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Industry Insight Tips & Advice Ultimate Guide

Why Embrace the Future of Automation in Construction

For construction companies, time is money. Both in the field and the office, time wasted is money lost. Using out-of-date processes and multiple software programs can quickly eat into slim profit margins. Construction companies must rely on technology to make their processes faster and avoid errors. If they don’t, they will continue to spend money and time fixing problems and repeating work.

Construction’s future?

Although no one has a crystal ball to tell exactly what the future holds, here’s where we think construction is headed:

Automation

Smart contracts will make the payment process faster. Technology will assess how much of the work has been completed, and payments will automatically be distributed to those contractors who have completed the work.

The software will analyze compliance documents, and automatically notify all pertinent parties when insurance or licenses have expired. Contractors will be able to submit compliance documents directly through a portal, where the software will analyze them and gather the required information.

All the documents that pertain to a specific project will be organized and searchable in one location. All team members will have access to these documents, and paper files will be a thing of the past.

Accounts payable invoices will be scanned by software, and the information will be automatically entered into the accounting system. The software will provide analysis and let operators know when contracts are overbilled or change orders are not updated.

Payments to subcontractors and suppliers will be processed automatically by the system, without the need for checks or other paper documents. Payments will be tied directly to the completion of the work.

Artificial intelligence (AI)

Project software will be infused with artificial intelligence that allows the software to provide predictive analysis based on past project data. As contractors process projects through the software, they will learn what activities cause the most delay or create the most risk and remind users when these possibilities occur.

Using the Internet of Things (IoT) and wearable technology, the software will be able to analyze the completion of work in the field. It will then compare that information to the project schedule to determine if there are any delays. Parties will be notified when the schedule slips, allowing the team to proactively respond.

Machine learning

Machine learning, a subset of AI, will assist estimators in project bid analysis, allowing them to select projects they will be the most successful on. AI will also identify the most common bidding errors and correct them before they bid goes out.

Photos will be taken of each worker as they arrive on-site and will be analyzed to determine if the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) is being worn. If there are missing items, the system will notify the worker and their supervisor, allowing them to correct the problem.

Problems with the status quo

Currently, construction teams work with a hybrid of software and paper documents. While some contractors strive to go paperless, many still rely on paper documents for certain activities, like material takeoff. This dual approach leaves contractors open to the following problems:

Lost time

The process of entering and analyzing information by hand takes more time than an automated system. Systems are available that capture data automatically directly from documents and provide analysis, saving contractors time.

Lost information

Paper documents are often lost or misplaced when they are filed incorrectly, or not filed at all. Even teams that rely on software often use multiple systems for different purposes (estimating, project management, accounting). This confuses users who don’t know where to look for the information they need. This takes extra time to determine the correct system and find the data they need. If documents are lost or misplaced, more time is lost in searching for them or re-creating the documents.

Errors are more likely

An experiment in 2009 showed that data entry workers made up to 10.23 errors when entering data from thirty spreadsheets. Data entry errors can cost companies millions of dollars. Workers can spend more time searching for errors and correcting them than in the initial data entry.

Hidden costs of mistakes

Besides lost time finding and correcting mistakes, it has been shown that incorrect data can cost companies up to 30% or more of their revenue. A 2018 Goldman Sachs report stated that the direct and indirect costs of manual paper invoice processing are $2.7 trillion for businesses around the world. The hidden costs of manual data entry can be enough to make or break your business.

Benefits of new technology

Embracing automation and other technological improvements can save companies real money.

  • Work is performed faster.
  • When there is only one integrated source of information, less time is wasted searching.
  • Accuracy is improved with automatic data capture.
  • Time and costs are saved by limiting time wasted on rework, searching through data, and fixing errors.

In a nutshell?

If your construction company is wasting time on manual processes and paper documents, it’s time to embrace automation. Premier Construction Software can help you reduce errors, speed up data entry, and waste less time looking for information. We bring the power of automation, artificial intelligence, and machine learning to construction accounting and project management. For more information on how our software can save you time and money, contact us today.

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Industry Insight Tips & Advice Ultimate Guide

Economics of Construction, Post-Covid

As more and more states relax pandemic restrictions, the construction industry is beginning to return to normal. All be it a new normal, as contractors continue to struggle with material shortages, higher prices, and a labor shortage. Still, most economists predict that construction will continue to rise throughout 2022.

Looking at 2022, I would say I’m nervously optimistic. Nonresidential construction, by and large, seems to have passed the low point and is on an upswing.

– Ken Simonson, Chief Economist for the Associated General Contractors of America

With the passing of the infrastructure bill, many large federal projects are expected to go online in the 3rd and 4th quarters of 2022, giving a much-needed boost to the industry.

