BlackBerry makes inroads into construction

August 11, 2010

The handheld computing industry has been battling valiantly for years, trying to gain a foothold into the daily operations of most businesses. And while niche markets have emerged and the PalmPilot did achieve some measure of success, nothing has come even remotely close to the achievement of the BlackBerry.

Originated by Research in Motion, Waterloo, Ont., the current number of active BlackBerry devices worldwide is in the tens of millions. The device has become so essential to its users that many have dubbed it the “crackberry,” for the near-addictive power it holds over its users. With the ability to receive email, view attachments, send instant messages, hold both standard and push-to-talk phone conversations (on some models), and do a bit of Web surfing, the BlackBerry for now holds the crown as the most useful electronic communication device.

As such, it's only natural that users would want to customize their BlackBerry for specific industries, and a handful of vendors have obliged for the construction business.

For example, a name long familiar to the construction business, e-Builder of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., recently came to market with a BlackBerry product. The company provides on-demand project management and collaboration software to owners, architects, engineers, contractors, and suppliers for all phases of real estate development, construction, and operations.

In April 2006, the firm launched the e-Builder Wireless Edition, which enables users to connect to e-Builder Enterprise, its integrated capital program management solution, via BlackBerry devices.

The wireless system allows users to receive electronic forms and information through the BlackBerry device, and reply to, close, and add comments to these forms directly from the BlackBerry. Users receive and process information from any location, thereby reducing the time needed to respond to requests like action items, correspondence, submittals, transmittals, and RFIs.

Requirements include a Java-based BlackBerry device and an active email address associated with the BlackBerry device. Users purchase the service in quarterly or annual installments, while groups can benefit from volume discounts available for 10 users or more.

Less known in nonresidential construction but offering a slew of products for the construction business is Advanced Technologies Support Group of Owings Mills, Md. ATSG's systems operate on the BlackBerry wireless platform and use BlackBerry Enterprise Server to deploy its Wireless Inspection Manager. The latest version of the software was released in 2006.

According to ATSG president John Heinz, the enhanced version of WIM allows non-technical system administrators to create an electronic inspection document. WIM has complete form creation, dispatch, data collection, and dispatch capabilities. Paper-based processes, such as safety or quality checklists, can be streamlined to capture information in a single step, eliminating re-keying efforts.

The system uses the Flowfinity Solutions Platform to provide a user interface on the handheld, integrate with Microsoft's .NET platform, and support reliable mobile workflow.

Also in 2006, ATSG released the latest version of its Construction Quality Manager software. Heinz notes that CQM enhances a field supervisor's ability to track, manage, and resolve construction defects in the field. It also provides a database and management reporting system that provides contractors with a comprehensive view of their construction process effectiveness.

Targeted at contractors wanting to streamline and simplify the handheld data collection process, the software can highlight quality issues as a user inspects a job site. Subsequently, efficiency is increased because subcontractor notifications are immediate and complete. Other benefits include pinpointing repetitive defects by tracking their history and reducing unnecessary site visits with comprehensive defect notification.

For mechanical subcontractors, Data-Basics of Cleveland offers the TechAnywhere software system. TechAnywhere gives field technicians access to current work orders using BlackBerry wireless devices.

One of the company's clients is HVAC contractor Alpine Mechanical Services, Doylestown, Pa., which wanted to improve communications between its home office and technicians through the use of wireless field service devices. The goal was to electronically communicate the daily schedules to its technicians without calling the technicians or the technicians having to check an email account.

Leveraging its SAM Pro Enterprise system for dispatching, service management, and accounting, Data-Basics made a modification to format the report distribution software's output to display on BlackBerry devices.

According to Mark Barraclough, Alpine Mechanical's president, “Our technicians have not only embraced the technology, but find it indispensable in getting the job done.”

With additional software enhancements, Alpine Mechanical technicians now have their entire office on their BlackBerrys, including phone, email, Web access, and a close-out tool to help complete jobs.


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