Automating Daily Reports From The Field

Construction companies take advantage of a fast-changing technology landscape in the hot economy

It is the strongest economy in years, and construction companies are investing to achieve optimum results. Even the most myopic construction executives cannot help but notice the fast changing technology landscape. Fueled by investments in infrastructure, cellular carriers have extended their coverage areas for high-speed data services, with improvements in cost and reliability. The confluence of faster, more ubiquitous wireless networks and an increasing variety of sophisticated devices (consumer and rugged mobile phones, tablets and notebooks) has opened new opportunities for construction companies to improve operations through mobile technologies.

Many progressive construction companies have leveraged mobile technology to collect reporting data from the field. These companies seek an advantage in today’s competitive environment, using mobility to reduce costs and streamline operations. Timely information from the field allows for quicker decisions and resolution of issues.

Identify ROI Drivers

How do construction companies get started with mobility?  A starting point is to identify important ROI drivers for the business.  Most construction companies begin with a focus on timesheets and other daily reports.  This includes labor, equipment usage, and production reports.   In addition to addressing the headaches of late and error-prone labor time reports, the benefits include reduced data entry staff, more accurate time and job costing, more effective equipment utilization, and a reduction of phantom payroll.  Other common targets for automation include material or inventory tracking, job progress review, tool tracking and safety reports.

Review and Compare Mobile Solutions

The next step is to review the available solutions.   Some important considerations while evaluating mobility solutions are as follows:

  • Flexibility.   If you are concerned only with timesheet automation, a software solution addressing just mobile time accounting may suffice.  If your ROI depends on converting many paper reports, then consider a solution that can accommodate a range of reporting, including future requirements.  Will it involve custom programming or is the software configurable to handle a variety of reports?

  • Disconnected Operation.  If field personnel will be operating mobile devices outside of network coverage areas, a solution that provides for local data storage and operation while devices are disconnected from the network server is needed.  This means that a syncing method to ensure that the data in the mobile device that is used for selection lists (for example, jobs and employees) is always up to date with the server will be required.

  • Quick and Easy Operation.   The mobility solution must be easy to use.  This might be accomplished through a simple “point and click” interface.  There should be filtering methods and user-manageable “crew” lists to keep selection lists short.   Network connections should be automatic involving little to no interaction from the user.

  • Support of Advanced Data Capture Features.  Make sure the mobile device and application support features such as GPS stamping, signature capture, bar coding, and any specific time tracking methods that are required to meet your automation objectives.   Many customers today are also requiring biometrics, such as employee fingerprint reading, for more accurate time attendance.

  • Back End Functionality.  Verify that the system supports all required back end functionality, such as supervisor time record approvals, application of overtime rules, or other rules-base automation and interfacing to your accounting/ERP system for seamless data transfers.

Implementing Your Mobile Solution

The proposed solution should be documented up front so that both you and your solution provider have a common expectation.  Initial implementations should have a manageable scope in terms of the number of daily reports to be converted.   Over time, the solution can be expanded to address other field reports.  If you are not yet doing so, leverage mobility and wireless technology today to position your company to win in an increasingly competitive landscape.

Biometrics for Construction

Enterprises are increasingly implementing biometrics into their workforce management solutions for access control and to eliminate both intentional and error-driven time theft, which by industry estimates amount to 1.5% to 10% of gross payroll. Biometric readers offer the only effective means of dealing with buddy-punching, the practice of one worker clocking in or out for another.

We have been implementing biometric timeclock solutions for the past twelve years, working with construction companies, shipyards, and other enterprises.   Our biometric solutions are fingerprint based, due to reliability and the ease and speed of use by employees.  For any construction company interested in implementing biometrics for the work force, there are a number of questions that will need to be answered, such as:

  • Do you need a fixed timeclock, a mobile solution or both with inter-operability?
  • How many employees will be using each device and how will it be used?
  • Do you need to be able to operate when there is no network connectivity?
  • What functions besides basic clock in and clock out will you need to satisfy Payroll, Human Resources as well as job costing?
  • Do you need the flexibility to modify the functionality over time as your requirements may change?

The answers to these questions may direct you from a limited function wall mounted timeclock to a completely programmable PC or tablet solution with fingerprint reading.

Responding to customer requests, the PowerTrack team has developed a range of biometric solutions including a web-based Touch PC kiosk solution for fixed job sites and a iPad solution for mobile workforces that also need the ability to work offline.

With our iPad biometric application, a supervisor can pass his/her iPad around to the crew and each can clock in to the job.   No need to swipe a badge or enter an employee ID number – just have the worker touch a finger and he or she is instantly identified.  For clock out, custom questions can be answered like “were you injured today?”

