Mapping the Dark: Create a Roadmap for Future Success

Learn // API, choosing software, continuing education, CPE, Cybersecurity, integration, Managing Your Business, Middleware, SaaS / Cloud, updating software, 13 Minute Read
19 May 2020

Mapping the Dark: Create a Roadmap for Future Success

We live in uncertain times. But whether we’re facing slowdown or racing into a boom, you can take the time to futureproof your business now and get into the best position possible for whatever lies ahead.

By shoring up the technology you have, investing in new technology where it makes sense and empowering your team to utilize these tools, you can be prepared for the unknown, or “dark.”

This “dark” might include slowdowns. Or it might include busy periods! It might even include changes in the construction industry, new laws and regulations or government investment in construction projects. A good technology plan can support you for any and all of these scenarios.

This is a five-step roadmap for Mapping the “Dark”  of whatever lies ahead for you and your business.

  1. Be Aware — Always Be Prepared
  2. Invest in Cybersecurity … For Construction
  3. Take Advantage of Integrations, APIs and Cloud Software
  4. Get the right plan in place
  5. Your Roadmap for the “Dark” Ahead

1. Be Aware — Always Be Prepared

Take advantage of your tech tools

You don’t need to make drastic changes to your business to start preparing. You can start with what you already have available — like performing an audit or review of your current tech tools and how they’re being utilized. Underutilizing your technology to its full potential can lead to missed opportunities or even sticky legal situations, which is very common — even normal — for construction companies.

For instance, as an excavation contractor you might have invested in technology that monitors earth moving as a way to keep track of your crew’s progress. But it might also help settle disputes with your clients you didn’t expect to arise.

Take the example of a contractor who was excavating a stormwater dam for a local city. They used Unearth, a software focused on managing physical assets with simple Geographic Information System tools that were cloud-based, or operating as Software as a Service (SaaS). The contractor started the project using information from a dated city survey from the 1970s, but quickly realized they needed a change order because they were excavating much more earth than initially estimated. Once the city needed to pay for the change order, they filed a legal claim, stating the contractor was half-filling trucks to inflate costs. But thanks to their cloud-based GIS tools, they were able to show the trucks full of dirt and the dam’s daily progress. This photographic evidence allowed the contractor to dispute the legal claim. The contractor was paid appropriately, and the city dropped its claim. Everyone left happy.

As Unearth said:

Without using a SaaS solution for progress documentation, this contractor would have spent months and tens of thousands of dollars fighting a dispute where he knew he was in the right. The cost savings on this instance alone were enough to warrant ensuring all of his projects were in the cloud.

Like the contractor in this example, you can make sure you’re using the technology you’ve invested in to support you in all aspects of your business — from tracking equipment or job progress to solving legal issues.

Explore new tech to work smarter

Doing regular reviews of the tech products you already have will ensure you get the most of out what you’ve already invested in. This can be as simple as reaching out to your software account manager for a system review or requesting a refresher on what features and services are currently available. And using the technology you already have to its full potential is a good start.

But you should also know what else is out there to make what you do in construction easier and faster while allowing you to work smarter, not harder. Technology in our industry is evolving fast, and communication with your technology partners should be a recurring conversation — at least every 6-12 months — to make sure you’re up-to date with the latest options for your company.

Investing in existing technology you don’t currently use can increase the productivity of your workforce, saving time and labor in the field and in the back office.

For example, through a secure, web-based software. another construction company, True Value Homes (TVH), transitioned its operations to cloud-based applications like project management or timekeeping, eliminating costly office time.

According to AGC of America:

Before the move, TVH was running operations on 17 sites and employees could only work in the office, so all papers needed to be brought into the central office for processing and approval. Whereas TVH once had 100 personal computers for 100 employees, now 500 users can access its Web-based applications. This keeps their foreman and field staff in the field and eliminates the need for many of them to come into the office.

Sometimes the construction industry can be slow to adapt, but technology in construction is still moving fast. More contractors are using or plan to use cloud-based (or SaaS) solutions — up to 85 percent, according to the AGCA.

Make sure you’re aware of risks and opportunities to set up your roadmap for whatever comes next.

Investing in cloud-based, construction-specific solutions for your everyday needs — like estimating, job costing, project management, Client Relationship Management (CRM), HR or accounting — is just one way to futureproof your business technology. In addition to getting the right cloud tools in place for operations, you should consider the right tools to beef up security — your cybersecurity — for your construction business. Making sure your sensitive information is secure will set you up to handle any boom or bust cycle.

