Versatile Construction Software Integrates Systems to Maximize Efficiency, Profits|
By Lynn Murray
Click Here to
for Your FREE
In a slowing economy, it is only logical that those involved in the commercial building industry would take a closer look at ways to maximize the efficiencies, resources and ultimately, the profitability of their operations. But less work in progress also means more time to examine the routine systems and products used to conduct daily business – and time to evaluate if better alternatives exist.
At least that’s what construction software providers are banking on as they tout a full range of proven cost-estimating, accounting, procurement, project management and reporting software solutions. These products operate on the basic premise that construction is a highly complex organization of integrated components that must succeed both separately and as a cohesive, interactive network. Effective construction management software allows less people to do more work in less time, with fewer errors, greater accountability and better cash flow. Continuous information sharing eliminates redundancies and insures that key players have access to meaningful data. In good times, this information is valuable; in tighter times, it’s essential to stay in business.
While hundreds of construction software products can be found in today’s marketplace, those that dominate are characterized by their versatility and ability to integrate with other products and systems. Software – particularly in a historically paper-mired profession like construction – is not just a new product that is purchased, installed and immediately successful. It requires a sea-change in organizational mindset, along with training, commitment and adoption by individuals at every level of the organization.
Let’s take a look at four key companies offering top software solutions for the commercial construction industry.
On Center Software’s (www.oncenter.com) goal is to transform the takeoff and estimating experience through software designed to propel winning bids into profitable projects.
Founded in 1988 by construction industry professionals, The Woodlands, Tex.-based software provider offers its ProfitBuilding Suite that frees estimators from the tedious task of creating takeoffs on paper plans and trying to calculate accurate results for complicated figures with a calculator. The centerpiece product, On-Screen Takeoff®, increases accuracy and efficiency of the takeoff process, which helps its customers to win more profitable bids.
The software allows contractors to draw takeoffs on the computer screen, with calculations and measurements done automatically. Color-coded drawings easily identify conditions and quantities, and an overlay feature gives the ability to compare two versions of a drawing.
The On Center Software ProfitBuilding Suite of products makes it possible to manage all phases of a job from the initial bid stage to completion. Estimators can perform takeoffs directly on their computer screens with On-Screen Takeoff, create thorough and accurate bids with Quick Bid, and track a project’s status and budget with Digital Production Control™.
Group Builders, Inc., the tenth largest general contractor in Hawaii, turned to On Center for the biggest project in their 25-year history. The company used On Center’s On-Screen Takeoff and Quick Bid applications to prepare their bid for four six-story buildings at the Ka'anapali Ocean Resort North on Maui.
Group Builders was given less than two weeks to submit its bid, including the breakdown of all required costs. “This was a task that would have been impossible without On Center Software,” said company estimator Eugene Sacdalan. "On Center provided the budget hours per section, per trade and per activity with just the click of a mouse. The same was true for the Schedule of Values for billing purposes, the material buyout and the stocking list."
"I still recall when I estimated a 46-story high rise; it took me about three to four weeks by manual takeoff alone,” said Sacdalan. “Now, on average, I can submit my bid in a week.”
On Center Software's Quick Bid application also positively impacts profits by providing a detailed budget down to the minute or cent of every activity, said Sacdalan, allowing the company’s project manager to set and enforce the budget goals of the different trades within the company.
Tampa, Fla.-based D4COST (www.d4cost.com) is the nation's leading building cost estimating software for conceptual estimating created from actual projects that have been built.
D4COST™ works by taking the actual cost data on existing buildings and applying factors that allows the user to cost escalate (or depreciate) from one time to another time, and to regionally adjust for the local variances in construction costs from one place to the next.
“The best measurement for future building cost is historical building cost. Actual construction costs coupled with scientific cost escalators and regional modifiers make past data relevant to future building costs,” said David Castelli, president, D4COST.
Using a “Base-Target-Rebase” procedure, D4COST data is entered with a bid (construction) data and a location, known as the project’s “Base.” Once this information has been identified, it is possible to now “Target” a project for another time and place. The project is now ready to “Rebase,” which allows adjustments for today’s or tomorrow’s dollars, as well as any modifications such as square footage or other features.
The software comes with a database library of 1,100 actual construction projects, broken down in the CSI MasterFormat™, and no limit on the number of projects that the user may archive for future reference.
Historical data comes to life with D4COST because the software also includes integral cost escalators (that take costs from one time to another, through the year 2013) and more than 500 local (regional) adjusters that move building costs from one place to another.
For Hilbers Inc., a builder and developer in Yuba City, Cal. that specializes in restaurants, the ability to reference historical project data was a must. D4COST offered an effective solution.
“We were looking for a budgeting program, something that would allow us to review historical data for restaurants that were similar to projects we were bidding,” said estimating assistant Richard Havens. “One of the things that is very important to us is the ability to quickly input past project data. Initially, it took us about 40 minutes to input a project. But we were able to easily integrate D4COST with Excel and import each project in a matter of minutes.”
