Coordinating the many moving parts of a construction job—and keeping all parties up to speed—has always been one of the most challenging aspects of the construction manager’s job. The process of documenting change can be tedious: go back to the trailer or office to get the paper drawings, log the proposed change in an RFI and staple that to the documents, share that back to the project team, print out new paper documents and so on.
But now with the advent of cloud-based tools and technologies, project teams and clients are able to work together in real time, in the field, to quickly work out any issues and keep the project moving forward.
ALL IN THE CLOUD
One example of these tools is PlanGrid. Structure Tone started trying out PlanGrid several years ago as these cloud-based platforms entered the market. In Texas, the first project Structure Tone Southwest employed it on was a 67,000sf data center for a major mission critical client—and the results were incredible. “Everything we had to go back to the trailer to see before, we could now see in the field,” says Tracy McWhorter, Structure Tone Southwest director of quality systems. “All of our project information was at our fingertips.”
How it works, essentially, is all of a project’s documentation—from drawings, specs and photos to RFIs and punchlists—are stored in the cloud. Every team member with access to the project can view, mark up, comment on or add to those documents through the app on their mobile device. Any changes are automatically synced to each team member’s device, meaning they can see and react to them in real time, no matter if they’re on site, in an office or anywhere else.
This kind of accessibility has a number of major benefits for the project and the team:
1. Efficiency. To state the obvious, with that real-time access, all the previous steps of documenting and sharing information on paper are eliminated, making the entire process more efficient.
2. Teamwork. Another benefit is the shared access to all of this information makes it much easier for a project team to coordinate and communicate. “It really invites everyone into the process,” says McWhorter. “Our subs use the tool as well, which really makes us feel like one united team. We can track issues easily and they don’t have to go through us for information. It’s all there.”
3. Punchlists. That teamwork includes the designers as well. Not only can they also access all the information in PlanGrid, but they can even use the tool to avoid added site visits, including the punchlist process. “The architects sent across their site walk reports, and within seconds we could work from those right in PlanGrid,” McWhorter says. “When it came time to do the punchlist, they could simply look at the before and after photos and did not even have to walk the site a final time before sign-off.”
4. QA/QC. The access and transparency of using tools like PlanGrid has also helped with managing quality, from the construction team to the owner. “A lot of owners now are educated about the construction process and want to know how it’s going,” McWhorter says. “We can walk through everything with them in PlanGrid and show them which areas we’re especially focused on for QA/QC. It’s powerful.”
UP, UP AND AWAY
Since that first PlanGrid project, Structure Tone Southwest has been using cloud-based tools regularly, including for the same mission critical client’s expanding facilities. And the client has loved the experience, particularly when it comes to how it benefits the approach to quality assurance. “I haven’t seen another GC that goes as in-depth into the drawings, specifications, code and reports to pull out the finite detail,” says Brad Gover, senior project manager at Critical Project Services. “It has clearly set STSW apart.”
The team continues to build on that success, experimenting with ideas for maximizing and even improving these kinds of tools for even more project efficiencies.
“We’re testing out integration of tools like PlanGrid with some of our other programs so things like submittals can be approved in one system and uploaded automatically to the other’’ says McWhorter. “We have really just begun to see what we can do with platforms like these in the future.”