Since the introduction of these biometric solutions, our customers have been keeping us busy adding more features to them.  We see an increased interest in biometrics along with a shift from the traditional limited function timeclocks to more flexible fuller screen solutions.    With our experience, the PowerTrack team is well positioned to meet these needs.

Construction Companies Barcoding Inventories – Where to Start?

Our company has deep roots in barcoding. In fact, we were helping retailers and manufacturers with their barcoding systems long before we introduced our first mobile solution for the construction market.

It is exciting for us to now be working with so many construction companies on their barcoding needs – whether for inventories, tools or equipment. We’re finding that barcoding is especially helpful in the electrical and HVAC contractor segments, where managing parts inventories is so important.

When we help a customer with their barcoding plans, we cover the following areas:

1.  Objectives

What will be barcoded and why?  If inventory is being barcoded, when will it be scanned and for what reasons – inventory transfers, inventory consumption, cycle counting?  In order to design an effective barcoding system, it is important to know up front the expected functions of the system.

2.  Applications

Are we adding barcoding to existing (key entry) applications or will we need to design new applications that integrate the barcode scanning functions. Who will be doing the barcode scanning and what degree of mobility will they need? Will the application need to work even if there is no connectivity to the host database?

3.  Symbology

There are several different barcode standards, called symbologies, which differ primarily by the type and amount of data that they can represent. These symbologies are either linear or 2 dimensional, with the 2D codes holding much more data. We will recommend an appropriate symbology as required by the data to be encoded.

4.  Scanning Hardware

If scanning will take place at a desktop computer, we will normally recommend a cordless hand held scanner, connected via Bluetooth wireless to the computer.

For workers that require a mobile device, there are several options. In scan-intensive environments, we will normally recommend a rugged Android smartphone such as the Zebra Technologies TC52 with integrated scanner. For scenarios that are not scan intensive (i.e., only occasional scanning) and where the customer has chosen a consumer-class smartphone, we will design a barcode and labeling solution that will optimize the scanning experience using the smartphone’s integrated camera.

5.  Label and Printing

One of the common questions that our label experts ask is “what does the label need to do?” This question encompasses many things, such as the length of time the label must survive, environmental conditions, dimension requirements, required barcode and human readable data, type of surface that the label needs to adhere to, etc. Based on the answers to these questions, we will recommend a label material, size and adhesive combination that is best for the circumstances.

We will also recommend the appropriate barcode printer based on the type of labels to be printing and the amount of printing to be done.

As can be seen, there are quite a few considerations in designing a barcode solution. It is important to make sure that your solution provider has the expertise to design a barcode solution that is right for your situation.

Grid-Style Time Entry

Not all customers are the same, and this is certainly true when it comes to mobile timekeeping.   As time entry using smartphones continue to grow in popularity, we have found that there are some cases where a different approach may be warranted.   I am referring to a grid-style timesheet entry, which necessarily requires a larger display area than is available on a smartphone or even a mini-tablet.

The typical use-case for grid-style entry is a construction company where field supervisors are currently using a spreadsheet for crew time entry, where crew sizes are large and/or involve work on many different phases or cost codes during a shift.   This will result in supervisors entering a large amount of information each day.   By laying out employees and equipment on one axis, and the phases/cost codes on the other, the grid style provides an efficient method for entering and viewing timesheet data.

There are two PowerTrack grid-style daily timesheet applications – one runs on the iPad and the other is Windows based – for PC’s, laptops and the Microsoft Surface tablet.   These applications are designed for rapid entry of time and daily journal information; and then by submission, instantly creating potentially dozens of records for subsequent review and importing into the customer’s accounting/ERP system.  The PowerTrack daily timesheet applications are highly configurable, and are designed to work in a disconnected environment – where a network connection is unavailable.

How do we determine what is the best mobile timekeeping solution for a particular customer?   We accomplish this through our discovery sessions with customers, where we explore both their timekeeping requirements and IT infrastructure plans.  In these sessions, we may ask questions such as:

What is the average crew size and the variety of work on a shift?

What is the technology that crew supervisors will have at their disposal – laptops, tablets, smartphones?

What are the shortcomings of the customer’s current paper-based time entry method, and what are they looking to achieve with the new system?

With a completed discovery engagement, we will have a good understanding of the customer’s environment and can recommend a suitable path for their time entry automation and mobility requirements.   Combined with our complete line of mobile time entry software, we are then well positioned to deliver a solution that will be right for the customer.

