Many industries are eyeing mobile apps for their potential to streamline processes and save costs, and the construction industry is no different. In fact, a construction app currently is listed among the top 10 grossing apps in the Apple App Store.
The best apps are those that can take an existing workflow and improve it. Mobile app uses in the construction industry can be grouped into the following categories:
Project Management – This includes tasks such as materials ordering, time tracking, document management, change orders, expense reporting and data collection in the field. Now, instead of updating forms from a laptop at the end of the day, foremen can carry a small tablet that allows them to track the job throughout the day. A camera can be used to provide precise measurements, or to overlay a current photo of a work site with a rendering of the finished project. In the future, mobile devices that interface with drones will be able to send real-time video or photos of a job site and may be used in aerial surveying.
Equipment management – Construction is an equipment-heavy industry and mobile apps can help simplify and reduce the paperwork used to track and manage expensive equipment and supplies. Vehicle inspection checks can be performed on a smartphone or tablet, and can include video or photos of the equipment. Apps can track maintenance needs, and help pinpoint and troubleshoot malfunctions via a mobile dashboard. In the future, a mobile device may be able to control some equipment.
Safety Compliance – Mobile apps can play an important role in documenting and reporting incidents, and in safety training. Safety incident reports can be captured via a mobile app, which can use the device’s camera to document the scene for reporting and legal purposes. Job sites can be monitored with motion-triggered camera systems that provide realtime notifications.
Real-time construction – Mobile apps can help by tracking the delivery of equipment and building products and notifying foremen when a delivery is imminent. Mobile apps also can facilitate the ordering of supplies by taking a picture of a barcode, eliminating the need to type in orders.
Which App is Right for You?
Now that you have an idea of how mobile apps can be used in construction, how do you go about determining which app will provide the most business value? A global provider of products to the construction equipment market identified eight apps that together would provide a return of up to $323 million the first year, and a billion dollars over the course of three years. They arrived at this number using six easy steps:
- Outline the opportunity – Start by white-boarding your business strategies and goals for the year. For example, goals might be to reduce cost overruns or to better manage labor availability.
- Identify how you will get there – Each goal will have one or more workflows. If your strategy is to reduce cost overruns by 10 percent this year, think about all the workflows you need to use to make this happen: more precise ordering, better management of labor, etc.
- Know the roadblocks – Identify all the issues that get in the way of these workflows functioning optimally. For example, material ordering may include a workflow that involves filling out paper order forms or filling out an online order form, which takes time and is subject to errors.
- Apply mobile apps – Looking at the roadblocks, envision ways you can apply mobile apps to alleviate issues. For example, a searchable catalog available on an iPad may reduce the time needed to write orders. A quote creation app may alleviate order entry mistakes and speed up fulfillment.
- Score the apps – Once app concepts are developed, you can begin scoring them to determine the value they will bring to your organization in terms of time saved or revenue potential. For example, saving 10 percent of time on a task that costs the company $1 million annually delivers a cost savings of $100,000 a year.
- Assess other criteria – In addition to revenue potential and cost savings, look at other criteria that can affect the success of an app. These criteria are specific to each company, but often include things like the cost to implement an app and how excited users will be to adopt the app.
Once this information is gathered, create a chart of apps that will provide the most value and have the best prospects for adoption within your organization.
Alex Bratton is CEO and chief geek at Lextech (www.lextech.com), a mobile app development company. His book, “Billion Dollar Apps,” is out now. He can be reached at email@example.com.