How to Rollout the Right Technology for Your Field Team
Although construction is one of the least digitized industries, many firms have found that investing in mobile construction tech is the key to increasing overall project productivity. Whether you have already invested in mobile technology for your field team or are planning to soon, how can you ensure the devices you give your staff are actually improving your bottom line? The answer lies in how you are equipping these tools to fit the needs of your team, with the right accessories making a world of a difference.
Transitioning your team from old school to modern day construction tech can feel overwhelming, especially with the abundance of operating systems, devices, and peripherals to choose from. Since, good technology is designed to make your life easier and increase your productivity on the jobsite, the selection process should be considerably discerning.
In this blog post, I’ll offer some guidelines on how to simplify the construction tech and tablet rollout, as well as help you choose the right gear to outfit your field team. With over 10 years in the industry, I’m basing my recommendations on what I’ve personally used, what I’ve seen used by construction teams around the country, and by highest rated online recommendations. I’ll go into specific details below, but to give you a preview of all my gear recommendations for your field team, and to help you plan for your next device rollout, take a look (and share) our construction tech supergraphic:
Please note that this post will be focused solely on iOS devices, but be on the lookout for similar posts from us in the future that will cover Android and the Window Surface Pro. If you just need a quick reference to these construction tech recommendations, you can also click the links below:
What They Don’t Tell You About New Technology…
When I rolled out iPads for my team at FSG Electric back in 2013, I chose them because of their intuitive interface, robust design, long battery life, and the compatibility with apps/programs I was already using. What I wasn’t prepared for was the setup, distribution, and long-term maintenance I would have to deal with after I handed them out to each foreman.
Whether you were like me back in 2013, you’re probably starting off from one of these two scenarios: you have already purchased a couple of iPads but haven’t standardized a full rollout and don’t know how to choose the right peripherals or you have no idea where to begin regarding iPads, let alone accessories.
Each of these situations has their own unique set of challenges and can seem overwhelming to implement—but no need to panic. Below, I’ll help walk you through the process, no matter which stage you’re at, so you can bring the right construction tech to your team that improves your overall productivity on the job.
If you’re starting from scratch, the best place to evaluate iPads specs is on Apple’s website. Currently, there are four different models available to choose from with various upgrades, but don’t let this overwhelm you. To narrow down your choice, you’ll want to take these three categories into consideration when choosing your main construction tech:
- Storage space
For superintendents that will be using their iPad on the job site daily, I recommend opting for just the standard iPad or even the iPad Mini, which are both great for on-the-go use and more cost-effective than their big brother—the Pro. Though the iPad Pro’s screen size may be mesmerizing at first glance, take into consideration that your team is going to be lugging around a two-pound, paper-sized tablet with them all day, not to mention its protective case will add additional size and weight. At the end of the day, it’s up to you if you think the device serves your needs, but just note that the Pro may not be the best solution for daily field use.
Perhaps one of the most common questions when choosing an iPad is: should I purchase iPads with or without a cellular package? You can easily find this answer by asking yourself the following: how important is it for my team to be connected to the latest construction documents and emails throughout their projects? If you answered “very important”, I would advise doing additional research to evaluate cellular carrier plans. Though the price difference in WiFi vs cellular data is only about $130 per unit, it’s of course important to determine if it’s in your fiscal budget to pay for everyone on the team to have a cellular plan.
On the other hand, a majority of customers that I have worked with opt for just the standard Wi-Fi enabled iPad. Many of them have found that they can easily circumvent the connectivity issue by either tethering their iPad to their company phone, purchase a Wifi hotspot for the job trailer, or just sync at the office, home, or even a local coffee shop. Even better, some select apps can provide offline support for the jobsite. For instance, one of the perks that our PlanGrid users already enjoy is being able to access all their documents without a WiFi or cell connection so they can create markups, log issues, or take photos on the job. Once they get back to headquarters, they can sync their updates to the cloud. With this in mind, a complete understanding of how your team accesses documents remotely and whether you’re using cloud-based apps will make the WiFi vs data decision a cinch for your construction tech.
