Apps for tablets and phones bring construction management functionality to the field.
Project managers spend a lot of time on desktop or laptop computers entering information into construction management software.Now there’s another alternative: They can do their data entry in the field using mobile construction management apps on their phone or tablet.
“Ten years ago the apps wouldn’t have been able to do the things that they can do now,” said Dan Taylor, a writer with business software review site Capterra.com.
The apps vary in their capabilities, but in general they can be used to carry out many tasks previously reserved for computer-based software. That includes managing project schedules and blueprints, tracking project RFIs, creating reports and to-do lists and even creating change orders that the customers can sign right on the mobile device. Many apps work in conjunction with desktop programs, though others are intended as stand-alone tools.
“Some apps will try to do all aspects of construction management, while others will just focus on doing a good job in one specific area of construction management,” noted Taylor. For example, Aconex, one of the bigger CM software providers, has created three different apps. Aconex Mobile is for sharing plans, documents and correspondence, Aconex Field is geared toward field inspections and quality and Aconex Handover allows users to access and update operations and maintenance manuals on site.
CM apps may not have all the functions of desktop software, but they can add some unique capabilities to it. For example, a project manager can take a photo of a problem area on a jobsite, use the app’s drawing capability to circle the exact problem and then immediately send that photo to employees or subcontractors so they can resolve it. The app makes communication faster and more efficient because everyone can see what’s wrong.
Mobile does have its limitations. “If you’re trying to create detailed reports and have a lot of data, you’re going to want to do that with a desktop application. It’s more cumbersome with a mobile device,” said Taylor. “Phones are good for quick and dirty data entry, for checking up on things and for communicating with people.”
If you’re in the market for a mobile CM app, make sure its operating system is compatible with your mobile devices (iOS, Android or both). Then decide on the functionality you want. Taylor said the most popular features appear to be tracking employees and equipment in the field and marking up and sharing documents.
Sharing is especially important to project managers, he added. “They are out in the sun all day, and they need that access all the time.” With mobile CM apps, they can have it.
Freelance writer Mary Lou Jay writes about business and technical developments in a variety of industries. She has been covering residential and commercial construction for more than 25 years.