Construction remains, for the most part, a paper-based industry. The introduction, acceptance and use of software has reduced some of the paperwork associated with contracting and construction, but many still are not using such solutions to their advantage.

Some recent additions and changes to project-management solutions are helping contractors begin using -software-enhanced operations, which can help increase efficiency and profitability and simultaneously lower risk.

Software solutions first started to affect the contracting and construction industries with computer-aided design (CAD) solutions. But, even with those, the CAD drawings are routinely printed out, continuing the paper usage trend. However, the introduction of user-friendly interfaces and more functional handheld devices has helped the industry adopt paperless ways to manage projects.

In-house use

The evolution of technology and its adoption is promoting in-house use.

“The shift is moving from merely paper-based output to leveraging software to its full potential in an integrated and collaborative approach. That means a change in how we use and relate to technology in our projects,” said Richard Sappe, Primavera Systems.

Sappe explained that, in a traditional approach, contractors would use scheduling tools independently and then submit that information to general contractors or owners as distinct files or as paper submissions. Any updates or changes to these schedules then involve phone calls, faxes, e-mails or letters. With systems such as Primavera, the transport of up-to-date information is essentially done in real time.

Solutions, such as project management software, help facilitate the industry trend of approaching projects in an increasingly collaborative manner from the outset.

“You are seeing more and more projects that are being approached that way. Design/build, joint ventures, even alliance--style risk sharing between owners, GCs, AEs and subs,” Sappe said.

This approach plays nicely into the other trend, which involves using mobile devices. Many project-management solutions now are interactive and no longer operate in static mode. Therefore, including mobile devices allows system users to transfer and transmit information, either automatically or on an as-needed basis, regardless of location.

In addition, with more solutions becoming Web-based, a resistance associated with client-installed software has been waning. Web-based solutions are full project-management systems that can create, maintain and modify project schedules; capture and manage project costs; automate payment processes; capture RFIs and change orders with affiliated schematics and drawings; and essentially anything that is relevant and necessary for any type of project.

In the field

Field-ready options can assist contractors in keeping tabs on their own projects.

Vela Systems, said co-founder Josh Kanner, “is a solution for those that have been frustrated with having to gather information in the field on punchlists, safety, owner walk-throughs and other field processes, only to have to go back to the office and retype that information and then filter it out via e-mail or other method.”

The three key benefits, according to Kanner, are saving time, accelerating the project delivery and the ability to measure costs while on the job. Vela has customers who have reported saving two hours a day by eliminating the need to re-enter information after leaving the job site.

Prior to this type of system, a lack of Internet access was a stumbling block on job sites. Vela Systems allows users to synch information with the Vela central server once they get back to their job trailer. Users can remotely and securely store the valuable field data collected for the contractor.

Kanner also feels that advances in tablet PCs have made systems much more user-friendly. Tablet PCs have casings to protect them, can be written on with a stylus (no typing necessary) and their screens can be used in direct sunlight, making them job-site friendly.

Bringing it all together

The benefit to using systems such as Primavera’s in-house and Vela’s field-ready solutions is that they have the inherent ability to sync with one another.

The information gathered by Vela Systems can be merged and used by Primavera’s solution back at the office. It almost completely automates processes that have been bogged down by redundancy and time constraints.

The benefits make the solutions viable for different types of contractors. The only downside to using these systems is that it doesn’t simply require a change in the way work is done. It also involves a mindset change. Costs associated with such systems are case-dependent.

STONG-MICHAS, a freelance writer, lives in central Pennsylvania. She can be reached at JenLeahS@msn.com.