6 Ways Electronic Forms Improve Heavy Construction Operations

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Six Ways Electronic Forms Can Improve Heavy Civil Construction Operations

By Elizah Hulseman | Monday, August 6, 2018

From timesheets and field logs to equipment inspection, quality assurance and safety forms, modern heavy civil construction companies are swimming in documents that catalog their business operations. For a long time, paper forms remained the most effective solution, as digital data collection was first unavailable and then prohibitively complicated or expensive. However, with the rise of smartphones and other mobile devices and accompanying software applications, the cost-benefit analysis has been entirely reversed.

Electronic forms are not only now more affordable and easy to use, they also come with an entire suite of additional benefits – including the ability to collect more and better information. Implementing an electronic form system helps provide a richer range of data around heavy civil construction operations. 


The adage that a picture is worth a thousand words tends to be highly accurate, especially when it comes to heavy civil construction. Photographs of equipment or activity on the jobsite convey information much more effectively and clearly than a written description. Before moving to electronic forms, businesses that wanted to include photos on a form would have to print them out and attach them manually, increasing the chance that they would be lost or mixed up. Including videos wasn't even imaginable. Later, the ability to e-mail photos or videos separately came along, but this creates the confusion of two or more independent streams of information. 

Leveraging electronic forms, a worker in the field could take a photograph of a broken-down vehicle to help describe a mechanical failure, or a foreman could film a video walkthrough of the jobsite to illustrate how the project is proceeding. Those photos and videos are then attached to or embedded within the electronic form, which can be easily shared with shop and office personnel so they have the information they need without any back-and-forth, time delays or misinterpretation.


One recurring theme when it comes to paper forms for heavy civil construction operations is that they're slow and inefficient, particularly in terms of the approval process. Paper forms need to be manually delivered, signed and returned, with delays a likely possibility at each stage of the process. With electronic forms, documents can be signed instantly using an e-signature function once the sender issues it, but they also can be routed automatically to the next recipient. This lightning-quick speed allows streamlining of business workflows, so users know exactly where a document is in the approval process.


Another reoccurring theme with paper forms is the data integrity. When a worker is tasked with filling out forms for every job, it’s up to that individual to interpret what should be included in each form field, which can lead to inconsistencies in how vital information is entered. For instance, one worker might write a measurement using feet, while another uses inches. One worker might abbreviate the date while another might spell it out. Furthermore, written forms lead to more errors as handwriting can often be hard to read. This type of inconsistent data is called “unstructured” because it is just that–data that doesn’t follow a set of guidelines as to how it should be entered, which makes interpretation of that data difficult. 

Electronic forms allow data to become “valid.” Users can employ drop-down menus to make it easy for workers to select the correct information and build in defined fields, such as feet vs. inches, to ensure information is entered consistently. Electronic forms also provide options for check boxes, radio buttons, auto-population, etc. – all of which make data more accurate and valid, and makes it easier for workers to fill out the information and get back to the job. 


One serious risk involved in using paper forms is users have to take them at their word. In the field, it's all too easy for workers to purposely or mistakenly skip a field on a form or provide incorrect information, particularly regarding where or when a form was completed. With electronic forms, trust can be automatically built into the product itself. Many electronic forms include GPS functionalities that document the location where it was completed. Similarly, a timestamp functionality can also help verify when the form was completed or updated.


A disadvantage of paper forms is that they are inflexible. Making changes or corrections to a printed form means going back to edit the template or create, print and distribute new forms, which can be expensive and time-consuming. Electronic forms allow users to add, delete and create new entries and sections as needed to capture the exact information about a specific activity, piece of equipment or process. These modifications can be done on the fly and from any device with form access. The updated forms can then be immediately distributed to those who use them during their work.


Once completed and collected, paper forms still need to be manually entered into a system back at the office, a time-consuming and error-prone task. In addition, unless the company is using third-party analytics software, manual examination of this data will inevitably overlook important trends that can help inform bids and future decision-making. Many electronic forms systems include or automatically integrate with analytics solutions that can provide valuable insights and track important metrics over time. These solutions make it easy to generate and distribute rich, vital data through routine as well as ad-hoc reports and dashboards.

The simplicity, ease and increased data volume and integrity electronic forms provide are hard to ignore when it comes to the positive impact on heavy civil construction operations. The richer data collection benefits both field and office workers alike. When more and better information is easy to collect, transfer and interpret, users can focus on the work, not the paperwork, and make data-driven decisions.

B2W product manager Elizah Hulseman has had a leadership role in the development of B2W Inform, the company’s unified solution for enterprise-wide data capture and analysis.

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