Be aware

  • Of risks
  • Of opportunities

2. Invest in Cybersecurity … For Construction

Now that you’ve made certain that you’re utilizing your current tech to the fullest and routinely reviewing what else exists to help your business, it’s time to consider protecting those tools and the data that resides in them.

Cybersecurity — the software and services focused on keeping your information, data and property safe — is an essential part of any corporate technology. Keeping your sensitive data — like intellectual property from designs, employee information like social security numbers or company information like tax filings — secure should be a top priority to protect your business today and into the future. Small businesses and construction businesses are more likely than ever to be the victims of a cyberattack due to a lack of security tools being used by these companies.

According to the 2019 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report, 43% of cyberattack victims were small businesses, or organizations with fewer than 250 employees. And According to Experian, 60% of small businesses will close after experiencing a data breach.

Moreover, IBM Security notes companies with less than 500 employees suffered losses of more than $2.5 million on average — a potentially crippling amount for small businesses, which typically earn $50 million or less in annual revenue.

Cybersecurity is often seen as a public sector problem, a banking industry problem or a national defense issue. But construction contractors and subcontractors

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are at the heart of new cyberattack methods to reach more traditional targets.

Just last year, the Wall Street Journal reported that a foreign-government-driven cyberattack from 2016 to 2018 breached at least 24 utilities services. Among these victims were an unknown number of contractors and vendors that serviced utilities, like excavating companies, trade publications, utilities technicians and engineers, general contractors, and carpenters.

Contractors and subcontractors, the Journal reported, had been “soft,” or easy, targets because they had no reason to be on high alert against a cyberattack. The contractors weren’t the ultimate targets, but rather the government organizations they contracted with were: utilities that owned power grids, or servicers of military bases like Fort Drum and Fort Detrick, homes of future national defenses against intercontinental ballistic missiles and current defenses against biological weapons.  The attackers used these construction companies to get to something bigger and more lucrative.

But how can you prepare against such cyberattacks?

Now is the time to get a penetration test — or pen test — where a cybersecurity expert tries to find vulnerabilities in your system by essentially trying to “hack their way in.” By identifying where these weak spots exist, you can explore what cybersecurity options you need for your business.

Cloud-based systems, or SaaS, can help beef up your cybersecurity. To keep your company safe, SaaS from the best-of-breed software vendors allows for:

  • Automatic data backup
  • IT infrastructure — like servers — managed and routinely updated by your software provider
  • Build-in information and data security
  • Up-to-date security and intrusion detection because there are always professionals on the lookout for data breaches.

Combined, these elements make your data more secure than it would be in a server in your office. SaaS are software and applications “live” in the cloud and can be accessed from anywhere at anytime, but only with secure login credentials. Best-of-breed software vendors will follow the right procedures to keep your information in the cloud extra secure. With the added security of SaaS from credible vendors, you get added convenience — while making sure your data stays safe.

In addition to SaaS solutions, you can bolster cybersecurity by ensuring your products and services work together through integrations. Integrations make sure your software services can talk to each other and work together. Having multiple services connected means you have several companies looking out for data breaches, different places data can be stored (and therefore not lost) and better overall service, as each company gets the information they need more easily.

These integrations will only be secure if you trust each of the software vendors involved. This is why working with best-of-breed vendors is so important.

Working through planning, considering SaaS solutions and integrations can help you bolster your cybersecurity.

Know why cybersecurity is important

  • Plan ahead for problems
  • Think of how SaaS can help
  • Think of how integrated software can help

3. Take Advantage of Integrations, APIs and Cloud Software

In addition to being aware of how SaaS and integrations could help your business, taking advantage of implementing SaaS solutions, integrations and APIs from trusted vendors can help keep your roadmap on track.

Integrations connect different specialized software you need to run your construction business. These connections can support cybersecurity to protect your business, but they also set you up for commercial success with easier tech processes, leading to more productive employees and better-informed executives.

In the construction industry, software integration isn’t necessarily the norm. Payroll software’s usually over here, project management over there, on-site timekeeping over this way, accounting over that way, and so on.

Different types of software integrations help eliminate siloed data and bring all the information for your business together in one place. To accomplish this, integrations often include the use of middleware and APIs.

Middleware and APIs

“Middleware” is like the “plumbing” that connects two applications together. As Microsoft® notes:

Middleware is software that lies between an operating system and the applications running on it. Essentially functioning as hidden translation layer, middleware enables communication and data management for distributed applications. It’s sometimes called plumbing, as it connects two applications together so data and databases can be easily passed between the “pipe.” (Microsoft)

Sometimes confused with an API, middleware is the software that allows the API to work.

