Using iPads and tablets for remodeling project management

Project management goes mobile with iPad

September 07, 2011

Case Remodeling iPad

Pretty much everything has changed for Shawn Nelson, president of New Spaces in Burnsville, Minn., since he bought the original iPad when it came out as a gift for his wife.

“I started playing with it,” he says. “I said, ‘This is really powerful.’ Now she doesn’t have an iPad.”

Here are just two examples of how he’s used it to run his remodeling business: On a recent job, a previous remodeler had done something unusual in the house that needed to be addressed. “It wasn’t a huge change — just a slight modification the engineer needed,” he says.
Nelson, who was in Washington D.C. at the time, pulled up documents and spreadsheets, checked on quotes and specifications, had the designer back in the office email him PDFs of a drawing, put some pricing on it and returned it. The client signed off — from Paris.

“Not too long ago, we would have stopped the process until the client got home and I got home,” he says.

The second example came during a road trip. While his wife drove through Ohio, Nelson took a continuing education course for his real estate license on the iPad.

 In sales presentations, the iPad allows customers to look at project photos, connect to websites of manufacturers, watch client testimonials and sign digital contracts.

“There’s a lot less paper,” Nelson says. “Clients love it.”

His firm also has used the iPad app from GotoMeeting.com for monthly meeting with vendors, trade partners and other remodelers.

“We network with a lot of people,” Nelson notes. “It’s nice that you don’t have to get back to the office at a certain time.”

Tablets offer short learning curve for the technically challenged

Columbus, Ohio-based builder/remodeler Mike Matrka will tell you that he is as non-technical a guy as you will ever meet. Brett Harper, his sales and marketing director, loves gadgets. When the first iPad came out, Harper mentioned it to his boss, who told him to go get one and experiment with it.

Harper, who came to work for Matrka Inc. from the software industry, was instantly sold on what the iPad could do for the business.   
“I said, ‘You need to make it simple or I won’t use it,’” Matrka says.

Today, everyone in the company uses iPads. Matrka says he never puts his down.

“It makes it easy for us to help our clients,” says Matrka, whose company does massive projects that can take as long as two years. “Everything is right there. … It gives the clients a lot of comfort. Someone is really keeping track of things.”

The company runs all of its jobs with Basecamp, a project management program that clients have access to.

“The iPad is the front door to that,” Harper says.

A free, cloud-based iPad app called Evernote helps them keep track of the extensive documents, photos and notes connected with each project.

“It’s awesome,” Harper says. “In a year or two, if there is any problem, you can search (the program). I can find all the paint colors — anything we’re trying to keep track of.”

Matrka says the iPad has relieved him from having to make as many trips to job sites. Each project manager writes a journal entry at the end of the day — “it takes 10 minutes at most,” he says — that is automatically emailed to him.

“I know what’s going on, even if I haven’t been there,” he says. “You’re just really current. Sometimes they’ll write something that makes you think of something else they said. You catch things early. It’s just kind of fun.”

The iPads also are used for “all the normal computer processing — email, Internet. You can edit Word documents and Excel documents. They don’t have any other computers really.”

Harper uses his iPad for sketching designs. “It’s got a sex appeal to it in meetings,” he notes.

He also uses it for estimating, taking photos from the site to email to the estimators.

Then there was this little application: “We did a Skype with a client moving to Columbus,” Harper says. “I did that via iPad and walked him around the site. That was pretty cool.”

“Our little company is never going to go back to laptops or desktops,” Harper says. “It allows people to be flexible geographically. It’s something we always used to say in the software world — it’s the same work in a different place. They show up and everything they need is at their fingertips.”

Working while wandering with the iPad

Dean Lamoureux, president of Rainbow Valley Design and Construction in Eugene and Portland, Ore., also uses an online project management tool, Co-Construct, to manage the two to five custom homes a year the company builds. He uses an iPad because he constantly managing several projects at the same time.

“My job is a project manager,” he says. “I’m out wandering job sites two-thirds of the time. It’s nice to go to a job site, sit in the truck, go on the web to the Co-Construct site and do what I need to do.”

It’s better than a laptop, he says, because it comes on instantly and because it has 3G, he doesn’t have to be on a wireless network to surf the Web. It’s better than a smartphone because the full-sized keyboard and screen makes it easier to send emails.  He writes a lot of notes when he meets with a client. Instead of taking notes and scanning them into the computer, he can simply forward his notes from the iPad to his email and instantly have a record.

“This is the best new tool in my bag of tricks,” he says. “It’s a one-step tool for me -- with a tape measure. I have a Measure Master (Pro) app on there. It’s an $80 calculator at the hardware store. It’s $19 online.”

Staying connected with iPads and tablets

Scott Sevon thought long and hard before buying an iPad because he’d heard that it wouldn’t sync with Microsoft Office’s Outlook.

“I have almost 10,000 contacts on my Outlook,” the managing partner of MAW Chicago LLC says. “The thought of changing that is scarier than getting a mortgage these days. … If we couldn’t have gotten the Outlook or calendar to sync, we would have looked at something else. Once we received feedback, the pros seemed to outweigh the cons.”

With the help of technical support at his nearby Apple store, Sevon got the company’s two iPads properly synced and ready to go. He uses the iPad in many of the same ways as other remodelers, such as showcasing photos in sales presentations. He’s also found it valuable for helping out his crews in the field. He uses maps for the city of Chicago and the city guide app to find nearby hardware stores and lumber yards.

“These are things that save time for your crews,” he says. “All in all, it’s been very positive.”

Because Sevon is heavily involved in NAHB (he’s a senior life director and vice chair of the CAP Board of Governors), he also has found some unique benefits for the iPad.

“If you participate in any type of association work or sit in board meetings, which we do quite a bit, iPads are very convenient so you don’t have to lug a briefcase around,” he says. “They’re great on travel – they’re extremely fast.

It lets you stay connected with the office while you’re doing things with NAHB.”

Down the pike, Sevon says he thinks iPads will become much more prevalent among remodelers, especially those just getting into the business.

“I’m an old fart, 56 year old,” he says. “The younger generation does nothing without these. They will use these devices well in advance of how we use them.”

That doesn’t mean he’s not up to date on the latest technology.

“They have the cloud now,” he says. “That’s the next kick-butt thing. That is going to be happening with a lot of things. We have remote connectivity to our server and it works okay. I think the cloud thing is the cat’s meow.”

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