“I think that 2022 is going to be very busy for you all,” says Anirban Basu, chief economist for Associated Builders and Contractors and CEO of consulting firm Sage Policy Group. “Think very long and hard before you enter into contractual obligations. Make sure you build enough margin and contingency.”

Basu predicts a rise in state and local spending on construction going forward, including school construction. Contractors will need to ramp up their operations to handle the influx of available work.

“I think, to be successful, it’s going to help to be bigger,” he says. “Significant technologies are more expensive, and recruiting costs are significant, and training costs are significant. It’s nice to have a larger line of credit and more bonding capacity to go after some of these large-scale projects that are coming down the pipe, whether in infrastructure or other segments.”

The continued increase in volume can be tied to the effects of the pandemic both on the industry and the general population. “The impact of COVID has been far from equal,” notes Global Construction Perspectives director Mike Betts. “In most countries it’s been negative but in some, it’s been positive as working from home has encouraged people to invest more in their homes.”

This investment has led to a steady recovery for the industry over the past year and a half.

Continuing challenges

However, we aren’t out of the woods yet. Many contractors are struggling with the residual effects of COVID shutdowns that occurred two years ago. Workers and building materials are hard to come by and are more expensive than they were before the pandemic began.

Labor shortage

The construction industry continues to struggle with bringing new talent to the industry. The perception of construction jobs as dirty and physically demanding may be a part of the problem, along with the societal view that students graduating from high school should all want to seek a college education. The fact is that college isn’t for everyone, and construction careers can be performed by anyone given enough training. Most journeymen tradespeople get paid more than their college-educated friends and don’t have the tuition debt to show for it.

In the industry, there were 345,000 unfilled jobs at the end of November 2021. That was actually down from October when openings hit an all-time high of 455,000, but up from 261,000 a year earlier, a 32% jump, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

One of the answers some companies are pursuing is the adoption of technology. Today’s young workers grew up with technology, so they are more comfortable with it than past generations. Contractors are recruiting young workers to help with scheduling, estimating, and project management, which most companies use software for. Upcoming tech for virtual reality, drones, robotics, and building information modeling (BIM) is driving the surge of young people to the industry.

Supply chain issues

A combination of production and shipping delays and rising material prices has created a problem for contractors on current projects. Production stoppages due to the pandemic and trucking and shipping disputes have caused project delays and price increases.

“The good news is we are starting to see factory output come back to close to where it was prior to the pandemic,” Richard Branch, chief economist at Dodge Data & Analytics said. “That should help the supply side, and if we start to see some improvements with the log jams at ports, perhaps by the backside of 2022, we might see some reprieve from these higher prices.”

“I’ve gotten more optimistic about material prices,” Simonson said. He doesn’t expect them to return to pre-pandemic levels but anticipates more up and down volatility, which is better than the upward swing many material prices took through 2021.

Some contractors dealt with the material shortage by stockpiling materials they used on a regular basis. Unfortunately, this is exacerbating the current supply crunch.

Some of it is a shortage, and some of it is shipping, but some of it is still a little bit of fear, where people are buying products to try to protect themselves. That’s driving up the demand, which does not help the overall industry.

– Deron Brown, President & COO of U.S. Operations for Edmonton, Canada-based PCL Construction  

Experts don’t see supply chain issues being resolved completely until sometime in 2023. Contractors need to keep this in mind and be proactive with purchasing to ensure project timelines are met.

Positive outlook

Overall, it appears that the construction industry is set to continue its rebound. Contractors are learning to deal with shortages in labor and materials, and these will continue to be problematic. Adopting technology, like project management software, can attract younger workers and make systems more efficient, reducing company overhead costs.

For more on how Premier Construction Software can help your company, request a free demonstration.

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 Trends & Technology Ultimate Guide

Demand VS Supply in the Construction Industry

The current state of the construction industry is one of challenge. Contractors are in incredibly high demand for renovations, new home builds, and other projects. They’re poised for serious growth, except for one thing: There aren’t any affordable materials.

 

Demand VS Supply: What happened?

The pandemic caused a wild amount of demand for contractors and a shortage of materials. In the past, whenever either condition existed, it has pushed the price of building up. In today’s construction industry, it’s pricing both contractors and prospective project owners past their affordability breaking point.

Contractors are in High Demand

Contractors are in such demand because people want change. With so many folks leaving large cities for greener spaces, or so many working from home and needing a new environment to look at, contractors can’t answer the phone fast enough. These customers want to build new homes, renovate fixer-uppers they purchased in the country, or simply spruce things up a bit. And most of them want to hire a contractor to do it for them (keep “most” in mind).

