Construction Best Practices

The ABCs of BYOD in Construction


A couple of years ago, a colleague of mine lost his iPad after leaving it in a rental car while traveling. For many, this would be a near catastrophic event, given the amount of personal (and often business) data that is often kept on any mobile device.

Fortunately, he had installed an app that cleared all of his personal information and locked down the iPad. So, he simply logged into a computer and secured the device. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to use the location feature on the tablet and lost it completely.

There’s no doubt that we’re more connected today than ever. We carry around smart phones, tablets and laptops—often all at the same time. And we’re using these devices more and more for business. In fact, the 2017 JBKnowledge Construction Technology Report, in which nearly 2,700 construction professionals were surveyed, noted that the importance of mobile capabilities on the job is booming.

More than 40 percent of respondents said mobile functionality was “very important” to them, with another 42.7 percent saying they were “important.” Just 16.9 percent said these solutions were not important to them. That is a significant contrast from just five years ago, when 41.4 percent said mobile capabilities were not important.

For most of us today, these devices store every aspect of our lives, so losing one could very well cause more than a little anxiety.

Regulating Mobile Construction Technologies

The explosion of mobile devices is evident in construction. I’ve seen more and more project managers, foremen and site workers are pulling up plans on tablets or smart phones and entering job information. I’ve seen hours and labor rates keyed in on tablets. I’ve seen entire job cost and work-in-progress reports accessed and updated on mobile devices as well.

In many cases, these devices belong to the individuals who are using them. More contractors are adopting “bring your own device” (BYOD) policies for mobile computing and app use. This is usually a good idea for both the contractor, who saves time and money, and for the employee, who gets to keep their own favorite mobile device with them throughout the day. But this also raises some questions about the use of personal equipment on the job.

Improving Mobile Construction Security

Security is probably the most obvious concern with having employees use personal devices at work. However, some say that mobile computing will be more secure than traditional computing in the very near future. JBKnowledge’s 2017 report notes that fewer construction companies are securing employees’ personal mobile devices—just 26.9 percent in 2017 versus 39.8 percent in 2014.

“The 36 percent of companies not securing the mobile data on employees’ personal devices used at work, are leaving their corporate data vulnerable,” the report notes. “With no effort to secure data or the device, the employer is unable to control the flow of information an employee stores or transmits, especially when accessing social media, connected to unsecured WiFi networks and sending personal communications.”

Whenever you allow data to exist outside the walls (or firewalls) of your company, you’re going to lose some amount of control. The good news is that mobile developers have recognized the need for increased security and are creating apps much like the one my colleague used to lock his device.

Today, many construction companies are creating better security measures in order to deal with the lack of individual control they have over personal devices, up to and including providing in-house mobile devices. The 2017 JB Knowledge report notes that construction professionals leaving their own devices at home in favor of working on company-provided devices jumped nearly 10 percent (27.5 percent in 2014 to 37.2 percent in 2017).

Construction Software Standardization’s Impact on Mobile Applications

With so many apps available today on Apple iTunes and Google Play, construction companies face the challenge of standardizing the apps they use. A simple search in either store returns hundreds of apps for you to download that cover a wide range of functionality—everything from payroll to simple measurement tools. Should it be up to the individual to decide which apps they use, or should their company decide?

Fortunately, web-based construction software is making the decision easier by requiring just a browser to access enterprise software—and just about all connected devices have a browser built into the device. Whether you’re working on an Android tablet or an iPhone, you can still access the accounting and project management information you need to do your job. And, a lot of intuitive mobile applications are being directly built into these software platforms, meaning security and control can be managed at the enterprise level.

Because cloud computing takes the pressure of constantly maintaining servers and updating hardware and software, IT managers have more time to help identify and standardize native apps if that is something a company chooses to do.

Lingering BYOD Questions

While cloud computing and mobile applications are here to stay in construction, how they are deployed outside of the office and who maintains responsibility are among the many questions contractors are expected to wrestle with for years to come—especially as technology continues to evolve.

For example, what happens when your project manager accidentally breaks his phone on a job site and loses his personal data? Who pays for the lost data, the phone, etc.? With smart phones and tablets being used by pretty much everyone these days, there’s really no way to avoid your employees using their own devices at work and the subsequent issues.

While construction BYOD as a matter of policy is still being ironed out, it’s best to get out in front of the issue. If you anticipate potential problems and have a plan for how to address them, they’ll be smaller problems in the end. Like any new business practice, BYOD presents new challenges no matter what industry you’re in, but the benefits of a more connected job site and access to real-time information will make those challenges worth facing for the construction industry.

Want to learn more about how cloud-based construction software and dedicated mobile applications can help streamline your operations? Simply connect with us.