wish list as possible.

5) Know How to Measure Success

Imagine where you’d like to be a year after implementing a new solution. What are the metrics you can use to determine if you’ve been successful? Is it hours saved, costs reduced, people hired?

Make some goals for these items. If possible, collect your existing data / averages, to generate a baseline of where you are now. This will come in handy a year from now as a reminder of how far you have come.

6) Evaluate Your Options. Also called “Due Diligence”

This is the fun part. Look for companies that are providing solutions for your particular issue. You can Google search, talk to other contractors, or make some time to attend industry events like trade shows and conferences.

Arrange demos of various solutions and ask yourself, “Does this solution satisfy my requirements?” You might even create an evaluation checklist so that you don’t forget anything.

You’ll also want to assess the company providing the solution by getting satisfactory answers to questions such as:

  • “Do you provide implementation support along with your solution?”
  • “How much customization are we able to make? Is there any cost to that?”
  • “Do you have any successful case studies in our industry? Can you provide client references?”
  • “What level of ongoing support do you provide?”

Remember to check those references and ask about the experience of working with the company and its solution.

7) Get Your Team Involved Early

When looking at solutions that affect field workers, having some of them participate in all of these phases is a necessity. Too often, field workers are the last to be included in the process and you run a risk of pushback and failure if they’re not engaged early.

No one wants to be simply told they must do something a certain way. By including field staff in the process, and giving them a say in the outcome, your project is more likely to succeed.

8) Implement In Stages

Changing how things are done is hard. Especially when it comes to long-standing processes and the nature of the construction workforce as we discussed earlier. So make things a little easier and use a phased approach when implementing your new solutions.

Rather than have workers immediately adopt every feature of a particular solution, have them begin with the easiest or most impactful. Once everyone is comfortable, introduce the next feature and so on.

9) Don’t Just Train. Explain

At Harness, we spend the first few minutes of every onsite training session explaining why the company has chosen our solution and what they hope to gain.

We also highlight how the field workers’ lives are going to get easier/better with this new solution in place. We acknowledge the difficulties of doing something new but stress that learning to use software is just like learning to use a new tool; it just takes a little time and practice.

You’ll almost always have a few doubters in the room, but that’s where engaging your team early is helpful. You’ll likely already have a few people convinced it works, and they can help address any concerns from their doubting colleagues.

10) Monitor Your Company’s Progress

Maintain regular contact with field staff during the implementation phase, and use their feedback to make any changes or address any issues that you didn’t foresee.

Once things are chugging along nicely, use those metrics that you identified previously to see how your company is doing.

Share the results with the rest of your team and celebrate any successes, no matter how small. Doing this tends to open peoples’ eyes to the power of change and will help you on future projects.

Technology Can Help Your Company If You Embrace It Properly

There’s a lot of urgent business issues that can be solved with technology. Your company will be leaner, more efficient, safer, and in many cases enjoy increased profits and retention.

But not following best practices when implementing solutions can be perilous. The good news is, now you know how to plan for change, search for the right solution, and launch it successfully!

The experience I gained in some of those initial training sessions really opened my eyes in terms of how our potential users viewed technology.

I started to examine my assumptions about how “easy” I thought I’d made things. We actually rewrote all our training materials to include illustrations, and video explanations so that even guys that would ask “What the F!$k is a web browser?” could follow them.

You should be convinced by now that technology is the way to go, which means the next challenge you’ll likely face is making your case to upper management.

Luckily for you, we have an article that covers exactly how to do that. Click the button below to learn four ways to make your technology implementation pitch rock solid.

Categories
Construction Technology

How a Robot Dog is Changing the Future of Construction Safety

Can Technology Really Make Construction Work Easier, Safer and Even More Fun?

Boston Dynamics – an American engineering and robotics design company, believes so. The company has built several robots and this article will focus on their impressive creation named Spot. Spot is accomplishing all three of those goals in a variety of industries, construction being one of them.

What Can Spot Do?

Spot – a dog robot, is a highly advanced machine that is capable of navigating both environmentally tough terrain and the indoors. This robot can handle stairs, crouching under obstacles and even avoid them if you accidentally steer Spot towards one. The robot can complete site monitoring, takes thermal readings, detect anomalies and sends all the data back remotely.

