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Is it Time to Say Goodbye to Your Spreadsheets?

Conley Smith, Content Marketing Manager, Asite

Is it Time to Say Goodbye to Your Spreadsheets?

Posted: June 16, 2022 | Estimating

With the passage of the generation-defining $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill last year, both general contractors and subcontractors in all sectors are likely to see the ripple effects of this building spree.

While not everyone can be a part of a mega-project like the $9.5 billion redevelopment of JFK International Airport or the $77 billion California High-Speed Rail Construction Project, all in the industry share similar pain points — from a lingering labor shortage to supply chain disruptions.

But some of these pain points can unintentionally be selfinflicted: like continuing to work with a mix of spreadsheets, emails, Dropbox, and various point solutions. Choosing a mixed bag of software, tools, and applications that don’t integrate can create unique challenges to productivity and profitability.

Whether your typical construction project involves roofing or drywall, some of these tools, like spreadsheets, can be a hard habit to kick. Believe it or not, spreadsheets are still heavily used to manage projects around the world. According to JBKnowledge, spreadsheet reliance in the construction industry only dropped by slightly over 2% between 2020 and 2021!

They found when applications don’t integrate, more than 40% of those surveyed transfer data using spreadsheets. In fact, a leading ConTech survey showed that 51.3% of all respondents are still manually transferring data for apps without integrations.

Are You Copying & Pasting Errors?

We can all agree spreadsheets have their use — mainly on smaller construction projects where information is passed between 2−3 people. However, they were never intended for how we use the software today.

When managing a construction project in a spreadsheet, information comes in from all angles: data from your contractors, information from your team on site, and decisions made by the asset owner. All this information must be input into a single workbook, leaving your project open to input errors.

Several expert studies done in the 2010s noted that 88% of all spreadsheets contain “significant” errors, caused mainly by users. This can be particularly concerning when estimators pull material prices from one spreadsheet and enter them into another. If you’re compiling itemized costs, labor rates, change orders, and materials, errors can have a major impact on whether your bid is too low or too high.

Typically, many of these errors are caused by copying and pasting data from one point to another or manually keying in figures. These errors often hide in plain sight — a wrong digit here or a miscalculation there. Consider this when you use a formula that you don’t realize is outdated or was entered incorrectly at the start.

For example: An estimator may assume labor is the base wage plus 26%. If they don’t have a seamless way to check with the accounting department, they could be way off on their true labor cost.

As spreadsheets get passed around from contractor to project manager and back again, the opportunity for errors multiplies. This means you could easily be working from the wrong data completely.

Version Control Becomes a Nightmare

Reports suggest the U.S. construction industry alone loses over $177 billion annually due to correcting mistakes, searching for project data, or performing rework. Let that sink in for a few minutes before you update your next spreadsheet.

Now think about how much information is shared on large projects. Associated General Contractors of America reported that large infrastructure projects are voluminous — requiring an average of 130 million emails, 55 million documents, and 12 million workflows. Of that, 95.5 percent of all data captured goes unused.

Even on smaller projects, it’s easy to make input errors. The potential for costly errors only escalates when error-filled spreadsheets are shared with others on a construction project. Typically, most spreadsheets are stored as static files on a computer rather than in a cloud-based solution. This makes file-sharing between multiple subcontractors a mammoth task. 
How does this work? Instead of updating docs in real-time, subcontractors must wait for the edit functionality to become available, input their data, and resave the spreadsheet. To get around this, many download their own versions and update that as they go, leaving it up to someone else to consolidate later.

Here, multiple versions of the same document could be in circulation at any one time. This creates a version control nightmare and leads to questions:

• Is all the data in one doc?
• Which version is correct?
• Who has access to the most up-to-date version?
• What version has been sent with the bid?

When working with multiple parties, single spreadsheet aren’t your best option. They will never offer the flexibility and customization of many construction management platforms.

Kiss Outdated Processes Goodbye

On any given construction project, material shipments will run late, trades can fall behind, and schedules will need to be adjusted. It’s always critical to keep the field up to date on any special sequences of work — especially if the estimator promised it during the bidding process.

Using outdated manual transfer, spreadsheet imports, email, or other error-prone processes is a recipe for disaster. These will continue to cost the construction industry time and money, especially when valuable information is not easily accessible in a single view or dashboard.

Case in point: McKinsey & Company reports that construction projects are typically completed 80% over budget and take 20% longer than scheduled and it’s mainly the stakeholders that pay the price.

More to the point, think of how long it takes to access data housed in different systems, then ask yourself how you can export and manipulate the data to provide regular updates to project stakeholders. It’s not only time-consuming, it can also be costly.

Nobody wants to lose money before they ever set foot on site. But that could be the case if you continue using a mixed bag of software for accounting, estimating, and project management. When you use integrated construction tech tools, you can avoid using siloed one-off solutions. Then, it is much easier to transfer data and keep up with version control.

Ready to use integrated tools to store, track, and manage all your construction projects? Find out how Asite can help.

Conley Smith is a Content Marketing Manager with Asite. She has been writing about technology for more than 20 years.