Canadian Contractor

John Bleasby   

Construction management software means increased efficiency and profits

Canadian Contractor

Contractors and renovators of all sizes are now tapping into advanced construction technology

When one thinks of construction management technology, one typically thinks of large scale construction companies with sizeable projects on-the-go as the primary users. However, there’s a strong argument that construction technology can benefit companies of all sizes. John Bleasby spoke with Jas Saraw, Vice President, Canada, for Procore Technologies, a leading construction management software company headquartered in Carpenteria, CA, about the potential for smaller builders to gain from the latest advances.

What is your overview of the Canadian residential market today?
We’re seeing a lot of growth in single and multi-family dwellings. The intention to build them is going up, and you can see that in the value of residential building permits. In March, Statistics Canada shared an update that really drives this home. The value of building permits went up 1.6 per cent between December and January, to $5.4 billion. That includes both single-family and multi-family dwellings. In multi-family dwellings, building permits issued by municipalities rose 0.7 per cent to $3.3 billion in January, after hitting a record high in December. That was the fifth monthly increase in a row. The value of single-family dwelling permits rose 3.1 per cent, to $2.0 billion. When we break that growth down by province, Ontario and Quebec lead the pack.

Construction software can improve the communication between members of the design and on-site build team, and main office

How does this growth in demand play into the argument for construction management technology for residential builders?
In a few ways. As a contractor, it’s tough to navigate working with an architect by yourself. There’s lots of back and forth, especially early on, producing many revisions, and many Requests for Information (RFI). As a result, residential contractors need a single source of truth; reliable information that connects each stakeholder and helps them adapt to change, especially in a field with so many moving parts. That’s one area. Another is the strain the growth puts on residential contractors. They’re building more homes than ever — Statistics Canada says 1.2 million new homes broke ground in September last year. That’s exciting for builders and great for the economy. However, it comes with an increase in construction costs and makes the availability of labour a more pressing concern. Lastly, along with the rising demand for residential buildings comes the rising importance of safety on jobsites.

So, you’re talking about efficiencies that can translate to savings and improved safety?
That’s right. All too often, manual processes can take up the majority of a contractor’s time. Non-efficient processes, paper document storage systems, and unreliable servers not only hinder productivity and efficiency, but they also create easily avoidable safety risks. We’re working in a largely under-digitized industry that continues to be reliant on paper and does not capture structured data effectively. Using slow, out-dated processes makes it a challenge to keep track of all the moving parts of a project. That’s precisely when items get overlooked and mistakes happen, cutting into already slim profit margins.


Look for a software system that allows you to add users as required

Is changing to these updated processes easy or a challenge for residential contractors?
It’s as easy as replacing these tedious manual processes with construction management software. With streamlined communication, powerful data, and insights, you can spot trends, inefficiencies, and potential risk areas to make better data-driven decisions. That means no more surprises and less re-work, and ultimately, higher margins. Plus, this not only safeguards against potential liabilities or disputes down the road that threatens the budget but also cultivates a winning reputation that can bring in more business.

How does a contractor know if they could use management software?
If a contractor sits down and lists the processes they use, they’ll probably notice two things. One; they rely on many processes, such as email, spreadsheets, and multiple-point solutions. It’s a lot to keep track of. Two; they’ll identify “pain points” where current and future business needs are not being met as well as they could be. Those pain points will tell a story and highlight where management software could help. When choosing a system, they should look for one that increases visibility and communication among their teams, and that can ultimately serve their current needs, as well as their needs in the future as the company grows.

What are some areas that can be immediately improved?
Let’s start with tendering. Contractors will likely need a lot of specialized subs for unique requirements for clients. For example, not every person can do random woodwork, you have to find them. Next, submittals. With a lot of complex and random specialty contractors comes a lot of submittals.

Then there’s the issue of progress billing. The project will likely last at least six months, and contractors will need to hire various subs throughout that period. Subs on site for more than a few months need progress billing — this is a huge differentiator. And of course, there’s change order management. A lot of RFIs means a lot of change orders. The two are always correlated.

What are the critical features to look for in construction management software?
First, look for unlimited users. With so many people working on a project, you don’t want to stress about the cost of adding more people to the system. Whether you are building the entire house or just re-modelling a kitchen or basement, you need to be able to add people as needed. This fosters and facilitates real-time data insight and collaboration among the team working on the project. Second, It’s important to look for a company that offers no-cost implementation, so you and your team can get properly familiarized with the system. And look for a company that provides implementation for every customer, and supports them throughout the process. There should be unlimited users, unlimited file storage and support throughout the whole usage of the technology.

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