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Industry Insight Tips & Advice Trends & Technology Ultimate Guide

From Good to Great: The Power of UX Design in Software Products

Software is supposed to solve a problem. Whether it’s simplifying tasks that humans struggle with or just streamlining the workflow process, companies spend money on software in order to make their day-to-day operations run smoother. But for this to occur, the development company has to focus on the end users’ needs and wants. And that’s where good UX design comes into play.

Why is good UX design important? The reasons are endless. However, we’ll discuss 9 of the most important reasons here. Keep reading to find out what they are.

What is UX Design?

Before we dive too deeply into UX design, it’s important to understand what it is. It’s become something of a buzzword in the industry over the last few years, but a quick breakdown could be helpful.

UX stands for “user experience.” UX design is the process of developing a product, whether it be a website, software program, or device with the end users’ experiences in mind. With that description, good UX design sounds like a no-brainer, but it takes an experienced team of developers and designers to make it happen.

There are decision trees and formulas that developers use to ensure they’re implementing good UX design, but that’s far beyond the scope of this article. At the core, the development team considers who the user is, what their challenges are, and how the software can solve those challenges in the easiest and most efficient ways possible.

UX designers use market research, product development, strategy, design, and lots of testing to ensure they’re creating a product that is attractive, effective, efficient, and easy to use. That’s good user experience design in a nutshell.

This isn’t wildly different from the construction design process. Engineers, designers, and architects constantly consider how the buildings and infrastructure they create will impact the people using them during the design process.

9 Reasons Why Good UX Design is Important in Software

It might be easy to understand that good UX design is important, but all of the ways it can impact the end user might not be so obvious. The following are 9 reasons why good UX design is important when choosing a software program.

It Leaves a Lasting Impression: Good and Bad

UI (user interface) gives the user their first impression, but UX creates a lasting impression. How smoothly a software program runs, offers intuitive workflows, and allows the user to find the solutions, data, or reports they’re looking for will create an opinion of that program for the user. If the UX is subpar, even if only at the start, users will feel frustrated over just the thought of the software.

However, if that software is fast, intuitive, and provides answers without digging through multiple tabs in error, the user will remember it. They’ll have a much more favorable opinion of the program and rather than feeling dread when they log in, they’ll feel positive that they’re going to achieve their goals.

It Provides Value

Good UX design is not a mistake. It’s the result of a development team focusing its efforts on developing exactly the type of software that the user needs. This means the team won’t be spending time or energy developing aspects of the program the user really can’t use.

In the end, this streamlined and targeted development approach means less wasted resources, and this means a more affordable product for the end user. They’ll be able to get more value from the program because it was designed to solve their specific challenges and nothing else.

It Makes Learning Easier

Regardless of the software program, there is always a learning curve or implementation period where users have to get used to the new processes. Whether it’s the layout, workflow, or integration with other software programs, users need to learn how the new system works and deal with the bumps in the road.

Good UX design can pave those bumps and make learning the new system much easier. With a well-planned layout, intuitive workflows, and the ability to make adjustments that scale across multiple reports automatically, using the program can become like second nature.

It Ensures the Program Will Fit the Users’ Needs

Good UX design involves developing “personas,” or creating a fictionalized version of the ideal real-world user, and developing the software for that persona. Developers will take into account all of the user’s daily activities and responsibilities and the challenges that those activities and responsibilities create, and come up with a tailored solution.

In terms of construction, this ensures that the software meets the needs of the people in the building industry. An effective UX design will account for the project types, contract types, personnel, reports, and accounting that the construction industry uses. There are no useless functions or fluff to deal with.

It Encourages Widespread Adoption of the Software

It’s one thing to decide to implement new software and another thing to actually get everyone on board. While there are always a few folks that will resist change, a good UX design can help pry those old spreadsheets from their desperate clutches.

When a program is designed well and works as it should, the team will notice. Folks will start to show each other how certain functions are saving them time and frustration over the old program. And while a program champion must still learn the software and introduce it to the team, a good user experience can make implementation effortless.

It Reduces Reliance on Customer Support

How often do we get frustrated with a program, app, report, or input point and have to call customer support, only to realize the solution was simple? It was just a toggle buried in five layers of user settings. If we’re all being honest, the answer is “too often.”

While great customer support and service are critical to any software program, good UX design minimizes the users’ need to lean on it. By using simple, easy-to-adjust settings and input points, well-designed programs allow users to understand what they’re doing, make adjustments, and see an impact instantly. If something doesn’t seem right in a report, they should be able to access that report immediately and fix the issue without digging through tab after tab to get there.