The term API is an acronym that stands for “Application Programming Interface.” It allows two systems to interact through a series of operations, even if the two systems don’t do the same things. APIs help build up websites and apps that have a variety of functions, like displaying text as well as pop-up boxes, “print” dialog boxes, or photo galleries. As How-To Geek explains:

Think of an API like a menu in a restaurant. The menu provides a list of dishes you can order, along with a description of each dish. When you specify what menu items you want, the restaurant’s kitchen does the work and provides you with some finished dishes. You don’t know exactly how the restaurant prepares that food, and you don’t really need to.

APIs allow developers to create websites that can embed translation services, Twitter timelines, Facebook comments, Google Maps, document downloads and more. But how can this affect you and your construction business?

Why SaaS, Middleware and APIs can help you

Middleware and APIs take the information from one system, like estimating, and translate it into information another system, like your accounting software, understands easily.

Integration through this kind of software (middleware + APIs) is just starting to become mainstream in other industries. But getting on board now can make huge differences with the efficiency and productivity of your business.

For instance, imagine a change order comes up on the jobsite. You need to get this change order to your accounting department to bear on your percentage complete, reporting and job costing. Normally, your foreman will take note of the change order, talk with suppliers to get the cost of the new supplies or changed supply order, and have to come into the back office to talk with your accounting department to make sure the change order is tracked appropriately, whether on paper, in Excel, QuickBooks® or a dedicated accounting software like FOUNDATION®.

But what if all this information could transfer directly from the field — without needing to re-enter anything back at the office? APIs and middleware, combined with a SaaS, cloud-based software, can take what’s entered in the field and get it back to your office instantly, no travel required.

Similarly, middleware can help map out worker classifications and timecard stamps so that the time and job type your field manager or foreman enters ends up matching the code your CFO, accountant or payroll manager needs.

This is exactly what happened for H.W. Johnson Concrete Construction when they integrated field management software CrewTracks, which their field workers use to track hours from jobsites through mobile devices like tablets, with their FOUNDATION accounting software, which they use to manage their accounts receivable, accounts payable, job costing and payroll.

Initially, their field workers were tracking hours in the field, creating paper timekeeping reports and walking those reports into their office. Then, their payroll manager was manually keying in each timecard and jobsite updates in their accounting software.

But by integrating timekeeping, accounting and payroll, H.W. Johnson was able to set up a unique crew ID for each job site, automating the data processing for timekeeping and allowing those hours to flow from one application to another without manual keying.

The result? H.W. Johnson’s field workers can stay in the field without having to file manual paperwork at the back office, and their payroll manager saves hours of time not having to manually process timecard and worker information. From the field to the back office, their team saved valuable time, allowing their specialists to focus on more complex payroll processing or project perfection on the jobsite.

Taking the lead from companies like H.W. Johnson, you can explore how SaaS, middleware and integrations can make your work easier, allowing your staff to work smarter, not harder.

Get integrated

  • Know how SaaS systems, middleware and integrations benefit your goals, improve internal data sharing, and make your life easier

4. Get the right plan in place

With a cybersecurity system in place and the right integrations set up to make business processes easier, finishing your map is all about making sure your employees and IT strategy are set up for success.

Get the Right People Around You

To get the right plan in place, you need the right people around you, and you need to empower those people to be the best employees they can be.

Providing your employees with the tools they need to succeed will make sure your business runs efficiently. For example, an excavating company might see an excavator, a trencher or a backhoe loader as vital tools. But business software, public speaking confidence, email literacy or social media management can be just as vital tools to run and expand their business.

Investing in your employees training on those tools is necessary, but dedicating funds to continuing professional education, trade qualifications or other professional development encourages them to stick around. This investment signals that you care about their careers and see a future for them in your company. It could also open new opportunities, like taking on more restrictive government contracts, employing advanced software techniques or using business intelligence to master your cash flow.

A good place to start is by supporting employees in ongoing user training for the software or other tools you already have. Can your employees learn tips and tricks to your timekeeping service? Can they attend a conference to learn more about their accounting software? Does your equipment provider offer training to get the most out of your truck, excavator or other heavy machinery? This ongoing training can be just as important for your desk workers as it can be for your field workers. Continuing education doesn’t have to be about achieving bare minimum certifications to operate on the jobsite — it can help optimize your operations in the field and the back office.

For instance, companies will typically offer user conferences for clients to learn the best tips and tricks, network with other users, and access their consultants in one place each year. CFMA, for example, offers a full program of Continuing Professional Education, or CPE, for construction accountants every year, and most industry associations like CBA, ASA or ICE offer their own specialized programs of learning, certifications or exploration.

