Apps are now ubiquitous on our private mobile devices – but they are becoming increasingly a part of our working lives, too.
Construction has taken a little longer than some other industries to catch onto this, and perhaps understandably so – it’s not always safe to be wandering around a site using a tablet or smartphone.
But there are huge benefits to be gained from using apps in clever ways.
ISG has sensed this, and has been working with an external developer, Construct, on an app that it deployed on its 5 Broadgate fit-out project in London.
This 700,000 sq ft scheme was the largest in Europe at the time, so any efficiencies that could be gained from the use of technology were obviously attractive to ISG.
The contractor already has an in-house development team and had plans to work on a project management app, so the 5 Broadgate project’s scale meant it would be an ideal test case.
“We asked a specific question about how you can communicate with so many people, and how you can distribute all the latest information to them,” ISG’s Andy Hargrave tells me.
“We wanted a project management tool that meant our people spent more time out on site, and less time in the office. On these types of projects there’s a lot of change and lots of information.”
The firm did initially consider doing it in-house but decided to collaborate with developer Construct due to the app’s complexity.
Its development was an iterative process. Initial trials found that some features weren’t needed, so they were taken out, while there was a clear demand for creating and filling in more and different kinds of forms – so the developer went away and built a form-builder which it included in the app.
“We started trials on a separate project, which allowed us to introduce the app at the beginning of the construction phase at 5 Broadgate – not during the year’s preconstruction phase,” Mr Hargrave says.
“Construction, of all industries, is probably quite headstrong and likes to do things its own way, so we thought maybe there was an opportunity there, and that’s why we decided to partner with ISG”
Ant Erwin, Construct
It was then trialled on a single floor at 5 Broadgate first, before proving such a success that it was rolled out across the job.
The app itself is a fully customisable information and process management system for onsite work. It’s also cloud-based, meaning it can be used offline before syncing to the cloud next time it is connected to the internet, and allowing sites to become completely paperless.
The proof is in the pudding, though. ISG estimates that it saved one-and-a-half hours of administration time per employee on average, equating to £1m of unproductive time.
ISG had 55 people on site at peak, with 1,400 on site in total. “We took our delivery people, in the region of 25 people, and analysed their day-to-day with and without the app, and did a simple time and motion study about how often they had to return to the office, and how long it took to mark up drawings,” Mr Hargrave says.
It’s been such a success, in fact, that the firm is rolling it out across all of its other projects – and not just in fit-out, either, but on some construction jobs as well.
Construct is independent of ISG and is able to tailor the app for any of its customers, with this particular app branded and tailored specifically for ISG, including its folder structure, programme and all other site-specific information.
Construct founder Ant Erwin points out that construction is still an industry with a particular way of working. “There wasn’t anything on the market that was tailored to the market,” he says. “Construction, of all industries, is probably quite headstrong and likes to do things its own way, so we thought maybe there was an opportunity there, and that’s why we decided to partner with ISG.”
Construct is also looking to expand and is working with a number of other contractors and subcontractors on the app.
The app has also been used on Crossrail – and while the final results are yet to come in, it looks like the time savings may be even higher than those recorded on 5 Broadgate.
All parties admit to me that construction has been a bit behind the curve in embracing technological efficiencies like this.
But the work done with a relatively simple technological solution on one project – and the clear impact it has had on the project’s bottom line – demonstrate the positive effect that tech like this can have when applied in a practical project setting.