When it comes down to storage space or memory on an iPad, I try to make it simple by splitting the field and office into two categories. For instance, a foreman or super might typically have one or two projects that they’re running at any given time, whereas a project manager may have five to ten projects they’re overseeing throughout the year. With this in consideration, I’d generally allocate iPads with a more significant memory capacity to the personnel with more projects. A good rule of thumb is to double down on memory for the office versus what you plan for the field.
Of course, these suggestions go out the window when you’re working on a massive high rise or mega projects. For instance, in the case of the new Oceanwide Center in San Francisco, the initial IFC set of plans totaled over 1,700 sheets alone. If you’re dealing with similarly sized projects, I strongly suggest springing for the highest memory capacity available so you never have to worry about overloading your device.
If you already have iPads distributed to your staff, you’ll want to do an assessment every so often to determine if the technology is still relevant, as you may have rolled them out several years prior. So, what do you do if you already have iPads but worry they might no longer be up to speed? The first thing you want to do is to verify that they’re not obsolete and worth the continual investment. To do this, you can start by checking what model has been distributed to your team members. This link is a useful guide to help you identify which iPad models are no longer adequate to handle today’s innovative construction tools. Once you have determined which iPads are still usable, you can then decide whether or not to purchase newer iPads or stick with the ones you got. Don’t forget to also check that any software or applications that you plan to run on your mobile devices will continue to be compatible with current iOS updates.
By now, you probably have a good idea of what type of iPads you’re going to purchase, or at least what you have that’s currently usable. At this point, you might be wondering how are you going to set them all up and distribute to your team to keep them as productive as possible? This is where Mobile Device Management (MDM) software can be your new best friend and help you setup, deploy, manage, and secure your iPads. With MDM software, you can seamlessly manage company iPads, new or old, standardize/restrict default applications, push updates en masse, and enable security measures to protect your investments. If you’re responsible for this process and IT isn’t your day job, I recommend checking out JAMF, which can make setup a breeze for small businesses and teams. Other MDM providers worth researching include:
Now that you’ve invested a significant budget into your iPads, and tailored them for your team, you’ll want to protect them with sturdy cases to ensure tablets aren’t broken day one on the job site. With so many cases available to choose from, it’s difficult for first time buyers to know what to look for. As a necessity, you’ll want to make sure that the case you choose meets the following three criteria to truly preserve your expensive construction tech:
Criteria 1 — Full Envelope Protective Enclosure
When I say full envelope enclosure, I refer to cases that entirely enclose the iPad, back to front, with a screen protector. As I’m sure we’re all aware, there are a variety of mini-disasters on the jobsite just waiting to damage an iPad, including but not limited to spatter from nearby welding, falling debris, and gypsum board dust. Therefore, having a fully enclosed case will protect your iPad from these hazards and more.
Criteria 2 — Drop Protection
A good case should have decent drop protection of about 3 meters, or 10 feet. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in the trade, at one point in time or another, you will inevitably drop a tool by accident and the same applies to your tablet. By factoring in a decent drop distance into your case purchase, you’ll rest easy when the unfortunate time comes it takes a tumble down stairs or worse.
Criteria 3 — Portability
Finally, you’ll want to think about the portability of your case purchase. One thing to consider is how often you and your team will be referencing your iPads on a daily basis and prioritize based on that. Some cases have built-in features such as stands and hand straps, while others focus simply on protection. A case that strikes a good balance between portability and comfort, will most likely be the best option for your team.
Now that we’ve established the evaluation criteria of a good case for the jobsite, I’ve narrowed down a list of five recommendations that may suit your needs to protect your construction tech.
Case 1 — Gladius Series by New Trent
The Gladius series makes it first on the list as it meets all of the three criteria I previously mentioned. It not only fully encases the iPad in a durable rubber outer shell, but it can withstand a 3-meter drop and is compatible with iPads new and old. What truly makes this case stand out from the pack is its 360-degree durable leather handle that can make punch list walking a breeze. When you’re not walking the job site, an added benefit is that it can effortlessly be propped up on your desk with its built-in adjustable kickstand.
