July 30, 2021
5 mins

360° smart asset tracking for construction SMEs

Construction workers working on a site witth a crane in the background

If you work in construction, Covid-19 has posed some pretty gruelling challenges. The industry was already blighted by falling orders and skills shortages; now it is facing unprecedented financial anxiety and a fundamental shift in working practices. The old pen-and-paper way of doing things is gone forever.

However this is also an opportunity for SMEs in the construction industry to reinvent themselves on bold, digital lines, and asset management software can be central to the new normal. Specifically, we feel that all-in-one asset and fleet management packages provide a real answer to many of the problems that SMEs in the construction industry are facing.

In this blog post, we’ll look at:

  • The unique challenges facing the construction industry.
  • How asset management helps construction firms work smarter.
  • How an all-in-one asset and fleet package provides the best of all possible worlds.

The challenges for construction SMEs

Essentially, the construction industry relies on three types of equipment. These can be defined as follows.

  • Heavy plant and machinery, such as bulldozers, cranes, earth-movers, piling machines and drilling equipment.
  • Small tools, such as hammers, wrenches, spirit levels and tape measures.
  • Static ancillary equipment, such as skips, scaffolding and temporary offices.

Each of these three equipment types poses its own distinct challenges for construction SMEs.

To maximise the potential of heavy plant and machinery, firms must minimise outages and disruptions. As much as 30% of downtime on construction sites is unplanned, and this can do huge financial damage; according to studies in the U.S., the average cost of downtime across all industries works out at $260,000 (£190,000) per hour, and given the tight margins faced by SMEs, the figure can be even more ruinous. Mandatory inspections and controls make the picture even more opaque.

At the same time, the sheer breadth and variety of small equipment means it is all too easy to lose track and run out of a particular stock. And there is always the prospect that equipment will be taken off-site – either voluntarily or not.

Equipment theft is an even greater issue with static equipment such as bins and skips, particularly on remote sites with little line-of-sight control. Figures from Allianz Cornhill suggest that over £70 million of construction plant is stolen every single year; the total cost associated with this theft is estimated at £800 million.

To manage these distinct equipment types requires a diverse range of skills. Companies  must keep on top of preventive maintenance schedules, and keep a forensic record of upcoming inspections and controls; at the same time, they need to keep accurate records of stock levels and maintain a booking and return process that is visible and easy to maintain for all parties. Construction sites need to be monitored, to minimize any chance of theft, and drivers’ behaviour needs to be tracked (with real-time assistance available if needed).

The impact of Covid-19

Covid has accentuated and exacerbated the challenges facing construction SMEs in three distinct ways.

Material shortages. The chaos wreaked by the pandemic has created shortages in several key materials such as timber, cement and roof tiles. The Office of National Statistics has predicted a rise in material prices of up to 8%, which places an even greater premium on effective maintenance.

Workforce schism. Nearly two-thirds of construction workers went remote during the pandemic and although many have now returned to the office, it appears that the divide between essential trades and support workers will continue. Many ancillary roles will remain remote, which means the old physical proximity is gone. The difficulties of managing sites and equipment are greater than ever; this is a particular issue for workers booking out equipment (and those charged with managing them).

Staff absences. Absences due to positive Covid cases, both Covid-sufferers and their contacts, have created huge problems for the construction sector, particularly SMEs. In fact, figures from YouGov show that in the 12 months to May 2021, the average SME lost 29 working days a month.

How asset and fleet software can help

In the old days EAM solutions were uniform and all-encompassing, designed for huge, asset-intensive industries like utilities or manufacturing. But today’s successors are very different. They are fast and adaptable, designed to be modified and maximised by specific sectors. And their connective technology, built on the Internet of Things (IoT), allows distributed companies to manage their physical fleet across multiple locations.

For SMEs in the construction sector, asset management solutions can offer the following specific benefits:

  • Multi-asset
    Each family of asset has its own characteristics, management rules and features. A multi-asset solution will allow Construction SME to manage their fleet of vehicles in plant throughout their entire lifecycle, track stock quantities of small tools and consumables as well, other fixed assets that sit on the construction sites and more.
  • Tasks and workflows automation
    Admin can drain time for busy construction firms and many SMEs lack a specialist employee for this challenging function.Asset management solutions meet this need with dedicated admin features, providing details of everything from leasing contracts to payable fines and even drivers’ licence checks.
  • Mobile adaptability
    The vast majority of today’s asset management solutions offer mobile apps, a huge bonus for construction firms that rely on information from the field.Staff can scan QR codes to book out equipment or provide maintenance records, and use their camera phones to lodge maintenance requests and log damage reports.
  • Integrated IoT and telematics
    IoT devices and vehicle telematics allow construction managers to locate their entire fleet in real-time and to automate collection of asset usage.As well as preventing theft, this information allows SMEs to track usage and consumption and even anticipate potential faults.
  • Reports and analytics
    Today’s asset management solutions are designed to provide simple, intuitive reports, with dynamic analytics that update automatically in response to information from the field. At the same time, predictive analytics enable users to identify fault and usage patterns before they develop into problems.

The benefits of all-in-one asset and fleet management software

There are many tools available on the market that focus on some family of assets or aspects of asset management. However, this can have its downsides: as the needs of a growing business evolves overtime, it may need to acquire several different tools to achieve the full benefits of asset management and realise efficiency at scale.

However, there are various solutions that can manage all assets in a single platform. These all-in-one alternatives offer several distinct advantages:

  • Time and cost savings. Obviously, there is the time and money spent on procuring different tools to address new problems as they arise overtime. But what many people do not realise is that companies often have to enter the same ‘reference data’ again and again, something which can be particularly damaging for small firms. Individual employees (technicians, site managers, project managers and administrators) can all work off the same set of core information.
  • Greater visibility. With an all-in-one solution, every asset can be easily across every site. This ensures true visibility and can help prevent the theft and disappearance of key equipment.
  • Better cost understanding. With birds-eye visibility across all sites, assets and operators, SMEs can truly understand the cost of their assets for their operations. Drilling down by construction site or by worker, they can gain an accurate measure of operating margins for the viability and profitability of their business.

How Bulbthings can help

Bulbthings offers a 360-degree smart asset and fleet management app for construction SMEs with multi-asset requirements. The solution is tailored to the construction industry but combines all the key functionality of a modern asset management app.

For more information, visit the Bulbthings website.