• Grab your global positioning system (GPS) and push-to-talk communication device.
  • Log into the security or life safety system control panel with the laptop.
  • Check system status on a smart phone.
  • Navigate a project’s construction management software at home or in the office.

There’s a whole new world of possibility to help the electrical contractor work smarter, not harder.

Talk has shifted from labor-saving hardware and tools—although both are still essential to project success—to remote connectivity and mobility. For project managers in the field, staying connected to the office is as critical as being on the job site. Now, technology helps them be in two places at once.

In a recent survey conducted by construction industry consulting firm FMI, Raleigh, N.C., 53 percent of construction companies surveyed reported that their productivity has been flat or decreasing over the past five years. Moreover,

81 percent of those said they could save more than 5 percent of their annual field labor costs through better management of productivity. Another side of this issue is ineffective and inefficient management of tools, equipment, materials and consumables—some of the most critical resources in a construction organization.

Virtual office

If you have resisted technological advancements in the cellular, wireless, and microprocessor and computing industries, let this be your nudge to re-evaluate that strategy. While there is a learning curve with these advancements, the proper knowledge can send you on your way to running your business more productively. That means gaining time to add new customers and generate additional revenue, perhaps with maintenance and service contracts.

A good example of innovation that boosts productivity comes from the mobile cellular industry: Verizon Wireless, Schaumburg, Ill., recently announced a new program called Field Force Manager that is designed to minimize worker downtime, improve information process flow, maximize productivity and increase customer satisfaction, all using the cellular network. The Web- and handset-based application provides visibility and supervision of mobile workers. Using GPS tracking, it allows subscribers to locate field workers, to dispatch teams to fulfill customer requests and to get daily activity reports.

People productivity

Tracking the location of important people and valuable assets has been improved through advanced GPS and satellite technology, making it easier than ever, said Rob Groot, chief operating officer of Teydo Holding Co., Potomac Falls, Va. “Advanced GPS and satellite technology offers peace of mind. You never have to spend time wondering where a person or asset is,” he said. Teydo’s FindWhere solution provides integrated global mapping, bills and data messaging. “Some businesses have reported a 70 percent cost savings with this solution,” Groot said.

In addition, there is now automated attendance tracking through companies, such as Exaktime, Calabasas, Calif. Exaktime’s product, Job Clock, helps the business owner or manager to track employee’s labor hours and allows those accounting for hours to automatically transfer that information into accounting software. It also eliminates the need to fill out time sheets, meaning workers can be more productive.

For electrical contractors, one traditional way to boost productivity is construction and project management software, and these products have evolved to address, merge and integrate nearly every reporting facet of the job. This type of software covers estimating, project management, job costing, tracking and final reporting.

Before purchasing software, it’s important to know exactly what you want to achieve from the application and make a list of those requirements. Then you can align those goals with products on the market. The idea is to help your business operate more effectively (see “Operating Effectively,” Electrical Contractor, August 2007).

Probably the biggest driver in productivity today is technology that promotes remote connectivity and results in an actual “cost to complete” the job, according to Brad Mathews, vice president of sales and marketing, Dexter + Chaney, Seattle.

“Construction software can bring together the company’s operations with financial groups, allowing them to share the same information, make better decisions and save time in the office and the field,” he said, adding that this can equal a large increase in profit. Mathews said Dexter + Chaney queried ECs about ways to make their jobs easier with construction management software and, as a result, implemented the following:

  • Software “dashboards” that provide at-a-glance visibility and real-time access to key information. These graphic displays in a company’s construction management software offer real-time insights into key performance indicators, such as project, schedule and cost information. Dashboards provide the data in a concise and easily understandable format.
  • Management modules that include document imaging to record paperwork. Integrated with accounting, job costing and even project management software, document management features incorporate job stats electronically into the construction company’s workflow. It allows the company to keep up with job documentation daily or on an as-needed basis. It also addresses a typically painful problem for construction companies: giving management, office staff and project managers the fast access they need to import documents, such as invoices, change orders, payroll timecards and contracts.
  • Automated human resource management. This feature automates the process of employee management, from recruitment through retirement and handles such complex issues as pay rates and benefits, safety, workers’ compensation, training, drug testing and skills certification.

“Construction software captures statistics that indicate the overall health of the company,” Mathews said. “When you’ve got this data, you have critical information, such as how much it costs to install a certain cable, for example, including labor and incidentals. Then you can compare those figures to the original job estimate, figure the ‘cost to complete’ and gauge the rate of productivity.”

Key performance indicators

Like other industries, Mathews said the electrical contractor’s productivity focus field is based on teamwork. “The whole company is working together, more effectively and efficiently. Software and connectivity that gives ready access helps that happen,” he said.

Resources, including tools and equipment, are another critical part of the company’s capital wellness.

“Picture this: An electrical contractor is about to complete a task like connecting wire to a circuit breaker when he realizes he is missing an important tool,” said Don Kafka, chief executive officer of ToolWatch, Englewood, Colo. “He then has to spend time searching for it, and not finding it, [he must] contact his manager for approval to replace it. His manager then requests a purchase order and finally, the worker has to go to the tool crib to pick up the replacement tool. Sound like a loss of productivity? You bet.”

Kafka said many executives are discovering their process for managing tools, equipment, materials and consumables—often referred to as construction resource management—is broken. The traditional paper-and-spreadsheet approach is no longer effective in preventing theft, loss and employee hoarding of these critical business resources, he added.

“Not surprisingly, the costs of having to continually replace resources can severely impair financial performance,” Kafka said. “But the consequences run much deeper than the mere cost of replacing them. Lost or stolen resources can also lead to costly project delays; lost time and decreased field productivity; injuries caused by the ineffective management of tool inspections and calibrations; inability to provide employee testing equipment and prove compliance with OSHA safety regulations; improperly maintained assets that must be replaced more often; and, for public companies, the failure to comply with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 [Under Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, companies are required to attest to the internal controls used for financial reporting and, also, to account for all assets valued at more than $100, a threshold many tools and most equipment meet] and other mandates,” he said. A construction resource management system provides the ability to track information about a physical asset, such as its location, tool and equipment inspections and calibrations.

Any type of equipment or services is only as good as how it applies to your business. In the world of productivity equipment and software, there is such a wide range of offerings that the best way to approach it is to do a detailed examination of your company and what type of services and/or applications are most pertinent. Then you can decide what might aid you in meeting your goals for customers and electricians.

Construction project management is critical to measuring and assessing productivity; it involves both people and assets. This type of tracking can result in tangible numbers and real costs for the company. Remote access and connectivity is now part of the solution when a company wants to get more out of every project and ensure productivity and profits. EC

O’MARA is the president of DLO Communications in Park Ridge, Ill., specializing in low-voltage. She can be reached at 847.384.1916 or domara@earthlink.net.