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Integrating the Digital Workplace

April 18, 2022
In our industry, change come slowly. At least it always has as far back as I can remember.

In case you haven’t noticed, you can’t swing a cat* these days without hitting a new digital program, system or appliance being brought to market to help our businesses grow and thrive. So ubiquitous has technology become that we almost don’t notice the innovations until they have been “mainstreamed.”

Such is the case with software related to our industry. There are so many new (and not so new) planning, scheduling, building and other programs available for the trades and our businesses it can be confusing as to which will fit for our needs.

Going back, we started out with manual spread sheets trying to keep track of our business and job performance. When Excel came out, it was as if the heavens had parted. I mean, you could do an estimate—or anything mathematical—and have totals, percentages and formulae update in the blink of an eye, reducing math errors by orders of magnitude!

Digital Revolution

CPM (Critical Path Method) arrived and we were on a roll! Then CAD, and integrated software. BIM followed and was just the tip of the iceberg when it came to job related programs.

While that variety of digital programming revolutionized how we in the construction industry planned and executed our work, day to day office and management tools were arriving by the boatload.

Vehicle tracking software, digital phones, iPads and other electronic equipment brought all facets of the industry, for both large and small businesses, into immediate use. Job scheduling programs have become so fluid that service calls and point of purchase selling by service personnel have become a normal part of the job. They have helped increase profitability and streamlined work days.

Where servicemen once had to call in to the shop for information on this or that before a customer could be quoted on a job or an item, today it is more than likely that the journeyman can simply bring in his iPad or even use his phone to show the customer that new fixture or piece of equipment, complete with retail pricing and sell on the spot.

Upping Your Game

Regardless of the almost magical array of new programs (all designed to make your life says right here in the fine print…) many businesses have not embraced the purported advantages those programs provide. Now it could be that they are skeptical that the program will do what it claims, or that the cost of implementing the programs, in terms of the cost of the system, as well as the man hours it would take to integrate it into their business model, could be prohibitive. I think it is more than that.

In our industry, change come slowly. At least it always has as far back as I can remember. There are businessmen, especially those who were raised on the digital paradigm, who embrace the technology and think that each new program is “the one” that will bring them to Nirvana. Then, there are the guys who say, “why change? That’s the way we’ve always done it.”

Striking a balance between the two extremes is what we should strive for. The ancient ritual of slow change has its place, as does the rapid evolution of the brave new world we find ourselves in. On the one hand, slowing things down and cautiously looking at something from every angle before jumping in can’t hurt. On the other hand, resisting change, when change is due, can be very costly in the long view. Trying something new to see if it fits your business, or style, is something most of us will do if the benefit seems to outweigh the investment, but making changes for the sake of making changes is not.

Most journeymen, and certainly all the apprentices, in the trade today are well integrated in the digital world. They can use computers, are familiar with how computer programs work, or are supposed to work, and can easily transition from the real world to the digital world without any undue wasted time.

Is This Relevant?

It might not seem obvious, to some, that this issue is worth writing about. If you are immersed in the digital culture, you probably think that everyone else is too, but you would be wrong.

There are a lot of shops out there that have not embraced this new way of working. To the extent that many are passing up both growth of their business as well as increased profits, this is a sad thing.

Further, their customer base is embracing digitization to a degree never seen before. For that reason, alone, adding new programs which make a business and employees easier to manage should be on every owner’s radar.

Understanding that, an owner ought to be able to identify, and utilize, some part of the ever-expanding construction software industry to make his business more profitable and to take advantage of the innate abilities of his employees.

In short, embrace technology, don’t run from it. However, do so with a great deal of consideration. Make the technology work for you, rather than jumping in just because everyone else is doing it. Remember, “it seemed like a good idea at the time” is a trusim that never gets old.

*No cats were swung in the writing of this column.

The Brooklyn, N.Y.-born author is a retired third generation master plumber. He founded Sunflower Plumbing & Heating in Shirley, N.Y., in 1975 and A Professional Commercial Plumbing Inc. in Phoenix in 1980. He holds residential, commercial, industrial and solar plumbing licenses and is certified in welding, clean rooms, polypropylene gas fusion and medical gas piping. He can be reached at [email protected].

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