Lessons Learned #13: Is Technology Serving (or Hurting) You? – Part 3

Last issue I discussed common problems that are encountered when applying technology to manage field operations (e.g. job costs, daily reports, issue tracking, and photographic records).

The final issue of this series will deal with the application of technology to various aspects of managing your business.  My remarks will be generic, since it is not my intent to endorse any particular vendor’s product.

I want to get you thinking about this by asking questions about the way you currently manage your work, offering suggestions that may improve your business by having technology “serve” your needs.

1 – Job Cost Accounting:

How much thought and planning goes into setting up the job cost categories for your projects?  Do your job cost reports provide useful information other than the current total cost?  Extensive, unnecessarily detailed breakdowns of categories, can confuse your field staff, frustrating your ability to capture accurate information on project performance costs.  Your managers should take the time to create a list of categories that will be relevant to the work on each project.  That will make it easier for your field staff to report their progress accurately, and will provide you with more meaningful reports with which to manage the work.  I’ve seen many job cost reports on projects which, as a result of being too detailed, were inaccurate and therefore rendered useless as analytical tools.

2 – Management Reports:

Have you invested in state of the art hardware and software for your business but failed to have your employees thoroughly trained in its use?  Do you find yourself routinely complaining that the reports you receive from your system fail to provide you the information you need to manage your work, or company?  Do you find that you have to create manual, custom management reports to fill in “the gap” because your systems can’t produce them?

In this economy your overhead should always be under scrutiny.  One way to minimize overhead is to maximize the use of investments you make in technology and information systems.  It’s not enough simply to purchase the hardware and software tools that you believe are needed.  Training is essential to be able to get the most bang for your buck!

Most accounting programs come with features that allow you to customize standard reports to suit your specific needs.  If reports can’t be customized to your liking, the system usually allows you to export the data requested to a spreadsheet program, where you can further manipulate the information to achieve the report you desire.  You should always strive to get management reports with minimal re-entry of data to avoid wasting valuable employee time and errors that can result from re-entering information.  Often companies create special spreadsheets for collections, and other purposes, when adequate reports may be available from the accounting system without any additional work.  Sometimes it can be lack of training or knowledge of your existing system that keeps you from operating “lean and mean”.

3 – Online (virtual) meetings:

Are you spending too much traveling to meet with customers for routine matters?  Is your work spread out geographically but you don’t have the resources to visit your managers often enough?  Thanks to improvements in technology, you are able to hold productive meetings online, share documents in real time and view the participants, much as you would if you were present with them in person.  The advantages are clear:

  • savings in travel budgets
  • meetings can be held with remote parties on short notice
  • very little investment is required (you probably already have most of what you need)

There are some minor disadvantages with using electronic meetings:

  • lack of “real” personal interaction
  • can be confusing when many parties are involved
  • coordinating a convenient meeting time across multiple time zones
  • quality of the conference (voice/audio) may vary depending on the participants’ internet connection

Based on my experience thus far, I find this to be an excellent way for a company to stay in touch with remote projects on a frequent basis, and greatly reduce travel costs.  The benefits of holding virtual meetings with your customers should be weighed on a customer by customer basis, with consideration given to the specific purpose for the meeting.  With greater frequency of electronic communications, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that sometimes you need to have personal (face-to-face) contact with a customer to build and preserve relationships.


In this series on technology applications to construction I have emphasized the following:

  1. Try to find the simplest solution – don’t overkill with technology
  2. Investing in hardware and software is only part of the solution – training is essential
  3. Organize before attempting to automate
  4. Maximize the use of technology to minimize your overhead

“Technology is like a tool to a craftsman, you must select the proper one and learn how to use it well to get the job done.” – Paco Farach

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