Information technology often falls under the umbrella of the CFO in construction companies. This means that his decision on how to spend money on technology can directly affect a contractor’s growth.
According to James Benham, CEO of JBKnowledge, an IT services company specializing in construction and insurance, aging technology is often a problem for many construction companies that only becomes apparent when it causes a problem.
“Technology is like a lagging indicator in most budgets,” Benham said at the Construction Financial Management Association conference last month. “You wait until there is a major pain point to actually hire more support staff. And then you get past the eight.”
It’s important that the CFO or IT director of a construction company knows how to talk to the IT department, Benham said. A good IT staff is a great tool for advancement, but Benham compared a bad relationship with staff to being hostage – they have all the information and it is not always easy to get it from them.
He asked 10 questions CFOs should ask about their IT systems. You are:
- How does technology fit in with our corporate goals?
- How big is our company’s appetite for change?
- What is causing frustration in our business?
- What are our technical priorities?
- What is our data strategy like?
- How can we distribute the cost of our technology investments?
- How can technology improve our process?
- How do we calculate the preliminary ROI with certainty?
- What is the best technology to generate positive returns?
- How do we rate our ROI after implementation?
Building a relationship with the IT team – be it in-house or with a contractor – can be the catalyst for change, Benham said, and questions like these help with that process. While some companies or teams may develop what Benham called “Shiny Object Syndrome,” a functioning IT team can be the eyes and ears of the office, aware of the technical issues employees face.
Viewing IT as just a phone and laptop repair expert not only diminishes its role, but it prevents companies from realizing their full potential. Today, every aspect of a job is influenced by technology as smartphones and tablets dominate offices and construction sites. As a result, the tech team is the boot that knows the pain points and needs of the entire workforce of a company.
“You have to help them become architects of pain,” said Benham. “Look for the pain, the pain is where the gain is.”
One of the most important questions, Benham emphasized, is, “What is our data strategy like?” It is not enough to be able to explain a strategy, he said; every person involved in the strategy must be able to show it.
Despite the widespread use of smartphones and tablets, according to the respondents, almost half of the file and data exchange in the construction industry is still done manually or via spreadsheets a study by JBKnowledge. That opens the door to a huge margin of error, said Benham.
The first step is to collect data in digital form. While many still stick to printed drawings or reports, it can create inconsistencies and is more difficult to analyze. Businesses should start collecting and sorting data sooner rather than later, Benham said. Finally, they need to do some advanced data analysis. When that time comes, it is better to have a backlog of information to turn to.
Getting seasoned or traditional workers to try new methods of data collection can be difficult, Benham admitted. Field teams can often be resistant to change when previous systems have worked. The key, Benham said, is to simplify the process for the team. Providing QR codes on-site, for example, for employees to scan and open image mapping applications on their phone, can be an easy way to teach a new practice and show the value to all team members.
Analyzing the return on investment for new technology can be challenging, Benham said, but he provided a good rule of thumb: if the cost pays off in 12 months, buy it. Be it software or another solution, if the company or IT team predicts a positive ROI within a year, go for it, he said.
The key to a technical advance or change is also not to expect a perfect result in the first place. Learning to be content with “good enough” is a start, Benham said. Once one improvement has been made in a construction site process or data management store, it is easier to take the next one. Too much concentration on an instant, perfect solution can lead to “analytical paralysis”.
Once a change has been made and the ROI is clear, it’s important to document it, Benham said. He suggested using video and just using a smartphone to hold on to the old way and then the new way. Just documenting the improvement can show the value of new practices.
When this is communicated to the entire company, it will be much easier to see why the improvements helped and why it didIt is important to always evaluate how your tech dollars are being spent.