After taking advantage of what’s already available, think about your company’s resources in terms of people, training, time and software. When can you afford to send your staff off to training? How much money are you willing to invest in staff development? What resources do you want to build up, like software to purchase or mobile apps to start using?

Continuing education requirements will vary depending on your professional association or affiliations. For instance, the AIA requires architects to complete 18 units of education, whereas the AICPA requires all registered CPAs complete 120 hours every three years. Some states also require licensed contractors to complete certain amounts of continuing education and training every year to maintain a license. Knowing what requirements you need to keep your licenses should be a bare minimum.

Continuing education and training in all its forms allows staff to understand the new tech and determine what’s best for your company, while empowering your employees to be experts in their field.

Get your entire staff involved while deciding what training will be adopted, what resources will be built up and what changes will be made. Updating your employees on changes that will be made, as well as getting them involved early in the process and ensuring everyone is working together, will result in a more successful outcome, not to mention happier employees. Change management works best when everyone is on board.

Get Tech You Can Trust

With the right team in place, the last step to futureproofing your business is all about combining the right IT system and strategy with a software you can trust. To set your company up for long-term success in our digital world, it’s critical to get the right IT system and IT team in place. This includes getting the best software and setup for your company — like whether to host software in on-site servers or going with cloud-based SaaS.

Each company’s long-term IT strategy will be different. Make sure your plan works for your business model and your company’s needs. Remember that “cool” or brand-new tech doesn’t always equal useful tech. For instance, do you really need drones, 5G or AI? Do you need that autonomous, self-driving dozer? How will these investments improve your bottom line? Invest in new technology only when it makes good business sense for you and the growth of your company.

For instance, general analytics or business intelligence tools like Microsoft Power BI, Tableau or Google Data Studio can help with creating cash flow projections or forecasts. Construction-specific BI tools like Spectrum Business Intelligence or Procore Analytics can help analyze project, job, equipment tracking, worker classifications or other construction-specific data. In turn, you can better understand your profit margins, opportunities for quick growth or problem areas, like narrowing down customers who don’t pay you on time.

For example, The Business Journals reported that in 2019, a construction firm used analytics tools to review its hiring, retention, training and profit rates. As The Business Journals explained, the firm:

was struggling to retain construction site staff at $12 an hour and discovered that by hiking their hourly rate to $20, the firm would be better off. Since the cost of hiring and training new staff is so high in a tight labor market, the firm’s profits were nearly unchanged even though it had almost doubled its hourly wage bill.

Similarly, Construction Executive reported a heavy highway contractor in the Southeast used business intelligence to reduce fleet costs and increase their bottom line by six figures:

it was worth the time to take a fine comb to the historic owning and operating costs of every machine in their fleet. BI reporting shone a light on the fact that, like many contractors, they were utilizing many machines well past the point of diminished marginal returns – well past the time when it would have made more sense to rent out or just replace them. By deciding to combine information on equipment finance, operations and utility time, this contractor was indeed able to realize those six-figure cost savings.

No matter what kind of technology you decide to include in your long-term plan, making sure it supports the business that you want to continue or expand on in the future will help ensure it’s a safe investment, boom or bust.

Have the right plan

  • Get the right people around you
  • Get tech systems in place that you trust
  • Make sure your roadmap is in place and clear
  • Be ready for anything!

5. Your Roadmap for the “Dark” Ahead

From being aware and prepared at the start to getting the right IT plan in place to maximize your opportunities, with this roadmap tailored to your company’s needs, you can be as prepared as possible for whatever is ahead.

To get your plan from ideas to action, speak with your team and learn what you need. Then chat with your existing software vendors. Search the web for new services you’re looking for. Ask your friends in the industry, your suppliers or your partners what tech solutions they’ve got or are working on implementing. With this knowledge, you can work with your team through the roadmap to get your IT system in the right place.

You can use this checklist to get your roadmap started:

 

Your Personalized Roadmap

When considering how to futureproof your construction IT system, remember to:

Be aware

  • Of risks
  • Of opportunities

Know why cybersecurity is important

  • Plan ahead for problems
  • Think of how SaaS can help
  • Think of how integrated software can help

Get integrated

  • Know how SaaS systems, middleware and integrations benefit your goals, improve internal data sharing and make your life easier

Have the right plan

  • Get the right people around you
  • Get tech systems in place that you trust
  • Make sure your roadmap is in place and clear
  • Be ready for anything!

 

 


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