Automation is hardly a new idea. After all, machines have been used to automate routine tasks for hundreds—even thousands—of years. But as technology platforms evolve, automation is following suit. What does that mean for the construction industry as a whole, and your company in particular? That digital automation is here to stay—and will only grow more capable and pervasive over time.
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Every contractor knows that precon is made up of hundreds of individual steps that work in concert to create budgets, produce reports, manage data and prepare teams for the actual construction phase. Many of those tasks require knowledge, experience and the kind of nuanced judgement only seasoned pros can bring to the table—but many others don’t. When your people are spending too much time and effort on precon tasks that don’t require ideation, creativity, problem-solving or other uniquely human skillsets, you know it’s time to automate.
So, how do you determine which precon tasks are the best fit for automation? First and foremost, they’re rule-based, involving the same steps every time, over and over again, with no variation. Second, they’re tasks that quickly become monotonous. In other words, repetitive, boring tasks that don’t depend on critical human thinking can—and should—be automated. The reasons are clear: when you remove the burden of unrewarding, repetitive work, your employees are free to pursue business-critical activities that can drive engagement and do more for your company overall.
Once you’ve determined which precon tasks are the best candidates for automation, it’s time to quantify how many of those tasks your company needs to perform—and how often. The simplest rule of thumb? If you find that one or more routine tasks are required on a weekly basis (and they’re taking valuable time away from other responsibilities) automation is the answer. If those same tasks are performed on a daily basis, the urgency is even greater. Even 15 minutes a day quickly adds up; with over 252 average workdays, in a year your company could spend over 60 hours per person on routine precon tasks that could be accomplished through automation. That’s wasted time and money that you’ll never get back.
Many aspects of project estimating, for example, typically involve steps that don’t depend on nuanced decision-making or human intervention. By automating repetitive tasks that are standard for the bid process, not only do you save time, you can also significantly reduce the likelihood of manual mistakes. That’s meaningful for two reasons: without errors to correct, workflows accelerate and productivity rises, but even more important, your bids will be far more accurate, the proven way to reduce contingency and close out a more profitable job.
Ultimately, the decision to automate your precon processes hinges on how much you can expect to gain from your investment—measurable business benefits that will have positive impacts on workflows, revenue and the bottom line. Once you’ve identified eligible precon tasks, and quantified how many, and how often, those tasks are performed, it’s time to take a closer look at ROI. Broadly speaking, ROI is a financial metric calculated by subtracting the initial value of the investment (precon automation technology) from the final value of the investment (automated precon processes). We’ve already seen that volume and frequency make a big difference; the more tasks you automate-- and the more often they occur—the higher the ROI, especially if there is a fixed cost for the automation platform.
Increased accuracy is a factor, too. Every contractor knows that rework is an unwanted expense, and that the time and effort associated with finding and fixing bidding errors should be avoided at all costs. By automating takeoffs and costing, you can. Because software-driven processes offer more consistent—and accurate—results, your estimators get it right the first time around. The less time they spend making (and correcting) mistakes, the more money you save.
A growing number of contractors are seeing firsthand how automated processes can help their companies gain efficiency, cut costs and improve accuracy in the early phases of a building project. By evaluating how your own precon tasks can be streamlined and simplified through automation, you’ll be better equipped to in invest wisely in the technology that makes it possible.