Within the past two months, Hilbers has imported data from more than 40 projects into D4COST and has used the historical data as a baseline to prepare bids for at least six new projects.
“It’s so convenient to start with the basic elements of a former project and then work on some modifications to suit the requirements of the new project. We can easily plug in information about our subcontractors and complete information we need for a bid,” said Havens.
Sage is one of the leading suppliers of business management software and services to 5.7 million customers worldwide. Two of the Beaverton, Ore.-based company’s software solutions for the construction industry are Sage Timberline Office
(www.sagetimberlineoffice.com) and Sage Master Builder
Sage Timberline Office manages construction accounting, estimating, and project and property management. The software also can run real-time reports, track costs, produce estimates, forecast cash flow, and evaluate properties.
Minneapolis, Minn.-based Thor Construction chose Sage Timberline Office to help manage the company’s rapidly growth and expansion. Less than 10 years ago, the company was earning about $4 million year.
But soon the company began to enjoy unprecedented growth of about 50 percent annually, said Thor controller Bob Scott. It became essential to track all job data electronically, break down job costs by detailed cost codes, and manage union data. While the company’s previous software had served them well when the operation was smaller, Thor needed a solution to keep pace with the company’s growth.
Sage Timberline Office is now used to run all business at Thor, including the general ledger, receivables, payables, payroll, job costing, project management, and equipment accounts.
“Most accounting packages provide accounts payable capabilities, but few let us manage commitments to ensure that we don’t overpay our contractors. Fully integrated reports in Sage Timberline Office show us original contract amounts, change orders, and totals already paid–all broken out by individual contractor,” said Scott. “This has proved to be extremely important for turning around projects before they become too expensive.”
Sage Master Builder is an industry-specific, fully integrated construction management solution that links four key phases of the “Profit Cycle”: estimating, production/project management, accounting, and analysis/reporting. It helps companies win more profitable bids; finish jobs faster, collect money quicker, and rapidly grow revenues.
“Construction at its best is ‘organized chaos,’ and the way that you control the field, clients, and the office needs to be integrated,” said George Minardos, president and founder of The Minardos Group, a Santa Monica, Cal. general contractor. “Vendors were overpaid, we double-paid a few material items and we didn’t collect some accounts receivable for more than six months. We needed a solution that could solve our current problems and grow with our business.”
As a fully-integrated system, Sage Master Builder provided that solution.
“It all boils down to one thing: confidence in your data,” says Minardos. “Just because you’re running millions of dollars through your books doesn’t mean you’re profitable. How do you know unless your systems are integrated and you’re able to analyze projects? Sage Master Builder lets you accomplish that.”
Maxwell Systems’ (www.maxwellsystems.com ) integrated construction business management solutions offer specialty-specific solutions to meet the job function demands of the various construction trades. Two key estimating products offered by King of Prussia, Pa.-based company are Estimation Logistics, for electrical, HVAC, plumbing and electrical contractors; and Quest Estimator, for residential, commercial, subcontracting and sitework contractors.
Estimation Logistics ties together estimates, labor needs and cost analysis to help contractors achieve overall efficiency and cost savings. Tailored to specific trades, the software helps increase the accuracy of estimates with digital takeoffs, prepare proposals in client-requested formats, and connect and share data with various software applications.
C.E. Jarrell Contracting, a design/build firm based in St. Louis, Missouri, uses Estimation Logistics software for both Mechanical & Plumbing and Electrical applications.
Chief estimator Jeff Patterson says the benefits of Maxwell Systems’ estimating software to his company have been considerable. “Fifteen years ago we were doing $10 to $15 million dollars of business per year,” says Jeff. “Last year we did $75 to $80 million.”
In addition to increasing profitability, Maxwell Systems software has significantly increased C.E. Jarrell’s productivity. “With Maxwell Systems’ software, what used to require three or four estimators now requires only one,” said Patterson.
According to Patterson, the most beneficial feature is that it gives the estimator the ability to modify design specifications to assemblies. “With Maxwell Systems you can change design specs during takeoff and see the cost difference immediately.”
Maxwell Systems’ Quest Estimator is an all-in-one takeoff and estimating system that’s compatible with other Maxwell Systems products. The product offers takeoff and estimating in a single application, including unique features such as 3-D Visual Assemblies, to help ensure the accuracy of estimates.
Wm. L Robinson Concrete of Linden, Pa. specializes in concrete placement for footers, walls, beams, pads, sidewalks and curbs. Contract manager Kent Paulhamus, who had previously done manual estimating, began used Maxwell Systems Quest Estimator in 2002.
“I have no interest in looking for another package,” said Paulhamus. “What would take me two weeks to do manually now only takes about three days.”
Paulhamus feels the most valuable features of his Maxwell Systems solution are the Visual Assemblies, which are set up as templates in the database, but can be copied and customized for different wall sections.
Wm. L. Robinson is easily winning more than 10 percent of the projects they bid – and exceeding industry standards. The company is almost ready to expand its estimating staff and move up to the network version of Quest Estimator, which will allow the company to enjoy the efficiency and simplicity of an integrated construction management system for the first time.