With paper and transportation costs increasing, switching to digital documents and forms to cut costs makes more and more sense -- and not just for the obvious reasons. Digitization and "lean" best practices help contractors reduce waste across their businesses. From faster processes for forms to spotting patterns that cause project delays, digitization results in tangible benefits that make running a business easier and more affordable for business owners and operations managers.
In this article, we’ve focused on 4 practical, real-life ways that digital forms software will help your business achieve the benefits of lean construction. No BS, just concrete examples of what you can do, and the benefits you’ll see.
1. Simplify your Process with Digital Forms
Process improvement is the most obvious and immediate benefit to a contractor taking their forms digital for the first time: it doesn’t take a special team, custom tools, or a bunch of training to get going. We provide more information on how to take your forms digital in our downloadable guide.
Benefits for your business just with digitization include:
- Save money on paper and printing - paper isn’t cheap and nothing is getting cheaper in 2022.
- No more lugging around paper - work from the device you always have with you, your phone.
- Reduce mistakes from unclear handwriting - not everyone has clear penmanship, and it’s pretty much guaranteed that if you work from paper there you’ll burn time fixing mistakes or following up to clarify what the heck Dave wrote.
- Skip transporting paper - whether it’s originals or wet carbon copies, paper needs to be delivered to its destination, whether that’s to a super/s desk, to a GC, or to a local agency. Skipping that step saves time - and let’s not even talk about saving the cost of gas right now.
- Save on storage costs - you aren’t going to save on rent by removing your filing cabinets at the office, but if you’re renting storage or needing to expand, this will help.
All that said, I’ve filled out a lot of digital forms and have my fair share of complaints about them. Make sure your form is well designed: that the buttons are far enough apart not to make mistakes, the annotation tools are easy to use, and ideally you’d be able to use voice-to-text.
Here’s a step-by-step submission of a digital RFI to show how easy a well-designed form template with automation software can feel, even on an iPad:
2. Select Software with Workflow Tools
Digitization is only the first step. A number of companies have moved their forms to digital PDFs and store their submitted forms in a cloud solution like Box, DropBox, or Sharepoint. But while that allows documents to be stored and shared, it misses out on the benefits of automated workflows that come with a comprehensive digital forms solution.
For instance, DADO Smart Forms has:
- Forms are automatically submitted to their project - there’s no need to file or email documents. This reduces room for human error and also eliminates all the steps that typically have to be taken after users finish with forms.
- The ability to use info it already knows - folks don’t need to fill out their own name, the project name, etc. This reduces seconds on form-fills and reduces room for human error as well.
- Automatic tracking for submitted forms - forms can be ordered by name (such as purchase orders, RFIs, work orders, and so on), and once submitted they’re organized for you.
- Built-in versioning and collaboration - make updates to submitted forms; track the changes; and collaborate on updates in the form across the team, like multiple team members submitting attendance for a toolbox talk, or a super signing a submitted form.
- Custom notifications - get notified of submissions, when your name is on a form, if a form flags a safety issue, or if there’s a project delay... Whatever the trigger, guarantee that people are alerted and can take action without relying on someone to send an email.
3. Take Advantage of Data Analytics to Gain Efficiencies and Reduce Costs
These next two steps focus on setup and operational improvements. They do require some up-front prep, a tool that exports data or visualizes it, and a regular process to look at your data.
Let’s break that down…
Standardize the data you want to analyze - you can clean it up later, but it’s more efficient to do it at the start. Avoid text fields for entering in information you want to analyze - instead opt for dropdowns, radio buttons, multi-selects, and so on. This gives you a clean data set to work with.
Some obvious types of data include manpower over time, delivery delays, and weather impacts. Less obvious might be employees’ names or floors and areas. For example, “Floor 1” and “Floor One” won’t line up for analysis, so you’ll either need to clean it up each time, or give up and miss out on the benefits.
Odds are you won’t get everything right out the gate. Look for existing templates with pre-built standardized fields to help you get started, and software that lets you update the form template and version the old one as you tailor it to your business.
Work on data governance - as they, say “garbage in, garbage out” so make sure you’re getting the quality of data that you need.
- For standardized data fields: make sure these fields are required.
- For text fields, including signatures: make sure you track if the information is recorded, and have your team include helpful inputs with specific details such as part numbers and specific document details.
Analyze your data - whether it’s at the end of a project, or as a regularly scheduled item, decide when you’ll pull information from across your projects and dig in to understand the patterns in your data.
Going back to the example of delivery delays: see if this is tied to your fab shop timing, a specific vendor, or something further upstream. Your data will show you the patterns. Once you identify a change you want to make to reduce delays, you can continue to analyze the same data to see whether it’s improving results, or if they stay flat. Now you’ve turned your forms from a project obligation, into a tool that improves your business.
Tools like Power BI and Tableau are the standard for running this kind of analysis. Make sure you can export your data into tools like these, or have a forms tools that has data visualization capabilities to help you analyze and measure the process improvements you make.
4. Maximize Benefits with a Construction Platform that Supports Forms
If you already have a software solution that manages your documents and workflows, there are a number of benefits of having your forms on the same platform, like DADO’s Document Platform. One obvious benefit is not needing to set up, train, and support everyone on an extra app. Contractors may not be looking for a forms solution, but if their construction platform offers a forms tool it makes sense to put all the project information into one place.
The biggest benefit of having all of your information on a single platform is that you can leverage all of your data. Information in your forms will affect different areas of a project - a different part is ordered, a panel is moved, a detail is missing, an RFI is missed, the list goes on... Tools like auto-hyperlinking and DADO’s Smart Links connect all that information in the project, saving you time tracking down related information, and avoiding rework scenarios.
Wrapping it Up
Each of these 4 lean practices - process simplification, workflow automation, identifying and measuring improvements with data analytics, and single-point solution benefits - all build-up to significant cost and efficiency gains.
Now that you see how straightforward it can be to maximize the benefits of digital forms software, all you need to do is choose the right platform for your team.
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