The question of why commercial real estate construction contractors and developers should be adopting advanced, user-friendly technologies and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems is easy to answer.
Today’s robust platforms provide employees companywide with “anytime, anywhere” information ranging from budgeting detail, permits, invoices and billing statements, to change orders, time sheets and blueprints from just about any mobile device or PC.
Studies show the interest is there. According to FMI, 55% of engineering and construction firms reported they were “actively seeking new technology solutions” in 2018, while also using technology to more strategically manage organizational risks in areas like resource allocation, productivity and efficiency, safety, financials, design, and information security. Yet Dodge Data & Analytics in its 2019 study "Using Technology to Improve Risk Management in Construction," found that 90% of the contractors surveyed “do not specifically budget for innovation.”
So why does the industry continue to lag behind others when it comes to moving forward with new tech solutions? Unfortunately, far too many organizations remember the costly, painful implementations of yesterday.
Anyone involved in the process will recall the unpleasant and often traumatic conversion of legacy technologies, and long periods of downtime that accompanied their installation. Add to that the overall reluctance of staff and, quite simply, the pain relieved by the new technology just didn’t stack up to the pain caused by making a switch.
However, times have changed. First, today’s platforms enable a layered approach to implementation, where the end user can be up and running core functionality quickly. Second, the people actually using the product are weighing in during the decision-making process. Let’s take a look at these two key shifts.
1. Layering an Implementation Strategy
Once an all-or-none proposition, moving to a new ERP system today can be done in stages. Almost like a reverse onion, the best plans start with the formation of a platform that addresses the most painful challenges and then proceed with the staged implementation of features that continually build upon core competencies and enable ongoing innovations in the field or office.
Successful conversions first involve identifying the existing system’s most significant deficiencies and then layering the introduction of components over a period of 3, 6 or 9 months. The conversion of historical accounts receivable (AR) and accounts payable (AP) information from legacy systems to today’s high-end ERP solutions often offers the ideal launch point since the entire process, including training and validations, can normally be achieved in 4 to 6 weeks. Other systemic layers can then be built into the solution over the ensuing months.
Additionally, companies looking to select and implement best-in-class services and applications from different providers in a synchronized manner now can layer data from multiple, integrated applications that can easily share enterprise data, while easily scaling resources up or down based on growth or changing business needs.
This is achieved through the “stacking” of programs for customer resource management, property and job management, estimating, budgeting and valuation, AP processing, document management capabilities and more.
2. Setting the Tone With Key Member Buy-In
“User acceptance” is always one of the most difficult challenges to overcome when implementing a new ERP solution, despite the promised benefits and efficiency upgrades. Quite frankly, few like change, especially when it disrupts accepted, workable practices and accompanies any measure of downtime or new training procedures. Most users do not enjoy being forced to move from their comfort zones after years of trial and error with present systems.
Where past conversions were performed through a downward push of untested technologies by senior management, today, the most effective conversions begin with a bottom-up approach that engages day-to-day users and builds upon their experiences and insights to create operational shortcuts, instills programming efficiencies and fixes broken processes.
This starts with the development of a planning team that thoroughly understands organizational needs and generates companywide excitement, while dealing with any concerns or disruptions along the way.
Simply put, today’s high-end implementations are no longer the painful, time-consuming and disruptive adventures that many construction and development companies were subjected to years ago.
Most of today’s applications readily merge with legacy systems to provide widespread systemic efficiencies and the instantaneous access to accurate, up-to-date client, project and management information from a single, digitized location.
The key is in the planning and ability to strategically and logically expand and comport to the growing needs of organizations operating in an ever-changing marketplace. For contractors and developers, this often entails working side by side with trusted partners to create solutions that fix glaring weaknesses first and then systematically roll out a succession of enhancements that reduce cost and waste, build employee confidence, and prepare for the next growth stage.