Using software platforms to boost efficiency and improve construction quality
by Lisa Meylor
Homebuilders’ optimism remains strong overall and future sales expectations are at a post-recession high as the demand for housing grows and single-family production continues to post gains. However, builders continue to face challenges in our industry. NAHB Chairman Randy Noel advises that builders “manage supply-side construction hurdles, such as shortages of labor and lots and increases in building material prices.”
The last recession displaced 30-plus percent of the construction labor force into other industries, resulting in the skilled labor shortage today that affects both single- and multifamily builders nationwide. Responding to labor shortages necessitates efficiencies to maintain production time, quality and profits—a dilemma technology could play a role in rectifying. While software obviously can’t solve the labor shortage, it can help bridge the gap by more efficiently allocating resources where they’re needed.
Labor shortage impacts
The availability, cost and skill of the current labor force is affecting all types of commercial and residential construction projects. For the residential industry specifically, the labor shortage is impacting builders’ ability to deliver single-family production homes, apartment communities and even custom homes in an efficient and cost-effective manner.
These labor obstacles and the growing demand for new housing are creating an environment where projects may be rushed, shortcuts taken and quality lost. The shortage of skilled labor could force many builders to start using “B” and “C” quality trades, potentially resulting in more issues and requiring increased oversight by the builder. Without a well-qualified and experienced labor force, builders are facing delayed housing deliveries and looming quality issues, which puts them at risk of producing a substandard product.
Is there an answer?
As with most hurdles industries and businesses face, there isn’t one silver-lining solution, but, as the old adage goes, “if you want something done, you gotta do it yourself.” National companies like The Home Depot and Lowe’s are investing in the professional training and recruiting of new laborers into the construction workforce. At the homebuilder level, we’re seeing more companies investing in additional software technology to help them organize their building processes.
More than ever, builders need a streamlined technology solution to survey, assess and respond to quality issues. The current shortage of skilled construction labor equates to an even greater need for builders to focus on efficient procedures for quality assurance. Troy Warr, Computer Presentation Systems’ Lead Product Developer, says, “Using technology and industry specific software is an effective strategy for capturing and managing all activity and information without any additional personnel or time.”
Real-time access is key
Real-time access to plans, schedules, issues, and vital documents will result in increased efficiency and productivity. Warr continues, “Using our FieldCollaborate construction scheduling software, field managers can record a quality issue, automatically email the vendor, post the issue to the Portal (including images) for vendor review, then close the ticket when resolved. All of this is accomplished from their truck or construction trailer.”
Incorporating quality inspection checklists into the product lifecycle can build a consensus of what’s important and help ensure that any issues that arise are caught as early and consistently as possible. The ability to analyze data over time, in real-time, also allows builders to quickly address potential quality problems by comparing issues by week or month and by consistently analyzing vendor performance.
By the numbers
In today’s technology-based world, field managers should have a mobile platform that allows them to work directly from the jobsite, staying in direct contact with vendors and the corporate office. Quality and performance industry leader Glenn Cottrell has offered compelling arguments that $1,200 invested up front in proactive quality measures — including hiring the best subs and keeping jobs in line — can save $7,200 per house, a 600 percent return.
FieldCollaborate’s many features and reporting capabilities have helped the entire Homes by Taber team — office staff, field personnel, vendors, and even sales staff — operate more efficiently with real-time information. This improved efficiency has led the Oklahoma City builder to reduce cycle time by 28 percent, or roughly 45 days. Travis Davidson, COO, says, “We were at 170 days, and now we’re right around 122 days.” Davidson continues, “We’ve been able to grow another $10 to $12 million year over year because we’ve been able to build houses faster.”
Invest in technology
Even with an optimistic housing outlook, skilled labor shortages are still a real challenge affecting the homebuilding industry. While the industry works on the long-term skilled labor challenge, one thing builders should be doing in the short term is implementing technology and software that creates efficiencies and improves quality in the construction process.
Lisa Meylor is the Marketing Manager for Computer Presentation Systems (CPS), a software development company that has provided solutions to new home builders for over 30 years. She may be reached at http://www.cpsusa.com.