By nature, people in the A/E/C (Architecture/Engineering/Construction) industry are not in office because they are building something (a building, bridge, road, retail center, etc.). If they were in their office all the time, they’d be a manufacturer, not in the build industry. Construction’s mobile workforce creates a large technology challenge because the work environment is always in flux.
An architect and engineer may spend 80% of their time in the office, where they can utilize high powered workstations to craft and refine their designs, but they need many of their tools out on the jobsite when reviewing plans, specifications, and the construction team’s progress.
Most constructors, geotechnical engineers, and surveyors are in the field at least 80% of the time so their “office” is either a jobsite trailer or their truck.
A typical construction jobsite needs:
- Phones – Construction is a logistics game where everyone must coordinate with each other to put the pieces in correctly and in the right order. No point having the drywall crew onsite before the roof is completed here in New Orleans where it rains nearly every day in the summer. Logistics require real time communication, meaning your phone needs to be installed. Some companies rely on the superintendent’s smartphone, but that can cause problems if the phone doesn’t get consistent coverage because the jobsite is remote, if the super is unavailable, and when trying to reach other members of the team.
- Internet – Internet pushes data back and forth between the main office, subs, architects, engineers, and other team members. However, high-speed internet may not be available in remote areas, thus requiring a wireless setup such as a tablet with an internet connection or access card running on a cellular network.
- Access Points for Subs, Architect, & Engineer – Most construction projects require 20-30 companies to complete a project, requiring many entities to be connected to the internet. Instead of running multiple connections to each jobsite, which is costly and can cause delays waiting for vendors to “light up” the jobsite with internet, many general contractors (GCs) set up access points for subs and consultants to access the internet. This method separates their access from the GC’s network and can provide internet access across the jobsite (away from the jobsite trailer) with physical access points strategically placed. (You’ve probably seen a similar configuration when going to a doctor and they have a separate wireless connection for patients and guests.) Access points are becoming more in demand as construction equipment becomes “smart”.
- Management & Estimating Software – Many construction companies use a core application to manage projects, including costs and contacts, across all departments such as Procure, Foundation, or Sage. These applications can prevent duplicate entry and errors, provide real-time dashboards, and should make your teams more efficient; therefore, your teams will need access to the software outside of the office. To access your company’s data securely a good IT firm will suggest using a VPN (Virtual Private Network) or a remote login tool such as Citrix.
Some construction management software and HR applications provide timesheets to employees, which can even be set up with a geofence [virtual geographic boundary] so employees are automatically “clocked in” when they drive onto the jobsite.
- File-Sharing – Because construction is a team sport, data must be shared outside of the company with other entities such as the architect, engineer, geotechnical engineer, and a dozen or more subcontractors. A construction management application may handle the bulk of your data sharing, but many times companies need to access files outside those applications. We generally suggest not using DropBox because of security concerns and because it is not a good enterprise solution. [For example, when an employee leaves the company, many times the company loses the data stored on their individual DropBox account.]
- Backups – While most backups are done automatically for workstations in an office setting, the same isn’t true for computers and mobile devices on a jobsite. For example, a laptop can be turned off every night, preventing the data stored on it from being backed up regularly (as well as missing necessary updates and anti-virus scans). A good IT firm will create a plan for backing up all of these remote devices, which can be as simple as saving all the data on the server [instead of on the laptop] and in the core application, or just be leaving all laptops on overnight once a week.
- Backing Up Huge Files – Many construction companies video their crews for training purposes and to protect themselves legally. Because these files are quite large, they bottleneck backup processes and can be quite costly since most backups charge per gigabyte (GB). We generally suggest videos be stored on a separate storage device in the jobsite trailers, and be archived to a centralized place at the main office periodically.
A good IT firm can help determine the rights tools to use on a construction jobsite for your mobile workforce as well as expedite setting up a construction jobsite with everything you need technology-wise.
A lack of technology should never hold a project from starting on time and from meeting your deadlines. To keep things on schedule, A/E/C firms should have good communication with their IT support team, whether an internal IT department or IT firm. Also, the IT team should have a process for setting up jobsites and being able to customize it for the tasks at hand.