Spot comes with some really cool features too:

  • Mobile manipulation
  • 3D vision system with SLAM and obstacle avoidance
  • Omni-directional walking and multiple walking and trotting gaits
  • Bioinspired dynamic control
  • human operated or autonomously
  • Operating in environments -20C to 45C

Check out Spot in action:

How is Spot Going to Keep Construction Workers Safe?

The answer is very simple – by conducting automated routine inspections and capturing site-specific data. Spot comes with an unbelievable camera that can even zoom in while being remotely controlled from anywhere in the world. Spot has the ability to walk pre-programmed routes or be controlled by a joystick.

This allows workers to check all areas from a completely safe space and see any hazards that exist on their site. Knowing what hazards exist prior to the job starting enables proper documentation and control measures.

Furthermore, the latest addition to Spot is a robotic arm attached to its back. This new feature gives Spot the ability to open doors, grab levers to turn things on and off, and even carry/ move debris.

The ability to dispatch Spot into high risk areas instead of sending valuable and vulnerable, human employees is paramount.

The Future of Construction Safety is Here

Watch how Spot navigates a construction site:

The future of safety is always evolving and Spot is an innovation that continues to push the boundaries. Although not as sexy as a dog robot, Harness is also working to revolutionize the construction safety industry. We are always evaluating new technologies such as Spot and are actively working to integrate them into our products and services.

To learn how we can help your company create safer job sites and become more efficient, book a demo now!

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Best In Class Construction Technology

The 6 Best Construction Safety Apps. Ditch Paperwork Forever

As Founder & CEO of Harness Software, I meet with hundreds of construction companies each year that are looking to better manage their health & safety programs.  At some point during every engagement, I’m asked, “What are the best construction safety apps?” 

I’m not afraid to provide information on our competition because I want our customers to be as informed as possible.

Here is a list of some of the best safety apps with experience in the construction sector.

eCompliance

Founded in 2012, eCompliance has grown to not only include safety management software but also asset management and e-learning for the construction, government, mining, utilities, energy, and manufacturing sectors. 

iAuditor

iAuditor by Safety Culture was started in Australia in 2004 and expanded to the US in 2016.  Their main value proposition is to increase the efficiency of inspections.  They have clients in construction, retail, manufacturing, and hospitality as well.

SafeSite

Since 2014 SafeSite has provided clients with a solution to perform inspections, incident reporting, toolbox talks, and more.  One notable feature is their catalog of form templates that clients can further customize to their needs.

Safety Reports

Safety-Reports formed in 2011 in Omaha, Nebraska. They have clients in Construction and General Industry, but their apps are also used by Loss Control Representatives in the Insurance Industry as well as Safety Consultants who provide third-party services.

Safety Reports’ first product on the market was an inspection app. And since then, they’ve added new separate apps to include: training, job site safety analysis, observations, incidents, and weather forecasting.

SiteDocs

Founded in Victoria, BC, Canada, SiteDocs has worked with contractors pursuing or maintaining the COR Safety certification that is growing more widely adopted as a standard in Canada. 

Safety Meeting App

As their name implies, Safety Meeting App is used to facilitate and document safety meetings or toolbox talks in the field.  They have a large repository of safety meeting content.  They’ve also recently started to offer solutions for inspections and incident reporting.

Next Actions

All software companies excel in certain areas.  The key to finding the right solution for your company ultimately is determining which out-of-the-box features of any particular solution fit your requirements the best and then how much customization you’ll need to do to get an exact fit.

Harness Software has helped construction companies large and small to reduce the administrative burden of their safety program, strengthen their safety culture, and save significant money through lower worker’s compensation premiums.  

Every one of our clients has their own customized version of our platform and everyone gets onsite training for field staff and one-to-one support for administrators.  

If you’re ready to see what Harness could do for your business, book a demo today.

Otherwise, feel free to check out these additional resources.

What Does Harness Software Cost?

Top 5 Ways To Foster A Safety Culture In Your Construction Business 

Your Ultimate Guide To EMR

Categories
Construction Technology

Being Smart About Smartphones (How to Select Devices for Your Construction Company)

Software companies like Harness can provide contractors with incredible value but there’s one important element that is often overlooked that can derail any software implementation…

Field personnel not using adequate or properly managed mobile devices.

After all, if the device that they carry is not up to the task if it gets lost or damaged, it’s going to be pretty hard for the foreman to submit that safety report.

In this article, we’re going to identify some of the common problems when it comes to mobile devices and point out some best practices to solve them.

