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5 Reasons You Can’t Afford to Keep Using Paper

We don’t have to tell you that paper is still king in the construction industry. It’s understandable to some extent, as many of the documents we use daily can be difficult to view electronically. Drawings and other large-format documents can be tough to digest on a small screen. However, that doesn’t mean it’s a good thing.

In a 2016 article by McKinsey & Company, construction was noted as one of the industries that had least adopted digital technology. This seems to be changing, as in the 2020 Construction Technology Report by JB Knowledge only 2% of respondents said they didn’t use mobile devices in the field. But, as 2020 has taught everyone, construction still has a long way to go in adopting technology.

Contractors who aren’t using digital technology to improve their efficiency and communication on job sites are leaving money on the table, not only in additional costs but in lost time and revenue as well. Here are some of the ways contractors are losing money every day by sticking with paper.

1. Printing costs

This one is fairly obvious and easy to quantify. When contractors are running on paper documents, they need a printer on every job site. For each site there’s not only the cost of the printer, but paper to feed it, ink, toner, maintenance costs, and the employee time to manage and collate printed documents. Printing can cost a company up to 3% of their total revenue. For a company that makes $5 million, this translates to $150,000 in printing costs.

Time is an additional cost. It takes time to print and assemble the needed documents so that work can continue. On some projects, printing plans is a full-time job. And while documents are being printed, work on the job is often at a standstill waiting for the new information. Now contractors are paying two sets of workers to wait while the printer prints. Lost time and productivity quickly add up to more costs and schedule delays.

2. Slower response to changes

Changes are a regular occurrence on the jobsite. When schedule or drawing changes are made, they have to be communicated to the field so they can be implemented in the work. Delays caused by the printing and transporting of the information can significantly affect both the schedule and the productivity of fieldworkers.

When workers have to wait for copies to show up or be printed on site, they may have to switch tasks and be less productive or leave the job until the new documents are received. Work may be delayed for several hours or even have to stop completely if the changes are drastic. On projects with tight schedules, even a few hours delay can significantly affect the completion of the project.

3. Data errors

When it comes to creating project reports, such as timecards, work tickets, and daily activity reports, companies often use multiple systems to create, process and store them. Some may be handwritten on site and transferred into software at the office, or the data may be entered from one system into another so it can be reported on. Any time data is transferred manually, there’s a chance that errors will be made.

In the 2020 Construction Technology Report, 49% of survey respondents were using manual methods to transfer data when software wasn’t compatible. Up to 44% relied on spreadsheets for data transfer, while 37% use CSV (comma-separated values) files. All of these methods rely on human data entry, which is notoriously unreliable, to move information from one system to another.

Not only is there a chance for errors during data upload and transfer, but often by the time a report is generated and distributed the data is out of date. Contractors can’t get current data because of the time it takes to make the necessary entries and create the reports. Up to 45% of project management workflows are still being done by spreadsheets, according to the Technology Report. Spreadsheets are still being used for tasks such as estimating, scheduling, and field data collection. This means project managers are making important project decisions without current up-to-date information.

4. Wasted time

When project communication occurs by paper, everything just takes longer. Reports require hours of information compilation, gathering data from multiple sources and even locations. During the pandemic, when many workers were working remotely or from home, this became even more difficult. Employees didn’t have access to all the information they needed in order to create the necessary reports. They spent hours trying to find the information or waiting for others to access it and send it to them.

Meanwhile, field personnel are waiting for information or updates so they can continue their work on the project. This can create a lot of downtime or underutilized field time when workers don’t have the information they need.

An American contractor working on a tunnel project with over 600 vendors developed their own project management software platform for bidding, purchasing, and contract management. By using this platform, they estimate they saved 20 hours per week in paperwork. Reporting times were reduced by 75%, and documents were sent up to 90% quicker than with manual methods.

5. Lost information

Important pieces of information or documents often get lost in the stacks of paperwork on workers desks. A worker has to search through piles of paper to find an RFI or the latest version of the schedule. Often there’s only one copy of these documents and they may contain important notes, drawings, or sketches. There’s no way to capture this handwritten information or find the document if it gets lost or thrown away.

In addition, files that aren’t backed up are subject to data breaches and hardware failures. If reports and schedules are saved on the superintendent’s laptop and the laptop suffers a technical malfunction, the data may be lost or take several days to retrieve. Large and small companies are also subject to cyber-attacks geared at freezing or deleting information that’s important to the company. 13% of respondents to the Construction Technology Report said that their company had been subject to a data breach. You can never have enough security when it comes to electronic files and information.

Contractors need a communication system

Relying on paper workflows for the communication of key project information costs construction companies time and money. Work is delayed waiting for printing, there may be errors in the information, or documents may be lost.

The solution to these problems is the implementation of an electronic communication system. One that is easily accessible from the field and allows for instantaneous sharing of documents and job data. Construction companies that have implemented this type of system have reduced their administration time and seen project efficiency increase.

If your company is ready to ditch paper and save countless hours and money waiting for documents, contact Assignar today.

Dawn Killough is a freelance construction writer with over 25 years of experience working with construction companies, subcontractors and general contractors. Dawn has held roles such as a staff accountant, green building advisor, project assistant, and contract administrator. She writes for several construction technology companies, contractors, and material suppliers. Her published work can be found at www.dkilloughwriter.com.

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