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Customer Collaboration & Construction Software

Monday, May 7th, 2012

construction software assists collaborationNo matter what industry you’re in, collaboration seems to be the latest “thing.” From applications that make your meetings and webinars more collaborative to document management and social media apps to help you and your team organize, it seems collaboration is everywhere. But because it’s everywhere, collaboration has become a bit of a buzzword.

I am a believer in real collaboration – after all, we did just launch a new product created specifically for project collaboration. And nothing demonstrates a real collaborative environment more than our annual Users’ Conference. Each year at this event I’m reminded that collaboration is vital to our construction industry.

I’ve written before about how construction is a team sport, and how important it is to connect all the players of your team. But what reenergizes me every year is seeing this communication and teamwork in action at our Users’ Conference. I’m reminded that as a company, we wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for collaboration. I feel confident in saying that we’ve never created construction software on our own, sitting in our Seattle offices. Every new release has been driven by our clients.

If we stop to think for a minute, we realize how few of our successes, whether personal or professional, are because of just one person – we usually find success because we’re a part of a team working together toward a common goal.

How have your clients inspired you? How does your team collaborate?

Connecting in Construction

Thursday, April 19th, 2012

Connect Users' ConferenceThis is an exciting week for us at Dexter + Chaney. We are in the final week of preparing for our annual Users’ Conference, and I couldn’t be more thrilled.

Our conference theme this year is Connection. Connection between our company and our customers, between industry peers, between contractors and their project teams. To help with our “connecting” discussions at the conference, social media and mobile communication expert James Spellos will be joining us as the keynote speaker.


So, why the theme “Connection?” Because more and more, information is moving from isolated “silos” and into shared environments where everyone has access to the information they need when they need it. This trend is especially relevant for our construction industry, where sharing information and working well together is vital to the success of projects. Part of what’s helped the accessibility of information is technology – it’s become smarter and the ability to connect has become easier. Companies are connecting not only to their employees with web-based construction software, but to their customers as well through social media, newsletters, and more.

At Dexter + Chaney, we engage with our customers in a number of ways, including this blog, our customer newsletter, and of course all the major social media applications – Facebook, Twitter, Google+, etc. I encourage you to continue to find ways to engage with your customers, and don’t forget to follow us!

FacebookTwitterGoogle+LinkedIn Company PageYouTube

How do you connect with your customers and your business partners?

Lessons in Construction Leadership

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

Keys to effective construction leadership Leadership is important for any group activity – business, sports, volunteering, etc. As I’ve been watching the March Madness basketball games, I can’t help but notice the apparent team leaders on the court. These are the players that the team relies on, not only for their basketball skills, but for their team leadership. This got me thinking about what makes a good leader in the construction industry. After all, a good construction business manager acts as a leader for the entire company. Over the years, I’ve learned quite a bit about what motivates teams and keeps them productive, so I hope these leadership tips help your construction business.

Set High Expectations

The most successful leaders I know, whether they work in construction, software, or some other industry, are always pushing the envelope. These men and women set the bar high for their teams, but not so high that the end goal is not feasible. Attainable expectations motivate their teams to not only work hard, but to learn new skills along the way. Ultimately, these ambitious goals are what make their companies successful.

Good Leaders Pay Attention

Behind every good construction business leader is a hard working team of project managers, construction workers, and office staff. Without these staff members, a construction company would not function, so it’s the job of the leader to notice the hard work of these employees. It’s also the job of the leader to notice those employees who need the most help and give them the tools and instruction they need to succeed. I find that when employees are achieving their goals, the company and its leaders achieve theirs.

Praise & Critique

Success is something to celebrate – after all, wins for your team are wins for the entire company. Acknowledging personal achievements is also important to the morale of your team. I like to follow the saying “Praise in public, criticize in private.” Like any leader, as a construction business manager, you will inevitably have to critique an employee. But no matter the offense, discipline should not be done in front of the employee’s peers. Nothing good comes from public humiliation.

I hope these ideas will help with your construction business management.

What are your leadership tips?

www.dexterchaney.com

Marketing Your Construction Business

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

Marketing a construction company is vital. Know where to start This week, I thought I’d take a break from discussing the usual construction business management topics, and focus on marketing your business. After all, without some type of marketing, people and other companies won’t know about you!

Marketing can seem a bit mysterious to a business owner or manager. We know (or we’re told) that things like brand image, advertising, social media, email campaigns, etc. are important to grow our business, but we usually don’t understand how they work or how they all work together. As I prepared to write this blog, I was reminded by my marketing team that there is a method behind the mystery.

