The New Normal: Construction Technology Is Key to Successful Project Outcomes
By Keaton J. Green, Construction Executive
As both human and material resources are scarce and construction projects are increasingly complex, it is still an accepted belief that the contractor must deliver the project on time, under budget and with guaranteed quality. Contractors are challenged to deliver in all three areas for the project to be considered successful. What, then, is left to differentiate one contractor from another? How can contractors and subcontractors prove their competitive advantage and ensure that they stay on the leading edge of those typical, minimal commitments?
For contractors such as South Carolina-based Frampton Construction, the goal is to innovate, inspire continuous improvement and over-deliver on common construction expectations. These days, technology plays a major role in project development. It offers enhanced communication as well as the ability to compile and share project information, identify key schedule-related tasks and increase efficiency.
Technology ensures the typical project commitments are met and exceeded while keeping the entire project team engaged and informed and improving the construction experience overall. Technology can facilitate, manage and measure key benchmarks, as it offers solutions to issues that once plagued the construction industry. How, then, can technology be used to enhance project delivery and eliminate waste?
Whether it’s design related or the owner’s change request, modifications are inevitable on a construction project. Contractors must enforce strict change management requirements throughout, including reviews of proposed costs and schedule impacts. The intent is to present fair and accurate data, while getting authorized approval, to keep the project moving forward.
Therefore, contractors must be efficient and disciplined to minimize risk, collectively modify the game plan and keep the project on track. Technology helps to mitigate risk by providing expedited reviews and electronic cost approvals and by verifying against market trends. Accurate and up-to-date information makes all parties accountable.
With technology, contractors can provide detailed cost backup and approval via electronic submission, link cost to potential change orders or prime contract change orders, provide updated budgets in real time, and help field personnel understand when items are approved. One of the best ways to mitigate exposure centers is the implementation of electronic approval (i.e., the electronic signature). Change orders, purchase orders and contracts are all eligible for electronic signature. With faster-documented approval, projects can move forward expediently.
Consistency is key with quality control. Contractors can establish templates for inspections and learn from company/market trends and then incorporate the lessons, aided by technology, as part of the overall review process. Technology allows global communication and documentation, and provides a dynamic platform from which to address trends in the construction industry. It makes real-time document management a reality to ensure that all parties are working off the latest set of contract documents.
With that, changes are easily identified and sent immediately to mobile devices, while notifications can be distributed to entire project teams, and electronic plan rooms can provide an abundant amount of information not found on typical paper copies. Field supervisors can also document and distribute photos via shared viewing platforms.
Technology helps ensure that quality is improving daily. However, it only works if contractors take the time to manage and implement the processes. The culture of quality enforces timely corrections, eliminates unnecessary back charges and ultimately provides a more profitable project for all team members involved.
In the commercial sector of construction, owners require accurate completion dates to conduct their business accordingly. Technology ensures smooth communication about project schedule, which allows for proper planning during construction and post-construction. Contractors can adjust and/or manage issues to mitigate schedule impacts. For instance, contractors can communicate accurate mobilization dates to subcontractors, submittals can be managed per the required due date and material procurement can be analyzed.
Benchmarks and milestones are established and, if issues arise, contractors can provide conflict resolution to ensure the project gets back on schedule. Construction software automates notifications for items causing schedule delays, provide alerts for critical path slips or to provide strategic alternates to get the project back on schedule. With the best use of construction technology, there should be minimal schedule surprises at the end of a project.
To remain competitive, owners should require the use of current, proven technology on construction projects. Technology shores up resources, provides thorough analysis of potential impacts, delivers real-time data and identifies problem-solving strategies. By establishing a culture of continuous improvement and innovation, entire project teams (owners, contractors and subcontractors) benefit from more efficient practices and ultimately become better companies, delivering the best end result for every client.