Should You Provide Devices or Let Employees Use Their Own?

Employee Owned Devices

Since most workers these days are already carrying a smartphone it may appear easier to let them use their own devices to access company applications. It’s what’s known as Bring Your Device or BYOD. Some companies have gone this route and provided a small reimbursement to employees to cover data usage costs. While this could be a very cost-effective approach, be aware that there are numerous complications that may befall companies choosing this strategy. Those would include:

  • Lack of adequate device capabilities.

Is the employee cheapest smartphone available or top of the line iPhone? Does it have a 3 inch screen that makes it hard to see the application you want them to use? Since you have no control over what the employee purchases, you need to be prepared for all possibilities.

  • Lack of device protection and/or replacement options

The mobile device is going to be used on or near the job site. What is it’s dropped off the roof, damaged, and the employee doesn’t have the ability to replace it right away. Will they still be able to perform their work? Likely not.

  • Lack of data security

We often entrust our workers with sensitive information such as job lists, estimates, customer contact information, and more. If their personal device is used to access this information, how will we ensure that it’s kept secure? Will we have the ability to remotely wipe lost or stolen devices?

If you’re going the BYOD route here are some things you can do to protect yourself:

  • Create a Mobile Device Policy For Employees that they must sign off on. It should cover:
    • Minimum device standards (screen size, memory, Operating systems, etc..)
    • Required accessories. For example, a protective case
    • Guidelines for handling sensitive company information
  • Invest in Mobile Device Management Software and require it be installed on employee-owned devices. We’ll talk more about that below.

Deploying Company-Owned Devices

While admittedly a larger expense than BYOD, especially at the outset, the level of control that deploying your own fleet of mobile devices cannot be understated. You may well find the benefits far outweigh the costs. With your own fleet of devices you’ll be able to:

  • Ensure a consistent and likely improved experience for everyone in your organization
  • Keep tighter controls on sensitive company information
  • Better protect the physical devices themselves and replace them easier when needed
  • Prevent employee misuse. For example, viewing/downloading porn

Best practices for companies that deploy their own fleet of mobile devices

  • Everyone should use the same type of device.

Keeping things consistent makes managing the fleet smoother. Applications will function the same on every device and you won’t need multiple sets of instructions for end users.

  • iOS vs. Android

I could write another entire article on the differences between these two operating systems. Your choice should depend on a mixture of compatibility and price. For example, if the apps that your team are going to be using function better on iOS, then you’ll likely want to go that way. I will say since Android is open source, it can be found on a far greater range of devices with various price points. If you’re particularly budget conscience, you should strongly consider Android rather then iOS.

  • Tablet or Phone?

Once again this decision should factor in the application(s) that will be used. Some types of apps work better on larger screen devices like tablets. Others can be used with simple smartphones. Engage your app provider to seek advice on what devices types would be best. The unique needs of your users shouldn’t be overlooked either. Is your team made up of extremely large fingered lads that wouldn’t appreciate a dainty device? Get them a tablet. Or perhaps you have a lot of older, farsighted foreman. Get input from your group before making a decision.

  • Accessories

Every device should be given to its user in a ruggedized case of some type. Otterbox makes them for most models. Screen protectors are also good idea considering these devices are going to be used on construction sites and the likelihood of them being dropped or damaged is very real.

  • Keep A Few Extras
  • Having 1-2 extra devices laying around for when someone new is hired or a device is lost is a lot easier than waiting for an ordered replacement and the extra cost should be negligible.

    • Invest In Mobile Device Management (MDM)

    Mobile device management software allows company administrators to enforce security measures on all devices such as passwords, encryption, etc…They can also restrict which types of apps can be installed and web pages that can be visited, thus preventing employee misuse. Devices that are lost or stolen can be remotely wiped of all data at the push of a button. There are MDM options to fit a range of budgets. Some options include Airwatch, Meraki, and Google Apps For Work. More on that last one in a future article.

    What About Connectivity?

    Once you’ve decided on which device is best for your company, you’ll need to determine the best options for data plans and calling from carriers in your area. This process deserves its own article and we’ll be publishing one in the near future as part of our “Ultimate Guide” series.

    Conclusion

    Making smart decisions about the mobile devices your company is using is a good idea. They are going to become more and more important as you seek to solve urgent business problems that require data capture from your field staff. Hopefully, now you understand how to best manage your mobile device fleet.