As automated estimating platforms advance, and user adoption accelerates, product options are proliferating. Construction estimating solutions that appeared to be “leading edge” yester day are very much in the mainstream today, and a growing number of software providers are eager to claim a piece of the pie. All of them will tell you that their solution is the one: cheaper, faster, easier, and so on. Sorting out the differences can be problematical—and navigating their relative strengths and weaknesses can become a full-time job. In fact, a quick internet search reveals more “Top Ten” and “Best Five” lists of construction-specific estimating and project management software than you can reasonably use, without an easy way to compare and contrast. The bottom line? Before you spend a dime on construction estimating software, know exactly what you’re buying. Let’s take a quick look at some key definitions.
- Bidding software focuses on project bids/proposals, subcontractor and project scheduling, client management, and bid analysis/reporting.
- Takeoff software pulls information out of digital blueprints and spec-sheets to generate cost estimates.
- Estimating tools help estimators create line-by-line cost and quantity estimates for materials and supplies. These tools can include cost summary templates, pre-added formulas and calculations, and regional part/material cost databases.
Now, here’s where things really get interesting: online vs desktop. When it comes to an estimating solution, you have a choice. Either (1) install the software on computers or servers that you own, or (2) gain access to the tool online, via a web browser and mobile devices that connect to the cloud. Many contractors find that the convenience of a cloud-based estimating platform is hard to beat. Users have 24/7/365 access to data, updates are automatic, and it can easily be scaled up or down depending on estimating volume. That translates into the kind of efficiency and collaboration that can make a big difference to the bottom line.
Obviously, be fore you spend a dime on construction estimating software, it’s important to take a good, hard look at the cost of the estimating solution—or solutions—your company is considering. The good news is that construction estimating software is typically a very affordable piece of technology. And it can save your estimators significant time as compared to manual methods of cost calculation, which must also be factored in. But keep in mind that different providers use different pricing models, some more flexible than others. And you can assume that the upfront cost of a desktop estimating solution will be higher than that of a cloud-based product, which doesn’t require installation.
Last, but not least, take the following things into consideration before you make your decision:
Reputation & Customer Service - You’re starting a long-term partnership, so make sure that your provider is both reputable and responsive with A+ ratings and rave reviews.
Accessibility - Hands down, cloud-based estimating platforms offer the highest levels of 24 /7/365 accessibility for your users, who can connect from any mobile device.
Product Design - Good design asks less of the user, not more. Make sure the experience is intuitive for even non-technical users; a product demo can help make that clear.
Features - Confirm that the tool meets all of your estimating and digital take off needs both present and future—and can be scaled up or down as necessary.
Training - As we’ve seen, the right training can help speed adoption by new users and boost productivity, so choose a company committed to education.
Pricing - Paying up fo r powerful features that fit your needs makes sense, but beware of overpaying for a weak product or getting locked into an unwieldy contract.
- Have we done all we can to understand what options are available and compare their features, functionality and pricing models?
- Does a smaller upfront capital investment in estimating software make sense for our company?
- Could we benefit from the added flexibility of an estimating platform that’s cloud-based?
- Are we considering the history, experience and reputation of each software provider under consideration?
If you answered “yes” to all of the questions above, you have a clear sense of what product options are available to you and how they align with your estimating needs—the best way to make an informed investment decision.
To win in the construction industry, you must be aware of who your competitors are and what, if any, business advantages they may have. Research shows that companies that adopt technology that supports efficiency and cost reduction are better positioned to compete and grow than those that don’t. By applying that thinking to your project estimat ing tasks, you may have a better idea of your own next steps.