As construction becomes more high-tech, contractors can choose from an array of software and apps that claim to boost revenue, satisfy customers and increase efficiency. Selecting solutions means researching the options and watching traditional software providers as well as emerging markets. Two such markets are solutions for managing recurring revenue and systems that manage worker movement and safety.
When it comes to recurring revenue, contractors find gains in securing maintenance agreements that extend long after the installation of voice/data/video or intelligence systems. Some software solutions aim to provide easy access to information about customer sites contractors visit.
SmartCSM (CSM stands for Critical Systems Management) is developing a low-voltage module for its electrical maintenance software solutions intended to make it easier for electrical and other subcontractors to maintain customer relationships by making all data about a project or customer installation available on a touchscreen.
It’s a matter of enhancing data collection and making it accessible to the field techs who need it. For instance, a contractor that wants recurring revenue must demonstrate to clients they know the customer’s facility and have the plans and records for any work they ever performed a mouse click away, even if they haven’t heard from them for a while, said Craig Caryl, SmartCSM CEO.
Software can provide quick access to a contractor’s as-built drawings, line diagrams, warranty info, O&Ms, etc.—and therefore the location of electrical assets—as well as certification documents and photos, all with an app on their iOS device. They can also use QR codes to make access to data easier in the field.
The software is ideal as a digital as-built, or part of the close-out documentation when initial construction is completed, Caryl said. It can provide a hand-off of relevant data to secondary stakeholders, such as a building’s facilities staff or another contractor. The contractor itself can use it to provide an ongoing data management tool for a building’s infrastructure. This use may be the most interesting application, since it provides an easy way for contractors to offer a value-added service with a continued maintenance contract.
In the case of a service call, electricians can use the software to view the location of a circuit that needs to be reset, as well as to help predict, and thereby avoid, a catastrophic power shutdown. It tracks the upline and downline energy, history of panel and electrical asset work, IR inspections and maintenance schedules. It can store floorplans that display what was done, where, by whom and when, and offers an interface that helps the facility team ensure maintenance is up to code at all times.
“What we’ve observed is that, on average, one-third of a day is saved when customers move from paper to digital and quickly knowing where power is originating,” Caryl said. “[With SmartCSM,] you can geospatially see where everything is, and that’s where you start saving a ton of money.”
A contractor may already know what kind of work they will be doing, and where, before they ever arrive on-site, either during a scheduled service call or in the event of a failure. That kind of data can’t answer every question, but it can save time.
“We think of ourselves as natural part of [a contractor’s] everyday tool belt for the management of data and expedition of your work,” Caryl said.
The software can also show electricians or their managers the volts, amperes and rating of a light fixture before they get on-site and where and when parts were purchased.
In the long run, solutions like these can also serve as a way to pass knowledge to future electricians. As baby boomers retire from electrical firms, the software ensures that their work on a job can be preserved.
Caryl said the release of a low-voltage module is part of a trend toward technology- based installation work—with features for audiovisual, security and fire safety solutions as well as data center installations.
Users pay a monthly or annual fee for access to the software and often share that fee with additional clients like the electrical contractor’s customers: the building owners.
Safety and site management
The internet of things is bringing intelligence to installation work as well, with the help of wireless sensors and wearables. Construction technology company Triax Technologies offers a solution for better ensuring electricians and all other personnel are accounted for and safe. The company sells its Spot-r products mostly to general, electrical and low-voltage contractors so that they can monitor their personnel and enable everything from preventing injuries to accomplishing automated payroll based on time worked.
Contractors that use the wearable sensor solution say they gain most from the automation of work hours capture.
“Using that data, you can show the general contractor that you’re providing what you say you are,” said Chad Hollingsworth, Triax CEO and co-founder.
The Spot-r system includes small clip-on devices worn by on-site staff. Network hardware is installed around the work site, which records and transmits real-time data from the sensor devices to the cloud-based dashboard. This enables supervisors to identify when a particular worker arrives on-site. That zone-based information can help managers and supervisors understand where the workforce is spending time and what work is getting done. For example, supervisors on one project found that workers scheduled to be on the 12th floor were actually spending more time in transit because they were going down to the ground floor to get materials. By identifying this source of waste, the contractor was able to move the material stockpile to recover production time.
However, many employers have workers who are represented by a labor union, which poses additional considerations when dealing with employees, adopting policies or implementing systems such as employee location tracking. Consult with your labor relations professionals (trade association, attorneys, etc.) before imposing new policies or systems on represented employees.
There’s also the matter of safety. If an electrician were in trouble, they could press a button on the device to call for help. The software pushes a text or email notification to project managers or safety officers. That provides peace of mind for contractors whose workers may be working alone in cramped, dark environments. The system not only detects worker falls or self-alerts and sends a notification to designated personnel but also the individual’s location, so help can arrive faster.
The company also sells an equipment tag that can identify where high-value electrical equipment is on-site and monitor power tools using Bosch’s Bluehound system.
This solution offers an advantage for contractors bidding on jobs, since they can include the safety and asset management feature to the building owners. The system not only detects worker falls and improves injury response times—ensuring that everyone is accounted for, even in an evacuation—it also provides a digital, objective record of who was on site and for how long.