Tools of the Trade

One of the great things about running a business in the 21st century is the availability of tools that make our lives easier and more efficient. From air-powered nail guns to laser levels, our toolbox has become more sophisticated. And it’s not just in the field that these newer tools assist us.

Our offices are managed with the aid of computers which help us with estimating, word processing, billing, payroll, marketing and design.
Given these resources, we are in a much better position to communicate within and outside our companies. In spite of this, many problems that were prevalent in the building industry 20 years ago are the same ones that are prevalent today: miscommunication, cost overruns and missed details. So as you are preparing to update or upgrade your communication toolboxes, think about which features and benefits will help you eliminate those classic pitfalls.

Software vs. Web Tools

Whereas most clients and vendors are familiar with and comfortable using the Internet, it makes sense to exploit this resource. The question becomes, what type of information should I share over the Net and how do I control access and flow? From a design standpoint, it’s wonderful to be able to document existing conditions and explore various design options with the intent and ability to share this information with the builder and/or homeowner. But if I create my drawings in Chief Architect 10 and want to submit them to the builder for review and comments, that builder will need to have at least Chief Architect 10 software in order to view the drawings.

Therefore using web applications may make sense for those who don’t necessarily want to buy new software and updates on a regular basis. When choosing your tools, think about your end users and their ability to access the information in a timely and cost-effective manner.

Of course, there are safety issues to consider when venturing out on the Internet to conduct business. Make sure you have a secure server if any of the information you will be sharing is sensitive or proprietary. In fact, it’s always a good idea to think before you click.

Stay Organized

With all the detailed information flowing back and forth among design/build parties, it’s a good idea to keep things in a logical order. You probably have some sort of filing system for your paper records; likewise, you should have a method of filing and storing pertinent electronic information. Remember the three basic elements of efficient communication: record, measure, transfer.

It is not enough to be able to send information. A major component of successful communication is the recording of that information. Furthermore, if that information is date and time stamped with all approving parties’ consent, imagine how many mishaps or mistakes can be avoided.

Ultimately, communication tools are helpful only if they are used. So make sure the products you choose are simple to use and require only minimum instruction to operate. Look for systems that are intuitive to the end user. Ask for a demonstration or a walk-through to see if the product makes sense to you and for your business. Having the proper tools and knowing how to use them can save a company a headache or two.