Case 2 — FRĒ by LifeProof
Coming in at number two on the list is the FRĒ Case by the popular brand LifeProof. The FRĒ series are tested for water, dirt, and snow, as well as meets military standards for drop and shock protection. With a built-in scratch protective screen, your iPad will be safe from various elements and anything the construction site can throw at it. Do note that this substantial protection does come with a hefty price of over $100, so it may not be the most cost-effective case for mass deployment.
Case 3 — DropTech by Gumdrop
My third recommendation is the tire tread looking DropTech series by Gumdrop. As the look and feel probably suggests, this rugged case offers decent shock absorption and drop protection from 6 feet. This case’s complete external protection, including screen and port covers, offers multiple layers of protection for your tablet.
Case 4 — Unicorn Beetle Pro by SUPCASE
My personal favorite on this list is the Unicorn Beetle from SUPCASE—yes, I did say unicorn beetle. Back in 2013, I purchased and deployed this case to my team and it’s still being used to this day. Originally, I selected this case because it was not only cost-effective, but it offered full protection for our iPads with a built-in screen protector. This case is available for all iPad models, old and new, and the latest model versions include a built in kickstand.
Case 5 — Defender Series by OtterBox
Last on the list is the industry standard from OtterBox. Their Defender series case is a popular choice among construction firms. One significant advantage this case provides is 100% back and front protection with a front cover that snaps off and can be used as a stand and stylus holder. The case is tested for drop, dust, and screen protection among 21 other tests that are conducted by the manufacturer. The reason this case is not higher on my list is that the cover has to be taken off every time you want to access your iPad, reducing mobility and use throughout the day.
Although a protective case is an absolute construction tech must in my mind, the next item you may want to invest in for your iPads is a keyboard. Having a tactile keyboard at your fingertips definitely makes it easier to type emails, issue reports, and RFI’s at a moment’s notice. However, most likely not everyone on your team will be utilizing a keyboard, so I’ve narrowed it down to just a few options and showcased several scenarios you might encounter.
Keyboard 1 — Kensington Wired Keyboard
If you are a foreman or superintendent, keyboards are probably going to be left in the job trailer and won’t be carried to the actual job site. For this reason, I recommend a wired keyboard. An option like the Kensington Wired Keyboard makes it simple to just plug in and start typing, so you won’t have to worry about messing around with your Bluetooth connectivity or risk running out of batteries.
Keyboard 2 — Logitech Keys-To-Go
If you do anticipate taking a keyboard on the go, with mobility and durability being a priority, I recommend a Logitech option—Keys-To-Go. With this keyboard being only a quarter of an inch thick, you can easily pack it up in your back pocket. Another nice thing about this option is the keyboard skin covering protects it from spills and dirt. So no matter how dirty it gets in the job trailer, you won’t have to worry about a non-functioning keyboard. For a wireless option, this keyboard’s extended battery life is decent, spanning three months based on a two-hour average usage per day.
Keyboard 3 — OMOTON Ultra-Slim Bluetooth Keyboard
If you’re looking for more of an economical choice that still provides full functionality, I would recommend the OMOTON Ultra-Slim Bluetooth Keyboard. This keyboard connects via Bluetooth and runs on two AAA batteries. Although not as good as the battery life of the Logitech Keys-To-Go option, it claims to provide 30 days of continuous use before it needs to be swapped.
Having large fingers can be a problematic theme among iPad users or just general frustration about the lack of precision that fingertips provide. Although not a necessity for everyone, making an investment in a stylus pen in your construction tech arsenal will allow for additional ease in precision measurements and markups and possibly improve efficiency. Many stylus pens can be found inexpensively online, and I recommend looking for one with a built-in latch or keyring for ease when strapping it to a lanyard or belt clip, also improving your chances of not misplacing it. Similar to choosing a case, there are an abundance of stylus options out there that can make your head spin. For this reason, I tried to consider the ideal user and scenario for each of my recommendations.
