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D4COST Software

Does Your Software Think Like You Do?
By Cecilia Padilla

The construction industry is well-populated by software that meets about 80 percent of usersí workflow needs. Companies leverage that last 20 percent by using software from construction experts who develop integrated software that thinks just like a contractor. The workflow of software should square nicely with the workflow of contractors. Itís not rocket science: Software must be intuitive to the userís day-to-day processes.

The Reality
In reality, though, some software on the market isnít created by construction professionals. Developers may have years of software development experience under their belts and a knowledgeable support team on hand, but without on-the-job construction experience, theyíll fail to address some of the nuances that are crucial to contractor performance.

The Development
Construction software must focus on a contractorís specific business needs, not the latest technological buzz. The industryís best software providers donít look to the company boardroom for product development experts. They know when software executives drive product development; practical application can take a backseat to the hype.

Some of the best software enhancement ideas emerge when the software provider and the customer consider each other as colleagues. That only comes with shared experience.

Only a consultation managed by an experienced construction professional determines whether a product will actually meet the userís needs and if the people behind the product can be counted on as reliable advisers. A sales representative who has never worked for a construction company usually can answer questions as they relate to the software, but will probably need to get back to the customer before addressing more complex, industry-specific concerns.

Without a solid implementation plan executed by an experienced team, even good software will probably fail to meet expectations. Only when the implementation team has gone through a similar process within a construction company will the experience be complete.

First-hand familiarity with the general workflow requirements of a construction business prepares the team to better guide the customer through a phased implementation process designed to save the company time and money. A system rollout with software that is not set up the way a business operates is risky when the implementation team does not have construction experience.

Overall corporate structure is another factor that can be a challenge for the implementation team. A corporation with multiple locations across the globe needs an implementation team and a software package that can be successfully deployed across these sites. Data integrity and consistency is a must when it comes to generating accurate bids. An estimator/project manager in the United States should have access to the same data that his/her counterpart has access to across the world in the United Kingdom for example. If any changes are made to the data in the United States, the changes should be easily communicated and reflected in the data across the world. Office personnel regardless of geographic location should have access to the implementation team for guidance and resolution of any issues that may arise during regular business dealings.

Effective collaboration is an important and essential ingredient in the success of any construction company regardless of its size. The implementation team must keep this in the forefront of their minds when deploying a solution. Proper documentation should be provided by the implementation team to all parties involved to ensure the optimal journey for collaboration. Lack of clear cut instructions and detailed guidelines results in confusion that is detrimental to the success of an otherwise efficient team.

Training is another aspect that the implementation team is often involved in. When implementing a new software solution, it is vital that the workforce is trained from the very beginning. Contractor lack of training results in costly mistakes that impact the overall bottom line. A companyís most prized possession is its human capital, investing in the education of the workforce will determine the overall success of the implementation plan. Training has to be consistent in conveying the same message across all locations to avoid obstacles down the line; this can only be accomplished by utilizing an implementation team that has firsthand knowledge of the intricacies of the construction business.

Questions to Consider
Purchasing software is about buying a business solution and service. No software program guarantees a company will win every contract, but a quality program helps contractors manage day-to-day functions, increase productivity and raise profit margins.

Following are a few tips to consider when shopping for a construction software provider.

Donít hesitate to ask about the developerís industry experience, including how many of the vendorís employees came from a construction company. Be wary of an indirect response that touts the educational credentials of the companyís leaders. Titles are nice, but nothing outweighs the benefit of on-the-job construction experience.

Does the company representative ask intelligent questions? Being asked realistic questions will give contractors immediate clues about the depth and breadth of a software providerís construction industry knowledge.

Does the vendor understand contractor lingo? Whether providing a demonstration, completing training or offering phone support, a software provider should easily speak the language of construction.

Does the solution offer means of managing the bottom line after the contract is won? Winning the contract is just the first step in an overall complicated process of ensuring that the project is profitable to the company. The solution should provide means of managing the project in the office or on the construction site resulting in on-time delivery. Software solutions should be easy to learn and navigate regardless of the technical expertise of the user. This is only achievable when the software is created by a company that has on-the-job construction experience.

Does the company have the recommendation of industry peers? Ask around; see what others in the construction industry are using to meet their business needs. A successful software provider should have the respect of industry peers and associations as a trusted name in the construction market.

In the end, itís all about dealing with software developers who have stood in a contractorís boots. Anything else and construction companies are likely to get software that thinks like they do 80 percent of the time. Thatís simply not good enough in this economy.

About the author: Cecilia Padilla, President of On Center Software, Inc. is an internationally known expert in the construction industry. Under the leadership of Mrs. Padilla, On Center Software introduced Digital Production Controlô patented labor control technology, increased customer support accessibility, and launched On Center University to better educate and train customers and partners. She serves on the firmís executive Vision Team, a think tank for the future of construction automation.

Mrs. Padilla is a respected estimator and project manager in the drywall industry. Like many professionals in construction, she is a second generation construction professional. Mrs. Padillaís expertise spans 25 years in drywall, light- and heavy-gauge framing, lath and plaster, EIFS, fireproofing-themed facades, and acoustical ceilings. Prior to joining On Center Software in 2008, she worked for Marek Brothers Systems in Houston, Texas (where she was a power user of On Center Software solutions) and for Raymond Interior Systems in both Las Vegas, Nevada and Orange County, California.

Her passion for the industry is best observed during her numerous speaking engagements around the world. Mrs. Padilla speaks with owners, architects, general contractors, estimators and project managers in the industry to understand their challenges and issues. This first-hand knowledge of construction is the foundation for On Center Softwareís customer focused business model.

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