Construction Marketing Basics

I thought I’d rely on my own team for help writing this blog, and thought they were going to tell me about Twitter etiquette or how to set up a Facebook account. But they said to start with the basics. There’s more than art to marketing – there are some basic elements that people don’t always think about. The most important, and perhaps the most basic, is a good database. Being that I’m a construction software developer, this got my attention.

Pull & Push Marketing

For the most part, marketing can be summed up into two categories:

  1. Pull marketing: Helping people find you. Getting marketing contacts
  2. Push marketing: Sending your contacts information and news that’s relevant to them

Your pull marketing activities are what put names in your database. These may include:

  • Pay-per-click advertising
  • Directory listings
  • Print advertising
  • Radio advertising

No matter the medium you choose for advertising, you need to have a way to capture and store the names of people who “raise their hand” to let you know they’re interested in your service. Part of marketing is getting your name recognized, but marketing is more effective when you know something about your contacts. Once you have names in your database, you can use what you know about them to send out relevant marketing materials.

Return on Marketing Investment

Databases also allow you to track activities and determine which marketing campaigns are most effective for your construction business. You can determine how people are learning about your company, and what you sent them that made them interested in doing business with you. Knowing this information will help you determine how to spend your marketing dollars. Most construction companies don’t have a lot of marketing dollars to begin with, so identifying the most successful campaigns is important.

While most people think of marketing as signs, radio ads, websites, etc., the core of marketing is really the database. A marketing database is probably even more important than a sales database. There are a number of databases out there, just start with one of them, and then go turn on that mysterious marketing machine!

What are you doing to market your construction business?

Form, Function and Construction Software

Thursday, March 15th, 2012

Construction software should be built for functionality.There’s a commercial for a local kitchen design company that I often hear on the radio that starts, “The form has to follow the function…” According to Wikipedia, this phrase comes from a modern architecture and design principle that says to base the shape of a building or object on its intended purpose of function. So what does this have to do with construction software?

Function Follows Form

Although this phrase refers to architecture, it still has a place in software architecture. For various reasons, many developers unfortunately put the form before the function when designing and creating construction software. One reason this occurs is that software programmers become tied to a particular sets of programming languages, tools, or protocols. When standards are chosen for use by a development team, it’s often difficult to change them. So, if you’ve ever used a piece of software and thought, “I wish the menus functioned differently,” you’re probably experiencing a case where the function followed the form.

Programmers sink a significant amount of resources into creating software on a certain platform or with a particular coding language. It’s then expensive and time consuming to change what’s already established. So rather than changing the form of the software to meet the intended function, software developers keep building with what they already have established, resulting in function following (and often being limited by) form.

Web-Based Construction Software & Form

The good news is that there is light at the end of this construction software tunnel. As more software applications move to a web-based environment, programmers will be redesigning their user interfaces, resulting in a better user experience.

And you’ll be able to tell the difference between software that really has been redesigned to take advantage of web-based accessibility and flexibility. Those developers who simply take their existing product and drop it onto a server somewhere for remote access will be delivering the same product experience. The fundamental way their product functions will still be tied to the form of their continued development environment.

Those developers who capitalize on the advantages of using the Internet as a platform – a.k.a. those who build true web and browser based applications – are the companies redesigning the way software works. They are letting the new forms of information management follow the new ways individuals and teams are functioning in the construction industry.

Is the way your software works keeping up with changes in the way you and your company works?

Collaborating on Cash flow

Thursday, March 1st, 2012

Collaboration between the field and the office for better cash flow. The topic of cash flow never seems to get old – after all, sustained negative cash flow often results in slashing budgets, personnel, and in the worst cases shutting down of a company. Bad or outdated information is probably one of the biggest reasons cash flow issues occur. Distances between job sites and the office continue to increase as companies go further and further from their home base to do work. Although Internet connectivity helps alleviate some of this, it doesn’t go away entirely.

A friend of mine had a foreman who hated doing his paperwork, which consisted primarily of approving and submitting timecards to the office. In addition to workers not getting paid because the timecards weren’t submitted on time, his projects’ work-in-progress reports were inaccurate. But data issues aren’t limited to just field workers. If the office doesn’t submit invoices in a timely manner and waits to pay them all at once, a job will appear to be at or under budget. Imagine the surprise to everyone when the profit is significantly less or non-existent at the end of a job!