Stylus 1 (Foreman Option) — Universal Short Stylus Pen Bundle by ECO-FUSED
My first recommendation is the very basic Universal Short Stylus Pen Bundle from ECO-FUSED. If you choose to deploy styluses to multiple construction crew workers, the bundle option is a fantastic cost-effective option to distribute to your foremen and field techs. Each stylus comes with a strap that can plug into the iPad’s 3.5mm headphone jack while not in use, reducing the risk it will get lost.
Stylus 2 (Superintendant Option) — AmazonBasics Stylus
Although you don’t get the bulk deal of the previous option, the AmazonBasics Stylus for touchscreen devices is still a solid and affordable option for superintendents. This sleek stylus comes in at only 8mm in diameter and an added loop attachment makes it convenient so your supers can carry this worry-free around the jobsite.
Stylus 3 (Designer Option) — Apple Pencil
Coming in at a significantly higher price point than the other stylus recommendations on my list is the Apple Pencil. With the average sticker price of about $100, you might push to consider other options first. Nonetheless, this top of the line stylus built specifically for iPad Pros allows you to edit down to the very pixel. At this price point, I recommend this option for in-office project managers that will be marking up emails, photos, and submittals or for designers who need to sketchup proposed drawing revisions.
Stylus 4 (Office Option) — The Cosmonaut
If you’re looking for a stylus to use within the office, the Cosmonaut makes an interesting option to consider. While most styluses are designed to feel like a pencil, this device is supposed to be more like a dry erase marker mimicking a whiteboard experience. If you’re overlooking plans as a team or focusing more on strategic planning, this stylus might provide some useful support. However, given the slightly higher price at around $25 a pop, I would suggest maybe investing in one or two for general office use only.
Even though additional accessories for iPads are not considered a necessity, they can certainly make the workday easier and improve your team’s productivity as a whole. Every minute saved on the job can make a huge difference to the progress of your project. With this in mind, and if you have the budget to support, consider investing in some additional iPad peripheral construction tech gear, such as the ones suggested below.
Carrying Strap — Utility Series Latch II by OtterBox
If there’s room in your budget for peripherals, carrying straps should be the first thing to consider since iPads will be used on the go. Most commonly, I’ve seen construction companies use the industry popular OtterBox Utility Series Latch II. With this strap, you can lock your iPad to your tool belt using the provided S-Hook or comfortably sling it over your shoulder. Especially consider this strap if the protective case you opted for doesn’t include a handle.
Gloves — Nitrile Work Gloves by Smart Touch
It’s truly a pain, as well as a safety concern, to have to take off your worksite safety gloves in order to use the touchscreen capabilities of your iPad on the job. To avoid this and save time, I strongly recommend considering upgrading your work gloves to mobile device friendly options. Providing you with the same accessibility as your fingertips, Nitrile Work Gloves by Smart Touch are not only comfortable, but OSHA approved. At around $30 a pair, they might not be the most cost effective option for all your staff, but I would suggest investing in perhaps a few for key staff who are using iPads on the jobsite.
Keep Stock of Your Tools
Just as you want your construction tech gear to help you maximize efficiency on the field, you want to put procedures in place to streamline any technology changes in the future. As you make a wish list and order the items you think are best for your team (and hopefully, my recommendations helped) do your due diligence and be sure to keep an inventory list to track your assets carefully. Documenting each device’s serial number, model numbers and peripheral type will simplify the process if you plan on switching out gear or you think something is missing. You’ll also want to keep a digital copy of all purchase receipts for warranty purposes.
Mobile Construction Tech Tools Will Save You Time
With the right mobile construction tech, device rollout plans, and programs and accessories that make utilization easy, you’ll be handing your team way more than iPads. Although the initial cost of investing in tech and tools can be a shock to your finances, the benefits such as improved productivity, streamlined work flows, and better project management is invaluable in the long-term. Making the jump to new technology doesn’t have to be so scary; and in today’s construction industry, embracing these innovations with the right implementation will give you a competitive edge, leading to more project and employee efficiency in the future.