It Helps Users Serve Their Customers Better

When a company decides to implement new software, the goal should be to simplify processes in order to run smoother and more efficiently. It can change the way the company handles almost all of its most important office work. And you better believe this transfers to the customer.

When a customer, partner, or lender calls a well-run construction company and requests an update, the latest report, a change order, or just clarification, good UX design really shines. A company rep should be able to log in, access the account, and pull that report or make that change in seconds. And if they’re using a program that simplifies data entry and provides automatic updates, they know all of those changes will be reflected across the program.

Not only does this mean serving the customer faster, but it also means providing them with accurate data. Good UX design lessens the chances of mistakes and oversights, and this makes it one of the most important aspects to look for in a software program.

It Promotes Communication

No one understands the importance of communication better than a well-oiled development team, and this often trickles down to the software. Good UX design involves creating channels and avenues that teams can use to talk to each other, work on the same project, and simplify communication.

In many cases, this means using cloud technology to ensure everyone has access to the same data at once. Any changes they make can be sent automatically to the folks who need to know about them, as well. This type of communication promotes collaboration and responsibility—all because the software was designed to do it.

It Directly Impacts Profitability

At the end of the day, any new tools or software that a company implements should improve its profitability. Good UX design, with its focus on efficiency and automation, can do just that.

With less time spent on data entry, updating reports, fixing mistakes, and tracking down signatures, office staff can focus their creative efforts on other projects. Those projects can then help the company move forward, improve its efficiency, and make better decisions. Only a software program created with great user experience design can offer the type of freedom a team needs to work like that.

 

Author Biography:

Tom Scalisi has over 15 years of experience working in the trades. Since moving to full-time freelance writing, he has developed a passion for helping construction companies grow. He enjoys teaching contractors how technology can streamline their businesses and educating them about their rights during payment disputes. 

 

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Industry Insight Tips & Advice Trends & Technology Ultimate Guide

Why Forecasting Project Costs Is Important For Your Construction Business

From day one on a construction project, the number one question everyone has is whether the project will meet the expected budget. You can wait to answer this question at the end of the project when you can’t do anything about it, or you can assess where the project stands as you progress through the work, allowing you to act proactively if an overage is found. In order to assess the project costs before completion, however, you must forecast or predict the potential costs to complete the work.

A forecast to complete the project is a well-educated guess of how much you have left to spend to finish the work. It’s based on the current costs, the percentage of the project that’s complete, and what’s remaining to be finished. The better you are at tracking your costs, the easier it will be to predict how much is left to spend.

Before we get into how to forecast final costs on a construction project, let’s look at why it’s important to know how much the remaining work will cost you.

The importance of forecasting final costs

One of the primary benefits of forecasting costs is that you get an early warning if a project is losing money. Since many contractors rely on their profits to fund future work, losses on today’s job can quickly lead to real problems when it comes time to start the next one. Without adequate profits to fund the work, contractors have to rely on alternative financings, like bank loans or credit cards, that ultimately cost them more in the long run, further reducing profits. It’s a never-ending cycle of higher costs.

Predicting final costs also allows companies to identify their future cash flow needs and address any issues before they become real problems. If contractors know that they won’t have enough money coming in to finance their payroll or other necessary business expenses, they have time to move money from investments or seek lower-rate financing options.

Sometimes forecasting final costs can help contractors identify change orders that have been missed or haven’t been processed yet. If a change hasn’t been made to the project budget but extra materials have been paid for or work has been completed, it may show up as a cost overage. The contractor can then follow up with the owner or architect to determine the status of the required change.

Finally, forecasting allows companies to learn valuable lessons about the accuracy, or inaccuracy, of their estimates. If a contractor is always going over budget on labor costs, they will see that sooner and be able to adjust future budgets accordingly. This will make their estimates more competitive and lead to more work.

How to forecast final costs

One of the most important things you can do to help forecast final costs is to monitor costs as you go. If you’re relying on data from a single point in time to predict costs, it can be difficult to make the appropriate assumptions and gather enough data to accurately predict future costs. By tracking costs as you go, with an accounting system that supports job costing, you’ll be able to monitor the project’s progress and see cost patterns that may not be visible with a static report.

To forecast final costs, you’ll be looking at three data points: the amount remaining in committed costs, amount remaining in your budget, and historical costs. Based on these three data points you should be able to predict, with a reasonable degree of accuracy, the final costs for a specific scope of work. Let’s look at an example to help illustrate how these data points help predict future costs.