Construction is a Team Sport

Tracking cash flow isn’t just important within your own office, though. Construction is rarely a one-company endeavor. There are subcontractors and vendors involved, which means that the slightest change in plans, specifications, or even schedule affects everyone and their cash flow. Because of this interconnectivity, information must be kept up to date and shared the moment a change occurs. Not only do you have to work well with your subcontractors and vendors on the job site, you have to work well with them in the office as well.

Technology for Collaboration & Cash Flow

There’s been a lot of talk about BIM and more recently IPD as project collaboration solutions, but adoption by contractors has been slow. Why? Because change is difficult. New technologies come with their own complexities and have a learning curve. So the task at hand for developers is to create software that connects contractors internally and externally and to improve work and cash flow, all without introducing new complex processes. For true collaboration to take hold, it has to make doing business easier, not harder.

While this may seem like an impossible task, the overwhelming adoption of mobile technologies and the move towards web-based software are providing a light at the end of the tunnel. By nature, web-based software has to be easy to use, and mobile devices make it simple to send and receive information anywhere. With these improved technologies, we’ll see healthier projects and cash flow, not to mention happier contractors.

How do you keep your project information up to date and your cash flow positive?

Cloud Computing: Is My Data Safe?

Thursday, February 23rd, 2012

data security in the cloudAnyone working in accounting or human resources has access to immense amounts of personal data. A compromise of this confidential data could result in identify theft or even company fraud. So it’s no surprise that whenever I talk to companies about how they store their data, the number one concern I hear is in regards to security.

At Dexter + Chaney’s 2011 Users’ Conference, we announced that we were moving to a completely web-based platform for our construction software. Clients were excited about our new user interface and enhanced accessibility, but we did get a lot of questions about security – where would data live (it can be stored on premise or as a hosted solution), how safe would the data be, who would have access, etc. To discuss the important topic of data security, I’ll share the insights of my friend Eric Carter, President of Approach Technology, to provide some insight:

Data Centers vs. Do-It-Yourself Security

I think it’s safe to say that when most people say they’re concerned with security, they’re concerned with mitigating the risk of fraud, both internally and externally, and physical access to the data. According to Eric, most of his clients have “far humbler” security checkpoints than what a data center can offer. After all, the highest security data centers have a number of security checkpoints and even use biometric security, such as palm print scanners.

These data centers specialize in keeping data safe, so the measures they take typically exceed what a company would implement for themselves, for example having backup generators and cooling systems. In fact, a recent study indicated that most companies spend more on coffee than they do securing web applications. While Cloud providers aren’t immune to hackers, the reputation damage and potential lost business they incur when a security breach occurs incentivizes them to implement the most stringent security measures possible.

Today’s Cloud Security

According to Eric, the degree of data security depends quite a bit on the company. For example, banks and other financial institutions put in stronger measures than many other industries. He noted, though, that while almost all banks protect secure transactions through the common HTTPS encryption, most of the security measures are implemented on the back end with multiple networks, firewalls, and layers of encryption. The biggest security issue he actually sees is from user passwords being too simplistic.

For most companies, security isn’t a primary function, but it is necessary. To keep your data secure, you might want to consider outsourcing the security functions. Most providers can create a plan to meet your needs, not to mention budget. Security measures will continue to evolve, particularly as adoption of cloud computing increases. The U.S. Department of Defense recently started using public clouds to support some of its infrastructure. Eric even predicts that down the road, information will be protected with not only a password, but biometrics, such as a fingerprint.

What measures does your company implement in order to ensure your data is secure?

www.dexterchaney.com

Contractors Seeking Credit Should Prepare to be Prepared

Thursday, February 16th, 2012

I’m pleased to introduce Doug Helm from Mountjoy, Chilton, Medley LLP as this week’s guest blogger. Mountjoy, Chilton, Medley LLP is a CPA firm with a team of accountants dedicated to construction accounting.

construction project financing tips Bank lines of credit are lifelines for many contractors, yet convincing a bank to provide or renegotiate a line of credit is not easy. Building your case beforehand can certainly help and makes you look better in the eyes of the bank. I would like to share the following tips to use before approaching the bank(s) or other financial institutions for additional financing, and some non-bank financing options.

1. Crunch the numbers – Banks like proactive business owners. Bring all your financial documents to the initial meeting. The banks want to see all of the following:

  • Analyzed projected balance sheets
  • Projected future earnings
  • 3 years of year-end financial statements

You’ll also need to realistically assess how large of a line of credit you’ll need. Lines of credit are meant to be a short-term cash solution while you’re waiting for accounts receivable to come in. Being fully extended on your line of credit can make it harder to obtain surety bonding and can be viewed as a weakness by the banks. Plan to use the funds for basic operational items — not capital purchases, such as construction equipment.

