Enterprise Project Management (EPM) Software Choices for Small Contractors


Part ii: 5 Ways an EPM Bundle Can Work for You

EPM bundles are nothing new for the construction industry; however, they are ever changing and evolving; some more dynamically than others. The most visible change is ease of usability. The range of EPM program choices is as diverse, as it is expanding rapidly. As you consider your options, it is important to consider what your needs and resources are, and what they will be going forward, when you make your EPM selection.

Newer programs tend to be offered as SaaS, or (Software as a Service (see previous post), as opposed to software that lives on your server and LAN. Indeed, some EPM modules bear striking resemblances to their initial resource hogging roll-outs from the 20th century, for example, those which still lack a GUI (graphic-user interface, or icons), or are strictly menu-based. Other developers – typically those with more market-share and resources, offer powerful GUIs with loads of customizations. That being said, EPM technology does not appear to be mainstreamed, nor does any one developer seem to monopolize the market-place. Both of these considerations may color your decision making process.

EPM platforms are most useful to construction managers and general contractors who are required to process, organize, and circulate large volumes of diverse information and notifications to job team members: designers, subcontractors, vendors, for their entire project portfolio. Most rely on their own brand, or system, of stand-alone templates and procedures that exist only on their LAN (local area network). Smaller contractors may have less of a need to purchase such a program, as they typically have less documentation to process, because they are not in a gatekeeper or stewardship role in the way that construction managers and general contractors are; however, as a team member on an EPM based project, they often find them beneficial.

Yet, lag in IT savvy and demotivation among smaller, and less progressive, firms is still not uncommon. Construction managers and general contractors often must process their subcontractor and vendors’ documents for them. It must also be said that many architects and engineers perceive their participation in a contractor’s EPM program as either ceding control, or as an extra and unnecessary burden. Of course, there are architects who insist that the project team uses their tools; typically a basic FTP (file transfer protocol) site, which does not have a relational database that EPM platforms offer: they merely have a directory tree with folders and files, where documents can be uploaded or downloaded, and are read-only – with no application functionality. Invariably, it is the design team that makes the final decision as to which, if any, such management tool will be utilized. It is highly unusual for the design team to invoke an EPM process.

Disorganization is plainly evident in the absence of a viable system on many large or complex projects, whether an EPM platform is utilized, or not. However, the mere presence of an EPM platform in no way guarantees its efficacy. This is especially true when use is unilateral, or only part of the team participates. Such circumstances create fragmentation of your information sharing initiative, and are a detriment to the integrity of your documentation. You may find that there are varying levels of team participation within your portfolio: some projects will utilize it more than others.

Changing over from stand-alone or LAN based systems to EPM platforms has myriad benefits, even for small contractors. Herewith are five advantages EPM platforms may offer:

1. A cohesive and centralized portfolio management solution, that encourages teamwork, and allows for optimal control of documentation, by creating a central repository that all can readily access. EPM platforms create a central nervous system for your whole project portfolio. EPM platforms also have the ability to read – or convert, third-party file formats, such as AutoDesk .dwg, and Primavera 6 .xer file extensions, however, as stated above functionality is typically read-only.

2. Runs in the Cloud: access to platform from anywhere. Storing in the Cloud, or on a provider’s server, obviates the need for local backup, and allows access to real-time data from any Web portal, and any Internet capable device. This is a rapidly increasing trend in many industries. Participants need not purchase or own the program to participate.*

*Note, not all EPM programs are optimized for Android, and many lack iOS (Apple i-Phone) apps or usabilty.

3. Encourages team-wide integration and participation, including the owner, in a single user-friendly interface. Administrators set the level of access to individual team members.

4. Minimizes the likelihood of data-fragmentation and duplication of non-EPM documentation arrangements. Instead of wasting time sorting out confusion, you will minimize its likelihood, and as a result, be more efficient; achieving your goals in a fraction of the time had you relied on manual or stand-alone communication platforms.

5. Superior file management and organizational systems minimizes errors and omissions. The relational database of an EPM platform is far more sophisticated than any manual processes and protocols necessary without such a program. What’s more, EPM platforms come with standard and customizable templates for documents such as submittals, RFIs, and meeting minutes. The integrity of these templates varies widely among EPM platforms, as does the ability to customize.

There are other things to bear in mind, such as the cost of the program and training of personnel. Always ask about the cost of licensing, or the fee charged for each user. When considering a particular program, you may want to investigate how popular the program is among your peers and design professionals you work with. Else you run the risk of adopting a white elephant.

Derek Graham is an independent building consultant with RepOne and the author of “Managing Residential Construction Projects: Strategies & Solutions,” McGraw Hill: New York (2006).

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