Civil projects are complex and demanding, requiring adaptability, foresight and flexibility to remain in control of job costs. And with so many critical tasks required to keep a job site — let alone multiple job sites — running smoothly, a few administrative errors can lead to inflated budgets, discouraging waste and frustrating delays. Fortunately, new data collection technology gives contractors a bird’s eye view of their business so they can stay on top of their numbers and ahead of the curve.
How efficiently and accurately a company manages its business hinges on the quality of data it collects. This is where today’s real-time cloud-based solutions come in. These solutions streamline processes and integrate key connection points of field operations, such as accounting, payroll, job costing, time tracking, equipment tracking and enterprise resource planning (ERP). Together, these insights give contractors crystal clear visibility into the status and health of their projects, so they may make faster and more strategic decisions to improve their bottom line.
Accurately tracking and analyzing a team’s labor and productivity often relies on each employee properly maintaining paper or spreadsheet-based time cards. Oftentimes, paper or spreadsheet-based time cards are filled out days, even weeks, after the work has been completed, all but guaranteeing the data will be flawed because they have to rely on their memory. Field supervisors that manage multiple job sites and crews often don’t know with certainty where employees are at their start time. They also can’t be sure that his/her crew came back from their lunch break on time or that someone didn’t leave work early. Also, this can expose other risks such as team members assigning man-hours to inactive or the wrong projects or tasks or inaccurately estimating the time spent on-site or working on a specific task. With such a high probability of human errors, the results for any analysis of total labor hours would almost be rendered useless.
The best way to get the most accurate man-hour data per task is to collect live field data as it happens and remove any need for employees to rely on their memory to allocate hours to the right task at the end of the day, week, or month. Cloud-based mobile workforce apps that optimize the collection of man-hours per task eliminate the potential that employees will overestimate their time.
First, each team member opens an app on their phone, authenticates with a PIN number, selects the project, task, and piece of equipment when applicable to perform the day’s work. Next, the app takes a selfie picture of the employee and clocks them in while also capturing their GPS location. Field Operations Apps with live field data make it easy to track man-hours per task in real time with features to improve the accurate data calculations. Face recognition confirms the right person is performing the work by comparing their clock in/out photo to their profile image and provides alerts when there’s a mismatch. The GPS location on clock in, clock out, and on each task change, tells supervisors that the employee is in the right location and not offsite clocking man-hours to a project without being on the jobsite. When integrated with an ERP system, employees only see the relevant project-specific tasks based on the project cost structure in the ERP to correctly tabulate those man-hours. The information is then pushed into the corresponding data fields in the ERP for processing and reporting.
Live field tracking is efficient as well, when a worker switches from task to task, like mixing concrete to pouring the concrete. They simply choose the next task on their phone or tablet and continue working. Each task change takes less than five seconds to complete. Employees only need to clock out when they are done working for the day. Best-in-class field operations apps for mobile workforces even work when the internet connection is lost. The man-hours per task are captured in real time on the mobile device and are synced as soon as they have a service connection without any impact on the accuracy of the man-hours per task.
Precise Progress by Task
Tracking the progress that a task and project is making can be time-consuming and rather difficult to track. Because of the time it takes and the delays in sharing collected information, traditional means of tracking gives an inaccurate outlook on projects in any reports. The reports are coming in from multiple sources with different means of collection such as paper, email, texts, and spreadsheets adding to the confusion. On top of that, the data that is collected is only as good as how it was recorded. Production per cost code can be wildly inaccurate due to workers accidentally assigning the completed work to the wrong code or project, causing one task to report as more complete and another as less complete than they actually are. This problem affects the entire construction field but it is especially damaging to infrastructure projects where the tasks must be completed in phases, not in parallel, so issues are compounded and can cause high costs throughout the life of the project.
In comparison, an integrated system, with controls, allows all of the progress data to be automatically tabulated, collected and synced. When the ERP is integrated with a field ops app with live field data, it dramatically increases the accuracy of the production data per task. This allows field employees to see only project-specific tasks based on the project cost structure in the ERP. Each time a field employee switches to a new project-specific task, they are prompted to enter the corresponding production quantities of completed work with the correct unit of measure for the project as it happens in real-time. This interconnectivity ensures that data structures of the field ops app and the ERP match, allowing information to seamlessly and flow from the office to the field and back again with accurate progress data.
Moving data from one place to another on paper, spreadsheets or in a program is incredibly time-consuming and error-prone. And everyone dreads doing it. Companies of all sizes are wasting time by collecting and inputting data manually.
More than 65% of contractors are still using paper and spreadsheets, according to a 2020 report by resource management platform WorkMax. The report also revealed the correlation between the size of the construction company and its inability to efficiently process data. As the company grows in size, the less effective it becomes. These findings from the Field Data Usage Report are found in other similar studies as well. In 2019, 26% of all construction companies stated that none of their software solutions communicated with one another, according to a report by IT service provider JBKnowledge.
In a cloud-based system with live field data collection, it doesn’t matter what the size of the company is because the tracking and managing of the data are done through a single app that interacts with the individual workers. This eliminates the need for specialists to focus large portions of their time on collection and they can spend more time on the field data analysis. Live field data:
All field data is digitized, automated, and more accurate than manual processes that are using non-integrated field data collection systems. This frees up office workers to be more efficient and productive and allows them to focus on analysis rather than spending their time hunting down field data and manually entering that data into disparate systems. Giving everyone reports created from the most up-to-date data reveals the current status of every task on every project. Having this information gives contractors clarity into the project status changes as they occur and allows them to make rapid decisions when adjustments need to be made.
Here’s a real-world example: Employees at Nayland Scaffold Ltd spent four to five hours per day manually entering payroll data and making sure their employees’ time was coded to the right project. They also had to scan and organize the paperwork for digital storage. When they moved to a cloud-based tracking app and collected their field data in real-time, they reduced their manual processes to only one hour per day, which was a 78% increase in productivity and a 2,926% ROI.
Civil construction projects are very complex with many moving parts and plenty of external pressures that can spread a field supervisor’s attention thin. Live field data’s ability to provide accurate and current data all in one app keeps internal and external project stakeholders all on the same page, all of the time. The field employees and internal and external stakeholders know where the project stands and are confident in the accuracy of the live field data. With live field data, the field operations team can pivot when man-hours and progress are underperforming to get the project back on track. As more owners are seeking global visibility into project progress and demanding more accuracy, this will create a clear difference between heavy construction firms that use live field data and those that don’t.
Mike Merrill is co-founder and chief evangelist of WorkMax.
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