Cloud Computing & Construction: Like Hammer and Nail
We recently built an application on the Force.com platform that dealt with the project management aspect of the construction industry. I have many friends in the field of construction as project managers so as we built out this project it made me wonder if the construction industry is leveraging the power of Force.com and the cloud? After spending a few minutes looking on the Appexchange and Google, I was able to find a few cloud based solutions for project management specific to the construction industry but unable to find much in regards to Salesforce.com. Project managers are responsible for many moving parts on a job (as they are in all industries). They manage multiple vendors, materials, schedules, and project plans. With a lot of this functionality easily configurable, why wouldn't the construction industry look to leverage the leading Cloud Platform? Here is a little breakdown on what it might take to deliver this solution on the Force.com platform.
Configuring the App
Since the Force.com platform gives you Accounts and Contacts an easy and cost effective approach is to have each project represented by the Account object. With related objects such as Materials, Activities, and Equipment it makes Accounts a one stop shop for managing projects. One of the trickiest parts of the process depending on the company needs is scheduling. Most people associated with the project will not be users and will therefore be Contacts potentially leveraging Contact Roles to track people's roles on a given project. This is simple but what if attendance needs to be tracked? There are a couple ways to do this using either Events or a custom object to store dates and times when people are on the job. The reporting needs will likely dictate the approach taken here.
Mobile and Chatter
Other then the cost effectiveness of building on the Force.com platform, mobile and collaboration are the two biggest reasons for this being such a good fit. Mobile Lite comes with the Salesforce license and if you can arm your key employees with iPads, managing these projects becomes easier. Every construction company is mobile. Once they win the bid, it is all about managing the actual construction site and communication back to corporate for status updates. Throw in Chatter and you have real-time collaboration from all the key stakeholders. Chatter can save on travel and onsite visits as everything lives in the app (the accountants will be happy).
The icing on the cake is the built in analytics that Force.com provides. No more big Excel sheets and many manual hours updating them or using some other application that might cost a fortune and not give you what you want.
Custom Development, If You Want
In my scenario, the application is configured just using the out of the box point and click features of Salesforce. If you have the money and need more then that, no problem. Leveraging VisualForce and or some potential Appexchange applications you can add more functionality or more in depth visualizations of the data. Maybe you need gantt charting for project plans or want your schedules represented in a calendar view. Most everything you can think of is either already in the AppExchange or can be built by a Salesforce.com implementation partner. There are risks and long term ownership costs associated with doing custom development so make sure it is something core to your process and not just a nice to have.
In my scenario above, I outlined a pretty quick out of the box approach to building an application on the Force.com platform tailored to the construction industry. Considering the cost savings of no hardware, less travel, and possibly less staff, why wouldn't the construction industry move to the Salesforce.com platform? Maybe its just awareness and hopefully this blog spreads the word!