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10 Tips for Planning Your IT Investments

Feb. 18, 2014
The construction industry traditionally has spent less on IT than most other industries. Smaller contractors are making IT a bigger part of their strategic plans. The following 10 best practice tips will guide you through the IT planning process.

You wouldn’t start a mechanical project without a blueprint. Yet many contractors invest money and resources into information technology (IT) without an overarching, strategic plan in place. The results are often disjointed software systems, time consuming workarounds, and missed opportunities to improve your business.

In contrast, an IT plan will help you get the most from your IT investments, allowing you to continually evolve your IT infrastructure to support your business goals.

Times Are Changing

If you have viewed IT as a necessary evil in the past, you’re not alone. The construction industry traditionally has spent less on IT than most other industries. According to the Sage 2013 Construction IT Survey, three out of four construction firms spend 1% or less of revenue on IT. However, that is quickly changing.

As the economy makes its slow recovery, mechanical contractors whose staff is still stretched thin to keep company cost in check are looking at how IT can help them do more work with fewer resources.

You might be surprised at who is leading the way with their technology use. It’s not necessarily the large construction contractors. Today’s IT advances, such as many of the new cloud-based applications, are leveling the playing field for small to medium sized construction firms, giving them capabilities they couldn’t afford before. These smaller contractors are making IT a bigger part of their strategic plans.

Practical Planning

Whether you are creating a business case to address one key issue, an annual plan, or a multi-year strategy, the following 10 best practice tips will guide you through the IT planning process:

  1. Start with your business objectives. Defining your most important short- and long-term business goals will help you determine what technology will most align with your business strategy.
  2. Assess weaknesses in your current IT infrastructure. Are some applications outdated or inefficient? Do you have a back-up system in case data is lost? Can your team access the accurate information they need to work efficiently in the field?
  3. Get feedback from your employees. What technology do they need to do their jobs more effectively? If you’re getting requests from employees, or seeing them supplement your company-provided technology with their own from home, consider adding their requests to your strategic plan.
  4. Define the expected benefits. What positive impact do you expect each new technology to achieve? Benefits may include increased productivity, decreased costs, better communication, or more satisfied customers.
  5. Calculate a clear ROI and include a payback timetable. Consider both hard savings (for example, eliminating an in-house server) and soft benefits (for example, greater efficiency or easier collaboration.)
  6. Define the cost of doing nothing. In addition to the ROI associated with carrying out your IT strategic plan, include a description of the business risks and potential costs of not investing in new technology.
  7. Consider a phased approach. You don’t have to accomplish everything at once. Sometimes it can be more cost-effective to adopt technology in stages. It can also be easier for employees to adjust to incremental changes and see the benefits sooner.
  8. Find the budget for IT investments. Demonstrate how your proposed IT initiative will fit into the company budget. A phased approach may provide progress now without breaking the bank.
  9. Be mindful of longer-term goals. Although you may be planning initiatives for this year, look two, three, or even five years down the road. Investments made today should help to build the IT infrastructure you’ll need later.
  10. Plan to get employees using new technology. Does your company culture encourage change? Do you need to provide additional training? What processes can you put in place to minimize disruption and help employees adopt new technology?

IT planning doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition. Even if you incorporate just a few of the above best practices, you will be well on your way to reaping the business benefits of strategic IT decision-making.

Aim for Integration

According to the 2013 Construction Technology Integration Survey, research sponsored by JB Knowledge Technologies Inc., the makers of SmartBidNet, 82.8% of contractors said integrated software is important to their company’s internal processes and overall efficiency. Yet 28.3% of contractors surveyed have no software integration, and 29.7% have only two integrated applications.

When putting together your technology plan, aim for creating a fully integrated information system to support your best practices and processes. Not everything has to be integrated at one time, but make sure the software you buy today can be integrated to other applications you may want to use in the future. This will lead to greater efficiency and communication across your organization.

Many contractors are also looking at new cloud-based mobile applications as a way to link their field operations to the central office. You don’t necessarily have to retool your current IT infrastructure to move to “the cloud.” Some cloud-based construction applications will link to your existing central office systems, offering new capabilities that can be accessed using a phone, tablet, or PC. Some of the more popular ways mechanical contractors are using mobile technology in the field include tracking and approving workers’ time, accessing customer and project information, and sharing drawings and project documents.


Understandably the recession caused many mechanical contractors to put their IT plans on hold, but underinvesting in IT for extended periods could put your firm at a competitive disadvantage. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 70% of U.S. productivity growth comes from IT.

Lack of an IT strategy could also hamper your ability to attract and retain talented younger workers. These “digital natives” demand easier, more convenient ways to communicate and collaborate in and out of the office. And they know how to use technology to improve both their individual and company performance. If they don’t have what they need to do the job, they’ll go elsewhere.

But information technology on its own is not the complete answer. Only when IT investments are strategic and aligned with your business goals will you reap its full rewards. An IT plan will you help you accomplish that.

Dennis Stejskal is the vice president of product management at Sage Construction and Real Estate. He has more than 30 years of experience developing, supporting and selling software and technology to construction and real estate companies. Stejskal has been a member and co-chair on the CFMA Technology Committee and often speaks at industry events, including CFMA, AGC and NAHB meetings and conferences. For more information, contact Stejskal at [email protected] or visit

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