Can construction quality be boosted by collaboration software?

Zachary Reiss-Davis, director of marketing at construction field management platform Fieldwire, explains how Canadian contractor EllisDon is driving productivity and standards.

Quality control is a key element of any construction project, but it is an issue plaguing the construction industry in the UK today. Research from the Chartered Quality Institute Construction Special Interest Group suggests that better quality management could save the industry between £7bn and £12bn.

One of the reasons for the  decline in quality is a shortage of skilled labour – but what role can technology play in improving efficiency whilst boosting quality?

EllisDon, a general contractor with $3.5bn in annual revenue, started using construction management software several years ago to drive productivity on the jobsite. In August of 2018, it announced that it would manage all of its projects using Fieldwire.

Tom Strong, EllisDon’s chief technology officer, explains: “The construction industry is changing at a rapid pace. Leveraging technology allows us to further drive productivity at the project level –Fieldwire helps our project teams deliver very high quality results by connecting us seamlessly with our clients and trade partners.”

In terms of quality control, its decision to adopt smart software is yielding results. EllisDon’s recent work on the Providence Care Hospital in Ontario, Canada, a design-build-finance-maintain venture valued at $850m (£655m), is proof of that.

Mike Armstrong, assistant project manager, says: “We’re concentrating on deficiency work. The hard part is that this project is a big machine, and the more you fuel the machine with data, the more it needs to be managed well. Fieldwire is great because you can capture and control it all in one spot. It’s probably saved us needing 2-3 QA/QC people.”

Colt Builders, a contractor that specialises in residential framing, has also seen its quality control processes improve since starting to use the Fieldwire software platform. Uploading all the plans to the cloud enables their quality control team to quickly locate problem areas, conduct inspections, and delegate tasks out to contractors.

EllisDon adopted smart software on the Providence Care Hospital project in Ontario, Canada

Phil Blake, a senior project manager for Colt Builders, explains: “Tasks are easily located by the quality control supervisor, who can then delegate each task back out to various subcontractors and employees. We generate a report for any punch-out items with attached checklists and the quality control sheet.

“Every unit on the job gets its own sheet created, and it’s very helpful since we attach important documents like our JSIs right to each sheet with the hyperlinking tool.”

How software can help

Companies of all types across the construction industry have started to realise that software is part of the quality control solution. With Fieldwire, QA/QC managers on the job site can digitise all of their checklists and inspections to use from their smartphones or tablets. As they find any issues or inconsistencies, each item becomes a task that can include notes, photos, and videos.

The task is then assigned to the exact right person – including at a different speciality contractor working on the project – who is responsible for getting the issue resolved. The person responsible is notified in real time and can respond with a new status as well as photos and documentation to show the problem is resolved.

Having the entire history of an issue, from discovery to conclusion, with time-stamped photos, notes, and markups, is a huge benefit to project teams that manage hundreds of different issues every day.

Project managers can see what work is scheduled, what has been completed, and what is falling behind schedule in real time. They can assign tasks to specific craftsmen, set deadlines, and receive notifications when the work is complete. With one consolidated source of truth, construction workers spend more time doing the work, rather than tracking down the status of any given issue.

Using the Fieldwire platform directly on the job site also helps increase transparency across the project team. EllisDon has taken this one step further and added all of their owner stakeholders to the platform for the Brookfield Place Calgary project, enabling them to see exactly what the project managers see. As a result, there are no surprises and stakeholders can communicate with the builders to correct anything they find unsatisfactory.

“Our industry has not always been the most forthcoming about sharing information,” adds Tom Strong, chief technology officer of EllisDon. “By providing Fieldwire to anyone involved on our projects, we promote transparency and ownership in our construction process.”

Increase accountability and reduce risk

A construction project is not actually complete until it’s been fully handed over to the owners for operation, and all remaining QA/QC items are signed off on. In residential construction, missing fittings, disconnected utilities, and a lack of finishing work are just a few of the most common issues reported by homeowners.

Using software like Fieldwire to track tasks, and verify that those tasks are completed up to the expected standard ensures that the work is done right the first time.

Correspondence between the stakeholders and the builders is captured and logged so that no one needs to piece together old emails, spreadsheets, and text messages to know who did or did not do their piece of a project. Instead, the complete history of a project, from the first task to the very last, can be reviewed at any time.

Quality control is an issue that is not going to be solved overnight. There are factors at work much larger than any one company or incident. The skills gap will be closed, programs like the Apprenticeship Levy will help bring more people into the industry, but this will take time.

However, right now the contractors who are the most success are empowering all of their field workers with software that allows them to do their best work and focus on quality today.

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