5 Tech Advantages Field Leaders Will Love

Read the article in Utility Contractor - June 2023

Greg Norris – B2W Software

Technology does more than make contractors more profitable. In a challenging labor market, it can also make a company a more rewarding place to work and assist in recruiting and retaining talented professionals.
These are five examples of how technology makes life easier for project managers, foremen, and craft workers while making these leaders in the field more efficient and productive.

1. Electronic daily field logs to record labor hours and performance data

Freeing heavy civil construction foremen and project managers from dreaded “paperwork” so they can focus on problem solving and building is universally seen as a key to job satisfaction and productivity. These employees report that the time it takes to enter field data typically goes from an hour or two per day to under 30 minutes when their companies switch from paper or spreadsheets to specialized electronic daily field logs. They also tend to enter information into electronic logs periodically throughout the day, as it happens, rather than waiting until the end of the day. This saves time and improves accuracy.

Managers can tailor and limit the sections, cost codes, employees and other variables visible on each log to what is relevant only for that particular job. Foremen, for example, don’t have to scroll past a long materials section for jobs that don’t involve materials or search through the company’s entire list of cost codes or equipment to find the right ones to enter. This makes it faster and easier to fill out the logs and much harder to make mistakes. The ability to capture time and materials work on the same log, include pictures and record electronic signatures add to the efficiency.

2. Paperless inspections and safety processes

Inspections and safety processes, like daily field logs, are essential. Paper slows processes and makes it harder to share data or turn it into valuable information that can be used to improve performance.

With an electronic process, leaders in the field can get the right materials and forms instantly. They don’t waste time searching for paper documents. Forms can be customized, so they can capture the required data with less effort.

Most importantly, electronic forms make it easy to aggregate data on accidents, incidents, near misses and other events automatically and populate routine or customized reports and dashboards. Contractors can then use these valuable tools to measure their performance, identify trends and drive continuous improvement.

With paper forms, this reporting and analysis is a manual process that takes a lot of time and administrative effort. Turning data into intelligence tends to be delayed and deferred as a result. Some companies forgo the analysis altogether.

Equipment inspections are another prime example. With an electronic system, forms can be easily customized for each specific piece of equipment. Operators or foremen can complete inspections faster and more thoroughly. Maintenance teams can receive them as soon as they are submitted, expediting the process for any necessary maintenance or repairs.

3. Daily reporting on actuals vs plan to motivate crews

In addition to saving them time, electronic field tracking and analysis gives competitive crews and leaders in the field a scoreboard. Field data captured electronically and reported immediately, can be converted instantly into a summary report.

Instead of waiting weeks or even months to get a complex accurate-to-the-penny report from accounting, crews can see the next day where they stand versus the plan and original estimate in a format that is easy to understand.

That’s motivational for employees that want to meet and exceed expectations. Knowing right away when something is falling behind gives them a chance to adjust operations immediately, while there is still time to catch up and impact the schedule and profitability of the job.

4. Managing equipment repair requests electronically from the field

Field managers and employees, including operators, are the eyes and ears on the ground when it comes to the status of expensive and essential equipment. Making it easy for them to report defects is a surefire way to drive down maintenance costs as well as breakdowns that disrupt production.

When contractors rely on phone calls, written notes and other unstructured, offline messages to report unplanned repair needs, they waste a lot of time, and it’s easy to make mistakes. Repairs invariably take longer to get completed. Small problems that are deferred frequently turn into major ones, as crews in the field continue to operate defective equipment to keep up with production demands.

The ideal solution is a field tracking application that enables repair requests to be submitted directly to an equipment maintenance application. Employees on the scene can make a thorough and immediate report, often including photos. Instead of sitting in a truck or on someone’s desk or disappearing altogether, that repair request is visible to the maintenance team as soon as it is submitted. A maintenance manager can assess the problem and schedule the work appropriately. Employees in the field can track the process and plan around when the repair will be completed, eliminating the all-too-common scenario of a request going  into a black hole.

5. Communicating resource needs directly to the scheduling system

Employee, crew and equipment requirements change all the time on heavy construction job sites.

As with reporting equipment defects, relying on paper forms, phone calls or other disconnected methods to relay those resource needs to the office is a recipe for frustration, wasted time and mistakes along with missed assignments and inefficient resource utilization.

A connected software platform instead allows managers in the field to use their performance tracking software to request equipment, crews or employees.

Instantly – or as soon as tracking software synchs if it is being used in an offline mode – this new resource need becomes visible in the scheduling application. From there, a scheduler or dispatcher can assign a specific asset, crew or person to fill the need. The manager in the field that made the request can also see the status as it is addressed by the scheduler.

Modern software applications are driving performance and efficiency gains across construction workflows. In the field, where the focus should be on hitting production targets, tools that minimize or even eliminate paperwork, redundant data entry and lag time are especially valuable. They also motivate employees and encourage them to move to or stick with a company that has them.

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