Conversations surrounding automation and digitization have been ongoing in the glazing industry, and in construction in general, for quite a while. The COVID-19 pandemic could add urgency to this conversation, especially with regards the safety concerns for workers in the field. Jeff Sample, director of strategic accounts at eSub, a construction software firm, emphasizes the potential benefits for contractors in digitizing their business at the present moment. Here a few things Sample says contractors should consider about moving their processes to a digital space:
- Treat paper like the enemy
Using physical paper on the jobsite can be dangerous for a few reasons under the current conditions, since the coronavirus can live on surfaces. Sharing 2D plans among people on a jobsite also poses a risk, says Sample, because of the proximity that it requires between workers. Further, 2D documentation requires a worker to keep a physical copy of papers, which will be unavailable should that worker become sick and not able to return to work, he says.
Information can instead be stored through cloud-based technologies, a type of remote IT architecture that allows users to share and store information, and which offer reliability and the ability to scale to different volumes of data, says Sample. Microsoft’s Office 365, and Google’s G Suite, both offer cloud storage.
- Unlock data through digitization
Beyond safety concerns, paper documentation does not provide the metadata that digitization does, says Sample. Metadata, or measurable data and analytics that result from a process, can be used to track and improve projects and processes. Digital metadata could allow companies to track, for example, which general contractor they work with that tends to be on schedule and pays well, says Sample, or the kinds projects that the glazing firm excels at and makes the most profit from.
“I’ve sat in on multiple trade contractors’ Monday morning meeting, and I hear a lot of ‘I feel like we do well, I feel like this happened,’” he says. “I know that I require data to drive my decision―it’s not how I feel, it’s what does the data say.”
- Document project sites
Due to the nature of the pandemic, it’s impossible to know when jobsites will be closed, either due to state mandates or because of worker sickness. Sample says that the uncertainty makes it critical to document project sites as though preparing for a disaster. “It’s critical now more than ever to leave every jobsite like the hurricane’s about to hit,” he says. Being able to save and store jobsite information in the cloud makes it available instantly, and remotely, even if workers cannot return to the site.
- Digitize in the field first
If glazing contractors are still working, Sample says it’s important to digitize operations in the field first, since their work is the financial basis for the business. “Start where your money is made,” he says. “Capture all of that critical project information and documentation. Then start moving in backwards,” to digitize operations for project managers, and then office staff, he says.
- Outsource digitization
The transition to digital can be made easier by outsourcing digitization to a managed service provider, says Sample, a firm that provides contractual IT services, or to a software firm. “Any software company that you go to right now, to buy the software and get on board, will do anything possible in their toolkit to make that transition easy, because we know it’s hard for you, and we’re a business, too,” says Sample. “Without glaziers continuing, without trade contractors continuing none of us get to continue doing what we do.”
- Use downtime to train
Some contractors may be currently unable to work due to state-by-state policies regarding essential and nonessential construction. For these companies, Sample recommends making use of the time to train staff, using virtual tools. “There’s a ton of free online training right now in the basics,” he says. “If you’re the CEO, the IT person, or chief operating officer, think ahead positively that you are going to get back to work. What skills can you acquire between now and then that can separate you?”
- Define processes before getting software
Before choosing a new software, Sample emphasizes that leadership needs to document and define what their processes and needs actually are, and what problems new technologies and software could solve. “It’s people, process, then technology,” he says. “Any software can have many features, but no software can be everything to everybody, and no one can tell you what the right software is for you. You have to determine that on your own,” he says.