The construction industry has seen rapid and dynamic technological changes in the last decade: new materials, new project-delivery systems and enhanced IT systems. In many cases, these rapid and complex changes have confused and even irritated potential users rather than provide promised increased efficiency and cost-effectiveness.


Software that is hard to use, tries to do everything and is difficult to integrate with other, even similar products is a case in point. Civil engineering has been slow to introduce new technology into its processes and, more importantly, slow to integrate the technology and use it well. We often do this reluctantly, and incrementally, thus creating systems that might work but not optimally.

Typically project managers deal with a significant number of constantly changing data sets related to project scope, schedule and budget. They may be responsible for more than one project in design or construction stages. Regardless, the issues are common to any project: they need to be managed and controlled to meet milestone delivery dates at or below budget. However, the data usually sits in the firm’s corporate servers, resting in various platforms, applications or PM software suites, most of which are more or less separate and require current data to be continually input in a variety of forms.

Too Little, Too Late

When and if summary reports are available to the PMs, they are usually static, late and contain incomplete or inaccurate information. Firms vary widely in their ability to get their PM’s project data. There is a better way.

We have to simplify our business processes by constant review of key performance indicators for our projects and figure out how to best get this information to our PMs as fast as possible. Software can help. Contrary to conventional wisdom, Web-based software has solved potential security issues. Imagine no upgrades, no maintenance costs, smaller IT departments and better service. Software is a service like water or electricity. We should only pay for what we use.

Moving Data

To really change and improve performance, the end user must take an additional important step of moving the data seamlessly to personal digital assistants (PDAs). In the financial industry, the BlackBerry, manufactured by Research In Motion (RIM), is the PDA of choice. This device is extremely powerful, but many owners use it only for e-mail. But financial managers use PDAs creatively to save time and make money. We are in business, too, and we should learn from the pros.

As you drive along the highway in your car a quick glance at the dashboard gives you all the important information you need. This critical information, instantly available on the dashboard, is a simple, but brilliant idea. A number of leading-edge software firms offer a dashboard and focus it toward senior mangers, but it can help any manager.

Summaries of important data, plots, etc., are pulled from the global application and integrated and converged on a PC screen. The software firm,, presents its dashboard on the BlackBerry device, and it is very popular with financial managers. With a few thumb clicks, they can get the data they need in a useful form in real time, 24/7. The BlackBerry is so powerful that virtually anything you can do on a desktop or laptop can be done more efficiently on the small device.

The surprising point about this BlackBerry dashboard is that it is not very expensive to implement. The PM and senior management can tap the full potential by jointly agreeing upon exactly what critical data the PM needs from the existing corporate databases and carrying out the back-office software development to put that data in dashboard format on the BlackBerry.

The cost to implement this is a modest one-time set up fee and a modest monthly fee to receive the data on a BlackBerry. The return on investment is likely to be a big positive number. In addition, once in place, these systems can permit data to flow both ways. For example, PMs can update the underlying numbers from their remote locations to get even better key performance indicators. Are financial guys smarter than construction guys?

Thom L. Neff is president, OckhamKonsult LLP, Boston. He can be reached at 857-204-5473 or