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Moving Construction Data Out of Spreadsheets

Moving Construction Data Out of Spreadsheets

October 12, 2020

The construction industry has undergone a massive transformation in recent years. Countless new technologies have been created and adopted, allowing general contractors to improve efficiencies at every stage of a project. Futuristic-sounding tech like augmented and virtual realities are helping improve on-site safety and training, drones are being used to conduct inspections and identify hazards, and artificial intelligence is helping to monitor project progress to improve job site productivity.

Yet, with all the technological advances to the construction industry, many general contractors are still opting to use spreadsheets to manage some of their most critical processes – from estimations and bidding to resource management.

Throughout this article, we’re going to explore a few of the areas where spreadsheets put your projects at risk. We’ll also outline why you should make the switch to construction-specific software solutions, and what to look for when evaluating software for general contractors.

What’s the problem with spreadsheets?

We’d be lying if we told you that Microsoft Excel wasn’t a powerful tool for storing data and crunching numbers. Excel has been around for over three decades and was once an absolute revelation for contractors looking to migrate their data away from paper and whiteboards. It isn’t without flaws though. With construction software companies creating new tools for contractors to improve core efficiencies, it’s likely time to pull your data out of spreadsheets and welcome the digital transformation of your organization.

No construction-specific features

Spreadsheets were built to be used as a general tool. Because of this, they don’t have features that allow you to quickly manage the changes and project progress that can happen on a daily basis. Building a spreadsheet system that functions properly and provides visualizations of your data is one thing, but updating and maintaining information and visualizations on a regular basis can mean a lot of manual work.

In the case that one team member is suddenly unavailable for work, the process of replacing them on active projects and updating all relevant spreadsheets can take up valuable time that could be better spent. Construction software solutions allow you to easily create periods of unavailability and identify suitable replacements in a matter of minutes.

Manual data entry

If you’ve ever been charged with maintaining spreadsheet data, you likely know the pain that comes along with the endless hours of manual data entry, locating and fixing errors, and when it comes to multiple spreadsheets – duplicating the manual entry of data from one spreadsheet to the next. As we’ll discuss later on, these tasks also usually fall on the shoulders of a single team member.

Construction software companies, like Bridgit, have had clients spending upwards of 9 hours a week, or one full work day, maintaining their resource management data before migrating to an automated solution, wasting time that could be spent on more productive tasks. With labor costs accounting for up to 40% of a project’s total budget, resource management is as critical to profitability as it is difficult to maintain. The ability to automate this process allows construction leaders to make quick, data-driven decisions and significantly reduce the amount of time spent sifting through their spreadsheets.

Usability

As previously mentioned, spreadsheets can be a powerful, capable tool when managing data. However, they’re only as capable as the person that’s managing them. Think of it as the best set of golf clubs. When put in the hands of an experienced golfer, the clubs can help them improve their game by adding distance and control. Adversely, in the hands of someone unfamiliar with the sport, the clubs only ensure the ball gets hit farther in the wrong direction.

While you may have designated an “Excel expert” in your organization that understands the ins and outs of your spreadsheets, the lack of usability at a basic level leads many construction leaders to hesitate when sharing their information. Understandably so, given the difficulties of locating and fixing unwanted changes with no audit log. This can cause your collaborative efforts to be stifled and, as previously discussed, lead to your “expert” wasting countless hours maintaining spreadsheets as their sole operator.

There’s a reason the construction industry prioritizes ease-of-use when evaluating software options. User-friendly tools help to even the odds when it comes to usability and allow you to confidently involve more team members, reduce the pressures of spreadsheet maintenance, and garner buy-in for automated solutions.

Risk of human error

No one likes to have the finger pointed at them, but if you’ve ever been responsible for maintaining a spreadsheet system for any construction process it’s likely you’ve witnessed spreadsheet errors that have led to money being lost in one way or another. Construction projects have hundreds of moving parts, and when 94% of spreadsheets are found to have errors, it’s only a matter of time before an error in data entry or an error in formula winds up costing your company.

Amongst other construction processes, project estimations, resource scheduling, and material and labor costs can all be housed in a series of spreadsheets. Having an undetected error in any of these processes can result in incorrect quotes, scheduling conflicts, and in some cases cause team members to be overlooked completely when allocating resources. Construction specific software can help eliminate the risk of human error and unlike spreadsheets, will either notify you immediately if something isn’t done correctly or simply won’t allow the error to happen in the first place.

