Software & Technology: Friends, not Foe!

It’s no secret that technology has changed the world and continues to do so. As contractors, we don’t have to be up to date with all the latest tech BUT we do need to be open-minded about what technology could be used to better run our businesses – and turn a blind eye to the programs that don’t.

As an absolute bare minimum these days, you need to get comfortable with computers (both desktop and more portable options), smartphones, and a few key programs. If you’re running your business without a computer in sight – this will only get you so far and, really, you’re just making things a lot harder for both yourself, your team, and your customers than they need to be.

Sure, many of us were trained by old-school chippies whose portable technology amounted to some timber offcuts and a chippy’s pencil. But times have changed, and if we don’t change with them, we’ll be left behind by the competition.

What do I Actually Need for my Business?

So let’s look at what technology you should be embracing or at least considering for your business:

  • Desktop computers – These don’t need to be the very latest, top-of-the-line model, BUT they should work fast enough to enhance – not hinder – your efforts.
  • Laptop or tablet – You, your supervisors or foreman, estimators, etc. – you need portable access to the right programs and communications apps. Laptops and tablets solve this problem for you. Yes, a lot can be done on your smartphone, but the benefit of a laptop or tablet is a bigger screen and the ability to type using a proper keyboard if needed.
  • Smartphones – Equip yourself and your team with smartphones. This way your team can have access to not only calls and texts on the go, but also emails, a calendar, a camera, and various apps that can work in sync with your preferred programs.
  • Two-way radios or similar – Depending on the type of work you do and the type of work sites you run, these units can be used in areas where phone reception may be a bit dodgy, and are a quicker mode of communication compared to calling or texting.
  • Software – Again, this doesn’t have to be the latest programs “tailored” to your business type or industry – and, in fact, you should think long and hard about purchases such as these (more on that later). Many big successful businesses still get by with the bulk of their software being from the Microsoft Suite. That’s right – Word and Excel are still some of the most favoured programs by the biggest and most successful construction professionals.
  • A printer/copier – Yes, these may also seem to be a bit obsolete in a world of hot desks and paper-free trading BUT in the construction industry, going completely paper-free is not entirely feasible or logical.

Software: Beware the Sales Pitch!

Let’s look a little bit more at software.

When looking at software for your business, beware of the sales pitch that offers to solve ALL your problems! There is no one program or platform that can do this – it is just not possible. Many construction companies today still use the trusty old Microsoft Suite for the bulk of their software needs. Why?

  • It is easy to use and can be used to whatever level or functionality you choose
  • It is widely used – i.e. you will not encounter many people who cannot do business with you because they’re not adept at Microsoft applications
  • It’s easy to get help when you encounter a problem or don’t know how to navigate a function or problem
  • New staff are usually so familiar with it they can hit the ground running.

Many software developers will pitch that their programs are superior and specific to the construction industry, or that they can integrate with programs you already use to make your life easier. But think long and hard about these investments. They are usually costly and often result in you spending time and money on not only buying the program but also training your staff to use it too – only to find it doesn’t really tick all the boxes. Many of these programs are created by people who have never spent a day in the field themselves. If you’re considering something like this – do your research, read reviews, talk to other contractors who have tried it out, and ask for a demo by the company. Importantly, if you go ahead with the investment, make sure the company is known for their great customer service and troubleshooting services – so you’ve got help at your fingertips when you need it.

Start with the Basics & Keep it Simple

Remember, the basic programs work for most of the construction population. There’s nothing wrong with keeping it simple, starting with the basics, and branching out into other extensions or applications as you need them. In fact, that’s what I recommend when it comes to software.

Some other software options you might consider include:

  • Design and estimating software such as CAD-based software: Again, there is huge benefits in adopting widely-used and well-tested versions of these programs – such as easy onboarding of new staff, or working with clients and other contractors who are familiar with the programs
  • Accounting software: There are loads of software programs out there that are affordable, very user friendly and targeted at small business owners – meaning anyone who runs a business should be able to jump on and easily issue invoices and reconcile accounts with something simple like You don’t need one with all the bells and whistles – that’s what you pay your accountant for!
  • Cloud-based storage or back-up systems: If you run an old-school set-up and rely on paper copies of your records, put down the stapler and consider this – if your office was flooded or destroyed by fire, what would you do? How would you get all that info back? Cloud-based storage systems such as Microsoft OneDrive, Dropbox and others are there to keep all your digital files in a safe and secure place. What’s great about these platforms is that they also allow you to access these files from anywhere, and to share them easily with whoever you wish. Many offer a certain amount of storage for free too.
  • Email platforms: One might think all email platforms are created equal – and that may be somewhat true for basic functions. But rather than just going with a default platform or application just because it’s pre-installed on your computer, spend a little bit of time researching the differences between the main providers. Think Microsoft Outlook, Gmail, and the like. Nearly all email applications will integrate with your calendar and other apps, and it really can make life a lot easier if you know how to make the most out of these tools.

YouTube is Your Friend

Don’t forget, when it comes to technology and software,  YouTube is your friend! There is a ‘How To’ video out there for nearly every technology or software question, no matter how silly or vague it may seem. Chances are, if you are questioning something, someone else had had the same question before and consulted the internet!

There you have it – a general view of the necessary software and technology for the start of a modern construction business.

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