Driving Change: How Mobile Time and Production Entry are Revolutionizing the Construction Industry
By Frank Ziccarelli, IT Director, TDIndustries
How does a multi-million dollar construction company, with more than 2,200 employees deployed on large, complex construction projects across the Southwestern U.S., track and record the work budgeted for each project? From plumbers to pipefitters to HVAC technicians, TDIndustries’ foremen and project superintendents must be accountable for the time and productivity of their crews on multiple jobs with many moving parts.
Historically, time and production were coded manually. Often, these timesheets were hard to read or submitted late which impacted payroll processing. Because of TDIndustries’ size, manual processing of a weekly payroll often meant projecting what the hours should be, followed by internal auditing and reconciling of that week’s payroll. If there were differences, then another week might be required to reconcile those differences.
When Excel spreadsheets became the norm, there was still an overwhelming amount of specialized coding involved, especially if coding on certain projects required greater detail, based on the nature of the construction job. Often, new codes were created to help capture this information, but they could be rejected by the corporate office if they weren’t standardized, requiring re-entering data.
For decades, time collection has been one of the biggest hurdles for the construction industry until the technology and software began to address the coding and processing issue.
Embracing a Mobile Time Entry System
Earlier this year, TDIndustries identified a field time entry system for its construction-related business units. The company’s philosophy regarding its field personnel has always been to let the field focus on the construction jobs, with the administrative staff managing the processing of all data to be reported. In other words, any technology rolled out to the field had to be accessible, accurate and easy to use without creating new layers of work, while the back office handled all of the administrative tasks required of any system.
With a mobile time entry system, smart phones are pre-loaded with the information that is appropriate to any given foreman. Ease of use, clarity, accuracy and management of the system’s features were of key importance.
For example, in terms of crew management, a foreman can oversee numerous crews simultaneously, add and remove personnel and create new crews for tracking and coding purposes. Time can be entered for an entire crew with just one entry, rather than requiring one entry per person.
The new mobile time entry system actually creates transac¬tions for each crew member, so these can be individually edited as necessary. A foreman sees “my crew” by default but can open up to “whole business unit” or “all field employees” easily. In ad¬dition, he or she can easily focus just on the crews they manage, which is most efficient, but when additional employees outside the crew are needed, that foreman can add them and track their time efficiently.
Launching a new technology at any company can be a daunting task. In the construction industry, it can be revolutionary
Mobile time entry also enables a foreman to oversee, integrate and track non-typical crew work. For example, during a walk-through, an owner might request, “While you’re here, can you make these changes?” With the prior manual process, the changes and related billable time might have been lost or posted against budgeted time. Today, those changes can be efficiently tracked and billed which ensures proper costing and avoids skewing actual productivity numbers budgeted against those additional hours.
Even if the owner’s request is not a billable add-on, the ability to track time enables the owner to see concisely the project’s requirements and related record-keeping.
Some of the key features of the mobile entry system include the ability to run disconnected from the server. All data is stored locally and is synced with the server when an Internet connection is available. This means that the user is not delayed by connection issues when doing time entry.
For new employees or new codes, there are no obstacles in adding them and immediately integrating them in the field. In addition, field personnel can now generate their own reports. They can review their entries in an easy to read format and send these reports to their supervisors for further review.
For superintendents or project managers, the mobile entry system gives them greater flexibility in terms of access and time to review and approve transactions. Because supervisors now have immediate access to current data, they can review field productivity and verify whether or not labor is being posted in a timely manner or stacking up for entry at the end of the week.
Information and Extendability
Having real-time access to every project’s budget and labor’s productivity is one of the biggest benefits of the mobile entry system. For foremen and superintendents, this system eliminates the need to get into back office systems to update any information or to gather additional information for entry.
The system also enables addi¬tional reference information to be compiled, such as an employee’s business unit, workload and skills. In the construction industry, down time can be converted to up time if an employee has the appropriate background for a project that is be¬ing fast-tracked. For example, an employee in one business unit might be temporarily loaned to an¬other unit, based on that employee’s avail¬ability and train¬ing. Another might be tapped for a weekend equipment change-out where additional la¬bor is needed to minimize downtime for a customer’s system. This is especially true of mission critical and healthcare projects.
One of the more consistent problems is tracking field personnel’s paid personal time off or vacation days. For example, during the week, a person might want to take vacation for a day or two, and the foreman may not know if that time has been banked or is available. This system allows preloading of those vacation hours so the foreman in the field can look it up, giving real-time access to data that enables him or her to expedite decisions.
Setup and Maintenance
Finally, the mobile entry system had to be easy to setup and configure on TDIndustries’ server, but equally flexible in the field so that end users could make adjustments as appropriate. Since the administrators are much more familiar with this process, it is more efficient for them to do the setup, but, once end users become more comfortable and proficient, they can tweak their own settings.
From cloning setups with a “standard” configuration that can be duplicated for all similar users to automatically installing updates, the mobile entry system that has been deployed by TDIndustries had to provide these critical capabilities. Updates and changes that seem trivial on a one-by-one basis become arduous when extrapolated to the hundreds of users in an organization the size of TDIndustries. Thus, the ability to automate and perform mass updates on the IT side was essential for a maintainable deployment.
Launching a new technology at any company can be a daunting task. In the construction industry, it can be revolutionary. At TDIndustries, initial field deployment in one business unit is providing a path forward. By driving change internally, the benefits to customers and employees should prove resoundingly successful.