Read the article in Construction Outlook – June 2023, page 73
Five ways to get better data and make logs easier to fill out
Daily field logs are an essential staple for utility contractors, whether they are completed with a specialized software application, a spreadsheet or on paper.
The software option adds immediacy and accuracy while eliminating the need to re-key data for accounting, payroll or reporting. An additional and often overlooked advantage is the ability to personalize electronic field logs according to the needs of a business or the needs of an individual division or business unit.
Out-of-the box or default field logs can be very effective but, in construction, one size rarely fits all. Customizing the content, layout and even the labeling of fields makes logs easier for employees in the field to use and increase the accuracy, consistency and value of the information those logs capture.
These are five ways contractors can take advantage of field log customization.
Show, hide and reorder sections
No foreman or supervisor wants to search through a long, generic field log designed for every potential piece of information a company captures for every type of job it does in order to find the right place to enter field data. This is inefficient, frustrating and invariably leads to data being entered incorrectly, in the wrong place or both.
Field tracking applications typically divide the field log into sections such as ‘Employees’, ‘Equipment’, etc. They also give contractors the option to reorder the sections and to show or hide entire sections depending on relevancy or preference.
Data a contractor wants to track for a municipal sewer project can be very different from data needed for paving or earthwork jobs. Some jobs, for example, may have complex material, subcontractor or trucking components. Others may have none of those elements, but instead require extensive tracking of labor, equipment or time and materials work. Personalizing which sections are visible and where they appear on the log goes a long way towards making them easier to complete.
Suppress non-relevant identification numbers
One of the most common errors on field logs is the entry of incorrect identification numbers for production accounts, employees, equipment or other variables. The errors are easy to understand. Foremen and supervisors often have a lot of similar options to choose from, especially with production accounts. They may also simply make mistakes in haste or under the pressure of multitasking on the jobsite.
The ability to set up electronic logs to include only the identification numbers valid for that job as options for the person filling out the log is among the features highly valued by contractors that switch from paper and spreadsheets to specialized software. This can be done automatically when a job is transferred from the estimating software to the field tracking application, or it can be done in the field tracking application itself based on the data from the estimate.
Make the language familiar
Matching names of the sections or fields with the terminology a company uses is a small step, but it makes life easier for employees filling out field logs and it can avoid confusion and inconsistency when it comes to pulling reports.
Software applications make it easy to personalize these labels. A company that divides itself into “Divisions” and refers to the employee filling out a log as a “Foreman” or “Superintendent”, shouldn’t be forced to use a log that lists “Business Unit” and “Supervisor”. A log section referencing “Overhead Accounts” might be confusing for employees more accustomed to the term “Non-production Work”.
Take advantage of error checking
Like spell checking for written documents, error checking capabilities for electronic field logs are extremely valuable. Good applications include a long list of error checks that will alert the person filling out the log or prevent submission when potential mistakes are detected. These include things like work start or stop dates in the future; employees associated with another field log; employees that have not signed off on hours; production accounts that have exceeded estimated quantities; or employee or equipment total hours that are not equal to the number of hours worked based on start and stop time, etc.
Contractors can – and should – decide, from the menu of available error checks, which are most relevant to their projects and activate those.
Add custom properties
Standard field logs will be set up to capture information on production, equipment and material utilization, and labor. Custom properties give contractors a powerful option to add user-defined fields to their field logs. These supplement standard fields and provide a way to capture information specific to their business.
Some contractors, for example, may need to track weather conditions with varying levels of detail. Others may need to note when particular inspections are completed, whether or not employees attended safety meetings, or other information.
The variety of customized fields that a company could create and benefit from is unlimited. Field tracking software makes it easy to create them, format them and add them to specific sections of field logs.