Eyes on the IT Prize
December 20, 2011
What percentage of your existing IT (information technology) systems are you currently using? Are the people in place working together with technology in the most efficient manner possible? Amid all the talk of new and exciting technology systems for construction, perhaps one theme for 2012 should be around ensuring what you have in place is being leverage most effectively.
Steve De Benedetto, IT director, Stansell Electric, www.stansellelectric.com, Nashville, Tenn., believes that for the most part, construction companies are only using a small percentage of the features available in the software they have purchased, and that often times these companies are too quick to look outside what they already have when needs of the organization increase. "When a need arises the tendency is to look for another vendor to fill that need rather than looking at existing systems where the solution is often already present, just not implemented," he says, adding that such a practice can lead to costly and redundant unused systems.
For De Benedetto, he finds the answer to better utilization of IT lies within the people. Having the right mix can make all the difference, and it is a blend of good IT, external buy-in, and an internal champion to see it through. Focusing particularly on the IT, in his opinion, good IT acts as the liaison between all other parties, playing a key role in the decision-making process.
He says, "They are knowledgeable enough with the systems to be able to implement change but are not necessarily the experts. This collaboration between parties promotes the best outcome. On their own management cannot effectively make changes to a system they don't use and, likewise, end users cannot effectively make good decisions because they don';t see the big picture and the impact of a change on other people and departments, such as accounting and administration."
Therefore it seems IT plays that critical role of bringing everyone together. Lack of IT involvement, more often than not, can set a project up for failure, says De Benedetto.
"The key to success is an IT department that steps beyond technology and becomes interested in the process as a business analyst," he adds. "From a system standpoint, IT is the group best suited to look at the bigger picture and the impact that results from changing the way software is used or turning on an unused feature. IT works outside of operations and therefore offers an objective view that would otherwise be driven by subjective factors. Proper IT involvement is a balancing act between driving the change that promotes business but also realizing that, as an administrative and support department, IT doesn't dictate business."
It sounds cliche, but without a doubt, construction companies have been faced with the prospect doing more with less. Whereas years ago the focus was on increasing output, these days more companies are honing in on reducing costs. Still, it places the same amount of workload--perhaps even more so--on those within the organization.
Those in the construction software community are focused in on better utilization of existing software for the year ahead as well. Speaking particularly to the estimating process, Cecilia Padilla, vice president, On Center Software, www.oncenter.com, The Woodlands, Texas, believes automation has certainly helped companies double their productivity with takeoffs and bids but with each person managing more work. She does acknowledge that there is more throughput, but says companies are only using about 25-30% of the capability of the solutions they currently own.
"If the tools people have to be productive aren't easy to use then the likelihood of them being as productive as possible is pretty low,"; says Padilla. "The volume of work that is falling onto the shoulders of a few people at each company is stressful and increasing. I don';t think people really want an easy-button to get out of the work--they just want automation to be as comfortable and intuitive as the paper and colored pens were."
It becomes the old adage that if technology isn't easy and intuitive, then users will revert back to the old stand-by methods. If that is the case, then Padilla says construction companies will find that some part of their business --time, accuracy, or costs --will ultimately suffer. This is why it is imperative that technology be delivered and used in a manner that will deliver results for customers.
&"With less people, doing more work, with less budget, construction automation helps (companies) deliver the right project information to the right people no matter where they are (office, field, in transit, etc) at the best time to make decisions," adds Padilla. "Whether they are doing quantity takeoffs, submitting bids, or making certain projects are within budget and on time, making this full lifecycle of work easy will drive construction company automation decisions in 2012."
Whether it's on the people or the systems in place, construction companies should dedicate time and resources to ensuring the technology being used is being leveraged in the most efficient manner possible. Perhaps such an objective will help make 2012 a year in which the industry takes a giant step forward.