Still Relying on Excel? You’re not Alone. Learn how this is Holding Specialty Contractors Back

Still Relying on Excel? You’re not Alone. Learn how this is Holding Specialty Contractors Back

Among the findings of Procure and Dodge Construction Network’s recent industry report, reliance on manual processes and systems was a recurring theme. Whiteboards, printed methods, and other low-tech approaches comprise 19% of construction process usage, and this figure is even higher at smaller firms.

Labor management, especially, is stuck in the past — and it’s costing everyone involved time and money. Outdated methods aren’t just pen and paper, but things like spreadsheets and emailed documents; if you factor in spreadsheet use, 39% of companies are relying on legacy processes.

39% of companies are relying on legacy processes

Procore + Dodge Construction Network Report

Of course, every business needs to use a spreadsheet now and then, but over-reliance on them is common in construction, opening the door for problems like double entry, broken macros, faulty permission settings, security flaws, and a general lack of real automation. Compared to modern, cloud-based solutions, relying on static spreadsheets can certainly be considered an outdated process.

Manual processes are holding specialty contractors back

Use of these last-generation tools limit specialty contractors in several ways. More labor is required to keep documents current, yet they have lower visibility and accessibility and take longer to produce. Projects move too fast now for documentation to lag by days or take hours to find; unless teams are informed in real-time, the risk of scheduling misses, financial inaccuracies, and general error rises quickly.

A better coordinated team is valuable in itself: communication between the office and field, or between key decision makers and those carrying them out, must be as clear and open as possible. That can’t happen when hard copies need to be driven to the job site or delays are only reported on a weekly basis.

Even if the construction industry was not facing a labor shortage, simply hiring up to adjust for outdated processes isn’t a wise move. Project managers spend hours tending to handwritten or analog processes — a poor use of a valuable and skilled worker’s time. It’s far better to empower the people you already have.

Small companies have more challenges, but a bigger opportunity

Small specialty contractors are especially prone to these problems, with 46% mainly using manual systems, compared with 34% of large ones. It’s an intuitive finding: larger contractors have more financial leeway to invest in technological solutions that require upfront payment, training, and labor. A small contractor may struggle to find the resources necessary to take that step when every dollar and hour is precious.

But, the smaller operations also have more to gain. Larger trades must make tech updates in order to remain competitive at a national level — but a smaller regional specialty contractor can use tech as part of its growth strategy. The survey shows that adopting software is a natural part of specialty contractors’ growth, and an opportunity to get ahead of others in their field.

As high-tech options like AI, drones, and robotics are increasingly expected by developers, owners, and general contractors, it can be assumed that specialty contractors proficient with those technologies will have the advantage in proposals. RFP responses that neglect to emphasize tech’s role in making their team nimble and accurate will likely soon receive less consideration.

Tech across business units

It’s important to note that these new technologies can’t simply be adopted by one business unit or another: the survey shows that manual systems are in use from preconstruction to project execution, meaning the challenge and the opportunity also extends across the whole process. Leaders must work across departments to find software solutions that connect the entire organization.

Labor management is the single category most likely to be stuck using manual systems. According to survey respondents, the four tasks most likely to be performed using manual methods are all labor related: labor scheduling, daily logs, labor planning and forecasting, and safety reporting.

While updating office-centric processes with new software is relatively straightforward, implementing new tech at job sites for things like field input is fundamentally more difficult. But it also promises major benefits to specialty contractors that make the effort to overhaul their field management.

Leadership’s role

Per the survey, one of the most common challenges to implementing new tech was resistance from the field. solutions chosen or implemented without the input and collaboration of field teams are more likely to miss the mark. Company leadership is crucial here, and any decisions made about the way labor is tracked and managed need to be made in consultation with every part of the organization.

If this isn’t well managed, it can result in an adversarial relationship between the office and field staff — something reported by a quarter of survey respondents. Communication is key, even where there are conflicting ideas, so this reinforces the notion that all parts of an organization should be involved in the development and deployment of new technology.

Specialty contractors already face major challenges, from labor shortages to field-office miscommunication, but the construction world isn’t standing still. In fact it is moving forward faster than ever, making reliance on manual methods like paper and spreadsheets less practical by the day. Making the change from the old and familiar to the new and different is not always easy, but focusing on the right areas and working together as a unified team is a good place to start.

Want to see all the findings from the Procore + Dodge Data Survey?

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