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Mobile Timecards: Construction Software

March 12th, 2012 by

Like any business, construction companies always want to find a way to cut costs and win business. Deploying a mobile timecard system and GPS tracking solution provides one way to do this.

Mobile timecards increase worker productivity, decrease employee time-theft, improve efficiency and increase profits by saving on daily costs such as fuel, overtime and administration.

They also can be easily integrated into numerous accounting and software systems, which makes payroll and record-keeping a much more efficient and streamlined process.

How Mobile Timecards Work

Mobile timecard applications can work on a variety of cell phones and tablets. Be cautious of Web-based timecard products because they tend to duplicate data entries and lose information collected by employees if the device loses reception. Look for mobile timecard systems that can be built into devices. This ensures that information will be stored even if field workers lose reception. Employees can capture data by pushing a button or clicking a dropdown screen on their wireless devices. This information will be forwarded over the carrier’s network to a server in a secured location generally required by the wireless carrier. Company administrators can then view the information in real-time through a login and password-protected portal.

Construction field workers can log the following data from a hand-held device:

-Time

-Attendance

-Jobs, tasks and sub-tasks

-Cost codes

-Lunch and other breaks

-Custom fields (weather issues, injuries, etc.)

-Team clock-in (multiple workers using one device)

-Dispatched work orders

-Inventory

-Job progress

Management can view real-time job information, including:

-GPS tracking information

-Bread crumb trails (speed, direction)

-Speed triggers

-Mileage and idle time

-GPS smart fence technology

-Time and attendance reports

-Inventory

-Dispatched work orders

-Overtime hours

-Required breaks

-Current payroll hours

-Hours spent on tasks (framing, electrical, grading, etc.)

Some mobile timecard applications offer more than 20 custom reports and store all data for a six-month period, including GPS tracking information. A few solutions offer a Web-user login capability for internal workers.

Documentation for Compliance

Both state and federal labor laws require accurate and tedious record-keeping for all non-exempt employees concerning a variety of work issues including hours worked, mandated lunch periods and breaks taken.

Employers, especially those who employ mobile workers, find it increasingly difficult and time-consuming to comply with these laws, and they sometimes find themselves at a disadvantage when responding to individual claims, class action lawsuits and audits conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor and/or state administrative law enforcement agencies.

Wireless providers now offer mobile timecards, a mobile phone application that allows employees to log time, attendance and other job information through a mobile timesheet directly from their wireless phones. With new employee location capabilities using GPS tracking (including smart fencing technology) mobile timecards also provide employers with documentation showing where their mobile workers are located at any given time throughout their workdays, when they begin and conclude their work time  and when and where they take lunches and rest periods.

California and a growing number of other states continue to enforce tough legislation against employers regarding wage-hour law violations. Employers with mobile workforces must be sure they have accurate employee work-time records, and they should also be able to produce these records in any legal proceeding. The records must show hours worked and meal and rest periods taken by employees.

Michael Procopio, a Santa Ana, Calif.-based veteran attorney specializing in labor and employment law, says, “When it comes to federal and state record keeping requirements, the burden is on employers to document both the hours worked by their employees and the lunches and breaks taken by them.”

Also, according to the law, employers cannot require employees to sign general waivers that would release employers from paying for work done during meal or break times and during overtime.

“Employers throughout California–and even those based in other states who have employees performing work in the state–are governed by California’s wage-hour laws, which are among the strictest in the country,” says Procopio. He adds that both federal and state record-keeping statutes have required documentation of hours worked for many years, and these agencies have increased enforcement efforts considerably in recent years.

Most employers have traditionally complied with these legal requirements by using time clocks and sign-in/sign-out sheets. These procedures have sufficed in situations where employees work at fixed locations, but they have in many cases failed in workplace settings involving mobile employees, such as heavy equipment operators and construction workers.

With GPS tracking capabilities, mobile timecards make it possible to meet these compliance standards.

PlanGrid: New Software for the Construction Industry

March 6th, 2012 by

The article below is from techcrunch.com. The article details one of the newest and most innovative apps in the construction industry. The greatest part about the app is that it offers 3 levels of use, offering something to contractors of every size. Read below to learn more.

Mark this up as one more crucial chapter in the much-thumbed book called “The Consumerization of IT”: a new app has launched from a Y Combinator-backed startup that offers builders the ability to store, manage and view blueprints on and iPad tablet.

The unique selling point for PlanGrid, as the app is called, is that it promises to present building blueprints in a far more efficient way than they have been presented before.

But on a more general level, PlanGrid is a sign of how the iOS platform is maturing and attracting a new wave of developers who target specific enterprise verticals with solutions tailored to their business needs.

Ryan Sutton-Gee, one of the four co-founders and now CEO of Loupe, the company that makes the app, comes from a construction background himself and says the costs and frustrations of dealing with paper-based plans are what drove him to want to rethink how things were done.

The fact that his immediate world — he is based in Silicon Valley and is a Stanford grad — is so focused on Apple and apps made it a no-brainer that this would somehow figure in the solution.

And the other three co-founders fit neatly into what this app is bringing to the table: expertise in construction; visual design skills and cloud computing prowess. Tracy Young, the COO, also had worked in construction; while Ralph Gootee, the CTO, came from animation studio Pixar; and Kenny Stone, VP of engineering, had worked as a trading programmer. (It’s Stone who is now responsible for all the cloud-based storage and delivery of users’ documents.)

