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CONSTRUCTION KNOWLEDGE BLOG

October 17, 2012

Why Change is Hard
Filed under: Computers in Construction — Tags: — nedpelger

I’ve been writing about cloud computing for construction for a year or two, but have only pushed the easy parts of my construction management business into the cloud. I use DropBox to sync all my desktop computer files, so I have access to current files wherever I am. That works well and makes my Android phone much more useful.

I also really rely on PDF documents shared on Box.com with Owners, Architects, Trade Contractors, Code Officials, etc. We print many less sets of drawings and mail almost nothing. Both DropBox and Box.com cost a few bucks a month, but I save more than that in supplies.

So those two are the fruit that goes first into your bucket. They are easy, cheap and take almost no effort to set up. If you haven’t done them yet, get going.

I’m finding this next step more challenging. Moving my estimating, job costing and invoice approval system to a paperless, cloud accessed system seemed easy. Most bids come in as email attachments and lots of invoices do. But both also sometimes come as faxes and sometimes in the mail. So my system needs to handle all those formats, but I’d also like it to really not require me or my customers to have to print each document.

So I had to set up a coding system that uses numbers for sorting and I had to keep the number system from 0 to 9 because various computers sort the double digits differently. That’s just one of the challenges I’ve encountered as I’ve been moving through this process. I’ve been at it for two months and think I’ve just about got it. ¬†When I’m comfortable it all works, I’ll post the process.

So why is change hard? Well, some is and some isn’t. I found the DropBox and Box.com changes easy. I’m finding the cost processing change more challenging. We humans are wired for routine tasks and our brains rebel against change. We need to utilize our will to get beyond what feels right and normal and set-up new processes. These new processes will eventually become habits, but it takes time and effort.

I’m willing to put in that time and effort because I believe a small business succeeds by the following:

  1. Amazing customer service
  2. Keeping current with technology
  3. Controlling overhead costs

So there’s my challenge for you. Fight the tendency to just keep doing the same thing. Because if you don’t, the game will change anyway and you’re probably not going to like the outcome.

CONSTRUCTION KNOWLEDGE BLOG

September 19, 2012

Sharing Project Info on the Cloud
Filed under: Cloud Construction — Tags: — nedpelger

It’s always a challenge to keep the current drawings and sketches in everyone’s hands on the job site. It seems virtually all owners change their minds during construction. That makes sense, since good design really is an iterative process and it doesn’t stop just because construction starts.

So how do we make sure the folks on the job site actually have the most current information? I’m proposing a cloud computing solution that will help in several ways.

First, use Box.net to keep the most current documents for the project. You will probably want to keep older design and bid sets on Box.net as well, so I propose having a Dead files and a Current files section for each project. Then only give access to all project stake-holders to the Current files section.

By keeping a Current files section, all project stake-holders can bookmark that page and not have to change their bookmark as drawings change. When sending out the Box.net link, include an instruction like:

You may want to bookmark this link in your internet browser for future reference. If you create a bookmark category for “Projects” and keep all your Box.net bookmarks there, you will easily be able to find all the current project information any time you have internet availability. I will strive to keep only current project information on this link. I will remove old files and put new approved files at this link. I will try to include design, schedule, meeting minutes and other current project information.

The PM must manage that Current files section, then, to move out old info and keep it current. This procedure should help assure that subcontractors don’t pull old drawings out to print that are no longer current. It also gives an internet link for all current info for a quick check to determine what’s out of date and what’s current.

Box.net gives a free personal account with a 5GB limit. The do restrict the ability to upload and download in file groups with the free account, but it works fairly well. Many contractors could simply use the free accounts.

The Box.net paid personal account costs $10 US/month and gives 25GB of storage with a max 1 GB file size. This is the option I use. With all my projects, I’m only up to less than 2 GB of storage. I never have a problem with the 1 GB max file size.

The Box.net business solution costs $15US/user/month and allows 1000 GB of storage and a max file size of 2 GB. It seems a firm would need to be quite large to need this option.

This simple procedure to keep project info current on Box.net and shared with all project stake-holders can help you operate at the highest level of project efficiency. Few big construction firms get this important step right. If you do, you’ll have a big advantage.