4 Data Directions for Subs: Highlights from ProNovos Webinar for ASA Georgia
4 Data Directions for Subs: Highlights from ProNovos Webinar for ASA Georgia
February 11, 2022 • 10 min read
ProNovos Solutions Engineer Kevin Bright recently gave a tour of the ProNovos platform to members of the American Association of Subcontractors, Georgia chapter.
ASA Georgia Executive Director Vernon Thomas organized and moderated the January 2022 event. “Vernon is keenly interested in the power of technology—including cloud-based project-management and data-analytics platforms like ProNovos—to help subs be more efficient,” said Bruce Orr, ProNovos founder and Chief Data Scientist. “We really appreciate what Vernon is doing for ASA Georgia’s membership. He sees the big picture.”
If you missed the webinar, below are some highlights that can help subs get a better sense of the power of ProNovos.
4 Data Directions for Subs
Prior to heading up the Solutions team at ProNovos, Bright was a project manager for seven years at data-driven construction firm Outside The Lines, Inc. To kick off the ASA Georgia webinar, he gave an overview of what could be thought of as the “4 data
directions for subs.” In a nutshell, they need to get data:
- from the office to the field
- from the field to the office
- from the GC, and
- from the accounting system
Bright’s demo of some of ProNovos’ office-to-field capabilities starts with a look at our “project list” page. The dashboard gives subs’ field personnel easy, one-stop-shop access to essential information for active projects, including addresses, maps, start times, names and more.
The platform’s project information tab, Bright noted, allows users to quickly fix mistakes that otherwise could have persisted among multiple field personnel. “Let’s say I’ve got the wrong address in here—it’s not 500 Oak Road, it’s actually 501. I can quickly update it and communicate that information to everyone that has access to the project,” he explained. “I’m not having to send out texts or emails. You change one location, and everybody can see it.”
Other fields allow users to enter additional information, like different addresses for sending invoices or making deliveries, or even inputting specific driving directions. “I can’t tell you the number of times I would get a call from my foreman or superintendent where they said, ‘Hey the delivery is here, but I don’t know where the driver is,’” Bright recounted. “Seemingly small things like making sure people have the right directions can go a long way.”
The settings within ProNovos also allow admins to create custom fields with trackable information for projects in the system. During the demo, Bright created a field for whether active projects were unionized. Other frequently tracked data points here include prevailing wage status, whether the project has a performance bond, and specific scope inclusions/exclusions. “Now if I go back to my project, we’ll see that this union status indicator has popped up,” he said. “It’s a really good tool for when a subcontractor has specific things to track.”
ProNovos also offers detailed labor tracking by project. “You can keep track of all your team members and their contact information,” Bright said, contrasting this with the ad-hoc approach that is so common on busy job sites. “I remember being on job sites and saying, ‘Hey, we need to get a hold of this guy with the electrical sub,’ and the foreman or superintendent would go into his truck and pull out a piece of cardboard with that person’s phone number scribbled across it,” Bright said.
Contractors might not always have a piece of paper and a pen, but they’re never without their phones. In ProNovos, both office and field users can use mobile devices to contact information into the system, making it accessible to all. “If you want Casey Johnson, you click his number and it starts dialing,” Bright said.
Construction document-management for subcontractors
Bright rounds out his presentation of ProNovos’ office-to-field data capabilities by describing the platform’s document-management features, which subs use to share the likes of safety manuals, contracts and scope-of-work descriptions. “Your superintendents and foremen don’t have to jump across six different systems to find a certain PDF,” Bright said. “You can store it all here.”
The documents tool accommodates a wide array of file types—including mp4 videos. “But probably the most important construction document for any field crew would be drawings and blueprints, so we have specific modules that handle those,” Bright noted.
He begins demonstrating those drawings and blueprints modules. By default, ProNovos users always see the most up-to-date versions of these files. “You want to make sure the guys in your field are always working from the most recent set of drawings and not something that’s two months old and that has been duct-taped three times over, with coffee spilled on it,” Bright said.
The ProNovos platform even has an offline mode for situations in which members of the team get temporarily disconnected from Internet service. “Let’s say you’re working in a parking structure that’s 100 feet underground,” Bright said. “You can still pull up the drawings from the application in your phone because it’s always going to save the most recent version. The next time you get Internet service, the system will update that document with any new versions.”
