You may have seen Progressive's new ad campaign featuring Dr. Rick coaching new homeowners not to be like their parents. In one commercial, the group is at an airport, and Dr. Rick asks for a ticket check from the four would-be travelers. All hold-up paper tickets. Frustrated, he says, "Paper tickets. We are off to a horrible start."
Talking about less-than-ideal beginnings, how many construction companies have invested in "the future" with a cloud-based digital tool but still use paper forms today? More than you would expect. It's hard to go against centuries of paper used as the traditional form of data capture since your great-great-great-great-great grandfather used a quill and an inkwell to manage the king's cathedral project.
But as cloud-based technologies play a bigger and bigger role and workflows become more complicated on construction sites, the insistent use of paper forms erodes project efficiencies and, thereby, challenges a company's profitability.
Here are a few significant issues caused by paper-based construction forms and processes:
- Time spent re-keying data and redundant work
- Lost or hard-to-find paperwork
- Time spent filing and storage volume of paper
- Inability to timely monitor workflow progress
- Audit and compliance difficulties in locating data
- The man hours lost doing all the above tasks
These inefficiencies waste time, money and ultimately can substantially negatively impact your company's bottom line.
Digital Forms Are a Powerful Tool
Almost all contractors surely know that by using digital forms, their company can cut the amount of printing, scanning, and errors using paper documents. But, to make the technological leap for your business takes a real plan for change. But where to begin?
Much like the aforementioned Dr. Rick, we have Dr. DADO here to help you change your mindset and begin your transformation into a "digital adoption" program.
Dr. DADO's 5-Step Guide to Digital Forms
First, you should be aware that Dr. DADO knows Captain Obvious. He gets that change is hard. Most construction companies fail to fully adopt a cloud-based technology because the switch from paper to digital is so dramatic and daunting for them.
But Dr. DADO has penned a 5-Step Guide to Digital Forms. The Guide takes a different approach to the conventional wisdom of "jumping into the deep end." Instead, he suggests "sauntering into the shallow end" to test applications and get companywide buy-in.
So, let's begin:1. Identify the 1 or 2 Forms You Want to Perform a Digitize Test
Every construction company has documents associated with a commercial construction project. Dr. DADO recommends putting a list of your team's must-have documents and use those needs as a benchmark to measure each solution against. These can include such forms as:
- Daily Reports
- Bidding Documents
- Work Orders
- Construction Contractor Agreements
- Subcontractor Applications
One or more of these forms may be a current paper bottleneck in your process. These should be strong test candidates. Here are other things to consider:
- Sharpen your old forms. While you're converting forms, consider how their formatting and overall structure might be improved upon, especially if they are legacy documents that haven't been updated in a while. Also, consider that paper forms don't always translate perfectly into digital format. Dr. DADO strongly suggests you consult with your field team members' experience to decide which forms to test. Including experienced field personnel in the decision process will create "sweat equity" with them and make application adoption easier later on.
- Normalize data as much as you can. Normalized data fields require form fillers to format information into standard fields. Use dropdowns, input lists, autocompletes, and date pickers to make it easy for your team to submit forms without having to be careful about how the information looks. Data that's normalized well will make reporting, visualization, and analysis a snap later on!
- Use trusted outside resources for digitization. There are many contract resources available with lots of experience digitizing forms. Dr. DADO suggests you find someone in your network who has done this or search for top reviews on resources such as UpWork or Fiverr. The software application company you are considering may offer a digitization package as an option as well. Make sure to provide clear instructions to the digitizing consultant. If you do, you should be pleased with the result, plus be able to use the raw files later as your business grows.
As we said, Dr. DADO knows change is hard. After choosing a couple of test forms, select a smaller project you recently won to conduct your digitized test—something easy to measure success…or failure against. Again, Dr. DADO strongly suggests you consult with your experienced field personnel as to project attributes.3. Select an Application You Think May Meet Your Needs
Dr. DADO knows selecting the correct application is crucial. You may want to test two applications on two separate projects. Here are the evaluation criteria he has found to be essential in choosing the right DMS solution for your company:
- Is the software purposely designed for the construction industry? There are dozens of DMS apps and forms tools out there, but unless they support your end-to-end needs, you are probably going to end up switching sooner than later.
- Does the software integrate into my current systems? As you bring more technology into your company, you risk introducing a new silo application that does not integrate into your other systems, such as payroll and HR. The application should help you locate newly created information and navigate among the form submissions and the documents they reference.
- Does the application make for easy collaboration between contractors and their subs? General contractors don't always consider the needs of their subcontractors, but it makes no sense to choose an application that creates difficulty for subcontractors to access. Many leading applications are proprietary and are challenging to use without the extra hassle by the subs. Dr. DADO strongly recommends a cloud-based solution that is an open platform and agnostic to the manufacturer.
- Can I easily export my data out? You may be happy with the app storing information and navigating data in the cloud, but what happens once you need to have a hard copy for an audit…or a court date? Not all software is going to make exporting data easy for you.
- Is the app alive or dead? Before partnering with a software company, you will want to make sure that the tool is still being improved upon regularly through user input. A dead or zombie app means the solution's developers aren't willing to respond to your feedback or issues! And, you know how to kill a zombie, don't you?
4. Have an Executive-Level Sponsor Promote the Change
Dr. DADO knows grassroots movements at project sites can spawn many efforts to computerize tasks. But these initiatives can only be carried so far without executive buy-in. An Executive-Level Sponsor will help lead the transformation and identify the business gaps and foresee the opportunities available with application adoption. Here's a tip: the President or CEO rarely fills the role of Executive Sponsor. Dr. DADO suggests a C-Suite position in charge of Operations or Finance.
5. Have a Rollout Plan that Includes Training and a Kickoff Date
Here's where the rubber meets the road—companywide adoption. By now, certain field superintendents and foremen have put in the initial "sweat equity" and can see the value of your selected cloud-based solution. They, along with the Executive Sponsor, or on the same page, which is digital, of course!
Dr. DADO suggests the Executive Sponsor leads the Rollout Plan, which takes into account enough time to train team members that may not have fully bought in or are less tech-savvy than most. The Rollout Plan is a time to build team excitement plus identify any remaining gaps in digitizing workflows before it goes live in the field. But be assured that even with as much planning for the solution rollout, when the analog switch flips to digital, it's still going to suck. It's just a matter of how much.
Dr. DADO knows there is no such thing as a perfect rollout. He guarantees there will be unforeseen issues and complications. But if the team has had proper input and knows what's at stake before the go-live date, they will acknowledge the difficulties and cooperate to work through them. Also, keep the feedback loop from the field completely open and very responsive after the go-live date.
Despite the efficiencies promised by cloud-based technologies, the use of paper forms in the construction industry still exists by a surprisingly large number of companies. Most of these companies are aware of the challenges of changing processes but are unsure how to begin. DADO understands this position uniquely well and uses a 5-step approach to work closely with client companies and ensure well-received adoption.
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