Six ground rules for contractors and technology

July 8, 2014
If you don't incorporate new products and services you will be left behind If there is a product or service you think is going to be great make sure to check it out with others that have used it Don’t irritate the customer Don’t rush Don’t irritate your employees Consider a broad range of options  

As time continues to tick by since the latest technological revolution hit the service market, there are an increasing number of new products and services out there every month. When there were fewer options, even just a year ago, I was pretty quick to make some recommendations when asked. However, now there are so many people responding to technology in so many different ways that I’m pretty much saying, “Do whatever you want… but do something!”

If we are honest about it, productivity is a pretty elusive thing. Sure, you can measure it directly most of the time but actually being able to cause a true and permanent increase is not easy. But with the packaged and semi-packaged technology available today it’s almost a no-brainer. Sure you can make a mistake, but most people are going to “do anything” and be very successful. So if you do nothing you will be left behind. It’s just that simple.

If I was a little less conscientious I would end the article right here. But since I have just given everyone a ticket to “do anything” I probably better give some ground rules:

  1. Trust but verify, borrowing from the late President Reagan. There are a lot of vendors out there with some really great products. But neither I (nor anyone else that I know) can even pretend to vouch for all of them. So if there is a product or service you think is going to be great for you make sure you check it out with others that have used it.
  2. Don’t irritate the customer. My boss and mentor Stephen Lamb has always warned about the “law of unintended consequences.” And technology seems to multiply those consequences. Just be careful when dealing with customer’s data. This doesn’t just mean security, which I’ll talk about below, but be careful how you handle marketing and other uses of this data.
  3. Security, security, security. This concept weaves in both items No. 1 and No. 2. Check with other users regarding their judgment of the security of the item in question. But also make sure you communicate to your customers that you are actively working on the security of their data. The best way to do this is to make sure not only products that you use have an accreditation of some sort, but that your company also has its own security policy that is rigidly followed. Double password layers are a start and encryption is even better. Make sure to consult an expert.
  4. Don’t rush. Technology can be very sexy. You will be tempted to rush in. But make sure you do your homework. There are a lot of options out there and while many of them may work for your company not all of them will. Make a plan and follow the plan. If you are making a large enough investment you should consider hiring a third party consultant to help you.
  5. Don’t irritate your employees. Similar to No. 2 above, you may need to help some of your employees’ transition to new technology. Some of this is just good leadership. If you are a good leader you handle it like other problems; just don’t expect everyone to accept technology immediately and completely.
  6. Make sure you consider a broad range of options because the right solution is the one that best fits your company’s needs. Do you want an expensive enterprise solution that someone installs for you with some long lead times and related expense? Or is a less comprehensive solution what you need? What do you want to accomplish? Just quicker information transfer between the office and field? Or do you want to offer customers fault detection and demand response services. With energy prices on the rise you want to consider how technology can help you save your customers money.

Of course this advice only goes so far. Since we are in a period of flux no one knows how things will eventually shake out. But since there is a huge productivity increase available you need to find a way to take advantage. And for the record? Even the biggest players in this arena admit that this is a time of chaos.

If you want to take a look at another period similar to this (in a somewhat related area) take a look at AMC Cable Network’s “Halt and Catch Fire.” It is a little bit of a soap opera, but does a good job of showing the flux in the PC market in the early 80s. It is supposed to be the (mostly unknown) story of how the big disruptor of the time, IBM, got disrupted by Compaq computer. What it successfully shows to us is the amount of vision, determination and even luck that go into forging a path during innovative times. It may even give you your own spark of genius.

Dan Bulley, senior vice president, Mechanical Contractors Association Chicago, is an expert on safety, green building and construction technologies, such as BIM and mobile apps. Bulley serves as a resource to MCA Chicago member contractor companies on technical and code matters. As a former officer and board member for the Illinois Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council and former president of Illinois ASHRAE, he continues to work with those and other related organizations.

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