Written by Randy Blount
January 16, 2022
While the Dirt World might be slower to adapt to the technological advances, most construction companies these days use some form of technology.
And no matter what the technology is — and in the dirt world this can run the gamut from GPS, modeling, estimating, accounting, time tracking, safety, and even drones — ultimately it can help drive your productivity.
“If there's something out there that helps you be more productive, you have to adopt it,” Blount pointed out. “If you don’t, then sooner or later, you won’t be able to compete. You don’t have to be an early adopter. But you do have to recognize that adoption is a necessity. And yes, it does take work and effort.”
How and when to adopt new technology
Here are some key considerations when it comes to adopting new technology in your dirt world business:
Know when you’ve outgrown your current tech. You might think you’re good to go with the software you’re currently using. But it’s important to know when you’ve outgrown your tech.
“Within a year of taking over after my father got sick, I knew we needed better accounting software,” Blount said. “We were using QuickBooks, and at the time, QuickBooks didn’t allow you to do job costings. And we needed this feature. So we couldn’t stay with QuickBooks.”
The barriers to entry keeps getting lower. You might feel you can’t afford new technology. But while certain technologies can be costly, the barrier to entry is reducing all the time.
Take, for example, drones, which Blount’s company uses for surveying. “Our first drone was $45,000,” he said. “But you can get a Phantom 4 RTK-DJI drone now for about $7500. And it will pay for itself quickly.”
Technology can help in ways you never thought of. Your new tech can often help you in unpredictable ways.
“For example, telematics can tell you when somebody operating the excavator doesn’t have their seatbelt on," Blount said. "We can identify when this happened, and how often it happens. So we know if we need to do some training. I never thought we’d get this with telematics, but it helps our guys be safer.”
It’s not about replacing people with technology. Your people might be pushing back against new tech because they’re worried about losing their jobs. How do you deal with such fears?
“Yes, sometimes the tech means a job can now be done by one person," Blount said. "Take grade checkers, for example. Grade checkers used to work with a laborer who pounded the stakes in. With machines to do this, we’ve freed up this laborer. So we say, let’s use them elsewhere. We don’t say, see you later, we don’t need you. Because we need people.”
How to buy and use technology in the dirt world
Blount has seen the common mistakes contractors make when buying and using technology. The following best practices will help you avoid making similar mistakes on your next tech investment.
Understand your true costs. It’s important to understand the true cost of software. It's not just the sticker price. Ask about training and implementation costs, and consider including those in your budget.
“It can be important to spend more to have someone come train you,” Blount said. “That way, you don’t make expensive mistakes. And you might want to have that person come back after a few weeks. Otherwise you end up doing things your way, rather than the best way. So bring them back, and run through the exercises again. That can really help you with implementation.”
Choose a few super users. Another best practice is to choose a few of your people to go through the implementation and training process. This lets you develop super users who can then help train everyone else, and eventually become the go-to people for the software.
This accelerates adoption, since you won’t be calling the vendor all the time. It’s peer teaching, too, which can be easier for learning how to use the software.
Partner with your tech vendors. You know the vendor wants to oversell you on its services and products. So you do what you can to beat down their price. But you also end up with a very basic service that may not serve you well.
The better approach? Partner with your tech vendors. “Years ago, we were tough on our vendors,” Blount said. “But then we asked, why aren’t we treating them the way we want to be treated? So we decided to change. And now, even though we’re paying for premium service, our profitability margins keep going up. We hear stuff like, how come Blount always gets what they need? Yes, we do, but it’s because we treat our vendors like partners.”
There is no easy button. Purchasing software is about more than just paying for the software. You have to also invest time and effort into the process, pay extra costs for training and implementation, and work toward fully adopting the technology.
“If you go into it thinking, this is going to be quick and easy, you’re mistaken,” Blount said. “You won’t implement it, you won’t like it, and it won’t make a difference to you. Because it takes a lot of work to get it implemented and integrated into your business.”
In the dirt world, having the right tech is often the thing that will keep you competitive. But tech purchases are about more than paying money so you can use the software.
Here’s what you can do to get full value out of your next tech investment:
Know the true costs of the software. Look beyond the sticker price. You need to factor in the time and money it takes to fully integrate the software into your business and train your people to use it.
Leverage a few super users. Train a few of your people to be super users who can help teach everyone else in your organization.
Form beneficial partnerships. Don’t have an antagonistic relationship with your tech vendors. Partner with them, and reap the benefits.
Don’t count on the easy button. There isn’t one. Adopting new technology takes more than just money. You have to put in the time and the effort if you want to use your new software well.
Written by Randy Blount
January 16, 2022