MAY 2018 - Construction data is beginning to flow from the jobsite to the office. The adoption of advanced technologies associated with heavy equipment—such as global positioning systems (GPS) and telematics—continues to rise, but one of the big changes in the past few years has been the integration of field-based fleet information into a contractor’s business management software.
“By connecting the office to the field through integrated applications, many equipment-management tasks in both places will become more automated, reducing time, error, and omission,” explains Wayne Newitts, director, strategic partnerships, Viewpoint Construction Software.
Many construction technology providers are looking at how they can provide deeper integrations between the office and field operations—which will ultimately provide long-term value to construction organizations.
FLEET DATA: A TOTAL PICTURE OF EQUIPMENT UTILITY
Replacing paper with more efficient, real-time electronic processes for data capture and analysis is a growing trend in the construction industry today. One prime example with this is the equipment inspection process.
“Electronic inspection forms are easier to fill out, deliver accurate and richer data, including photos and videos, and they can be submitted instantly,” explains John Kane, product manager, B2W Software. “This speeds up the work order process and cuts down the days-to-repair cycle.”
Further, specialized maintenance software is replacing paper-based systems and spreadsheets. These software systems include technology such as GPS and telematics data, as well as integrated purchasing and inventory functionality.
“They bring efficiency to the work order process and centralizing all of the relevant information, including preventive maintenance schedules, repair history, and documentation,” says Kane.
There are many new technologies available to capture discrete information of an equipment fleet including location, runtime, wearable part replacement, and more.
“As standalone data points these are certainly important things to know,” Newitts says. “But the real potential uplift for contractors comes when these data points are brought together over time to create a total picture of equipment utility.”
He suggests that before investing in tools to capture more data, instead ask where, when, and how that data could or should be used. Next, be sure to carry that investment through to office systems that have the intelligence and benchmarking tools to help turn raw data into wise equipment management decisions.
CONNECTING THE OFFICE AND THE FIELD
Today many contractors are in the process of adopting GPS tracking and telematics data capture across an entire fleet and are beginning to institute basic controls such as geo-fencing.
Newitts suggests that the next step will be to connect the field with the office and the equipment yard through integrated applications that push real-time equipment usage and even data to the contractor’s system of record at the office, and which can delivery timely, relevant information to field staff via their mobile devices.
He points to one specific example: Operating hours, fuel/oil usage, and project-management task completion can be electronically captured in the field via a cloud-enabled app that feed this information directly to a contractors’ business management or enterprise-resource planning system.
“The office-based system can use this information to attribute equipment costs to jobs and can push alerts to scheduled preventive maintenance tasks back out to the field,” he says. “The net result being more accurate job costing and fewer hours of equipment downtime.”
Taking this even a step further, increasingly, contractors are turning to specialized maintenance software to get more proactive with their preventative maintenance programs, cut costs, and increase equipment uptime.
Kane says, B2W Software is seeing a push to manage fleet maintenance in a more holistic manner. “Contractors realize that they can maximize utilization and efficiency when managers in the field, the scheduler/dispatcher, and the maintenance team can all communicate in real time through a unified system.”
Specialized maintenance software can move contractors from a reactive mode of just fixing equipment when it breaks down to a proactive mode by driving automated preventive maintenance schedules.
Software also adds process efficiency. For example, a manager sending a mechanic to a jobsite for a specific piece of equipment can quickly see what other assets on the site or nearby have current or upcoming maintenance requirements. This maximizes the mechanic’s time and minimizes equipment downtime.
“Unified software systems also create opportunities for construction companies to collaborate more effectively,” explains Kane. “Employees in the field can create repair requests in the field-tracking software that go directly to the maintenance software. Maintenance software can communicate equipment status directly to the schedule and the field tracking applications.”
Today, many construction technology providers are coming to market with new tools to enable better preventative maintenance in the industry.
For instance, Hitachi Solutions develops field-service solutions designed to help organizations move toward a more preventative maintenance model and recently unveiled the Hitachi Solutions Extended Field Service and the Hitachi Solutions IoT Service Hub, which enables organizations to connect and monitor devices and analyze the data in real time to create new predictive maintenance capabilities.
While the return on investment of moving toward this type of solution can be big, contractors need to pay careful consideration to the data points that need to drive KPIs (key performance indicators) involved in detailing fleet and process analysis.
“Tracking key performance indicators is critical to improving maintenance programs, and software helps in this area,” continues Kane. “Contractors should be trying to meet or exceed industry benchmarks for maintenance costs as a percentage of overall revenue, how many hours mechanics spend on emergency and preventative work as a percentage of their total hours, how much of their maintenance expenses are for labor versus materials, and other metrics.”
Finally, construction companies should be prepared to review and refine their overall maintenance processes as part of the implementation process, which will allow them to maximize the capabilities of the software.
Going forward, the data generated at the jobsite will be able to be better leveraged in the office to help make more informed decisions for the future. As this happens, construction companies will experience greater productivity and uptime.