Image by ENR
An Aconex Field demo screenshot shows how issues are logged. When networked, the app then integrates with back-office databases.

Field management apps for tablet use on jobsites are all the rage in the construction industry these days—with good reason.

Tablets are rapidly replacing clipboards to become the device of choice for project managers who value their efficiency in documenting project issues, new research shows.

Now Aconex, a provider of project management software for some of the biggest firms in engineering and construction, is jumping into the market fray with its own app for inspectors, Aconex Field.

Leigh Jasper, CEO of the Australian company with U.S. operations based in San Bruno, Calif., says the app addresses the pain points of building inspection, correction, re-inspection and closure. "It's a tool for the entire project and every company that touches processes or issues" on that project, he adds.

Fat-Finger Features

"One of the things we've done is build an app for construction guys—the ones with big hands and fat fingers who expect the touch-screen features of a tablet to be simple," Jasper says. "We're making [data entry] super easy so that anyone can pick this up and use it without any training."

The app offers features that field users expect, such as attaching marked-up photos to reports and assigning issues to relevant subcontractors on a project. It also tags issues with assignments, due dates and closure prompts. The app works when the user is offline and syncs up with the users' back office when a network connection is restored. Plus, it scans quick-response codes that increasingly are used to identify inspection locations.

If these features sound a lot like apps many project managers already are using, such as Vela Systems (now owned by Autodesk), Jasper says there's a difference.

Aconex is using application programming interfaces (APIs) to pass field data into its customers' back-end project management systems with increasing granularity. "We have built an integrated suite [of mobile field products] that also handle document control, correspondence management, task management, workflows and now field apps," Jasper says.

The ability to integrate jobsite data with a firm's back- office Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system is becoming a key differentiator among a growing list of field app providers—such as Meridian Systems' Prolog—again with good reason.

According to research by ENR's parent, McGraw-Hill Construction, 97% of general contractors use some kind of mobile device on jobsites, mostly smartphones.

However, tablet use is accelerating: In MHC's research, 62% of large general contracting firms surveyed expect to use iPads on jobs by 2015.