Let’s say we are forecasting costs for the concrete scope of work on a project. The contract with the concrete subcontractor was originally for $100,000, and they have billed $80,000 so far, leaving $20,000 to bill. This is the amount remaining in committed costs. Based on our original budget, we know that we still need to purchase some rebar that wasn’t part of the concrete contract for $5,000. We also know, based on reviewing past projects and the amount of work left to be finished, that we have about $30,000 in work remaining to be completed. So, how do we predict what our future costs will be?

Remaining committed costs:                       $20,000

Remaining in the budget:                                     $5,000

Historical data:                                                  $30,000

The answer will be somewhere between $25,000 and $30,000, depending on whether we are looking at it for cash flow reasons or to assess what our profit margin is for this particular project. Either way, we are using the three data points to inform our prediction and will continue to improve the accuracy of each prediction as we analyze the data on more projects.

What to do when you’re over budget

The second most important question, after “Are we on budget?” is what to do when you’re over budget. The answer depends on why you’re over budget.

  • If there has been a change in the project scope that affects the budgeted costs but hasn’t been reflected in a change order yet, that could cause an overage.
  • If there was an unforeseen condition, such as bad soil, that caused additional costs, this may cause an overage.
  • Or, if the general contractor or a subcontractor made an error in their work, that could also cause a budget overage.

Depending on the cause, the contractor will need to either ask for a change order or make an internal budget transfer. The internal budget transfer will move excess monies from one line item of the budget to another to help cure the overage. It’s important to note the reason for the transfer for future lessons learned.

How Premier helps you predict future costs

Premier has made forecasting future costs in your projects easier with its forecasting module. Using this module, project managers can account for unexpected costs and request internal budget transfers to cover overages.

To see how Premier can help keep your projects on track, request a demo.

Author Biography:

Dawn Killough is a construction writer with over 20 years of experience with construction payments, from the perspectives of subcontractors and general contractors. Dawn has held roles such as a staff accountant, green building advisor, project assistant, and contract administrator.  Her work for general contractors, design firms, and subcontractors has even led to the publication of blogs on several construction tech websites and her book, Green Building Design 101.

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Industry Insight Tips & Advice Ultimate Guide

The Ultimate Guide to Customer Support: How Support Impacts the Health of Construction Operations

So, your company is thinking of upgrading to a new, streamlined construction software program and ditching that old, generic software. But, one of your biggest qualms is that the new software may be hard to use, or confusing, or maybe integrating into your day-to-day business activities will be impossible. Maybe you’re worried about something going wrong with the software down the road.

What would you do then?

You’re right for taking this transition seriously, as it’s a big change for your company. However, with the right customer support, you won’t have to face these challenges alone. Customer support and account management in construction software are one of the most important features to look for before choosing a product. This guide will explain why.

The Importance of Customer Support in Construction Software

The construction industry thrives on building structures and renovating spaces. Time spent ironing out the wrinkles in a software program or transitioning to new technology can slow that down. For those reasons and more, construction software support is incredibly important.

1. It Helps During the Launch Phase

Transitioning from simple, stand-alone, and feature-limited software to a fully-functional software program may seem overwhelming for your construction company. Teaching employees that are used to old-school spreadsheets and programs designed over 40 years ago won’t be easy to do on your own, despite knowing the value it will bring in the end.

Customer support is at its most important during this stage of the game. The best construction software companies will offer one-on-one and group training to prepare key employees for the role, allowing them to lead the way for other employees. This training can last from a few days to a few weeks, depending on the company.

For example, Premier Construction Software’s initial training program lasts six weeks. During that time, employees learn how to run a fictional business using the software program. By the end of the six-week period, the business goes live and is fully functional with trained employees who know how the software works. Whichever construction software you choose should come with a similar level of start-up support.

2. Issues Happen Along the Way

Even the most well-oiled software might experience a snag every now and then. Most often, it’s a user error and the user doesn’t even realize it. Sometimes, there’s a hardware issue that needs to be identified. It’s rarely an issue with the software or an update, but it can be a possibility.

The problem is your company can’t come to a screeching halt because the software decided to take a nap. Your team needs that software back up and running as soon as possible in order to focus their efforts on other important functions.

For those situations, there is no replacement for expert customer support teams. These professionals should have the knowledge and ability to get your company’s data entry, drawing organization, storage, and accounts payable or receivable back up and running.

But what does solving this business emergency look like? Will your representative have to spend hours on hold, or wait for a response to an email? That’s the case in some situations. Other construction software programs assign an Account Manager to each client, giving them a point of contact to reach out to in any situation. They’ll get the ball rolling and ensure that the customer is receiving the attention they require.

