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Then and Now: How Technology has Changed Commercial Construction

With all the technology that is available today, (smart phones, tablets, laptops, and the cloud), it is hard to believe how various departments in construction companies did things before. Let’s take a look to the past and see how technology has changed the construction industry.

Service Department

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABack in the day, service dispatchers would take service repair requests from customers via phone and try to relay the details on paper (not always the most legible). These work orders would than be faxed to the appropriate technician for processing. With this process, it would take hours to receive the information, causing a much slower response time for emergency repair situations than desired.

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Now, there are web-based tools for us to use with a click of a button. Customers can now request service from their computer or by using their smart phones. The request is immediately dispatched to the service department. Various networks are all interlinked, so detailed work orders are sent to the service manager, technicians, and the clients. Additionally, most service technicians have tablets and smart phones where they can directly communicate with manufacturers to help trouble shoot a problem quickly.

Purchasing Department

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For all material that was procured within the company, whether the order was for a single item or a long list of materials, the purchasing agent would have to hand write each item on the purchase order. This was extremely time consuming, especially when the department receives material requests that are 50-60 items long and sent to different vendors. Employees would be stuck writing numerous PO’s for a single order that could take up to ½ hour each to complete.

Database

With new purchasing software, every PO generated is completed off of a database of pre-loaded items. Not only can they enter these PO’s more quickly than in the past, but they are also able to use search functions that allow them to track the history of certain items and see which vendor is providing the company with the best price. This software allows the purchasing department to become more effective in tracking costs and procuring.

Accounting Department

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Prior to technology, physical copies of invoices and other documents would have to be transferred from person-to-person along the approval chain. This was time consuming, required a large amount of storage space and misplaced or misfiled documents could be lost forever.

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Over the past decade, accounting departments are striving to go paperless. Several companies are adopting electronic document management systems, which make documents instantly accessible. The tool can “read” certain invoices when they are uploaded. The use of automation has cut down the amount of manual data entry and improved the accuracy of record-keeping, enabling the department to focus more on activities that add value to the organization.

Estimating Department

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Remember the days in which you would have to either mail out documents or contact vendors and subcontractors to come into the office to pick them up? Prior to new bidding software and FTP Sites, employees would spend hours preparing documents for the subcontractors and vendors. Employees would manually do the take off, hand key everything into the system and send out a large number of items for pricing.

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Now employees only spend minutes uploading drawings, specs and RFP’s. Bidding software allows them to automatically keep track of who is bidding and what documents they have, making the process more efficient. With the use of estimating software, employees are able to electronically take off pipe, valves, fittings and equipment. They can automatically price the products and labor rates.

Deliveries

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Initially, deliveries were made by truck and driver. There were no prefabrication shops. Trucks had no type of tracking system for the managers to see the routes, mileage, etc.

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Now with the new GPS tracking systems, there is more accountability and communication. Supervisors can easily know how close a driver is to a specific site, know how long they are at a certain location, and have mileage logs that are automatically tracked which minimizes the time-consuming task of filling out paperwork. Additionally, GPS mapping systems provide more efficient routing of deliveries and important traffic information to avoid delays.

Foremen

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Foreman used to work from the contract drawings with a tape measure. Chalk lining the layout of work could take days.

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Now, it’s only seconds to layout through the use of a digital system. Building Information Modeling allows workers to gain insight through 3-D models. The quicker the company can layout, the quicker the company is able to get everything installed. In addition, foremen carry tablets and laptops allowing them to access documents from any location.

Quality Control

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Before the use of tablets, quality control work was all conducted through paper punch lists. This lists were hung all around the construction site. Information wasn’t readily available to all parties involved on the project.

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Now with new project management software the defiences are tracked digitally. Each type of system has forms uploaded into a format that has a predetermined checklist. This checklist is completed on the day of the inspection and signed off. Pictures of the work can also be attached to each inspection. The quality control specialist can sync the new data so all of the information stays current.

Field

Prior to a digital system, workers in the field would have to spend a long time waiting in line to punch their time-card in.  At the end of the day, it could take a typical worker up to 20 minutes to clock out for the day. Multiply that time by the number of workers on any given project. Talk about a loss in productivity!

Portal

Now, we use a gateway portal and a chip specific to each workers’ hardhat. When the worker goes through the portal, the system automatically tracks the in and out time of the worker, significantly cutting down wasted time each worker would have spent waiting in line to punch the time clock.

So what is the common theme here?

No matter which department, technology has benefited the construction industry tremendously. By moving away from time-consuming, paper-filled processes in the past, and incorporating new in its place, companies are able to increase efficiency, and stay more competitive to meet the expectations of customers.

– Sheldon Shapiro, CEO Shapiro & Duncan, Inc.

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