Adopting Mobile Technology for Field Operations
By David Flynn
“How do we do more, faster and for less?” is a question contractors often ask as they reconcile project demands, changing expectations, and emerging mobile technology. In heavy/highway sectors, the answers – and the technology choices – are impacted by the unique variables that distinguish horizontal infrastructure construction from vertical projects.
Increased Pressure & Complexity
Technology is a two-way street, according to Dan McGrew, Vice President at Griffith Company, a full-service contractor based in Southern California. “Technology is not only increasing our speed and efficiency, but it’s also elevating the expectations of project owners about how fast and how efficiently we can deliver projects,” he explains.>McGrew concurs that heavy/highway projects are getting larger and more complex while schedules are being compressed. Regulatory requirements are increasing as well, along with safety, quality, documentation, and project transparency mandates. Margin pressure is also increasing, driven by the funding gap between the well-documented infrastructure requirements in North America and the money needed to meet them.
While vertical construction typically takes place on a jobsite that’s segregated and contained, horizontal projects are usually built in and around existing conditions. The environment can change over the course of the project, and limiting disruptions to the surrounding infrastructure is a key challenge for field operations. Contractors on highway or bridge projects, for example, often have to keep both construction progress and traffic flowing at full speed.
Mobile Technology for Data & Connectivity
As contractors confront these challenges, mobile devices and apps play an essential role in capturing and leveraging necessary data. Field tracking software, GPS, telematics, electronic document management systems, and other technologies provide real-time project data that drives more informed decisions.
“When our foremen and leaders in the field have a mobile device in their hands, they can collect and access data, and when they submit electronic field logs at the end of the day, they can measure their performance against the budget,” McGrew explains.
Mobile technology also keeps field personnel connected to each other, to the office, and to the shop. That connectivity, combined with an expanded collection of data via mobile technology, creates a valuable source of business intelligence. Contractors can analyze that data, report on it, and use it to make smarter, more coordinated decisions on everything from safety procedures and equipment maintenance to resource scheduling.
Evaluating the ROI
While mobile technology’s benefits are clear, navigating the technology maze, making the right investments, and creating a cohesive platform can be tricky.
“We are bombarded with new technologies and software for the field,” says McGrew. His company tries to stay on the leading edge by weighing investment and deployment costs against the ability to gain process efficiencies, instant access to information, and improved data quality and integrity.
Contractors should proceed with caution and avoid measuring the ROI of field technology strictly on the potential to reduce overhead costs. Instead, McGrew advises that the main benefit is more likely to be overall efficiency, quality, risk reduction, and, ultimately, the long-term ability to control costs and win more work.
“We also have to look at the cost of not embracing new technology and, if we stay out of that game, whether or not it will cost us work,” he concludes. “The ROI may be difficult to evaluate, but we’re going to have to embrace mobile field technology if we’re going to stay competitive and profitable.”
David Flynn, CPA, is currently the CFO of B2W Software located in Portsmouth, NH. David has been involved with CFMA for several years and participates on the Heavy/Highway Committee and the Talking Heavy Task Force. B2W Software has been serving heavy civil construction companies for over 25 years, empowering them to win more work and complete it more profitably with unified applications for estimating, operations, and business intelligence.