Electronic Field Tracking - How to Outperform Paper Processes

Click here to read the article in the May issue of Construction Business Owner magazine

 

Electronic Daily Field Tracking in Heavy Civil Construction

How to outperform paper processes & increase worker productivity

By John Sheedy - May, 2018 - One of the most distinguishing features about the heavy civil construction industry is the volume and complexity of productivity, labor and materials that must be managed daily. This amount of activity presents challenges for communication and collaboration–and these challenges are exacerbated when construction workers are relying on paper processes to capture, share and analyze project status information.

 

To bridge these gaps, more heavy civil construction companies are using specialized field tracking software and electronic field logs, which make information available to the right people in real time, so operations can be adjusted and profitability can be protected.

 

How Paper Processes Limit Effective Daily Field Tracking

All personnel within a heavy civil construction company would likely agree that daily field tracking and reporting are the optimal way to stay on top of the progress being made in the field and gain essential visibility into the entire project.

 

However, many heavy civil construction companies continue to rely on paper process rather than modern software for field tracking and analysis.

 

Although paper-based processes might seem to have certain benefits–price and simplicity among them– these advantages quickly turn into disadvantages when attempting to empower your business with timely data for optimal performance and output. Some of the most common drawbacks of using paper include:

 

  • Fragility and ambiguity: Paper, of course, is a physical medium, and therefore is susceptible to becoming lost, damaged or destroyed. If field activities recorded on paper can’t be referenced in a timely manner–or at all, it can set a project back significantly, leading to additional costs and time delays. Data captured on paper can also be unstructured, with the accuracy and quality dependent on the style and effort of the person filling it out. This can lead to errors, misinterpretation and extra steps to compile reports.
  • Delays: Paper-based processes will be inherently slower than electronic ones. Someone must be responsible for transporting and delivering recorded information between the field and the office. Field tracking data, however, should be delivered and analyzed daily to stay on top of the progress and performance for a given job. If it’s taking days or even weeks for paper forms to be passed on to the necessary decision-makers, it can delay your ability to react quickly and manage projects effectively.
  • Lack of visibility: Employees in the field need to know where they stand on productivity and costs relative to the plan so they can make appropriate adjustments. Using paper processes can deprive employees of necessary visibility into project insights, which means paper presents an impossible choice: restrict your employees’ access to information, or spend excessive time aggregating data and creating reports manually to help them view, edit and share that information. This is a choice many heavy civil construction companies are faced with–in fact, 93 percent of contractors report that they lack access to daily project performance data.

 

The Benefits of Field Tracking Software

As a modern, technological solution, field tracking software offers a far more robust method for data collection and information tracking of field activities, productivity and progress. The advantages of field tracking software include:

 

  • Efficiency: With field tracking software, users can quickly and easily capture information about field progress—including productivity, labor, materials and equipment data—and send it to the right people. You can create highly-customized field logs or use templates based on previous forms.
  • Standardization and centralization: One major drawback of paper processes is that they often lack a well-established workflow, resulting in a high degree of irregularity in how they’re fulfilled. Field tracking software requires users to include the same data and submit forms to the same people for approval, wrapping everything up within a centralized, user-friendly dashboard interface.
  • Mobility: The right field tracking software includes mobile functionality so employees can use it at any time and with a variety of devices—including computers, laptops, smartphones and tablets.
  • Error checking: Because there are no failsafe systems in place to catch mistakes and typos, paper processes are highly susceptible to human error. Field tracking software can catch problems such as missing data and potential errors, alerting the user to fix the issue before submitting the form.

 

Digital Field Tracking Can Boost Your Workforce

Making the switch from paper processes to modern software solutions can significantly change the game for a heavy civil construction workforce.

 

  • Employees are more motivated if they can see the progress they're making on a daily basis and know how they're doing day to day. The improved visibility that field tracking software provides will, in turn, create more of an incentive for workers to improve their performance and do a good job every day.
  • Workers make greater progress because field tracking software is easier to work with than paper forms due to its easy customization and support for mobile technologies. Its dashboard interface also gives real-time visibility into your data.
  • Managers do their jobs better, as they can quickly view employees’ progress reports with the click of a button. This real-time information helps managers adjust quickly and take the correct actions, without having to wait for updates and spend time correcting work that has already been done.

 

In fact, one study found nine out of 10 companies using field tracking software confirmed the technology allows them to make smarter, more data-driven decisions.

 

Construction companies still have a long way to go when it comes to adopting digital technologies. According to management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, the construction industry is one of the least digitized sectors, ahead of only agriculture and hunting.

 

To benefit from the advantages of modern software-based solutions and gain a competitive edge, construction companies need to combat this organizational inertia by implementing modern, digital software solutions for streamlining heavy civil construction workflows like field tracking.

 

John Sheedy is a product manager for B2W Software. He has had a leadership role in the development of the company's specialized B2W Track element for field tracking and analysis and the B2W Schedule element for resource scheduling and dispatching.

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