Like any other type of technology, software is constantly evolving, proving its value in different industries, simplifying operations and reducing the headaches caused by tasks that would otherwise take up a lot of time. In the construction industry things are no different. A construction worker will spend around 70% of his working time gathering equipment, preparing for tasks or trying, often unsuccessfully, to communicate with his peers on-site, with only a few hours left to focus on actual construction work.
For the latest entry in our Expert Insights series, we’ve had the pleasure of talking to Yves Frinault, CEO and co-founder of Fieldwire—a construction field management platform meant to streamline jobsite coordination, saving construction professionals time by powering clear and efficient communication between field and office staff—and get his opinion on how construction software helps improve productivity.
Q: Which are the major issues faced by the construction industry at the moment and how can virtual tools help address them?
A: You cite the lack of productivity in another question—it remains the biggest issue facing the construction industry today is the same thing that it has been for decades—a lack of productivity, compared with other industries. According to McKinsey, construction productivity has been flat for decades, while manufacturing productivity has nearly doubled over the same period. This is in part caused by a shortage of skilled labor and a lack of repeatable processes on the jobsite.
At Fieldwire, our customers tell us that the platform saves everyone who uses it an average of an hour per day—which means that everyone can be more productive and the relatively limited labor pool can get more work done.
Q: Which are the most frequent and disruptive problems faced by developers on-site? How can innovative software solutions be used to prevent these problems or solve them in a timely and cost-effective manner?
A: The biggest problem faced by developers on-site is disruption to a project’s scope, schedule, cost, or quality. All of those are connected directly to not having the right people, at the right time, in the right place. Developers need to know how to coordinate the work involved in a project so that they have assurances that everything is being built as it should be.
A jobsite coordination platform like Fieldwire helps solve each of those issues by making sure that everyone always knows what they need to be doing, and what has to happen next to make a project move forward. Additionally, it allows seamless documentation of exactly what got done on a project, to increase transparency and reduce risk.
Q: The construction industry is one of the least digitized industries in the U.S., besting only agriculture and hunting. What would, in your opinion, lead to a wider adoption of software tools in the construction industry?
A: The biggest thing that it will take to drive further adoption of construction field management software is to pay attention to the ease-of-use and value of the software for the people who are actually getting the work done on the jobsite, from the individual craftsmen to their foremen to their superintendents and PM/PEs.
As everyone on the jobsite gets more comfortable using software on their smartphones and tablets, field adoption will also naturally increase.
Q: A construction worker will spend about 30% of his time on actual construction work. Most of the remaining working hours are spent preparing for tasks, gathering equipment or trying (often unsuccessfully) to communicate with other people on-site. How does CRE tech increase productivity?
A: Construction technology increases productivity by putting the critical information about a project directly into the hands of field teams and not over-complicating their experience. If a subcontractor knows exactly what his team should be working on, and can easily document what was done, everything goes more smoothly.
Overall, it just involves getting smarter about reducing operational waste.
Q: How do you see mobile apps interacting with other innovative technologies (i.e., robotics, AR, wearables) on future construction sites?
A: Almost all other innovative technologies still rely on mobile or tablet applications to get work done — mobiles are used to control drones, AR uses cameras, screens, and sensors on mobile devices to interact with the world, other wearables in the field are tethered to mobiles as their processors, and robots are controlled by mobile applications on jobsites. Additionally, in all cases, to figure out what has to be done with each of those technologies, mobile technology is used to coordinate work and mark up plans.
Q: Numbers show the construction industry is one of the most heavily fined sectors and one in which worker fatalities are on the rise, despite regular updates to health and safety standards. How can development apps help with workplace safety compliance and implementation?
A: Many safety issues result from two different groups of people working in the same space, at the same time, without either group understanding what the other one is doing. A general contractor can and should use software like Fieldwire to coordinate that work so different teams or specialty contractors aren’t accidentally interfering with each other.
Software can help track safety issues and catch potential problems before they affect safety by capturing photos and video using mobile software that attaches the inspection directly to specific points on plans.
Finally, software should be used to standardize punch lists around safety steps so everyone has visibility and accountability about safety checks.