Contractors Investing in Software and Going Mobile!

Now that things are slowing down for some of you as we close in on year-end 2012, it’s time to consider a few housekeeping items in the area of information technology. A number of you and other construction firms have invested in software and other new technology during this recession as a way to get more accurate, real-time information. By and large the results have been very good. A key driver in these decisions is to enhance and speed up workflow as well as gain process efficiencies. Leading construction firms are also investing in cloud based software solutions, paperless document storage/retention, and even integrating what was previously thought of as a consumer device, the IPAD or other e-tablets into their business environment. Some companies are providing Iphones or Andoid phones to employees with full data plans where the “phone” basically act as a mini computer complete with email and full access to the main server. Project Managers can now review and/or approve documents real-time in the field. Owners, estimators and sales people can now conduct on-site planning visits and take pictures and record voice memos to be called up later at proposal time. Foreman or Superintendents can enter time daily for field staff through mobile apps. Email can be done anytime, anywhere. No inconvenient waiting for a laptop to boot up anymore. And on that note, a laptop is heaver, more expensive, more prone to virus/malware attack, and is virtually useless without company software installed and updated periodically. Laptops and computers will continue to have their place as a core device for many of us, but will eventually get replaced for users who need quick access to information with minimal input required.

I believe that to gain, or even maintain, competitive advantage today where margins remain thin and competition is fierce, you should be actively considering how you can leverage technology in your business. Primarily, this starts with investing in industry specific software that provides real-time financial and nonfinancial information. In many cases software now has the capability to display executive dashboards where a business owner can monitor those key metrics of the business without being distracted by all the other numbers and financial information. Secondarily, smartphones and e-tablets complement your core software solutions. They are convenient and easy to use and if configured properly provide instant access to just about any document or software application you have available on your main server or computer. There are many upsides to mobile technologies. However, these devices pose a security risk since they have email as well as personal and business contact information stored on them and the devices will get lost or stolen periodically. They also have server access in some cases. Here is a list of things to consider with regards to decisions and policies to put in place for your smartphones and e-tablets.

  1. Company management should discuss the role of the device within the business environment to determine what the ultimate use should be. What exactly is your mobile needs today? Are the devices a “perk” or rather a production device expected to be used daily? This analysis will help determine the level of influence and policy to put in effect.
  2. A mobile device policy should be written and referenced in the employee handbook. My recommendation is to create a separate “Information Technology Policy” outside of the employee handbook from where it is referenced. This allows for the policy to be adapted over the new few years as the use of different technologies in your business changes without continual overhauls of your main employee handbook.
  3. The policy should explicitly state which group of users will be provided the device.
  4. The policy should require “auto-lock” with passcode where device locks itself after 5 minutes or less of use to minimize security risks.
  5. The policy should make clear that the Company maintains ownership of device. This avoids payroll complications and gives the employer the right to access the device as needed. Also, when an employee leaves, the device reverts back to employer unless a buy-out provision is put in place.
  6. The policy should indicate what core business apps should be installed on device and will be paid for by Company. All other apps should be the financial responsibility of employee.
  7. The policy should make clear it is the responsibility of the employee to backup the device periodically in case of damage or loss so information can be restored.
  8. The policy should indicate that any company information such as pictures, voice memos, notes, etc. should be offloaded periodically (daily, weekly, monthly) to a computer, server, cloud storage like drop-box, etc.
  9. The policy should indicate a remote wipe app should be installed to enable remote wipe capability if device is ever lost/stolen. I recommend you discuss this with your IT provider since they might be able to be the administrator of this feature for you.

More could be said but you get the idea. If you have any questions about investing in software for your business or implementing policy and procedure in this area let us know.

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