November 19, 2020
by: Greg Norris
Four ways to move beyond the limitations of one-size-fits-all field reporting
Every construction company relies on some form of field log, but one size does not fit all. Requirements for recording labor and productivity on the jobsite as well as material and equipment utilization and other data vary significantly across heavy civil sectors and from company to company. The content and layout of daily logs should vary too.
Contractors that move from paper and spreadsheets to specialized construction field management software gain valuable opportunities to tailor logs to the specific type of work they perform and the way they want to manage operations and data. They save time and makes life easier for their leaders in the field while also enhancing data accuracy and reporting capabilities. These are four key customization options that construction reporting software should provide.
Add Custom Properties
Software for field tracking and analysis comes with basic fields to record phase codes, labor and equipment hours, production quantities, materials and other information commonly required. Contractors choose which of these standard sections or fields to include in their logs.
Custom properties are user-defined fields that supplement standard fields and take customization to a much higher level.
A contractor, for example, may have very specific requirements for recording weather conditions on the jobsite. Another might need to capture delivery times for materials, specify the type of per-diem pay employees get or document when specific inspections were completed and what the results were – all in particular formats.
The variety of customized fields that a company could create and benefit from is unlimited. Powerful field tracking software makes it easy to create them, format them and add them to specific sections of field logs.
Structure the Data
Whether data is recorded in a standard or custom field, structure is important. Software should make it easy to specify how information is entered and offer a range of options such as drop-down lists, check boxes, and fields that accept dates, numbers, currencies, lengths or weights. Structure makes it easier to enter information correctly and to pull it into reports.
An open text field for recording weather leaves it up to the discretion of each foreman or superintendent as to how to fill it in. One might type “nice” or “cold”. Another might enter a long, detailed description.
A drop-down list with options like “heavy rain”, “light rain”, “partially sunny”, etc. and a box requiring a number for the temperature in Fahrenheit would yield more precise and consistent information. Supervisors would know exactly how to fill out the log, and there would be no ambiguity for someone reviewing it.
A month or two after a job, a log documenting the temperatures and amount of rain would be a lot more helpful for a paving company analyzing quality issues than a log that listed the weather as “cold”, “nice” or “raining”.
Most importantly, consistent, structured data for weather – or any other variables – allows contractors to pull together information from any number of logs over time and across various jobs to run reports automatically. Inconsistent, unstructured data makes reporting a time consuming and labor-intensive manual effort.
Rename Fields and Sections
Every contractor has its own terminology for personnel, equipment, activities and materials. Field tracking software should give administrators the option to bring these naming conventions into the daily log by customizing how sections and fields are labeled.
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”.
Matching labels on the field log with language a company actually uses makes life easier for those filling out the logs and those analyzing the data and creating reports. They can work faster and avoid inconsistencies and errors.
Reorder and Show Only What’s Necessary
Field logs can be extremely long to account for every possible scenario a company might face. The problem is, not all sections and fields apply to every job. Forcing a supervisor to scroll through a long, generic log to pinpoint the relevant places to enter data causes frustration, wastes time and leads to errors and omissions.
Smart field tracking software provides the option to turn off or hide entire sections. Labor, Equipment, and Materials might be relevant on every job, but a company could hide Overhead Accounts, Trucking, Subcontractors, Time and Material Work or other sections for projects that do not involve those variables. Similarly, contractors should be able to adapt where sections and fields appear on the log to match the preferences of the people filling them out.
Customizing field logs can be a powerful competitive advantage. Flexibility to add user-defined fields, structure how data is entered and revise how fields or sections appear streamlines field tracking and analysis. Time saved and improvements in usability, accuracy and reporting can be substantial. Even when these gains seem minor or incremental, however, they add up fast in a process that is an everyday requirement for contractors.