In the first decade of the 2000s, cloud computing emerged as this thing that would help companies work more efficiently, be more collaborative and unlock new sources of productivity. That sounds like big hype to live up to, but we have 15-plus years of evidence that this is exactly what cloud tools do for companies in every sector.
For companies in the construction sector — from the biggest general contractors to trade specialists — cloud tools give you a way to store and organize construction project data, eliminate duplicate and unproductive work, and empower field teams with easy access to project documentation whenever they need it.
Below, we’ll get into the specifics of how cloud tools do all this, and make the case that this is a foundational technology for the future of construction.
Table of Contents
The Work Cloud Tools Can Support
Rather than talk about the features of cloud software, it’s more useful to talk about what work that software can make easier, or faster, or more impactful.
Here are three examples:
Big-Picture Company Management
Construction companies with resources and several team members will at some point invest in enterprise resources planning (ERP) software. That’s a tool executives use for day-to-day, big-picture work — e.g. procurement, managing business risk, managing supply chains.
Cloud-based ERPs “are uniquely able to solve the construction industry’s most pressing challenges,” writes Joel Hoffman, the director of product management at Acumatica, a company that makes cloud-based ERP software.
“This includes seamlessly connecting project sites to the back office, generating early cost estimates, and streamlining regulatory compliance processes. With the real-time data, heightened insight, and improved workflows a cloud ERP system provides, employees are empowered to better manage their time, resources, and budgets—avoiding delays and overages and freeing them up for more strategic work.”
Construction Project Documentation Management
Organizing and managing construction project documentation is a difficult job, especially given the vast amounts of data each project produces.
A few years ago, Above All Store Fronts, which provides glazing and cladding services around New York City and the tri-state area, came to us for help with their document management. The team didn’t have a stable process for tracking things like purchase orders and RFIs. They didn’t have a centralized place to store that information, either.
We helped them implement eSUB to get their documentation digitized, organized and centralized. The project manager there at the time said it was such a relief. “It makes life ten times easier and gives you the ability to take on more profitable work.”
In late 2020, Dr. Sururah Bello at the University of the West of England led a team of researchers in writing an academic paper on cloud computing’s impact on the construction business.
One of the major benefits Dr. Bello et al. recognized was how cloud tools make up-to-date project data accessible to field teams, which “enables the construction workers higher participation and keep[s] the project team organized and well-integrated.”
When field teams don’t have to lug around binders of construction project documents or get in their trucks to drive to the office for updates, they can focus on getting productive work done. Cloud communication tools make this happen by streamlining communication. No need for a phone call and followup email when the back-office team can forward a design or an RFI straight to the field manager’s phone.
What Makes a Cloud Tool Especially Useful?
To support construction work, cloud tools need to do a few things well. This includes:
- Working offline. As the team at Countfire writes, if your field teams don’t have WiFi, and they’re in a cellular data dead zone, they need to be able to keep documenting work.
- Working on any device. It’s no good rolling out software that only works on, say, iPhones if half your crew shows up with Android phones. Likewise, if the software renders well on a tablet but not on a phone, the Countfire team says, it’s not going to help anyone.
- Working with other software. Patrick Szakiel at G2 writes about the importance of cloud software interoperability. An example of this: Imagine a tool your field teams use to clock in and out. If you can’t push that data to your payroll software easily, then there’s no efficiency gained. Your office manager is just going to have a new timesheet to print out and process by hand.
As cloud tools become a fixture on work sites and in back offices, we’ll see those tools develop and mature so that they can help with other tasks.
Piece by piece, their adoption makes construction businesses more agile, more productive, more able to weather lean economic times, and more able to grow and expand.
Images used under license from Shutterstock.com.