“What Did We Ever Do Before We Had Computers?”

Have you ever wondered what we did before we all had computers or how we ever got along without them? Well, for one thing, we got the job done. Maybe it was a little slower – maybe it was a lot slower. Maybe it took more paper – maybe not. After all, today’s “paperless” society is anything but.

Remember that the computer is a storage device. While several people can view a given report or set of data over a network or by using web access, most computer applications are accomplished one user at a time. Thus, paper printouts usually are required to allow others the opportunity to read, review, analyze, edit and comment on the data or message.

So many things today are computerized, from automobiles to washing machines, so it seems only in keeping with the times that contractors and other aging-in-place providers should be computerized to facilitate storage, retrieval, and management of important client data, schedules, pricing, formulas, maps, and similar information.

This may be highly desired as a way to be more efficient, but it is not a requirement to be successful.

Computers are not a panacea for the construction industry. They are very useful tools (not unlike hammers, saws and nails) that some might argue are indispensable, but what did we do before the advent of the computer? We used pencil and paper (including scraps of paper, cardboard, and paper napkins), slide rules, calculators, adding machines, typewriters, old-fashioned know-how, and experience to get the job done. Who hasn’t taken notes or made a materials list on a scrap piece of lumber or drywall?

Before everyone had computers, we calculated the amount of materials necessary to build a home, ordered them, scheduled the construction, kept track of who the job was for, completed it, and provided warranty service. What’s more, we still can do it this way, and many people do.

Even though computers have been around for decades, they have not been small enough, efficient enough, or affordable to the point that most anyone could acquire and use one. But that is only part of the issue.

It’s not unlike having a beautiful toolbox that is large enough to accommodate most every hand tool imaginable yet is empty. A computer without software and apps – database, contact manager, scheduler, estimator, word processor, spreadsheet, CAD, and accounting – is of little use.

There are many software programs available – generic and ones for the construction industry – but they must match the process that you already have established. Make sure that you computerize your operation for the right reasons – to make you more efficient and productive with a process that you already have.

Acquiring and installing a fancy software program that will give you reports or information that you normally don’t need, want, or know how to use will lead to futility and frustration, and you may be in a worse position than you were before you got the computer or the software.

While computers may make our lives more interesting – probably very few of us are unaccustomed to receiving email or using the internet – the question for a work application is how the automation will affect and enhance the work product. The basic systems and processes need to be in place first before a computer or software package can make anyone’s business life easier.

Having a computer without understanding the processes that it is replicating or facilitating is similar to young school children learning how to add on a calculator. If they do not understand the concept or the process of addition, how will they ever be able to know if the answer the machine provides them is reasonable? So let’s make sure that if we use a computer in our business, that we can rely on its output – and in a pinch, there’s always paper and pencil.

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