by: Paul McKeon
Founder and CEO – B2W Software
As an established software supplier, we work with contractors representing a wide range of heavy construction specialties across North America. Our daily interactions with these business leaders provide critical insight into many of the compelling opportunities and challenges facing them in the new year. These also provide a clear indication that technology can play a key role in providing a path to growth and profitability.
Based on their input, here are five of the trends we expect to see this year.
1. Converging economic and infrastructure conditions will drive further technology investment for scale
Contractors are optimistic that infrastructure construction requirements and economic strength will keep the volume of both public and private projects high. This is true across most work types, from highway construction and paving, to utilities, site work, energy and other specialized sectors. The gap between what must be built and the funding to build it, however, is expected to keep margins tight.
Contractors recognize that success and profitability will hinge on working more efficiently across the board. They have seen that investing in the right software solutions to improve workflows and outdated processes has paid big dividends in this area. These proven results, combined with ongoing software innovation in areas like automation, mobility, workflow integration, analytics and centralized data will expand technology investments.
2. Contractors will move from software solutions to software platforms
Construction is catching up to other sectors relative to reaping the benefits of digital transformation. Moving past silo’d software solutions, contractors are realizing that solutions designed to work together seamlessly create new levels of ROI and efficiency not possible with disparate systems or redundant data.
Suppliers like B2W are moving to answer this demand, and three basic approaches for deploying estimating and operations software are emerging:
- Platforms purpose-built for managing estimating and operational workflows like scheduling, field tracking and equipment maintenance cohesively, with a single database for operational data and a seamless connection to construction accounting systems
- Independently developed or acquired applications for estimating and operations assembled by contractors or software suppliers with the support of third-party integrators to ensure that databases and interfaces can work together
- Accounting-systems offering a variety of secondary add-ons acquired or developed in-house by the supplier to provide support accounting, estimating and operational needs.
3. Data is everywhere, and more of it will be converted into business intelligence
Contractors will ramp up their reliance on an underutilized asset – data – as software, connectivity, GPS/telematics and more provides them with immediate access to an expanding wealth of information and insight they can use to make better, and more timely decisions.
Paperless processes with automated reporting and dashboards will also allow contractors to bypass redundant data entry and prohibitive manual efforts while enjoying the many benefits of real-time data visualization, No longer a complicated, IT-intensive exercise, contractors of all sizes can look for improvements in:
- Real-time cost management in the field, without waiting for reporting from accounting systems
- Predictive analytics impacting everything from planning and job execution to equipment maintenance and safety
- Resource optimization through real-time collaborative scheduling and dispatching
- Employee motivation through communication of actual versus planned performance on a daily basis.
Alerts and notifications triggered and delivered automatically by software applications for things like accidents or schedule changes will also play an expanded role in making contractors safer and more efficient.
4. Easy-to-use applications will streamline operations and blur the challenges of technology adoption
From the office to the job site, attitudes and expectations about technology are evolving rapidly, and the outdated adages that “we don’t need it” and “my guys in the field won’t be able to use it” will continue to fade.
Employees, especially younger ones, use software and technology in every aspect of their lives. They now expect to use it at work as well. Perspectives are changing at management levels, too, as a younger and more tech-savvy generation moves into leadership roles at many companies. In a tight labor market, technology will be an increasingly important differentiator that proactive contractors will use to attract and retain these employees.
Finally, software technology itself will continue to become easier to deploy and use in a construction environment. Even as they develop more advanced features and capabilities, the leading construction software suppliers are focusing on the demands of contractors for systems with intuitive user interfaces and built around intuitive “construction logic” vs IT or accounting logic.
5. More mobile and less paper
A survey we conducted with Dodge Data in 2018 indicated that 99 percent of heavy construction contractors now use mobile technology on the job site. The proliferation of mobile devices and the move to “paperless” processes will continue to accelerate, driven by the potential for improved productivity and utilization of data.
Contractors are clearing seeing benefits of mobile technology in collecting information and communicating in real time. Increasingly, they will leverage that technology for analytics and data-driven decision making.
The range of uses will also expand. Many contractors initially adopted and are using mobile technology for project management, field tracking and cost management. Look for mobile devices and connectivity to gain further penetration in the scheduling and dispatching, safety and fleet maintenance workflows.