By MARTY HOOPER
The construction industry is unique. A significant percentage of companies are started and run by the very craftsmen who worked in the industry. People excelling in their trade realized they could turn their skill of working for someone else into their own successful business. But, as their business grew, their craft knowledge would need to be bolstered with operational expertise, including smarts in maintaining inventory levels, paying employees, complying with OSHA regulations and more. The list is exhaustive.
Construction companies face the challenge of keeping pace with the incredibly fast growth of technology and computer systems. While firms want to adopt the latest technology to help their workflow, it’s a constant struggle to decide which technology to adopt and when. One of the forgotten aspects of technology is not the external apps that help locate workers, collect time and track assets, but rather the underlying technology present in every workplace. The local network is the backbone that supports all the functions of enterprise resource planning, accounting, estimating and bidding systems and the technology supporting them.
Not only do companies need constant IT support in the form of system monitoring, backups, intrusion protection, updates and virus protection, they also need a trusted adviser to guide them through the purchase, upgrade and support of their system.
There are realistically three ways to get the proper IT support:
- Hire a full-time IT person or staff. This is the most desirable option but is also the costliest. The advantage of a full-time IT staff is that your staff, whether it’s one person or several, is focused solely on your business. You don’t have to worry about their availability and whether they will be accessible during an emergency. They are also a great resource to guide the company through purchases, upgrades and managing growth. Just like your construction manager forecasts labor and material needs for jobs, a good IT manager can help forecast technology needs and plan a forward-looking roadmap for the future. Internal IT professionals helping your staff with issues that arise. They’re onsite when needed without advanced scheduling. Since internal IT support is tasked with setting up and maintaining your network, they will be the most familiar with your operation and its specific needs. There are a lot of upsides to having a full-time IT staff, but there also a few downsides. First, it can be cost prohibitive for smaller companies to hire a full-time IT person or staff. With competitive salary and benefits considered, the yearly cost can be more than $100,000 per employee. Second, it can be challenging to hire a qualified – or even to know what questions to ask during an interview. A single internal IT staffer may leave the company and take all the knowledge with him or her, leaving your firm without anyone who knows your system. That’s why it’s best to make sure everything is documented and accessible to upper-level management so that no one individual holds the keys to the kingdom.
- Hire an outside staff that specializes in supporting construction companies. While not as advantageous as hiring internal staff, many managed service providers have experience supporting clients in the construction industry. One of the benefits of hiring an MSP is the cost savings. You can hire a competent and professional firm to manage your IT infrastructure for a much smaller price tag than hiring your own IT staff. A good MSP will be able to assist with day-to-day operations and help you plan for upgrades and growth. Since they generally have a good-sized staff, you should get a fairly quick response when any issues that arise. Make sure they have a good monitoring system that alerts them of any issues before you, the user, notice them. But there are also pitfalls with hiring an MSP. You may not know if the external IT contractor is facing staffing shortages; your calls to support may be delayed. With many clients to manage, the outside firm may become overwhelmed, and your issues may not be addressed in a timely fashion. Critical issues may be overlooked that can have major consequences – such as server failure or network outages – that can bring your company to a halt. It’s best to evaluate the potential IT contractor’s response time and request staffing information from them before retaining their services so you can feel comfortable.
- Train someone on your existing staff who may have a different role but has the bandwidth to take on the role of IT coordinator. This is the least desirable option, but for smaller companies it may be the only option. In this case, it’s advisable to get that person as much training as possible. They will also need ongoing training as technology changes so they can stay up to date. Some outside consultants will assist in training your staff to take on the duties of an onsite IT staff. In this scenario, the safest course of action is to offload as much of the local network functions as possible. Moving as much as you can to the cloud will lessen the load on your IT person and help protect your valuable data.
Whichever option suits your company best, consult with companies that are the same size as yours to get ideas and methods that work for them. Make sure you’re comfortable with “your IT guy,” no matter what form through which you receive his or her expertise.
Marty Hooper is a senior sales representative for Deltek ComputerEase. He has been helping clients in the construction industry with their software and technology needs throughout the Midwest for the past eight years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.