He then shows how to annotate and make comments in drawings and blueprints as well as upload and share them. As these files upload, Bright explains, the platform’s Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software captures text to allow for automated sorting and categorization by the likes of sheet number or discipline.
“It pulls out the relevant information so you’re not having to manually enter that for each sheet,” Bright noted. Users can approve documents and drawings in the system or access older versions of revised files as needed.
Field-to-office data flows
Bright turns to the platform’s field-to-office capabilities. He starts with one of the most popular features—the photos tool. “It’s a really easy way to get all of your photos related to the project in one location,” Bright said.
At many subcontracting firms, foremen and other field personnel frequently snap photos on their phone and then email or text them to different parties on the project. When those images need to be reviewed again, it’s often necessary to search for them amid dozens or hundreds of similar messages—a major time-waster. With ProNovos, users simply open the app, snap the pics and then upload them to cost code- or activity-specific albums (“plumbing,” “concrete formwork,” etc.) for that project within the system.
“The second they take the photo and upload it you’re going to be able to see it in the office,” Bright noted. “You’re not having to dig through a hundred different photo files called ‘img_462’ to find the right one. It’s already organized for you.”
By choosing the timeline view, contractors can see the chronological order in which photos were added. “You can see how your project has developed over time,” Bright explains. “This is another really handy tool if you are negotiating any disputes with other contractors or GCs. Instead of saying, ‘I don’t remember what happened three months ago,’ you can go back and very quickly find the photos to see exactly what was happening.”
The tool also allows users to assign useful keywords to individual photos (for example, “mechanical installation”) and then track those items in the system.
Automated daily reports for subcontractors
Busy field personnel often put off doing daily reports and other paperwork until Friday. But as Bright noted during the webinar, it’s a problematic practice. “By the time you do a report on Friday about what you did on Monday, you’re likely to be missing some information,” he said. “You’re not going to remember everything.”
And of course, if Friday turns out to be extraordinarily busy, that paperwork could fall through the cracks. Bright demonstrates how ProNovos’ automated daily reports capabilities promote greater compliance and accountability by making the process faster, easier and more trackable. In the calendar view, for example, field personnel can see the days for which daily reports are missing. Office personnel can use the tool to see which crew members need to be reminded about the importance of daily report compliance.
During the webinar, Bright demonstrated how the system can pull in weather service information to automatically track weather conditions for those daily reports. Users can also record specific weather impacts and conditions by clicking icons and/or typing notes. “That could be, ‘crews were having to take more breaks because of the heat wave,’” Bright said. “You could also document any kind of issue or dispute that was happening. Down the road, it’s a great resource to go back and reference.”
Trade and crew documentation is another robust functionality of the daily report tool. “Let’s say you had subs working underneath you. You could note here what crew sizes they had, how many superintendents, foremen, journeymen and apprentices,” Bright told the audience. “But more importantly, you can note any kind of work details: ‘We were working on the second deck of the parking structure and spent all day doing cleanup.’”
Users can attach photos and other documents and easily email the daily reports to other stakeholders, converting them into PDFs if need be.
The ProNovos custom form-builder
The platform’s custom form-builder is another way for subcontractors to ramp up the efficiency of their field-to-office communications. Many subs use this ProNovos module to create, share and track safety forms (check out our blog post on that topic), as well as forms for inspections, vacation requests, and materials trends, among others.
Bright shows the ASA members an example of a simple inspection template in ProNovos. “You can really tailor it to your specific needs because, as we all know, an electrical subcontractor is going to have different needs than a mechanical or a plumbing subcontractor.”
ProNovos designed the form-builder to minimize error-prone manual data entry. Users can click “pass” or “fail” buttons, for example, rather than having to type descriptions each time. And the system automatically generates basic information like the date, project name and the form creator/user. Users are notified in real time if they fail to enter required information, and they can add comments and digital signatures as required. The tracking functionality also allows subs to see exactly which forms were completed and when. “You are no longer dealing with a situation where someone says, ‘Hey, we filled out the safety form and I dropped it off on your desk’ and it’s buried under a mountain of paperwork,” Bright said.
Getting data from the GC—the ProNovos advantage
Imagine collaborating on a tough project for several months using a tool like Google Sheets. You’ve spent long hours on that shared document, but one day when you try to login you find that the “owner” of the file has canceled your access. You can’t view, edit or keep what you’ve done. The work is lost.
