Project management software has been serving the construction industry for many years now but, despite its prevalence in the industry, this form of software is still not the most efficient way to manage construction projects and still requires too much manual entry. What the industry has always needed is software that goes beyond manual entry and actually does the work for you. Introducing workflow automation - the next generation of construction software.
As the construction technology wave continues to hit the industry, businesses are truly waking up to the extraordinary organizational change technology can introduce. For a list of some game-changing technology trends set to change the industry, check out my last article here.
Workflow automation is set to disrupt the construction industry, completely changing the way businesses operate and manage projects. But what exactly is workflow automation? And how can it benefit construction specifically? Without further ado, let's dive in!
What is Workflow Automation?
To understand what workflow automation is all about, let's start by framing the problem: manual data entry.
Manual entry is one of, if not THE, most inefficient and time-consuming activities in the corporate world. The process of manual entry can happen across different mediums, which include paper, spreadsheets, and project management software.
Above and beyond the corporate environment, manual data entry is one of the most disruptive processes for field service industry verticals, such as construction. Let's be honest, the last thing you want your field team to do is waste their time on-site by plugging data into an app.
To put the problem of manual entry into perspective, recent studies have shown that nearly half of construction managers are still using manual data entry to capture critical data. 65% of construction managers said manual processes cause change and work orders to get missed, while 88% of executives who use four or more data systems spend at least 1,300 hours per year trying to assemble data into usable reports. These numbers are simply staggering and further emphasize the need for the industry to move away from manual entry.
Now to the solution: workflow automation.
By definition, workflow automation refers to the design, execution, and automation of processes based on workflow rules where human tasks, data or files are routed between people or systems based on pre-defined business rules. After you establish the rules and logic, automated workflows can send emails, set up reminders, schedule tasks, distribute & collect documents, and more — all without anyone in your team touching a single button.
By leveraging self-operating processes that run manual tasks, workflow automation can help your business save time and money, diminish errors, and boost productivity.
Some of the many other benefits of workflow automation include significant improvements in:
Almost every department in your business can benefit from workflow automation. Whether it’s project management, field operations, services, marketing, sales, human resources, or finance, the technology helps you work smarter, not harder.
What is Construction Workflow Automation?
Alright, so now that we know what workflow automation is, the next question to ask is how can workflow automation help construction?
This is where the newest category of workflow automation software comes in. Pioneered by Ontraccr, construction workflow automation (CWA) is the specific application of workflow automation technology towards the unique workflow needs in construction.
Due to the highly complex, interdependent, and process-heavy nature of construction projects, a new kind of workflow automation software had to be designed around the specialized use-cases within construction management.
While generic workflow automation tools have existed for quite some time now, they have not been designed specifically for construction. There's only so far these generic workflow automation tools can go within the construction industry.
In contrast, CWA technology is highly-specialized, where automations can be designed to address the many inter-company workflow issues that have plagued construction for decades. Examples include managing change orders, work orders, purchase orders, invoicing, RFIs, and safety forms, among many others.
These types of workflows involve collaborating with and requiring input from many external organizations and are both challenging and time-consuming to maintain. From tracking change requests to constantly following up with external stakeholders for critical information, such workflows do nothing but eat up time and money for all kinds of construction contractors.
With OnTraccr's construction workflow automation platform, you can automate all the mind-numbing manual tasks across document management, communications, time tracking, safety forms, quoting, and more. CWA is also designed to integrate existing systems together and even add automation layers on top of existing systems using APIs, enabling organizations to maximize the efficiency of existing IT investments.
We fully expect many more construction workflow automation providers to follow OnTraccr's lead as the proliferation of this innovative technology continues. Time to move the industry towards the automated future it always needed.
How is Construction Workflow Automation Software Different From Construction Project Management Software?
At this point, you may still be a bit confused as to exactly what construction workflow automation is, but that's totally normal. The confusion stems from the influence of existing project management software. You might be thinking, 'well I already have a project management system in place, I think I'll pass on this workflow automation thing'.
To be clear:
Construction workflow automation is very different from standard construction management software.
Existing, standard construction management software applications have performed wonders for the industry, moving it away from tracking information on paper and in spreadsheets, to tracking data in a central digital repository. The two main technology drivers behind this type of software are cloud and mobile technologies.
They've allowed our field teams to use their phones to keep managers in the office updated in real-time and have made it really easy for anyone on the team to have access to the right information at the right time. For executives, data stored in a central location has made it much easier to generate business reports, empowering them to make data-driven decisions in a timely fashion.
Great, so construction management software has given us much better software, mobile apps, cloud storage, analytics, and integrations. But, there's still a major problem... you guessed it, manual data entry.
Even though these applications allow us to stay organized in a much more efficient and completely digitized way, they still require us to maintain data manually.
Does this mean these applications provide no automation whatsoever? Not exactly. Most of these construction management applications provide 'lite' layers of automation by automating a couple of workflow steps here and there.
But most of these automations are built under-the-hood and companies can only set these up in the software by stepping through a series of drop-down menus. Thus, their automations are very limited.
The result of this approach is that companies are forced to conform to the way the software works, not the other way around. This is completely backwards.
Truly useful and well-designed software should never force a company to change its business practices, it should offer companies the flexibility to decide whether they want to evolve any current business processes or keep them the exact same.
Real workflow automation allows you to customize every single step and puts the end user in control of exactly what the automation should do for them. This is exactly what construction workflow automation does for construction contractors.
With CWA, companies start by mapping out exactly how they want all of their business workflows to work. This can happen across a series of process meetings where teams can draw out workflows as flow diagrams on a whiteboard.
Once workflows are defined across the organization, the next step is to re-create these workflows in CWA software. CWA even allows you to re-create workflows using a flow diagram interface so you always know exactly what workflow you are designing.
Forget drop-down lists, with CWA, you can visually depict exactly how you want your automations to work. Below is a quick example of what a safety form workflow would look like in CWA software:
As you can see, with a CWA tool, you can define the exact rules and logic behind each and every step in a workflow. Talk about powerful!
There's a lot we should be thanking standard construction management software solutions for. Without them, the industry would not be nearly as digitized as it is today.
But even though these solutions have introduced gains in efficiency and sophistication, they are still far from the most efficient approaches to managing construction projects. The highest levels of efficiency come from automation, not manual entry.
By adopting fully-automated workflows, companies can reach new levels of productivity and efficiency, saving them money, boosting productivity, and making employees happier than ever. Who wouldn't want to work for a company that takes the work you hate doing the most off your plate? Sign me up!
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