We have all read articles and commentary, about the various construction software products, that are currently being marketed to all construction companies. The amount of money that is available and possible in the software marketplace is certainly a seduction for software peddlers to market new and improved software products. There are several specific comments that I would like to offer, to increase your awareness of both the positive as well as the negatives of the utilization of various software products on the market.
These comments are based upon years of experience in the construction industry, both without the aid of any software products, and most recently, with considerable experience with many different construction software products.
- Software products are intended to organize, file and ease the burden of repetitive processes such as submittals, potential change orders, final change orders, contracts, requisitions, etc.
- Software products are not intended to solve any construction problems, convince owners to pay on time, convince owners to approve change orders, improve cash flow, etc. Basically the software product will not construct the project for you.
- It is essential that users of all the software programs, first understand construction. Failure to understand construction will cause undue importance being placed on the ability to utilize the software. Data input does not make you a construction manager.
- As has been stated since the age of computers began, junk in results in junk out. It is that basic, and that simple. If the user of the construction software has no idea why they are inputting data, or what the data means, the end result will be worthless. I have battled this in the last several years more than I have battled difficult construction issues, which is both frustrating and very sad.
- Failure to clearly and emphatically denounce all users of a construction software programs, that do not understand the reason for using the program, just understands which keys to push, will result in repeated failures and frustration for all parties.
It is essential to understand that the construction software only handles the data entry, the organization of the data and the distribution of the data. A simple example is identified by reviewing the change order process.
The change order on a construction project, is a change in the scope of the work, usually resulting in a revision to the contract value, up or down. If the owner decides to add another story to the structure, then there will be a change order that reflects all of the construction processes necessary to add that additional level of structure. The following are the normal steps in this process.
- The owner will formally instruct the architect to issue a PR (Proposal Request) on the project ,which is formally transmitted to the general contractor or project manager that is building the job. This PR will be distributed to all subs and material suppliers that will be affected by this PR.
- Once the PR is distributed to all the parties, having to perform additional work, to incorporate this PR, the general contractor will assemble all of the various quotations for additional work called PCO’s from the responsible parties.
- Once the PCO’s are assembled, and the general contractor has estimated the cost of the PR, they will present their own PCO to the owner of the project and copy the architect.
- The owner will evaluate the costs and the PCO as issued by the general contractor, will accept the PCO, revise the PCO, or reject the PCO.
- Once the owner has acted on the PCO, from the general contractor, the owner will issue a change order to the general contractor for the PCO, or any revision to the PCO that has occurred throughout the process.
- The general contractor, upon receipt of the change order from the owner, will distribute their general contractor change orders, to all the responsible parties, that will be involved with the change of scope.
This is the simple process of a proposal request, the presentation of the potential change order, the actual award of the change order and the commitment change orders that are required to be issued between the general contractor and the subs, material suppliers or whatever entity is required to implement the original proposal request.
Prior to the advent of construction software, this entire process was performed by hand, with the use of letters, manila file folders and individual pieces of paper. There was a time when the fax machine was not available, and all the correspondence was performed with typed letters, written proposals and the US Postal service moving the paperwork around.
Now we have construction software to assist in this tedious process. What needs to be realized is that the process hasn’t changed, just the delivery system. Now we have computer software, that will perform all the functions required to properly manage a change order. The problem is that there are fewer and fewer individuals in the construction business that appreciate and understand the entire process. It is easy for those that were in the construction business, during the days of no computers and even no faxes. These individuals understand the system, because they hand typed the letters, waited for the PCO’s to arrive from the subs, via snail mail, and actually used an adding machine to generate the potential change order to the owner. Due to the hands on requirements, these procedures were implanted in the thoughts and understanding of the construction project manager.
In this current age of construction software technology, the implanting of the systems is not occurring. What is occurring is the process of using the software and the process of pushing the correct keys. This does not relate to understanding construction. It is extremely frustrating to attempt to manage individuals who feel they understand construction, merely due to the fact that they understand the computer software. One has nothing to do with the other!
The negative situations that are commonly occurring, as construction software is becoming more popular, are the following issues.
- Individuals are becoming more independent on the construction software systems, without the basic knowledge of construction. They are hiding behind the systems and no one is realizing this.
- Items that are basic to the proper execution of a construction process, are becoming caught up in the minutia of the software.
- Construction software is specific to process. This must be understood. If you do not accurately enter the data, or select the proper status, the system will simply not work.
- Construction software does not solve problems, it does not have any logical ability to circumvent simple mistakes, if you enter a mistake, the software will never correct itself.
- Construction software does not have any of the construction understanding, or nuisances that develop when you have experience building a project. For example the software does not realize the intrinsic importance of properly coordinating the trusses, of accurately identifying the location of plumbing or electrical chases.
- Construction software is accumulative, so if an entry is incorrect, at the start of a process, it will not correct itself as the process is continued by the user. If the wrong value for a subcontractor is placed into the system during the start of a process, this incorrect value will continue throughout the process. Therefore, one mistake will compound another and another, until the smallest entry mistake, becomes a major mistake, due to the accumulation of the error.
- The ability to hide behind the software is becoming more apparent. I have personally witnessed individuals who have mastered a construction software system, promote themselves as construction experts. Unfortunately this is occurring more, as the industry is becoming younger, and the use of construction software is becoming mandatory.
It is my opinion, that the use of construction software should be making the ability to perform construction management, more efficient and more proficient. The following procedures must be implemented by construction companies, when the use of a specific construction software program is introduced to your organization.
- Clearly and concisely introduce the program to all employees that will be using the software.
- Take the time to instruct everyone that is using the program, on the proper way to enter data, and organize the software for proper implementation.
- Repeat and repeat the procedures, to ensure that each employee responsible for using the systems understands all of the small and less obvious nuisances of the software.
- Parallel the use of the software system with the actual practical construction needs of the industry. Explain why it is important to use the potential change order process correctly, or develop the details of the requisition properly. Attempt to explain the actual reason why the computer program is being used.
- Try to ensure that all parties using the software program, understand the reason for their involvement. Do not allow the simple understanding of the program, to become the ultimate goal of success in the company.
- Understand that your principal business is construction, not software usage, and that the construction software is meant to more efficiently manage the construction process.
Although I can introduce other topics and provide additional advice, I am going to stop this article at this point. The important point, that I am attempting to stress, is that a construction company needs to build the project with the use of tools, which will enhance this ability. Not become successful in the use of a specific computer program, and hope that this proficiency builds a successful project.
The construction software is meant to be a tool to enhance the construction of a project, nothing else.