Incorporating new digital technology and software requires serious consideration for any construction company, large or small.
In order to quantify the potential overall value to the company, there needs to be an assessment of both the upfront costs and the costs associated with staff training and integration. However, with industry margins remaining tight, competition strong and projects becoming increasingly complex, the costs of not staying current with technology can be even higher.
Not surprisingly, contractors looking to upgrade digital processes are moving away from Excel spreadsheets and embracing estimation software.
“Excel spreadsheets were a popular choice among construction estimators at a time when alternatives were few and far between,” says Jeff Gerardi, CEO of ProEst, a provider of cloud-based estimation solutions. “Getting the numbers right can make all the difference between a winning bid and a losing one, and equally important, turning a profit once your bid is accepted.”
Gerardi explains while Excel is easy to use, templates and formulas must be set up and tested each time. Also to be considered is the risk of data re-entry problems associated with manual spreadsheets. Alterations of formulas, either intentional or in error, can have far-reaching, negative consequences.
The other problem, Gerardi says, is Excel’s limited ability to undertake detailed specialized estimating tasks.
“Excel has its flaws and limitations as a construction estimating tool, primarily because it wasn’t built with the needs of a specific industry in mind.”
On the other hand, estimating software designed for the construction industry integrates automatically with most back office accounting and project management programs, virtually eliminating data re-entry problems and reducing the man-hours required.
“Unlike Excel, construction estimating software can summarize data by cost type — material, labour, sub — for instant clarity, a level of transparency that Excel simply can’t.”
Another benefit of today’s preferred cloud-based estimating software is the ability to work within the always-connected world of mobile devices. This means more access and collaboration for more people within the company and the project team.
“A cloud- based estimating platform gives construction teams unprecedented levels of access, mobility and productivity,” says Gerardi.
This improved collaboration and connectivity, “breaks down the barriers and facilitates stakeholder communication, giving teams a new ability to share information in real-time and collaborate on key decisions.”
Gerardi says estimation software is affordable, particularly cloud-based applications as opposed to software installed on individual computers. Beyond the 24/7/365 mobile access to data, cloud-based programs can be scaled up or down depending on circumstances and needs, and can be continuously upgraded.
There are many ROI questions a construction company must ask itself when considering any new software solution. However, Gerardi says the issue essentially boils down to this; “Can you do better with it than without it?”
Worth equal consideration are management’s future objectives for the company. The efficiency gains realized from estimating software offer the potential to take on more work without necessarily increased hiring. Attempts to win new project bids might not only be more successful and more profitable while less prone to costly pricing errors.
On the other hand, deferring a move towards advanced technology such as estimation software could allow competitors to gain a business advantage, restricting the company’s revenue and profit growth, and limiting future opportunities.
Of course, whenever new digital solutions are considered, any instincts among staff and supervisors to maintain the status quo must be confronted. The good news is that internal resistance can be mitigated through the support offered by leading software vendors. Even mentoring relationships between tech-savvy staff and those less experienced will ease transitions.
“The real cost of any investment must always be understood in the context of what business benefits, including savings, will potentially be delivered,” says Gerardi. “By adopting a more powerful automated construction estimating platform, especially one based in the cloud, construction companies of all sizes can better manage the complexities of today and position themselves for success in the future.”
John Bleasby is a Coldwater, Ont.-based freelance writer. Send comments and Inside Innovation column ideas to email@example.com.