Not built for construction

Spreadsheets were built to act as a blank canvas that allows you to build an application within it suited to your company’s needs. For software to benefit the construction industry, it has to understand the ins and outs of the industry and project planning, and also understand what information is being used to inform decision making. Depending on the construction software, it’s likely that you will also have the proper training to get you up and running, as well as a dedicated support system in place to help right your ship if it starts to veer off course.

On top of better understanding the needs of the industry, proper training, and support, construction software companies are also constantly working with their clients to help shape the future of their software. That means that as effective and efficient as construction software is today, it’s only going to get better going forward. Bridgit, a construction software company, holds regular check-ins with their clients to ensure that not only is everyone satisfied with their resource planning solution, but to encourage clients to provide feedback and suggestions to better tailor the solution to their needs. Can you think of the last time someone from Excel reached out to see how you’re enjoying your spreadsheets?

Why should I migrate out of spreadsheets?

Aside from the drawbacks of spreadsheets listed above, you may still be wondering if the switch is absolutely necessary. Let’s take a look at one of the construction processes as an example – resource management. Managing resources on construction projects can be an arduous task for general contractors of any size. It involves allocating ad tracking multiple team members at once as they move from one project to another, juggling your workforce schedule and availability, balancing project teams, ensuring you have enough projects in your pipeline to keep your team working, and finding meaningful work for continuous career development. All while keeping an eye on your utilization rates to make sure your organization remains profitable.

The manual data entry alone to maintain all of the processes listed above is enough to make even the most steadfast spreadsheet experts shudder. It requires multiple spreadsheets, constant updating, endless “copy and pasting,” and hours of consolidating data to support decisions made at the next manpower meeting – and that’s only one week.

Enter construction resource management software

With software tailored to industry needs, construction leadership and project management are now all invited to contribute to the resource planning process. Software permissions have allowed for controlled transparency and resources being shifted from project to project happen automatically. You can clearly visualize your workforce strategy and identify opportunities to add new work to your project pipeline.

On top of streamlining the entire process, team member skills and experience are now being tracked and used to build stronger project teams and identify skills gaps to stay ahead of recruitment needs to better manage your company’s growth. All while reducing the time spent on tedious spreadsheet management and allowing the focus to shift to other, more productive tasks.

This is just one example of how spreadsheets are no longer capable of handling the dynamic nature of the construction industry. When you begin to factor in estimating, bidding, human resources, budget and labor management, and other project planning processes, it becomes clear that the construction industry is ripe for the disruption that comes with new software and technologies.

How to choose the right software for your business

Ease of use

One of the main reasons to move away from spreadsheets in the first place is usability. When evaluating different software, invite relevant stakeholders to try different workflows in the software. Their feedback will be a good indicator of the buy-in you can expect from your team.

Permissions

Accessibility is important when choosing a construction software solution. However, accessibility should be controlled to prevent unwanted changes and reduce the risk of errors. Make sure to ask software companies about permissions and how they can be customized to your organization.

Customizations

Does the software provide you with the freedom to customize their solution? Tracking different employee and project data from company to company is common in the construction industry. You’ll want to ensure that you don’t have to force a software solution to work for you, and the tool is capable of tracking the information critical to the success of your business.

Integrations

Many general contractors will likely have an existing stack of software they’re familiar with. You may want to integrate your construction software into your existing tech stack to allow your software to work together.

Maintenance

Regularly maintained software ensures that your new solution doesn’t soon become obsolete. This is especially important if you plan to integrate the software with third party programs.

Availability across platforms

The ability to work from a mobile device is becoming increasingly important in the construction industry. When evaluating software, be sure to inquire about available mobile solutions, and be sure to put it through its paces the same as you would a web-based solution.

This is a guest post from Michel Richer, the Product Marketing and Content Manager at Bridgit. They build construction software solutions to help general contractors streamline their core processes, with an emphasis on construction resource management and workforce planning. Bridgit’s flagship product, Bridgit Bench, also helps general contractors with capacity planning, demand forecasting, and skills and experience tracking.

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