Adopting Mobile Technology for Field Operations
Real-time Data and Connectivity Help Heavy Civil Contractors
Confront Challenges and Drive Profitability
“How do we do more, faster and for less?” is the essential question contractors are asking as they reconcile changing project demands, changing expectations and emerging mobile technology options available to help them manage field operations more effectively. In heavy civil sectors, the answers – and the technology choices – are impacted by the unique variables that distinguish horizontal infrastructure construction from vertical projects.
Heavy Civil Pressures: Unique and Intensifying
Technology is a two-way street, according to Dan McGrew, vice president at Griffith Company, a full service contractor that completes projects ranging in value to $150 million throughout Southern California. “Technology is increasing our speed and efficiency, but at the same time it’s elevating the expectations of project owners and stakeholders about how fast and how efficiently we can deliver projects,” he explains.
Dan McGrew - The Griffith Company
McGrew concurs that heavy civil projects are getting larger and more complex, while schedules are being compressed. Regulatory requirements are increasing as well, along with safety, quality, documentation and project transparency mandates. Margin pressure is also increasing, driven by the funding gap between well-documented infrastructure requirements in North America and the money needed to meet them.
While vertical construction typically takes place on a site that’s segregated and contained, horizontal projects are usually built in and around existing conditions. The environment can change over the course of the project, and limiting disruptions to the surrounding infrastructure is a key challenge for field operations. Contractors on highway or bridge projects, for example, often have to keep both construction progress and traffic flowing at full speed.
Field challenges for civil projects can be compounded by geographical and spatial factors. “Having to manage our resources and equipment on linear projects that span across many miles and that may be far away from an urban center shapes the technology we need,” explains McGrew.
Mobile Technology Delivers Data and Connectivity
As heavy civil contractors confront these challenges, data is an increasingly important tool, and mobile devices and apps are playing an essential role in how they capture and leverage it. Field tracking software, GPS, telematics, electronic document management systems and other technologies provide real-time project data, and that timely, accurate information drives more informed decisions.
“When our foremen and leaders in the field have a mobile device in their hands, they can collect field data, they can access data and when they submit electronic field logs at the end of the day they can measure their performance against the budget,” McGrew explains. “That kind of easy access to data is new and a real benefit.”
Mobile technology also keeps field personnel connected to each other and to the office and the shop. That connectivity, combined with an expanded collection of data via mobile technology, forms a powerful one-two business intelligence punch. Contractors can analyze that data, report on it and use it to make smarter, more coordinated decisions on everything from safety procedures and equipment maintenance to resource scheduling.
Evaluating the ROI
The benefits of mobile technology in the field are clear. Navigating the technology maze, making the right investments and creating a cohesive platform, however, can be tricky.
“We are bombarded with new technologies and software for the field,” says McGrew. His company tries to stay on the leading edge but not the bleeding edge, and to weigh investment and deployment costs against the ability to gain process efficiencies, instant access to information and improved data quality and integrity.
McGrew cautions companies not to measure the ROI of field technology strictly on the potential to reduce overhead. Instead, he says, the main benefit is more likely to be overall efficiency, quality, risk reduction and, ultimately, the long-term ability to control costs and win more work.
“We also have to look at the cost of not embracing new technology and, if we stay out of that game, is it going to cost us work,” he concludes. “The ROI may be difficult to evaluate, but we’re going to have to embrace mobile field technology if we’re going to stay competitive and profitable.”