When organizations make the transition from managing projects on paper and spreadsheets to implementing some kind of construction administration software, they usually experience an influx of time and cost-savings benefits. FHWA first began promoting e-Construction software solutions through its EDC-4 initiative. Since then, FHWA has expanded its recommendations to include digital tools for e-Ticketing, GIS data capture, asset lifecycle management, and more.
If you’re considering making the switch to digital project delivery, this article provides an overview of some of the greatest benefits you can expect from construction administration software.
Comprehensive record-keeping to build the ultimate audit trail
One of the worst feelings is when a project seems like it’s all buttoned up, only for a contractor to raise a dispute that leads to an audit. Time that should be spent moving projects forward has to be spent digging through old files and shared drives to verify quantities and put together a report.
With a digital solution, all project data is stored in one database. That means if a question is raised about a specific work day, the project manager can instantly pull up the data from that day to resolve the issue, while external auditors will have no issue finding what they need. One engineering consultant shared how construction administration software has improved his process:
“If the stakeholder had a question on a particular pay item, they would have to go back to an Excel sheet that had the daily totals on it, see that there’s 4 days where we paid for that [item], then he would have to back and open 4 files for those days and then review down through the report to find the information. That may be 15-20 minutes just tracking down those 4 days, where now it’s a matter of less than a minute to get the same information available,” the consultant said.
Reducing inspector travel time with mobile inspection tools
Your inspectors are great at capturing essential data out in the field, but eventually, that information has to find its way back to the office. When inspectors need to physically travel back to an office to deliver their reports, we’ve seen all sorts of issues arise. Sometimes, inspectors have to share flash drives that are often lost or misplaced. And when issues arise on projects, it may be a week before the project manager can get their hands on a report and resolve the issue.
Cloud-based construction administration software eliminates these issues with real-time data syncing from the field to the office. Inspectors can capture daily report information in their phones, tablets, or laptops, then use Wi-Fi or a hotspot to sync field data back to the office. This solution means inspectors can travel less, and inspect more. As one consultant shared, the time savings add up quickly:
“Under the old way, the inspector would write the reports, and once a week, maybe even once every two weeks, he would have to make the trip back into the office, spend 2-3 hours there scanning all those reports in, then travel back to the job site. On a weekly basis, those guys are saving 3-4 hours a week of time lost in the office that’s now able to be spent in the field on the project, where we want them,” he said.
Increasing the accuracy of data with source data capture
Inspectors having to travel back to the office to deposit their daily reports can cause other issues besides travel delays. The project may not be fresh in their mind when they go to transcribe their report. Other times, the inspector hands their report off to an office administrator who has great difficulty reading the inspector’s handwriting. Even in instances where the information is captured digitally in a spreadsheet, a simple math error may derail all of the report’s data.
When using construction administration software, inspectors capture project report data directly from the source, with automatic calculations to ensure accuracy. Capturing data one time at the source reduces duplicative efforts and improves overall accuracy. Including multimedia in the reports also helps bolster the quality of the data, according to one Director of Public Works.
“Daily reports are the best, being able to use [a mobile inspection app] to take photos and document what’s going on in the job on a daily basis,” said the Director.
Generate pay estimates in no time at all
The work is done, the contractors want to be paid, but you have a mountain of pay item tabulation to do before you can generate a payment. The very nature of construction administration software makes it so you’ll never have to spend hours in an Excel spreadsheet to create an accurate pay estimate. When inspectors record their daily reports, or when change orders occur, all pay items are tracked in the system with associated qualities. That means when the project is complete, generating a pay estimate is literally as easy as pressing a button. It keeps projects moving, and perhaps more importantly, keeps contractors happy.
“We were able to generate that estimate the week after the project was done,” said one engineering consultant. “The biggest benefit for that is to the contractor, he’s due that money, he spent the $2 million last week, and last year it took him 6 weeks to get his money, this year it will take 3 weeks. So it keeps the contractors happy,” he concluded.
Access real-time data and stop potential issues in their tracks
We’ve talked about how capturing data at the source in a construction administration platform offers great time-saving and accuracy-ensuring benefits to contractors and office administrators. But what about the project manager or owner, responsible for oversight and successful execution of the project? Real-time access to project data means they can stop small issues before they snowball into major problems. One project owner shared how searchable access to real-time project data saves time and stress at the job site:
“Just recently on a multi-phase project in North Carolina, they were having trouble finding a buried conduit that they had to connect in a later phase. They were saying it’s not there. In 5 minutes, our project manager was able to pull up the report and the photo of where it was and go out to the field staff and say: ‘Stop telling me it isn’t here. It’s here. Here it is,’” he said.
Standardize your construction management processes
Standardization - a goal of many organizations, with very few actually working towards achieving it. It’s an understandable challenge. People get stuck in their ways, and processes that started out as temporary can become a fixed way of doing things. And as new hires bring their own preferences, whether it be for orange field books or complicated spreadsheets, systems can grow increasingly disparate. An organization may suddenly find that no two projects are managed alike, creating nightmares for project managers and other stakeholders.
Adopting a construction administration platform is one way for organizations to force standardization. Projects can be templated to your organization’s specifications and needs, so every project that’s managed in the system will be managed the same way. There may be some friction as personnel push back against change, but the benefits of standardization are more than worth the growing pains.
Leverage your platform and process as a marketing tool
Project owners want to know that their project is in good hands. What’s more appealing to the project owner? A management system that uses a scattered mix of spreadsheets, shared drives, sticky notes, and field books, or one that stores all project data in an easily accessible and searchable database?
The answer is obvious, and more and more consulting firms are learning that their project management process can actually serve as a marketing tool to win more work. The consultant can show how the project will be managed and tracked in a digital system, with read-only stakeholder access as a nice bonus for the curious owner. As one engineering consultant shared, the right project management platform can really help a firm stand out.
“We think it differentiates our team and wins us work,” he said.
Are you looking for the right construction administration software?
If you are looking for software that’s specific to unit cost/price contracts on heavy civil infrastructure projects, Appia might be the right solution for you. Appia was built to fill a specific niche in the horizontal construction industry - owner’s representation. While our software is used by owners, our most active users are engineering consultants that work for state and local agencies on infrastructure projects. Benefits to using Appia include:
- Effortless maintenance of project records
- Eliminating data redundancy and errors
- Creating daily reports in the field from templates
- Managing change orders, material tracking, and more in one database