Midstate contractors, engineers invest in mobile capabilities
In today's digital world, constant communication and instant gratification are expected.
That's especially true in the business of design and construction, where there are a lot of parties involved and the pieces are always moving.
"It begins and ends with us," said Matt Warner, survey regional service group manager for Swatara Township-based Herbert Rowland & Grubic Inc., also known as HRG.
Mobility and access to cloud-based project management applications are critical to field crews, he said, whether they are working in the Marcellus Shale or on other projects.
"Everything is about efficiency today and doing more with less or doing it faster to maximize efficiency and increase profits, wherever possible," said Warner, who oversees the company's Harrisburg survey crews.
Like many companies in the architecture, engineering and construction industries, HRG has been investing in mobile applications to stay current and meet the real-time needs of clients.
Instead of having crews travel back and forth between regional offices, field trucks have become their offices, Warner said, citing continued growth in wireless hotspot capabilities.
Data and design plans are transmitted electronically from the field, where all involved parties can access them and make changes on the spot, he said.
"It's getting more and more to the point now that rolled-up plans are being used less and less," Warner said. "Revisions happen so quickly and so often. It's much easier to have those plans uploaded and get them remotely."
The expansive growth in natural-gas drilling has put even greater pressure on designers and contractors to keep up with technology, he said.
"The natural-gas industry is completely mobile, and everything is time sensitive," Warner said. "The longer a piece of equipment sits on-site, the more it is costing them. Without that (mobile) capability, you're not staying current. You're going to lose clients and relationships because you are not keeping pace."
In the works
Lancaster-based Wohlsen Construction Co. is in the process of testing tablet computers and trying to figure out which mobile applications might work best for its employees, said Chuck Blair, the company's information technology director.
"A lot is left to be determined," he said, adding that some services, including email, are in the process of moving over to the cloud. The company's project management system already is Web-based and accessible by architects and owners.
One of the biggest question marks is cost, Blair said. Certain software licenses can end up leading to a significant upfront investment.
"We want to make sure we can provide tools for field workers," he said. "We want to put tools closer to where the work is actually happening."
Collaborative applications should benefit internal processes and speed up time to respond to clients and other partners, Blair said. It could help the company avoid conflicts on time lags.
"For our business development team, when talking to potential clients, they can have information at their fingertips," he added. "They could open up their (tablet) and access drawings right on the spot, rather than rely on printed materials."
Those who adapt faster definitely have a competitive advantage, Blair said.
"I think we are swimming in the same stream as most of our competitors right now," he said. "Everyone is wrestling with the same questions."
Earlier this month, Harrisburg-based Mid Atlantic BX, a trade association for the construction industry, launched a suite of cloud-based construction project information software that will allow members to access its online services any time, anywhere and on any device.
MABX Tools features three applications: a construction project information solution called Projects; a construction bid and project management solution called Plan Room; and Directory, a list of architecture, engineering and construction companies throughout the region.
The cloud-based software was developed because of demand from the industry, said Nate Pigott, MABX spokesman.
"A lot of our members are searching for project information out in the field," he said. "It's not always sitting at their desk from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m."
The mobile technology trend in construction has been progressing for more than five years, Pigott said. However, the bulk of those in the industry have really only been playing catch-up to the early adopters during the last 18 months, he said.
MABX Tools was developed to replace the association's current system, which was unveiled in 1998.
"The real-time update is the biggest advantage," he said of the new software suite, which should help companies prepare more-accurate bids.
The group's cloud-based services could lead to shorter bid windows for projects, he said.
"It's definitely advantageous to make an investment in technology, especially when you have project owners, architects and general contractors using the technology," Pigott said. "They are kind of driving the way the industry is going."
MABX also is working on a fourth component of MABX Tools that will be geared more to the design phase of a project.