3. It Avoids Growing Pains

Like most companies, the goal is most likely to grow and take on more, bigger, or more valuable projects. But, with that expansion comes growing pains (especially with some software companies). Creating new users, tracking changes, and ensuring everyone see the documents and data they need can be a challenge during this phase of growth.

Streamlined and automated construction software equipped with top-of-the-line customer support can minimize the impact of these growing pains. Customer support can help with managing new and old user accounts in and out of your organization, integrating expansions or updates, and tracking changes or adjusting workflows to ensure everyone is accountable and involved.

It can’t be overstated how important an expert customer support service team is to a construction company at this phase. Rather than users chasing their tails and making more work for themselves, a customer support representative can help the user identify the correct feature to use, how to track an error, or which update they need. The user can then learn how to avoid this mistake in the future, making the time spent working with the support professional well worth it.

Make Sure Your Construction Software Includes Customer Support

If you’re shopping for new construction management software, don’t overlook customer support. This is one of the most critical aspects of ensuring a construction software program integrates with your business and helps take it to new heights.

The success of a construction business is a reflection of the choices of employees, customers, stakeholders, and their organizations. These decisions can play a critical role in determining the success of your organization.

Not to worry, Premier has your back. From the very beginning, we will ensure you feel fully supported and successful. End the wait today and get your business back in financial control.

Schedule a demo today

Author Biography:

Tom Scalisi has over 15 years of experience working in the trades. Since moving to full-time freelance writing, he has developed a passion for helping construction companies grow. He enjoys teaching contractors how technology can streamline their businesses and educating them about their rights during payment disputes. 

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Industry Insight Resources Tips & Advice Ultimate Guide

How Severe is the Construction Industry’s Labor Shortage?

A lack of skilled workers is nothing new to the construction industry. Trade organizations, hiring managers, and small businesses have been complaining that the trades just aren’t attracting young adults anymore, and the current workforce is aging out.

But that labor shortage became even more apparent during the pandemic. With fewer people willing to risk going to work combined with a boom in residential construction, the labor shortage continued to grow. How severe is the issue, and how can it get better? These are the questions the industry should be asking.

How Severe is the Construction Industry’s Labor Shortage?

While the construction industry faced labor shortages in the past (think back to the housing boom of the 2000s), the one it’s facing now is a serious challenge. Estimates show that to keep up with current demand, the US construction industry would have to add 650,000 skilled workers to its ranks. If projections are correct, the current trajectory will require 2.2 million new workers within the next three years just to meet current housing needs.

The Canadian outlook is actually worse. Numbers in Canada require hiring an additional 80,000 workers. Considering population numbers, this is a higher percentage than the issue seen in the US.

What’s causing it?

Retirements

Plain and simple: folks are retiring. The average age of retirement for construction workers in the US is 61 years old. In Canada, the age of retirement across all industries is slightly higher at 64 years old. With over 20 percent of the industry’s workforce being over 55, they’re leaving in droves. 

The pandemic didn’t help. The Great Recession helped many employees find the door, spurring moves to other industries as well as trips to social security offices around the country. 

Lack of Young People

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the interest of young people in entering the construction trade is far too low. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 20 to 24-year-old segment made up just 7 percent of the survey respondents working in the construction industry. 

The root cause of this issue is the younger generation’s upbringing that focuses on college and degrees rather than skills or licenses. Instead of construction, this age group is seeking employment in the medical, business/management, and tech or IT fields. 

Market Competition

Even if there wasn’t a housing boom at hand, the industry would be in trouble. Unemployment rates are low, while vacant job numbers are very high, indicating that every industry is facing the same shortage. In this environment, job seekers have options.

Construction employees are leaving job sites for better working conditions in the service or warehouse industries. Those that are staying in construction, they’re able to bounce from employer to employer in search of better pay and better healthcare.

Increased Demand

The pandemic might’ve shut some individual job sites down, but it didn’t slow the construction industry much. Project volumes ballooned with a shift from typical commercial construction to a focus on residential home building. Folks were leaving cities in droves, building new houses, or renovating older ones in the country in order to escape the monotony of struggling cities.

Commercial construction’s direction changed as well. With so many folks staying home and ordering their goods online, fulfillment centers became a precious commodity. Warehouse construction is experiencing a boom in volume without a boom in skilled labor.

What Does This Mean for the Industry?

Ultimately, the labor shortage will have a profound effect on the construction industry. Business owners will need to offset increased costs, and keeping projects on track will seem an impossible task. 

