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Cost-Effective Mobile Apps for Contractors

SAVE TIME, SAVE MONEY AND WIN NEW BIDS
BY KEVIN HALTER
CO-FOUNDER AND VP OF BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT
GETABLE, ON-DEMAND EQUIPMENT RENTAL PROCUREMENT

Many contractors are wary of spending money on new mobile applications, because they have been successful for years without them. They do everything with flip phones, Excel spreadsheets, Microsoft Outlook, and ERP/accounting software. Contractors invest in people, equipment and trucks. They buy materials and supplies. They have built a successful construction business over several decades by building new roads, bridges, and highways or office and commercial buildings. Why should they invest in new technology?

The average profit margin on a heavy-civil project is 2-3 percent and low bidder wins. Contractors should look for anything to make them more profitable and give them an edge in winning new projects. Technology can help control costs, in order to ensure their profit margins are not wiped clean. Investing in technology also allows time to acquire the leverage to bid more aggressively, in order to win future projects.

The biggest monetary driver for any project is labor and people, which accounts for more than 40 percent of any project cost. Any technology, which makes labor and the team more efficient, will make a company more profitable. How can technology reduce trips back to the trailer? Remove unnecessary phone calls, conference calls, or in-person meetings? How can online and mobile technology empower a contractor’s team with information at their fingertips to make better business decisions? How can technology improve the communication between the field, office, equipment, dispatch, and executive team? How can technology improve the communication between subcontractors and suppliers to keep the project on schedule?

Although the construction industry has been late to adopt new online and mobile technologies, contractors will be one of the biggest users and benefiters long term. After healthcare, construction is the second largest, skilled mobile workforce. No one is making minimum wage on a jobsite. Skilled construction labor earns anywhere from $30-$130 per hour and is the biggest driver of jobsite costs. It is also the biggest opportunity to drive increased margins and profitability for a project.

In construction, people are spread out across a jobsite, which can stretch miles, offices, trailers, floors of a building, or across an entire region serving multiple jobsites. Contractors work with owners, architects, many subcontractors, and many suppliers, in order to build a new bridge, highway, or office building. Anything that can be done to improve communication, visibility, and transparency among all of these internal and external team members has the potential to increase profit margins. Construction projects can also receive millions of dollars in awards for finishing on time or early. Time is money. What online or mobile application can you deploy to save your projects time?

With construction picking up in some U.S. markets, competition for talent has increased. The best, young civil engineers and construction management students grew up with smart phones. They used the latest technology in school and at home. They expect the same from their employer. If contractors want the best talent graduating today, they need to have the best tools for them to do their job. In fact, one of the largest heavy commercial builders in California recently shared that they began adopting new mobile apps solely for the reason that they were losing the war for talent coming out of school. It’s not just young employees either. Senior engineers and superintendents want new tools to save them time and help them do their jobs better. They have families and children at home. Any technology that saves them a few hours a week gives them more time with their family and leads to a happier employee. New technology also empowers them with data to make better decisions for the project. The best talent in the industry expects to use the best technology tools in the market.

By 2015, 100 percent of contractors will have a smart phone and 60 percent will own a tablet 1. The first contractors to deploy innovative new technology solutions will be more profitable, win more projects, recruit the best talent, and will have a head start on finding new ways to leverage these innovations on jobsites. The last contractor to bring technology to the jobsite may find himself significantly behind the competition.

When contractors examine new online or mobile applications, they should look for ease-of-use, end-user-driven product development, speed of development, and cross-platform ability. With regards to ease-of-use, does the new application require lengthy in-person training? How long does it take for a user to learn and adopt the application to its fullest extent? Amazon doesn’t teach anyone how to shop on its website. In other words, the software needs to be intuitive and easy-to-learn or contractors will waste money on training, implementing, and getting a high level of employee adoption with the software.

End-user product development is the degree to which a software company involves the end-users in their product decision and roadmaps. How often does the software company change their roadmap based on user feedback? How often do they speak with end users regarding their needs and feature requests? How quickly do those needs go into the product development cycle? They should be speaking to their end users on a weekly basis.

Speed of development is the rate at which new features and product improvements are released. What is their release cycle? Continuous, weekly, monthly, quarterly, or annually? The faster the release schedule, the more responsive the software team is to the needs of their end-users and the quicker they release new features and improvement.

Cross platform is the ability of the application to work across mobile operating systems and online via web browsers. Depending on the application, you may want Android and iOS or online access via a desktop or laptop. Today, 70 percent of contractors use an iOS device (iPhone or iPad), which is the leading operating platform for the construction industry. Many contractors want online access, in addition to mobile access.

Here are a few good mobile applications to consider:

  1. FieldLens: Mobile and web application that improves project communication between a general contractor, subcontractor, architect, and owner. Document job issues with photos and punch lists. Communicate about those to-do items.
  2. PlanGrid: Plans on an iPad and iPhone. Everyone on a project team is instantly updated when there are changes made to any documents. Always work on up-to-date plans and improve communication via the field, project engineering, and architect teams.
  3. Heavy Job: Daily job costing and time entry. Real-time, data on production levels.
  4. Bim360Field (previously Vela): Punch lists, safety and quality issues, and field data management.

More and more contractors are adopting the above mobile applications. iPhones and iPads are being deployed on jobsites every day. The rising contractor demand for new online and mobile applications will drive new software innovations in the coming years. The contractors, who take advantage of these applications, will increase their profit margins, attract top talent, win new bids, and save their projects time and money.

Kevin Halter is the co-founder and VP of business development at Getable, a mobile and online platform for procuring and managing equipment rentals. Getable tackles all of the challenges with equipment rentals, such as untimely off-rents, cycle billing, availability, and local competitive pricing. Getable improves communication, transparency, and visibility of equipment rentals on-and-off a jobsite and saves contractors significant time and money.

1 According to Engineering News Record (ENR).