Today’s construction industry is changing faster than ever before. In fact, when surveyed, many in the industry agree it has finally reached or stepped over the precipice of major, holistic change thanks to the likes of Covid-19 and supply chain changes, generational demographic shifts as the Baby Boomer generation retires en-masse, and the clashing of economic winds like a hurricane borne of two decades of historically low interest rates and ample government funding slamming headlong into rising inflation and a labor market wound tight as a drum. A perfect storm of factors unlikely to occur simultaneously for another century has driven the industry to rethink and retool the way it performs work; and for the better. Now is the time for technology to be embraced in a way that other industries like aerospace had decades ago when faced with similar challenges.
If the challenge is the fuel which powers the engines of change, the industry is now pedal-to-the-floor. However, running anything at its maximum is bound to break it eventually. This downside is where leveraging technology can help reduce the burden, bring processes back to a manageable level, and provide a needed barrier against failure. After all, it is possible to have too much of a good thing.
This is where Appia and Infotech’s suite of ITI products rises to meet and exceed the needs of the industry. At its core, Appia is a fully functional construction administration & inspection software. Similar to its competitors, it is a cloud-based, user-friendly application which boasts the ability to record daily work, track contractor’s labor and machinery, and record items and quantities placed for payment authorization. Furthermore, its ability to easily import worksheet based information, process and analyze data from external bidding sources, automate project setup, track time and milestones, handle materials and testing, process payments and handle retainage and liquidated damages rounds it out nicely as a management software. Not to mention its ability to attach any file types from photos and .pdf to .json and .raw or .dwg files directly into its work reports makes it a streamlined and efficient tool for daily management and inspection of the work. Appia's ability to handle multiple funding packages composed of multiple sources in each package and seamlessly apply those packages and sources on an item by item basis, including on a participating and non-participating basis, make it class leading. Moreover, Appia also has the ability to assign and track materials on a pay item by pay item basis efficiently with a customizable workflow which allows for the requirement and attachment of regulatory documents such as Certified Test Reports and Material Certificates while also designating quantities approved and then providing a workflow for payment quantity verification vs. materials approvals. Overall, Appia is a comprehensive system designed by industry leaders with robust experience in construction administration and inspection for those working in the industry today.
However, it’s when coupled with digital document controls and online bidding and analysis capability, its low per-user cost, robust support and free read-only and reviewer access for project owners and contractors, that it really begins to differentiate itself from its competitors. Take for example, Bid Express; its sister bidding platform which allows for secure bidding complete with digital signing. This product saw tremendous growth during the Covid-19 pandemic as buildings became shuttered and business moved to a virtual format in order to keep the ball moving forward. Coupled with Appia, end-users have an automated workflow which allows for analysis of multiple bids and bid packages with just keystrokes. The automated system ensures complete packages that have I’s fully dotted and T’s fully crossed before accepting bids. Post bidding, owners and agencies can easily perform a bid analysis thanks to pre-loaded bid tabs which allow for easy identification of unbalanced or pennied items along with other bidding anomalies. Once approved for award, the information is seamlessly imported to Appia for project execution.
And yet, that’s only the tip of the iceberg of trouble projects are facing more and more. With reduction of labor forces, restrictions on material acquisition, and degradation of hard skills which underpinned much of the work in the 20th century, projects are finding themselves in an ever more prevalent landscape of disputes, contractor claims, delays, inefficiencies, sanctions, and liquidated damages. Remember that pedal-to-the-floor engine running at its max? Key to avoiding breakdowns in these situations is two-fold: Communication and Documentation.
Appia, in conjunction with its sister product in Doc Express, is where we see the true strength of the suite when it comes to avoiding disaster. A digital document drawer and envelope system which allows any user (paid or free) to pass documents to and from the project in a public or confidential manner, as well as acting as a repository for any and all project documentation, from correspondence to meeting minutes to permitting and approvals. Coupled with Appia’s recent upgrade that integrates push-to and pull-from capabilities to a robust back end audit trail, this particular combination provides a streamlined approach for Owner, Consultant Inspector, Contractor, and Key Stakeholder alike to manage risk while also maintaining communications in a transparent manner.
Utilization of Doc Express for collection, distribution, and approval of agendas, meeting minutes, records of conversations, field books and notes, and everything from timesheets to labor wage checks to insurance and bonding allows for a project to create a digital delivery system which avoids a lot of the “he said, she said” when it comes to potential disputes about delays, payment, and project milestones that may or may not be out of the hands of one stakeholder or the team in total. All too often, when reflected upon, those situations can be avoided in total with good communication and even better documentation.
In the vein of “pennywise and pound foolish” or “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," the per-user cost for Appia and its suite of products pales in comparison to the hourly rates of attorneys, mediators, arbiters, lost productivity, redundant meetings about the breakdown or lack of communication (and the failure to document those meeting adequately), and other wasteful behaviors which ultimately sap resources and profits and can endlessly spiral projects and project teams into no-win project completions, but parties bitter and unsatisfied and reputations tarnished and damaged. Ultimately, good project controls (documentation) with robust accountability (audit trail) that provide a conduit for good communication is that ounce of prevention every project needs from the outset.
Infotech and its suite of ITI products covers that need and covers that need nicely.
In the 3rd and final installment of this blog series, we’ll discuss thinking beyond the sandbox and looking at the more holistic view of data capture, including geomatics, GIS, and lifecycle management as new enhancements to the Appia and ITI suite, and how new partnerships with Trimble and Esri are pushing the boundaries like no other product currently on the market to bring true Digital Project Delivery to market in rapid fashion so keep a lookout as we wrap up this series on Appia - Modernizing Unit-Based Construction Workflows.