Building Materials are in Short Supply

But, with materials manufacturing taking a massive hit during the pandemic, there just aren’t enough affordable materials around. With government imparted shutdowns, social distancing requirements, and a general lack of staffing across all industries, the amount of lumber hitting the shelves isn’t what it used to be. And, for the contractors that are able to find materials, they’re extremely expensive.

Workforce Shortages

For materials that aren’t necessarily in short supply, such as stone in the domestic mountain used for building products, or materials waiting at sea to be unloaded, the issue is a workforce shortage. With so many people choosing to remain out of work, material production can’t ramp up. And, there’s a lack of qualified truck drivers to move the materials that are produced. 

DIYers Played a Part

Consider this interesting point: DIYers caused some of these headaches as well. With so many people staying home instead of taking expensive vacations, many decided to tackle renovations and fixer-upper projects on their own. They headed down to the local home center or lumber yard and strapped studs and joists to the roof of the family sedan. This one group may have been responsible for the apparent disappearance of pressure-treated lumber in 2020, as new deck builds are a favorite of DIYers.

Governmental Impacts

Let’s not discount the effect that the government has had on the situation. The Biden administration imparted an 18% tax increase on softwood lumber coming into the US from Canada. Also, tariffs on concrete shipments from Japan are making a challenging scenario even worse. 

Issues for the Construction Industry

This chain of uncanny events is doing one thing: Making construction of any sort more and more expensive. Materials that were once affordable and readily available are typically neither anymore. 

 

  • When it comes to wood, the cost of 1,000 board feet of lumber nearly quadrupled over the course of the pandemic. It’s since dropped, but it’s far above pre-pandemic pricing.
  • The availability of concrete hasn’t changed much, but the demand and suppliers’ ability to move it to the job site has: There are fewer qualified drivers yet more places to deliver it to, causing a rise in price.
  • The cost of steel has been steadily increasing, forcing the price of fabrication and commercial construction to increase accordingly. Some estimates have the increase of steel mill prices as high as 141%. 

 

How To Overcome (or Avoid) These Issues Moving Forward

For many contractors, the time or ability to avoid the supply chain issues caused by the pandemic has passed. However, there are some ways they can avoid the impact these issues can have on their bottom line. 

Job Forecasting

One way to plan for current expenses is to use effective job forecasting methods. By utilizing data compiled from past projects, contractors are able to predict how much a project will cost. While spikes in materials costs do minimize this methods’ effectiveness, the longer the heightened costs occur, the more accurate forecasting will be.

This method requires more than just reviewing old invoices. Utilizing software designed specifically for contractors allows for in-depth analysis of spending, materials costs, labor, and other costs associated with certain projects. The more data collected, the more accurate the report.

Establishing Credit with Multiple Materials Suppliers

A more effective way to mitigate the impact of skyrocketing materials pricing in establishing lines of credit with several suppliers. Many contractors prefer to work with a select few suppliers, but this limits their ability to shop prices and material availability. What the supplier has is what the contractor gets.

While it’s true that many suppliers work off the same supply chain, everyone has a trick or two up their sleeve. Consider a contractor who ordered materials but the job fell through. Potentially, those materials are sitting in one particular yard, which means only one supplier will have access. If a contractor who needs those materials doesn’t regularly deal with that supplier, they may never locate those materials. 

That’s a specific instance, but one that isn’t uncommon. Access to materials often depends on who a contractor knows, which can make establishing accounts with several companies critical. For contractors that worry too many accounts will make accounts payable a nightmare, a solid construction software solution can automate and streamline payments.

Contract Clauses

While no contractor wants to adjust the terms of their contract or back out on a deal, it’s sometimes necessary. Including clauses in a contract that put the onus on the customer might be the best way to protect their bottom line.

For instance, such a clause might state that once a material increases over a certain percentage (which must be established in the contract), the customer will be expected to pay the additional costs. The customer then has the opportunity to sign or pass on the contract. If they sign, the contractor has some reassurance that price increases won’t derail their project or their company’s profit margin.

Hard Times Call for Smarter Measures

Things are tough right now. Though contractors might not be able to take full advantage of the demand for their services, with a few smart moves, they can still grow. The cost of materials may never reach pre-pandemic prices again, but contractors that analyze their established data, diversify their supply chain, and create safer contracts have a better chance of making it through the worst of it. When materials do begin to drop again, they’ll be in the position to fake full advantage and grow. 

Premier construction software is a cloud-based accounting and project management construction software

Check out Premier Construction Software to see if it fits your company’s strategies and goals.  Our construction management and accounting software provide teams with the tools they need to take advantage of these technologies. Schedule a demo by contacting us today.

We’re more than just construction financial software. We’re built to help your business.

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.