PlanGrid Construction Productivity Blog
Transitioning to a paperless construction company

Transitioning to a paperless construction company

Our definitive guide to going digital will help you mitigate risk, increase ROI, and boost your productivity — no matter which solution you choose.

If you’re reading this, you probably already know that the construction industry is behind. The US Department of Commerce has shown that, since the 1960s, construction productivity has remained stagnant, while other industries plow ahead.

Image c/o BIM Specialist LLC

Why? Technology — or a lack of it.

It’s been a long time since office workers stopped sending paper letters in favor of email, but many construction companies still rely on their version of snail mail — paper blueprints — to this day. Soon, builders that continue to use paper will fall further and further behind, just like office workers that still send regular mail instead of email for quick business communications.

Imagine updating an entire team’s blueprints in real-time, without needing to wait for a new set to be printed, delivered, and distributed. Going paperless isn’t just about saving the environment. It’s a drastic upswing in productivity for you and your business.

There are a myriad of reasons to make the switch to a digital construction management solution, including (but not limited to):

  • Time: No more trudging back and forth from the jobsite to the trailer. Digital solutions do the walking for you, so you can keep on building.
  • Rework: Take a look at your last project. Find out how much you spent on rework due to working from outdated plans. A good digital construction solution will help you dramatically reduce rework, since everyone will always have the most current set of documents on hand.
  • Paper and printing: How much did you spend on paper and printing on your last project? You can reduce (or entirely remove) these costs with the right software.
  • Organization: Things get lost, and paper is destroyed easily, but the cloud is always there. Never again will you need to worry about waterlogged, torn, or missing plans.
  • Accountability: The best construction software will let you see who did what, where, and when. No more trying to decipher handwriting or figure out who marked up that sheet.
  • The environment: Paper needs to come from somewhere, and using less paper means fewer trees are cut down. Everyone wins.
Photo: Chris Bank

If you’re still using paper but you’re ready to switch to a digital construction solution, it’s important to do it right. Even the best solutions can backfire without proper preparation.

1: Choose your new platform

Once you’ve decided to make the switch, it’s time to decide which software to use. This isn’t a decision to be taken lightly — your choices will affect the way your business operates, and you’ll be trusting them with your valuable data.

First, conduct an audit of all available platforms. Ask around at other companies: what are they using and why? Do some research, list pros and cons, and be as detailed as possible. You should consider things like:

  • Functionality: What will you be using most (e.g. markups, RFIs, as-builts)? Figure out what you need, what you want, and what would be nice to have.
  • Integrations: Do you already use other systems (like Box, CMiC, or Newforma) that integrate with your potential new software? What manual work will the integrations help to automate?
  • Customer love: Which companies listen to their users and make regular updates to their apps? What do their reviews say on the different app stores?
  • Platform compatibility: Does your team use iPhones, iPads, Android devices, Windows devices, or a mixture? Will your chosen app work on the devices you need it to work on?
  • Support: What do the reviews say about support? Is it easy to get instant help? Are there resources (in-person training, consulting, etc.) available to make rollout even easier?

Once you’ve chosen a platform, it’s time to do some spring cleaning.

2: Clean and organize

You’ve chosen your platform. Good work! Now it’s time to get everything ready for your shiny new system. Every company is different, so how you go about preparing to switch to a digital solution will vary depending on how you operate.

We recommend — where possible — purging your paper docs and plans. Scan and upload as much as you can to your chosen file storage system. Make sure you decide on naming conventions and stick to them. If your file storage system allows tagging, use it to make it easier to find things in the future.

In short: get rid of as much paper as you can. Then it’s time to…

3: Learn, learn, learn!

The best software is easy to use, but it should also be powerful — and unleashing the full power of any tool involves getting to know it intimately.

As part of your selection process, you’ll hopefully have chosen a platform that offers support and training. Now is the time to utilize this, especially if rolling out on a large project or across a company. The right consultant will help you establish company or project-wide standards, naming conventions, and workflows; saving everyone a ton of time in the future.

Ensure that you:

  • Get your team together and decide how you’ll use the software to maximize its ROI.
  • Document your processes so that anyone can refer to them in the future.
  • Use all resources available to you (training, consultation, etc.) from your chosen platform, so that you’re prepared when it’s time to go live.

4: Roll out

You’ve selected a new tool, cleaned house, and learned everything you can. Now it’s time to test out all of your preparation and find out how the new system works in the real world.

While using your new software system, record as much as possible, and attach dollar values wherever you can (material costs, labor costs, etc.):

  • How much time are you saving?
  • How much rework are you avoiding? What were the potential costs associated?
  • Where is the software lacking? This is valuable feedback for your software provider, so be sure to keep track of potential improvements.
  • What isn’t working/what should you have done differently during rollout?
  • Which tools are being underutilized, or not used at all?
  • Is everyone on the project team following the standards put in place during training?

The more you record now, the easier it will be to evaluate the success of the rollout later.

5: Evaluate

This is arguably the most important of all the steps. There’s no point continuing with a paperless solution if it doesn’t work for you and save you time and money.

If you’ve taken step 4 seriously and have recorded time and money savings, you might be able to calculate your ROI. This is an important number, since it’s likely you spent money on acquiring the system, training, and rollout — but exactly how much did you save?

Hold a post-mortem after the project is complete. Get your team together around a meal, a drink, or both, and ask yourselves:

  • How much money and time did you save with the new system?
  • What did people like/not like about it?
  • What could we do better to prepare next time?
  • Did the training and preparation make a noticeable impact on the success of your rollout?
  • What feedback do we have for the software developers?
  • Should we use this system again or try something new?

Consolidate your feedback, pass it on to the software company, and make a plan for your next project to make the whole process even smoother.

Welcome to the construction revolution!

Author: Erica-Lee Lick


PlanGrid is used on hundreds of thousands of projects around the world, saving construction companies time and money every day. Ready to make the switch? Visit www.plangrid.com or call us: 800–646–0796

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