This is typically what happens to subs after they wrap up projects in which they have been required to use the GC’s instance of a project-management platform.
Nine times out of 10, that PM platform is Procore. Bright highlights Procore Sync—a new ProNovos feature that dramatically improves subs’ ability to get data from the GC.
The benefits include allowing subs to keep their data for performance analysis even after projects are complete.
“As a subcontractor, if I was working with three different GCs that all had different Procore accounts, I was having to constantly toggle between them, and I was getting inundated with dozens of email notifications a day, whether it be submittal updates or RFI updates,” Bright recalled. “Just managing all of that information—that back and forth with the GC—became almost a job in and of itself for my project engineers.”
Procore Sync is designed to alleviate those headaches even as it opens the door to new insights. Bright demonstrates how to go to the project list, open the sync manager tool and sign into Procore within the ProNovos platform. Now you can sync data from all your Procore projects and see it in a single, easy-access dashboard.
Tying GCs’ Procore accounts to the sub’s ProNovos platform makes collaborating on drawings, submittals, RFIs, logs and other data much easier. “As the GC updates any information related to that project in Procore, it’s automatically going to flow into ProNovos,” Bright explained. “You’re not having to do that manual update. You don’t run the risk of missing any critical updates.”
In addition to RFIs and submittals, Procore Sync will soon (March 2022) work with drawing bulletins from the GC as well, Bright noted. “If any new drawings get uploaded into Procore by the GC, it will automatically sync and get tied to your ProNovos account. (You can read more about these new features here: ProNovos Rolls Out Subcontractor-Focused Updates to Its Construction Intelligence Cloud and 2022 Will Be ‘The Year of the Sub’ for ProNovos.)
Getting data out of your accounting system
To conclude, Bright gave ASA Georgia an overview of two ways to use ProNovos to get information out of your accounting system: the cost-to-complete and automated WIP reporting dashboards (for a deep dive on the latter, see “What is Automated WIP Reporting in Construction”).
Bright clicks the “project insights” tab to demonstrate how subs can pull financial information into ProNovos from the likes of Foundation, Sage or other construction accounting apps.
“You can access that information all in one location, so you’re not having to leave your project to log into the accounting system and look at rows and rows of cost data,” Bright explained. “If you’re managing an RFI and you want to know your current cost or projected final cost, you can quickly go to this report and see those.”
Key project metrics in this report include current and original contract amounts, job-to-date costs, and billed-to-date, with auto-generated charts showing month-to-month progress on different KPIs. “It’s also going to give you a breakdown based on your different cost classes, so your labor, materials and equipment,” Bright said. “How are you performing? Are you over budget or under budget for those specific items? It’s going to do the same thing for your cost code activities: How are you performing on rough plumbing or electrical?”
In addition to this snapshot view, the system offers a project forecast tool that allows PMs to go in and adjust where they think the project will end up. Bright uses the example of a PM looking at a plumbing, excavation and backfill cost code.
“As the project manager, let’s say I’ve bought out everything I need for this and have saved $5,000 on my buyout,” he said. “I can go in and make the adjustment here, and the system is going to update my projected cost at completion and what my remaining cost to complete is. When I accept the changes, it’s going to update this in the financials tab right here.”
He describes this as superior to the typical options available to PMs—either entering the information directly into the accounting system, which is not always familiar to them, or going the painstaking route of doing it all in Microsoft Excel.
“If you have five different project managers all sending you different Excel sheets, it just becomes a cumbersome process to understand what each one is doing in each of their updates,” Bright noted. “With ProNovos, you’re pulling the data in real time from your accounting system into a centralized platform in a standardized way.”
Bright shows how ProNovos can be used to build custom dashboards for data related to change orders, budgets, labor, project management and more by pulling information directly from the accounting system. He also describes the value of drilldown functionality, which allows users to see the data that went into any KPI displayed in the system—for example, drilling down to figure out why a particular cost code is over budget.
“With any kind of analytics, when you’re looking at your accounting data, you want to start at that macro view—how is the project performing?” Bright concludes. “You can then very quickly get to that micro view to understand what’s driving those different overruns or savings.”
If you’d like to learn more about how companies use the platform for data analytics/data warehousing and project-management, see our case studies.