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Application Development in Mechanical Construction

May 18, 2021

U.S. Engineering

Why Would a Mechanical Contractor Build an In-House Application Development Team?

By Ryan Reed, Senior Technology Manager
and Jammy Evans, Application Development Project Manager
U.S. Engineering Company Holdings

Technology in construction is ubiquitous. Mechanical contracting firms use software for controls and field operations, virtual construction, accounting services, forecasting, supply chain, project management and customer relations. Many companies, like U.S. Engineering, have their own virtual construction teams. It’s fair to say technology is one of the most significant drivers in the AEC industry, and most organizations embrace it.

But who connects information silos so that companies can maximize data management and business analysis effectiveness? Who customizes lines of communication between programs in a construction software environment?

Application Development (App Dev) teams. App Dev teams are experts in software coding. They don’t necessarily come from a construction background. While most mechanical construction companies hire third-party App Dev companies to create software solutions, U.S. Engineering has found the most benefit by building an in-house application development team.

Investing in an in-house App Dev team allows us to operate more efficiently, engage proactively with new technology, add a fresh perspective to our problem-solving toolkit and empower team members to find creative solutions.

Maximize efficiency.

When you need to find a software solution, why not just choose a third-party, who some would argue is more in touch with the cutting edge of software development? The answer is that an in-house team can create all kinds of efficiencies with internal customizations, and in addition, they can act as highly informed consultants for those instances when the best solution to an issue is, in fact, a third-party solution.

Let’s start with efficiencies an in-house App Dev team can create by collaborating with project teams. A major bonus to that process is familiarity. When you have an in-house team, they’re already familiar with the history and culture of the company, and they’re already aligned with company values, strategic initiatives and business goals. They know the context of the problem, which leads to the best possible solution.

From the start of a conversation about collaboration, both sides—application developers and project teams—are coming from the same place. You’re both excited about finding a solution because you’re on the same team. Internal App Dev teams understand the nuances of technological advances and the nuances of your company’s culture. You save time and money by skipping the get-to-know-you meetings with a third party.

On a practical level, an in-house team can save you budget lines. We recently executed a nimble software solution for one of our Construction teams that, with a third-party developer, would have cost the company a recurring $30,000 annually, plus a lot of training time for project teams. The third-party solution was also expansive, offering much more than our team needed. Our internal Dev team was able to build a pinpointed solution, exactly what our project team needed, and quickly, at a one-time cost of only $15,000.

On communication, it’s relatively easy to get a hold of a team when you can walk over to an office or jump on a Teams call. With that in-house crew, your scope narrows, your time is used more efficiently and your overall project schedule shortens.

That said, sometimes the best solution is to choose a third-party software solution instead of your in-house team. Solutions may not always need to be customized. In those cases, it’s still valuable to have an in-house App Dev team: since they know the context of the company’s needs, they can help decide which third-party developer to choose, acting as translators between a software company and your internal administrative and operations teams. If a project team needed to choose a third-party team on their own, without that interpreter, the decision could be overwhelming since they’re not necessarily familiar with the tech side of the solution. And a lot of time is wasted in back-and-forth conversations. An internal App Dev team speaks the languages of both sides and can help find the right fit, efficiently.

Shape the future of tech in construction.

Another plus of housing an internal App Dev team: proactive engagement with technology. As evolutions in technology occur at a mind-numbing pace, and as our company’s main focus is on the built world, we find value in investing in an in-house team of experts who can not only keep up with technology as it changes, but apply those changes directly to our workflows. We are a forward-facing company that embraces technology and strives to be at the forefront of technological development in mechanical construction.

The AEC industry is, historically, slower to adapt to new technology than other industries. And that makes sense. Their focuses are elsewhere, on designing, building and maintaining mechanical systems and facilities. Often that translates to having to react to new technologies rather than help shape them. Expanding a team to include application developers allows a contracting company to drive technological innovation, becoming agents of change rather than reactive responders.

Add a fresh perspective to your problem-solving toolbox.

Developers bring a fresh and organized approach to finding solutions. Because of the nature of their training, software developers don’t think linearly. They examine problems from multiple angles in completely different ways than project managers might. So when those perspectives combine, you find a robust solution. That’s one of the strengths of our App Dev team as internal consultants: we bring a fresh set of eyes with a fresh set of potential technology solutions.

An in-house App Dev team also acts as an R&D resource: even when we’re not building an application or connecting programs within our company’s software environment, we know what’s going on in the tech world, what’s possible, what’s changing, where trends are moving. We use that knowledge to help inform business decisions and influence strategic plans.

For external partners—general contractors, building owners and subcontractors—our work shortens schedules. By streamlining our processes, we give time back to our project managers so they can focus on providing value to our clients. Instead of spending time processing documents or connecting all the different data points for financial reports, we can give PMs the tools that they need to automate.

We also have the capability to build a customized solution for external customers, giving them access to the data they want to track as their projects progress. That transparency builds trust and can save time, allowing customers to skip multi-channeled communications and go directly to the data point they want to monitor in real time.

Empower team members to get creative.

At a high level, an internal App Dev team can empower project teams to be their best, to focus on what they are already great at. Without the limitation of the unknown in tech, they can dream up how they would improve a workflow, and our App Dev team can bring that dream to life. We can have the biggest computers, the coolest programs, the shiniest third-party app, but at the end of the day, we want to make sure that we’re helping our teams be their best. We want to give them space to get creative, to engage with the work of improving how we do business.

An App Dev team fills gaps between programs in a software ecosystem. We build bridges between programs and datapoints. As each of our teams in Construction, Service, Metalworks and Innovations leverages various software platforms to do business, our team, which is familiar with internal workflows, can connect those platforms to help those companies be more efficient. Essentially, we help our team make data-driven, real-time business decisions with confidence.

Ryan Reed, Senior Technology Manager, U.S. Engineering Company Holdings

Ryan creates technology-driven solutions for operational teams and has been with U.S. Engineering for close to 10 years. He has a passion for bringing concepts to reality through the process of collaboration across high-performing teams.

Jammy Evans, Application Development Project Manager, U.S. Engineering Company Holdings

Jammy joined U.S. Engineering in 2019. She works with a variety of team members across the organization to plan and execute projects in the App Dev space. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Physiology from Oklahoma State University.

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