The building industry is changing fast. Construction companies’ use of modern IT solutions to improve efficiency and speed, both within their own businesses and the wider supply chain, provide powerful examples of the improvements on offer in the digital world. Jarno van Hurne, Director of Product Marketing for Exact Business Solutions, looks at five ways they are changing the game, food for thought for any business looking to better capitalize on IT innovation…
1. Building companies are using apps to slash administration
Let us say that a window needs fixing. In the past, the glazer got a piece of paper with the relevant information. Once the job was done, he completed the information and got it signed off. This was then delivered to administration for entry into the ERP system. An offsite service management app coupled to the business software turns this on its head. Less admin for the people on site, and less admin for the people back in the office. The process is much, much quicker. The client can approve the work directly with a digital signature, with the information then uploaded to the ERP directly. No chance for human error, and a system that gives you the real time picture.
2. Building companies are using apps to get more from their people
When you can link digital planning to a mobile application, you can make far more effective use of your people. That same glazer can update the system with the time he is actually busy on the job. This can then feed back to the central planning, giving an accurate real time overview of who is available and who is not. When this is combined with location data, it gives the central planner the opportunity to schedule work more effectively. New job comes in? You know immediately who is and how is not busy, and who is closest by and most suited to helping. The real time information makes good decision making fast. The logging of all ‘time on job’ data also allows for more accurate estimations to be made in the future through business analytics.
3. Constructors use IT to build lean supply chains – together
Smart construction companies are making full use of EDI to conduct business with their supply chain partners. In order to slash hard copy administration and processing around purchase and sales invoices, Electronic Data Interchange (XML) files are being used to increase the speed and accuracy of communication between building companies and their suppliers.
Rather than spending time placing materials orders by phone and dealing with data entry from paper invoices, businesses are placing orders via online portals and receiving digital invoices that can be automatically administered by ERP solutions. Quick, clean and accurate. In the Netherlands, the building industry is supported by a specific XML file format (s@lesindebouw) to standardise the processes industry-wide, making it easier and simpler for any construction business to share information and boost efficiency.
4. Innovative constructors are not slowed down by less innovative partners
Although innovation like the s@les XML standard for data exchange is being embraced by more and more companies looking to benefit from greater accuracy and less administration, not every business has left paperwork behind. However, the right IT solutions can still help businesses deal effectively with less advanced partners.
Invoice scanning solutions like that from ScanSys can be incorporated to convert paper documentation into digital files. The technology ‘reads’ the paper work, saves it as a PDF file, communicates the data to the ERP system where a provisional booking is made in the financial administration, and then sends a workflow request to the relevant budget holder to have the booking confirmed. No more paper crawling around the office waiting for an initial on the bottom corner. Traceability and transparency. Digital technology helping businesses to increase speed and accuracy, and decrease manual activity – even when dealing with partners yet to embrace such innovation.
5. Innovation in construction is ongoing
The benefits of mobile applications, EDI focused supply chains and digitization technology are all significant, but the construction industry is not finished there.
Building companies are diversifying, becoming more and more involved in renovation and maintenance for housing corporations. As such, their requirements for efficient administration are also changing, in turn a driving force for further innovation.
Receiving digital invoices for building materials is one thing, but what if the requests for maintenance jobs from third parties could also be communicated digitally? Directly uploaded into the system, creating work activities and generating sign off requests and invoices automatically – all integrated with the financial administration?
It is a chance that’s being taken. Foundation S@les in the Bouw is creating a new XML format to meet the demand from these kinds of activities. The file will become generally available later in the year and promises to make a real difference – particularly when used together with service management applications. In theory, the whole process from external service request, through planning, implementation, sign-off, invoicing and administration can then be handled digitally and on the move, with no-need for manual data entry (or mistakes).
In general, the construction industry highlights what can be achieved when businesses grasp innovation and set it to work – together. It is a commitment other sectors should study with interest. Given the IT solutions that are now available to drive these kinds of improvements, companies need to be critical about their existing processes. Are you making the most of the opportunities available?