Mobile in Construction – Blazing New Trails

I recently organized a trail ride for my family while on vacation in Oregon. Since several in our party had never been on a horse, our trail guide took care to match each rider with a suitable horse, even sharing the personality of each horse. While the horses traveled at the right pace for our inexperienced riders, it soon became clear that the mental composition of each of our horses was very simple – to follow the leader.

Just as our horses dutifully followed the trail guide, we now see construction companies following the trail of the early leaders in mobility. Mobility has delivered on its promises of efficiency and return on investment. We are working with ever more construction companies using our PowerTrack software to implement field mobility solutions. Some of the characteristics and trends that we see among the leading construction companies are as follows:

  • A Platform for Mobility

Companies want to minimize the number of different enterprise applications that their field people must work with. They demand a flexible application platform that can be used for a variety of field data collection, including labor time capture, equipment, and material usage, inventory moves and more. In today’s environment, they also want this application to run on a variety of OS platforms (Android, iOS, Windows) as well as Web browsers.

  • Tracking materials, equipment, and tools with barcodes

Using the same mobile platform, we are increasingly implementing barcoding with construction companies to track material, equipment and tool moves. Barcoding is essential for gaining financial control over inventories and reducing lost tools and equipment.

For scan-intensive applications, we recommend a commercial Android device with a dedicated barcode imager. The integrated camera on consumer Android or iPhones is more suitable for occasional barcode reading.

  • iPads in Construction

While we work with many customers using iPhones and Android smartphones to host their mobile applications, when it comes to tablets, the iPad is the overwhelming favorite. So much so, that the iPad platform has accounted for much of our product development over the past few years.

Compared to smartphones, the iPad can support additional flexibility in data entry, such as grid style labor entry. It is also a superior platform for displaying reports and other information. Applications such as PowerTrack can leverage iPad’s inherent capabilities including voice translation for daily log notes, GPS, image and signature capture.

Mobility in construction has experienced dynamic change over the past few years. Going forward, Apple and Android will continue to offer new innovations for application providers to leverage. Microsoft is becoming more competitive with their Surface products and the popular Windows 10 operating system. HTML 5 is becoming a more powerful language for web development. The wireless carriers will be offering more and better services.

Our challenge is to take advantage of the changing technology environment, offer innovative mobility solutions and continue to support construction leaders as they blaze new trails for the industry.

Introducing the PowerTrack Guy

We are pleased to introduce Axel, the PowerTrack guy, to the construction world.  If you visit us at a tradeshow, you will find us by looking for this guy on our booth backdrop.  They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Mobile devices are taking the construction industry by storm, and our mascot, Axel,  gets that point across with a single image—a big, burly construction worker using a smartphone. Some have asked if he is taking a selfie. Clearly not—as you can see that the camera is facing away from Axel.

We would like to imagine that Axel has just completed entering the time for his entire crew, in addition to his material and equipment usage and production information. Now he is about to take a picture of job progress, and submit that with his daily log information. PowerTrack will make sure the image is cataloged with the correct job for future reference.

At the end of the day, Axel knows that all of his information has been safely transferred to headquarters for the office staff to review. He can end his day without worrying about running paper reports into the office.

Of course, Axel is a fictional character, but our PowerTrack software is working every day to make this same scenario a reality for construction companies across the country.

Our Company Name Change

Control Solutions, Inc., parent company of PowerTrack, announced today that it will be named POSDATA Group, Inc., effective immediately. The name change is part of a re-branding initiative and corporate restructuring.

“The rebranding will allow us to better leverage our marketing efforts and create a greater impact on the market” said Jeffrey Creighton, company President.  “All parts of the business will now go to market as POSDATA Group as we emphasize our leadership position in providing a full range of transaction processing technologies.”

The automatic identification, mobile computing and wireless networking part of the company, previously doing business as Compsee, will operate now as POSDATA Group – AIDC. The PowerTrack name and brand will remain the same.

Bill McCubbins, Executive Vice President, will be responsible for managing sales of all product lines.   In addition to AIDC products, POSDATA Group markets payment systems and devices, managed services such as logistics, deployment and key injection, and mobile software solutions for field data collection.

The name change will be phased in across all aspects of the business in the relatively near future.

About POSDATA Group

POSDATA Group is a leading payment systems distributor as well as a nationwide AIDC VAR and integrator.

POSDATA Group provides AIDC, mobile computing and RF systems, labeling systems and data collection solutions for a variety of markets, including manufacturing, distribution, transportation, retail, construction and healthcare.

POSDATA Group is also the most knowledgeable and trusted distributor of payment systems and devices in the United States, with full key injection and deployment capabilities.

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A downloadable version of this press release is available here.

For inquiries, contact Mike Kapp
POSDATA Group, Inc.
1-800-852-3282
mike.kapp@posdata.com