Increased Prices

Construction companies big and small have had to increase the amount they pay their employees over the course of the pandemic. They’ve also had to improve employee benefits to sweeten the deal. The issue is that with already slim profit margins, these companies have had to offload these increased costs of doing business onto customers and project owners.

More Delays

One of the issues of hiring during a labor shortage is that it’s not always possible to find quality employees or vet their experience before hiring. Many projects have gone off the rails in recent history due to poor quality and low productivity. Couple those issues with up to 25 percent of project owners reporting delayed or incomplete deliveries, and delays abound.

Lack of Experienced Leadership

With so much of the experienced workforce hanging up their hardhats, there’s going to be a marked reduction in seasoned leadership. Employers will be forced to promote less experienced employees to foreman or project management positions than they had in the past. While there’s always a learning curve, this lack of experience may cause a ripple effect through the workforce, possibly causing lower productivity, more waste, and more inefficiencies until this group of managers matures.

What Can the Construction Industry Do About the Shortage?

Construction as a whole has been trying to solve the labor shortage issue for a very long time. However, there are a few moves that companies can make to lessen the impact a labor shortage has on the company’s growth.

Consider Improving Wages and Benefits

The modern job seeker has options, and it’s important that companies make their outfit the most attractive. Higher pay than the competition is certainly helpful, but so are better healthcare programs, fringe benefits like childcare reimbursement, tuition assistance, or more days off for time with family. 

These changes may increase younger job seekers’ attention, giving the construction industry a leg up on manufacturing or e-commerce. They can also help one company stand out against the rest. While this will ultimately cost the company more money, it may be one of the only ways to keep a staff full during a continental labor shortage.

Focus on Training

Rather than finding new skilled labor, construction companies can attempt to mold current employees into skilled ones. Investing in tuition or training programs will help employees learn the types of skills that a company can build on. Sending them to specialized schools or setting up programs where senior staff mentors them on their way towards licensure may also be options.

While there is always a risk in training someone only to lose them to another company, consider that it’s possible to invest in a person’s future and create a loyal employee. It also gives employees the feeling that the employer cares—something today’s generation of job seekers is looking for. This can help retain staff rather than let them slip away to competitors offering slightly more money.

Reduce Inefficiencies

Getting more boots on the ground is a challenge that will take long-term planning, so the construction industry needs to focus on finding solutions in the interim. One move that most construction companies could benefit from is reducing inefficiencies through technology.

For example, companies that switch from basic accounting software to construction-specific management software can lower some of their dependence on specific manpower. These software programs are customizable, allowing users to tailor workflows, create custom forms, provide wireless access to current drawings, and track progress through accurate, up-to-date job costing reports.

While technology might not replace skilled labor, it can help make management personnel more efficient. With access to cloud-based drawing storage, site leadership can ensure the crews are working from the most current drawings to prevent mistakes. These folks will also be able to send and receive RFIs and change orders and their approvals from the site, potentially reducing the need to leave for administrative tasks.

Promote Awareness

The construction industry still has a stigma, and it’s preventing younger job seekers from considering it as a potential career path. The idea of it being a low-paying, gruff boys’ club is keeping folks with degrees from joining the ranks of new electricians, carpenters, plumbers, and other trades.

The industry must consider promoting awareness that a career in construction can be a fulfilling and inclusive one. With the potential for promotions, a great living, and competitive benefits, getting the word out that construction could be a viable option for young folks shouldn’t be hard.

Part of promoting awareness may mean shifting the focus from marketing the business to marketing the careers. Senior management may need to partner with local youth organizations and social groups to encourage open dialogue about the industry. Adopting modern media streams like social media, YouTube, and podcasts can help reach younger audiences as well.

None of these tactics will have an immediate impact on the labor shortage, but they can help change the stigma that construction is a dead-end career choice. Young folks who are on the fence about what to do after high school or college may not be considering the industry, and some pointed effort can help. 

The Labor Shortage Isn’t Going Away—Companies Have to Act Now

Ultimately, every industry is feeling the pain of the labor shortage. Construction, however, is particularly affected since it needs skilled workers. It’s important that the industry—and the companies that comprise it—make the moves necessary to attract new employees, retain current ones, and make sure they’re operating as efficiently as possible over the next decade.

Get your business back in financial control amidst the labor shortages. Find out how Premier can empower your business for success.

Schedule a demo today.

Author Biography:

Tom Scalisi has over 15 years of experience working in the trades. Since moving to full-time freelance writing, he has developed a passion for helping construction companies grow. He enjoys teaching contractors how technology can streamline their businesses and educating them about their rights during payment disputes.