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Recognizing Value From Your Construction Administration Software Investment

September 24, 2021
By Peg Landry

Construction administration (CA) can be the most exciting phase of a project when construction actually begins. However, it can also be the most stressful. Contractor and design teams must coordinate to ensure that the final product delivered meets design specifications, building standards, and owner requirements.

In today’s fast-paced construction world, having an automated system for processing submittals and RFIs is most often specified as a contractual requirement. Many AEC firms spend hours researching software solutions and spend thousands of dollars a year on software licenses and subscriptions. However, recognizing a return on these investments requires more than just installing software.

Automating manual administrative tasks will certainly improve productivity, save time, and reduce costs. However, there are several areas outside of the scope of CA software solution – things the software cannot do for you. Taking time to address the people and process aspects of the CA process before logging into the software will certainly pay off.

What the Software CANNOT Do

The Software Cannot Establish the Ground Rules

The ground rules for construction administration are usually documented in the General Conditions section of the contract. This includes provisions for handling of submittals and RFIs. Leading project teams are expanding these rules to limit unnecessary processing, eliminate potential contractual abuses, and provide more clarification of roles and responsibilities. This includes clearly articulating acceptable – and not acceptable – uses of RFIs. It also includes defining and articulating roles and responsibilities inside the software.

The Software Cannot Determine Team Communication Protocols

Timely communication during the construction administration review process is key to keeping the project on track. Although automated CA software packages can streamline email communication, the software is not a substitution for a human conversation. Project team members can still talk to each other outside of the software.

The Software Cannot Align Terminology & Systems

Each design firm uses its own terminology for submittal review status. There is often overlap in review status terminology across firms (make corrections as noted, not reviewed-incomplete, etc.), but the action required of the contractor may differ. Having this conversation before processing submittals and RFIs will eliminate any confusion as to the required action.

It’s not always an option for all party on the project to use the same software platform. Teams should review what information needs to be transferred between systems. Mapping this information between systems ensures that fields have the same meaning and are being used in the same way. For example, using different submittal numbering schemes between systems will make it difficult to track status. Agreeing up front on how to map information will reduce or prevent miscommunication errors.

The Software Cannot Train Your Team

Project teams often pass on, or hurry through software training. Contractor and design teams who have been working together for some time in the same software are most likely on autopilot and may not need additional training. But many times, new people on the project team are not familiar with the software. In addition, CA software solutions are constantly evolving, adding new features and functionality, so it is worth spending time at the beginning of the project to learn what is new or has changed.

What the Software CAN Do

The Software Can Provide Interoperability

Software technology providers can take the burden off project teams for mapping information between systems. Automating the transfer of information between CA systems reduces errors and the associated delays of rekeying data. For example, Newforma has mapped the submittal and RFI information between Project Center and other CA applications including Newforma ConstructEx and Procore.

The Software Can Enforce Required Information

Most software applications have required fields that team membres must complete in order to process the submittal or RFI. This is especially helpful when all team members are using the software. For example, many teams have subcontractors submit their information via email. The burden is placed on the contractor to track down missing information. This takes time. However, if the subcontractor team completes the submittal or RFI in the software form, they must enter the required information to proceed.

The Software Can Keep Team on Track with Automated Workflows & Notifications

Many CA solutions have automated workflows that enable the submittal or RFI to seamlessly travel through the review process. The next person up for review automatically receives the required information and associated documents. It’s more reliable than team members sending this information through email.

The Software can Automate Governance and Controls

The software can provide automated controls and governance that are often missed with manual processes. for example, the software can prevent unauthorized users from taking certain actions such as issuing an RFI. It can also restrict users from accessing information before it has been fully approved or finalized. These types of automated controls help the project team avoid costly mistakes.

The Software Can Provide Automated Tracking, Audit Trails, & Archives

Automated submittal schedules can keep track of what documentation has been submitted, when, and by whom. This type of tracking is especially beneficial during close-out to ensure that all required documentation has been properly submitted and reviewed. Submittal and RFI status tracking can also be automated so that teams know when a submittal or RFI is coming due or is overdue.

The CA software can also keep a historical record project for each action taken in the review process. Project teams can track who initiated the submittal or RFI, date that it was sent to the design team and reviewers, and dates returned to the contractor team. The audit trail can be useful to trace events if a problem occurs. This valuable information can also be used to determine proper remediation.

The software archive captures the complete project record which can be accessed years after the project has been completed. If litigation occurs after the project is completed, having access to the complete project record is critical. There’s no need to keep years of records in the office file cabinet.

A Little Upfront Planning and Communication Can Go A Long Way

Automated solutions for construction administration are designed to reduce the administrative burden, improve productivity, reduce errors, and proactively manage risk. Many AEC firms have recognized the benefits of implementing CA software solutions. Although these systems are effective, there is room for improvement. By planning, organizing, and communicating the people and process aspects of construction administration, project teams can recognize the full value of their software investment.