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Software On The Job Site

 Job Site Efficiency

Most of us use computers and software on a daily basis, from our laptops and tablets to even our automobiles and heavy equipment. It is everywhere in society and it has been making some serious inroads to the construction industry the last few years. Computers and software have been in the construction office for awhile in accounting and CAD but now software on the job site is starting to make a big impact.

I’m an old school contractor and used to be of the opinion that computers belonged in the office and the real work happened out on the site, where the rubber meets the road. It wasn’t until I had use cases where the software route was easier than paper that I started to change my tune. Now I use software to boost productivity, improve safety, and facilitate clear communication. Read on for three pieces of software I use on just about every job site.

Side Note: I use the software/apps in an all mac environment but all three have android versions and web interfaces. If you have a droid and the boss has an iPhone, these apps work seamlessly together.

To Boost Productivity – PlanGrid

PlanGrid is useable on smart phones. Pinch to zoom.

On a commercial job site there can be a number of different trades all working on different portions of the building at the same time and all trying to interpret the same set of plans. There may be 10-20 copies of the full plans floating around at any one time. Sometimes a change needs to happen and it can be a nightmare to update all of the hard copies. Sometimes people are building off of old sets of plans and can inadvertently build something (or not build something) that was a later revision of the plans.

At my company, when we’re on a large job we use PlanGrid to manage the plans electronically. PlanGrid is a cloud based application that stores plans and all of their revisions. It allows contractors to issue RFIs (Requests For Information) directly to the A/E firm and it tracks the responses in the cloud as well. For us it helps keep everyone on the same page so less mistakes happen and the work can keep moving forward.

Two of the coolest features of the software (besides RFI tracking) are progress photos and punchlists. Progress photos are great because the superintendent or foreman can capture daily or weekly progress photos and send them to the project manager or owner. They can also be used in issue tracking. This is great for unforeseen conditions that may be uncovered over the course of the project.

Punchlists (Issues in PlanGrid) can now be created and tracked electronically and sent out in real-time. This feature is huge. No longer does the A/E firm have to create the list, drive back to the office, translate their chicken scratches and photos into an email, and send it out. Now they can do it all in one place on their mobile device or tablet and it is tracked in the cloud. What a time saver!

To Improve Safety – iAuditor

While it’s true that no one cares about a person’s safety more than that person, construction companies are making huge improvements in job site safety. Site specific safety plans, safety audits, and company-wide safety initiatives are common place now days and it’s a good thing.

As a masonry restoration contractor we work almost exclusively on the exterior facades of buildings. Big buildings. Working at heights and occupied buildings is the norm for us. We take the safety of our employees and customers very seriously because if we don’t, we won’t be in business much longer.

One way that we assess a job site in the beginning of the project is with a safety audit. This serves as a checklist for all of the big items that need to be checked off in order to get the project off on the right foot from a safety perspective. For this we use an app called iAuditor. Don’t let the “i” fool you though, it has the same functionality on Android as iOS.

iAuditor lets a user create custom templates that are tailored for the type of work or conditions that may be encountered. On our restoration jobs you can imagine that a significant portion of our checklist pertains to fall protection items. After we asses a site it is turned into a PDF report and copies are sent to all the interested parties. The foreman gets a copy, the project manager gets a copy, the safety director gets a copy.

Checklist items can be assigned weights and thresholds so that level of overall safety can be graded. Annotated images can also be included in the report so that the parties can know what was wrong and how to fix it.

This software has been a huge help in making our sites safer and it may work for yours too.

To Facilitate Clear Communication – Skitch

In today’s modern construction company communication is as important as it has ever been but it is also easier than it has ever been. In masonry restoration I’m often called out to a building by a potential customer to evaluate their building. Why is this leaking, why are the bricks cracked, why is mortar falling out on the ground… you get the idea. For a trained eye the issues stick out like a sore thumb but customers need to be educated. I often take a couple hundred pictures but there’s always a “money shot” or two that really highlights the damage. I use a couple pieces of software to annotate images so that they understand.

To really get that lightbulb moment with a customer it takes more than text, arrows drawn right on a picture really help them to see what I’m talking about. Just like plumbing, in masonry, water runs downhill. Customers don’t necessary understand right away that a flashing issue on the floor above is causing the leak below. Annotated images with arrows help them understand but it also helps to sell the job.

For image annotation I use Skitch. Skitch is an app from the Evernote team so you know it’s well thought out and user friendly. You can annotate photos, maps, web pages, pdfs, or free draw. I personally use it to send images to customers but that isn’t the only way to use it.

In masonry, unforeseen conditions are pretty common. Every building is unique and has unexpected things below the surface. When the foreman encounters these things sometimes they need a little clarification or direction from the project manager. They can snap a quick shot on their phone, mark it up, and then send it on to me for clarification. It gets both of us on the same page and eliminates confusion.

Final Thoughts

Software on the job site is progressing further and further every day. These three offerings are just a drop in the bucket of the things that can be leveraged to make a project more successful. 3D modeling is an area that is going through a huge growth and adoption stage right now from Sketchup models up through full BIM renderings of buildings before the first ground is even broken. What software/apps have made it to your job sites?


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