Smartphones, social networks, instant information: digital technology has changed our everyday lives and how we communicate with others. Everyone now wants to transfer the benefits they have drawn from it in their personal life to their place of work. The Construction industry is no exception to the rule.
In recent years, instant messaging has changed the way we communicate with our friends and family and how we organise our lives. Its success is undeniable in the private sphere and these applications are also beginning to be used in the professional field. Indeed, why not take advantage of these user-friendly, free and time-saving apps in the workplace? Why should we deprive ourselves of the possibility of being more productive by communicating better with co-workers, without changing our habits or using a new tool!
If there is indeed a sector that is no exception to this trend it is Construction as these messaging apps seem ideal for the site context: need to communicate instantly with several people, mobile and outdoor work, limited access to computer tools on-site, etc. The aim is to improve collaboration between on-site teams to increase the profitability of construction sites whose average profit margin is around 2% in France. Thus in recent years, pockets have begun to vibrate and notifications sound out on construction sites. From the first stroke of a spade to the delivery of the work, thousands of instant messages are exchanged on each project.
But with the rise in cyberattacks against major industry groups and given that the legitimacy of personal data management policies of some email applications has been widely reported, it is questionable whether the use of these "general public" messaging applications is really the most appropriate – and in particular most secure – solution for construction companies.
"Give me your number so I can add you to the group chat" is often what is asked of a worker or subcontractor on their first days on a site. Most often, they'll just share their personal number. Why? Because the natural reflex is to use the phone, and therefore the number, on which the messaging application is already installed. If this practice is simple, it still raises the issue of privacy and personal security of the data on the one hand and of the companies that communicate via these groups on the other.
How can employees handle the permanent sharing of their personal contact details with several people, even after the completion of a site or after having left the company? What about the use of personal data by the publisher of the messaging application and what choices are left to users with respect to this? Despite being very careful to safeguard your data, and opting not to use a specific messaging app, you may be forced to install it anyway for professional reasons. It is not a good example of free and informed consent, which is one of the legal bases of GDPR.
For their part, companies see confidential and even sensitive data circulating on uncontrolled channels. Data ends up on terminals over which they have no control, neither during nor after the construction project. There are therefore major risks of loss of information, hacking or leaks to competitors. For example, a subcontractor who has finished working on a construction site and moves onto the next site, takes with them their phone, including any sensitive data – photos, drawings, documents – shared while they were working on the project. How does the company that hired them protect itself from this, as it has no control over the devices or over the messaging software used?
All these questions do not find easy answers, despite the administration functions of the groups proposed by instant messaging. A case in point: five employees of a subcontractor that completed its work yesterday need to be removed from a group chat. The problem is that the group includes several dozen people and the five people in question are connected to it through their number or personal username... How can they be identified if their employer is not clearly mentioned? If the task is too complicated, in most cases, access to discussion and exchanged data will remain accessible to them. And this situation is unlikely to change with the applications discussed here: they were not designed to be used in professional situations and their tremendous success with hundreds of millions of individual users does not encourage publishers to invest to adapt to the requirements of workplace use.
An alternative for professionals in the Construction industry involves the use of specialised solutions in the tracking of sites, the most advanced offering similar communication features to those offered by "general public” instant messaging services. If their principle is comparable to messaging features, some details however make all the difference in terms of security and data confidentiality. To take one example: with a business application, employees and business partners register and log in using their professional email address, not through a mobile phone number, as is the case with the messaging service most commonly used on construction sites. This already solves many of the above problems for contractors and their employees:
- Personal user data is not shared with either the application or with its publisher or business partners. The application cannot access the user’s contacts. The data of users and their contacts’ is therefore 100% protected. Confidentiality and respect for privacy are guaranteed and adoption of the solution is facilitated.
- Unlike general public applications linked to a phone number, there is no risk of losing the chat history if the user changes their number. Nor will their contacts continue to write messages that they will never receive to the old number! Less information is lost on projects.
- An employee who leaves the company and whose professional email address is disabled cannot log in and access the archived messages. The employer's data, that of their customers, suppliers and subcontractors is better protected: it is shared in a controlled scope and risks of leakage, voluntary or involuntary, are thus reduced. Similarly, employees of a subcontractor who stop working on a project can be clearly identified and removed from the discussion groups in which they were involved.
Establishing better collaboration on construction sites is one of the levers for increasing the profitability of construction projects. But this necessary search for efficiency should not compromise the company’s data and the privacy of workers’ and subcontractors’ data. Today, industry professionals have access to solutions adapted to the needs of the Construction industry, including collaborative features. Their ergonomics have been designed to resemble general public applications that are used in an uncontrolled manner on sites. By choosing this option, companies have a solution that meets users’ requirements for simplicity and promotes adoption by the teams without jeopardising the security of the company, its data and that of its employees. It brings the best of what digital offers in our personal lives to professional requirements. Everyone has something to gain and it would be a shame to go without.