How it works. PlanGrid is a cloud-based service that delivers blueprints as PDFs directly on the tablet; then people working in the field can use these instead of paper-based versions. When a modification needs to be made, that can be directly noted on the plan, in the app. That is subsequently updated into a new version. PlanGrid’s technology makes the rendering and scrolling of those blueprints significantly faster, too.

PlanGrid claims that because it is easy to send out and use updated blueprints, this can help reduce the need for rework and other fixes. Typically, 6% of rework is due to outdated blueprints, and in turn around 15% of construction costs are due to rework, which means 1% of total construction costs are due to the blueprint problem. Those are significant figures, considering that an average margin that a builder could expect to make is only between two percent and four percent.

PlanGrid also claims that at its most basic level this app could eliminate the heavy printing costs associated with those building projects: typically for every $1,000,000 in building costs, there are $3,500 of printing costs.

And in contrast to many consumer-focused startups, this one has a pricing model from the word go: users can choose from a low-page-count free version, or pay $19.99 or $49.99 per month for either 550 or 5,000 sheets.

Unlike some enterprise verticals, construction is not one that has a natural need for all employees to own laptops, smartphones and tablets. “Whereas people in some businesses spend 10 hours in front of a computer, someone in the construction industry would spend one hour,” Sutton-Gee said.

That sounds like it would pose a challenge for the business — why buy an app if you don’t even have the device to use it? But Sutton-Gee claims that in fact what the app has done in its early days of sales is drive more purchases of the iPad by those in the construction industry — just so that they could use PlanGrid. “We’re a big enough solution to the problem they are facing that they’re buying those tablets to use the app,” he says.

Looking ahead, Sutton-Gee says that the company has a lot more ideas for how to expand its construction services — for example linking up the whole chain from architectural designs, to the technical drawings and the final blueprints that are used to actually construct a building. That, he says, could be a massive help when a company is trying to figure out where a building project has leaked money, gone over budget or fallen down altogether.

You can download the app here.

Construction Software Strategy

March 5th, 2012 by

The first computer software products geared toward the construction market had an accounting focus, and most construction companies started their IT systems based on these software packages. This has led many mid-sized construction companies to delegate their IT function to the accounting department rather than operations.

And because of the considerable investment involved in deploying an accounting package, construction companies have used these platforms to complete tasks that fall well beyond their traditional scope. Over time, many construction companies have relied on these accounting applications too much.

This has usually resulted in a clumsy system of disconnected reports, spreadsheets and manual processes that do not help businesses control their profit centers, such as labor, equipment, materials, direct job expenses and services. To effectively manage operations, contractors need software that can give them complete control of their businesses—a platform that integrates with accounting software rather than competing with it.

Construction accounting software works better for complex financial reporting and regulatory compliance but does not account for the realities of field operations. Information flows from the field to the office, and accounting software typically cannot manage that information flow. Add to that the procurement, fleet management and equipment management requirements of field operations and one can see how companies waste resources and encounter confusion.

Operational software integrated with accounting software can provide a full view of productivity and real-time reports, which can mean the difference between profitability and loss.

Who Should Select Operational Software?

Often, business owners ask their CFO or controller to find operational software, but these professionals often do not have a real understanding of the challenges encountered in the field.

At most construction companies, the finance department researches software vendors, selects a solution that meets the finance department’s needs and then tells the operations team to implement the software.

Naturally, those who work in the field resist a solution that does not meet their actual requirements, and they revert back to temporary systems that consist of manual reports and spreadsheets—information that must be re-keyed into the accounting system.

The complex nature of accounting platforms, which form the backbone of a construction company’s IT system, dictate that accounting executives must play a key role in IT procurement and delivery.

But it is often most beneficial to use accounting platforms strictly as financial platforms managed by accountants, and then implement an operational control platform that complements and integrates with the accounting system. This gives construction business owners control over every critical aspect of their businesses and results in labor and administrative cost savings.

Purchasing Considerations 

The operations team must answer key questions before making a decision about an operational platform. They should consider any ideal features that could assist the project manager in streamlining and managing operations.

They also must consider how the software will integrate with the accounting software. The operational software should complement the accounting software and route information seamlessly into existing accounting systems to help speed invoicing and accounts receivable.

The realities of field operations must be considered as well. For instance, a construction company that works predominantly in the oil and gas sector will have workers in remote pipeline locations where they most likely will not have access to a cellular network or Internet connection. This means that any platform selected should have a robust offline capability—ideally one that can be deployed on handhelds or tablets.

If information can be synchronized as soon as a connection becomes available, workers will not have to use ineffective manual processes when faced with a poor or non-existent connection.

Given the remote nature of many jobsites, finding a tool that can handle information flow from the field to the office eliminates the need to have an administrative staff in these locations (where it can be difficult to recruit and retain office workers). The right operations platform places project controls in the hands of jobsite supervisors rather than administrative workers.

With the appropriate tools, information can be captured when and where the activity happens and can be instantly routed to the right place. Payroll, accounting, project reporting and invoicing can be expedited, which increases profitability.

By selecting operations software that corresponds with accounting software, construction businesses can effectively conduct job cost management and project control, while limiting the redundant or manual processes that have historically been used to manage operations.

Construction companies that include their operations executives when selecting and deploying operationally-focused software will be able to find purpose-built applications that take into account the realities of field operations.

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