With humankind’s ever increasing dependence on handheld technology, one could argue that it is a simple evolutionary step that planning tools leave the confines of the site office and thrive in the hustle and bustle of the construction site. As planners, we are all too aware of the pain challenge of chasing a construction manager or engineer to provide an accurate progress update by the usual deadline. The days of deciphering horribly handwritten updates on a crumpled A3 print out are coming to an end. Elecosoft has been developed the first version of its Site Progress Mobile tool with the aim to make the life of a site planner easier and more efficient.
So what is this tool and how can it help me you may ask? It is an extension to the ASTA Power Project planning software that allows for easy site to office progress reporting via your mobile or tablet devices. The planner simply allocates the relevant components of the work breakdown structure (WBS) to a site representative, sets the parameters and uploads the request to the cloud. The site representative responsible for the update can then download the programme via the Site Progress Mobile App (available on all platforms) directly to their phone and commence recording progress at their leisure. Progress can be recorded at any time and at any location and doesn’t require an internet connection which is useful for remote sites. Once the progress has been recorded for the defined data date and the user is content with their input, the information is uploaded to the cloud from the handheld device. The planner can then simply import the user’s data from the admin portal straight into to master programme. The benefit of the tool is that the progress is integrated seamlessly with the programme, so there is no need to manually input progress for each work package thus reducing the risk of human error whilst entering data.
The Progress Mobile App itself contains a number of useful features that assists the user in providing accurate and relevant information that the planning team might not normally acquire. The user interface of the programme has the usual parameters you would expect like Actual Start, Actual Finish, Remain Duration etc., but also allows you to record notes and even take photos of the specific activity. Once the user’s update is uploaded to the cloud and imported into the programme by the planner, the pictures are uploaded to a centralised project server location and a date stamped link is populated in a special user defined column. This is an effective tool to visually monitor the progress onsite and can be all accessed from the programme. Overall the applications allows for more engagement from the site team and enables them a simple and effective tool to record accurate progress.
While the mobile App is still in its first generation, there are definitely a number of improvements required by the app, firstly and most importantly the programme can only be allocated by level’s in the WBS, it would be more useful to have the option to allocate by code library or by resource. This way the planner would have more flexibility in allocating tasks to the correct work package manager or representative. I think the app also needs to incorporate a notification tool which reminds the user when a progress deadline is approaching or a new progress update is available for download. If these tools were implemented it would greatly increase the effectiveness and usability of the application.
I guess the final question people want to know is, ‘Does it work in practice’? I have had the challenge to roll out the tool on the Battersea Power Station Phase 2 and surprisingly I haven’t faced too much resistance. A majority of the project teams have been receptive to the tool due to the simplicity of the user interface of the app. The users are already somewhat savvy with the general use of their smart phones, so the uptake period of familiarising themselves with the app has been quite short. The main conclusions we have identified from utilising the tool is that we are spending less time chasing teams for progress and less time manually inputting progress data into the programme. The users have been providing accurate ‘Actual Start’ and ‘Actual Finish’ dates as they have convenience of having their mobile on hand on site. We have also noticed we are receiving more information in regards to delays and productivity outputs through the notes from the site teams. We are also able to verify the progress recorded through photos uploaded and linked to the programme. Overall I think Elecosoft are steering planning and scheduling in the right direction and with a little more development and input from the industry I believe the days of manually entering data are coming to a sweet end.