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Effective business management is all about getting the right information into the right hands at the right time. Technology has always held the promise of making those connections possible, but only if you were willing to battle the high cost and long learning curve. Well, all of that is finally changing for the better. Computing isn’t going away, but personal computers are being replaced by a wide variety of devices. If you wanted to, today you could literally operate your entire business from a smartphone that fits in your shirt pocket. And that system could work equally well on a mix of PCs, Macs, and tablets, accessing all of your company and project data in real time via the “cloud” (a.k.a. the Internet). (The CloudMagic app is a handy way to easily access all your data scattered across various services from multiple devices.)

Over the coming months we’ll look at not only what technology is out there, but specifically how you can use technology to add value for your customer and to deliver your projects on time, on budget, and defect-free. In the meantime, let’s start with these recommendations:

Time is money. Up to half of the time spent on every jobsite is wasted. Scheduling isn’t usually the problem, it’s communicating that schedule. To solve the problem, try using a shared Google project calendar that your customers, employees, subs, and suppliers can all see online.

Money is money. A purchase-order system gives you full control of your direct costs of construction. It doesn’t have to be complicated: Start by downloading the spreadsheet templates I mentioned in my November 2011 column. Set the system up this year and put it to work starting January 2014. Once you’re comfortable with it, you can move it into one of the commercially available systems, such as BuilderTrend.

Documents are money. Nothing is more frustrating than losing data or discovering that you’ve been using an outdated set of plans or the wrong version of a contract. You can kill two birds with one stone by replacing “My Documents” with Dropbox or one of the many other cloud-based services available (see “Save and Sync,” JLC, March 2012).

Online meetings and location services. Today there’s no reason to delay resolving minor jobsite issues because you can’t get the parties together on site. You can snap photos or videos of the issue using your phone camera, then conduct a Web-based meeting using Go­ToMeeting or JoinMe on your smartphone or tablet.

There’s lots more to look at. In coming months I’ll take a closer look at business management systems that use generic services such as Dropbox, Evernote Premium, and Microsoft Office365. And I’ll look at how to use a product such as Canvas to create your own mobile software without having to do any programming.

Joe Stoddard consults with contractors on technology.jstoddard@mountainconsulting.com,twitter.com/moucon