2. Choose the right lender – Depending on your needs, you might be better off with a locally-owned or community bank versus a large national bank. On the flip side, the larger banks will typically have more funds to lend and may have more in-depth knowledge of the construction industry. When you approach your chosen lender(s), be open about your financial situation, including any typically slow work and cash-flow periods. It is well received by banks when you are aware of your weaknesses and are seeking ways to mitigate them.

3. Other alternatives – Banks aren’t the only source of funding out there. Many contractors negotiate payment due dates with their vendors to get themselves out of short-term cash binds. There are also some approved finance companies, such as GECC, that will finance heavy equipment purchases. One caveat: The fees and interest rates in these arrangements are typically higher than those in traditional lending.
Banks are attracted to profitable business. They also, however, are attracted to smart and proactive business owners. Being prepared for these crucial meetings with your bank is essential for greater chances of success.

www.dexterchaney.com

Hazard Communication?

Thursday, February 9th, 2012

I’m pleased to announce that this week’s blog is written by David DeVita, President of Carolina Safety Consultants.

I was talking with the owner of a company the other day. He said they had just received a penalty from an OSHA inspection. The violation was regarding Hazard Communication Program, or I should say, the lack there of. The owner looked at me and said, “We train our employees about the hazards of the job and how to control them.” He also goes as far to say that they have a good comprehensive safety program and a great safety record. He is only partly right. They have had luck in their favor that nothing bad has happened in a long time. His heart seems to be in the right place, however, he has failed to take the next step of having a designated safety person in the company to make sure that they are up to speed on the OSHA standards. If this sounds like you, please take action and take the next step.

Complying with a bunch of laws should not be the driving force behind your safety efforts. If it is, you are on the wrong track. Complying with the laws is just a piece of the safety puzzle. It is a part of the foundation, however, not the cornerstone. Your safety culture and desire to do what is right and keep your employees safe should be that cornerstone.

This story is just one example of the many discussions I have with owners and upper management regarding safety. There are many approaches to safety and to developing a program that works for you. Don’t buy one of those canned written programs and just put your name on it. You know your demographics better than anyone and what would or would not work for your company. At the same time, however, keep an open mind and be willing to go outside the box with your thinking. You are only limited by your imagination with the development of an effective safety program.

www.dexterchaney.com

Tablet Computing and Enterprise Software

Thursday, February 9th, 2012

construction software is changing in order to adapt to tablet computing Tablets are back – and this time, they’re not made of stone. Every so often I see an article listing devices that future generations will never know about, such as VCRs and record players. With the invention of the tablet computer, some tech experts are predicting the inevitable end of the personal computer. Whether or not you plan to do away with your PC and adopt a tablet-only way of life, one thing is certain: software must adapt to the new environment.

A Lesson from the Music Industry

It may not seem obvious as to why business software needs to change with the adoption of new hardware, but if we look at the music industry, the answer is clear. Not all that long ago, people used CD players to listen to their music. A selling point for cars was the number of discs the CD player in the car could hold. Then the iPod and other MP3 players came long, and with them, a whole new way to access music. No longer do you have to purchase a CD in order to listen to music; you can now purchase it and access it from multiple devices wherever you can connect to the Internet.

Simplifying the Complex

The software industry is currently going through a fundamental change like this, as developers try to adapt their software to the new hardware trends and the growing acceptance of web-based applications. Their success depends on whether their applications can be adapted for use via web-browser and how well their applications can be translated to non-PC devices.

I’ve mentioned in previous blogs that cloud computing isn’t really cloud computing if the software is just being accessed from a remote computer. This virtualization model just gives you the PC environment on a tablet computer, rather than optimizing the software for the tablet environment. In order to create tablet-ready software, developers must more than likely redesign their user interfaces to be simplistic without losing functionality, which is no easy feat!

No Waiting Around

Discussions about tablet computing often come up in the construction industry groups and forums that I belong to. Usually people are wondering if and how others are using tablet computers in the field, as well as the benefits of using tablets. I’ve even read of contractors creating their own applications to fit their business. While not every contractor has the resources to create their own “app,” the need for construction applications is present, and demand is growing. Current software providers can jump on the bandwagon, or risk losing out to new developers, or perhaps even these specialty apps created by contractors.

Do you use tablets in your office or on the jobsite? What are the pros/cons?

www.dexterchaney.com

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