Explainers

How ‘mobility’ can boost construction productivity

9 July 2019 | By James Summers

James Summers, CEO and founder of telecoms specialist Conker, explains the importance of mobile devices within a company’s overall digital strategy.

While the construction sector is considered to be an integral part of the UK economy, and one the country’s largest sectors, “productivity” is an area that the industry is striving to improve.

To drive this change, construction companies are partially looking to technology and digital transformation to aid them. For instance, across many organisations, including construction, firms are starting to increasingly consider how they can improve performance, by moving away from traditional paper-based systems, in favour of more effective digital solutions, that improve operations and how they run their businesses.

To illustrate the importance of digital transformation, the UK government has set out a number of digital initiatives in recent years. This includes its Construction 2025: strategy and recent Industrial Strategy, Construction Deal. These strategies outline a plan to transform the sector’s productivity with digitalisation, by integrating BIM, cloud and other data-based technologies into the construction sector.

Today “mobility” has moved beyond just providing the team with the capabilities to make phone calls on the move. Since the advent of the smartphone, people have been able to manage personal information, contacts, diaries and their email while on the move.– James Summers, Conker

Alongside this, workforces are increasingly mobile. Trends like Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and enterprise mobility are permeating workplaces globally and propelling productivity in ways that have yet to be explored. In light of the UK government’s construction initiatives, this all indicates that “mobile” has a powerful role to play for construction firms, even if its use cases and solutions are being further developed.

So, where does the opportunity for mobile lie, and how can construction organisations develop fit-for-purpose mobile strategies that power their productivity?

Take your work anywhere

Today “mobility” has moved beyond just providing the team with the capabilities to make phone calls on the move. Since the advent of the smartphone, people have been able to manage personal information, contacts, diaries and their email while on the move. While this use case is not new, and many firms have been able to do this for a long time, mobility has moved on and become more sophisticated and democratised across the organisation.

One of the reasons for this is down to the development and importance of cloud-based software applications. These can typically be accessed across mobile devices and desktop PCs, and are increasingly being developed with mobility in mind in the first instance; meaning that employees can literally take their office and work anywhere.

While organisations crave applications that can drive productivity, what procurement teams often forget is that they need to ensure their mobile workforce can access apps on fit-for-purpose mobile devices. Many businesses, especially within construction, are not procuring the most fit-for-purpose mobile device for their mobile workforce.

The opportunity for ‘mobile’ in digital construction

Mobile applications can enable project teams to record and communicate information about projects more effectively.

For instance, applications that have been designed with BIM standards in mind can facilitate data sharing and encourage data transparency. This allows swift and more informed decision making for teams during various construction processes, which lets them relay crucial material and design information to architects, engineers and subcontractors through cloud-based project portals, but viewed on mobile devices.

In the case of field-based construction teams, mobile applications can enable contractors to quickly and accurately record notes on mobile devices and share them. These notes are then saved within a cloud-based, shared database. This then enables a more efficient management of project records and documents, as opposed to relying on traditional hand-written notes, which can sometimes be difficult to read and prone to error.

In some scenarios, mobile applications can provide construction executives with access to a comprehensive collection of photos, drawings, schedules and other important documents in real-time. Project managers can also use apps to delegate tasks, request equipment repairs or replacements, and relay information across departments. 

Mobile time-sheets and time-keeping can also help managers monitor their staff and optimise their schedules. Travel times, locations and time spent on site can all be recorded and monitored through mobile GPS, documenting progress and improving transparency for clients and management. 

However, to harness all these mobile capabilities, firms must assess whether they have an appropriate mobile, and device, strategy in place.

Developing a mobile strategy

Many companies equip their workforces with devices that are unable to thrive under harsh conditions, which is especially true in the construction sector. Business-rugged devices solve this problem and can minimise replacement and maintenance costs, preventing downtime and negative effects to the productivity of a workforce. This raises the question of what construction firms should consider when developing an effective mobile strategy.

Tip 1: Which business processes can be improved with a mobile? Can you identify a specific business process that is causing productivity to fail? Have you researched the availability of cloud software applications that can improve this process and record data? 

Tip 2: Are your current applications mobile ready? Once you’ve selected your software application suite, have you considered whether they are cloud-based and mobile enabled?

Tip 3: Are your devices fit-for-purpose? Alongside selecting software applications, teams must ensure that they provide staff with the appropriate, fit-for-purpose mobile devices (tablets, smartphones, barcode scanners, etc.) for the task at hand. Often in construction, these need to be business rugged to withstand harsh conditions. Consider screen size too, as the ability to read plans and drawings is essential.

Tip 4: Are suppliers easy to work with? Does your technology supplier offer strong after sales support? Find a supplier that is responsive, easy to work with and helps you execute your mobile strategy, with good repairs and replacement procedures in place.

Tip 5: Do you have a device downtime strategy in place? Devices are certain to break at some point in their lifecycle. What is your downtime strategy? How effective is your IT team at ensuring uptime? What reassurances can your suppliers offer?

Conclusion

A study from NBS highlights the importance of “digitalisation” within construction, saying that 77% of UK construction professionals have agreed that it will improve the productivity of the sector. Mobile forms a powerful part of this picture: how is your firm adopting digital construction, and does “mobile” feature within your strategy?