5 Essential questions you need to ask before choosing construction estimating software

Topics: Estimating

Cloud-based construction estimating software is empowering estimators to create accurate, fast, and more competitive bids. There are countless benefits to connecting your data and working inside a single platform, so choosing the right one is crucial. Asking the right questions and finding the right answers can be the difference between outright success and costly failure.

That’s why we’ve created a list of essential questions to keep at the front of your mind when searching for the right solution. I’ve also supplied some guidance on the answers you should expect.

Q1 – Do you really need to stop using spreadsheets?

Lots of estimating teams rely on generic tools like spreadsheets to price work. You might be asking yourself what the problem with this is. Most people have a basic understanding of Excel and on the surface, it seems easy to use. But it can come back to bite you once the contract is signed and work starts onsite.

The operations or accounts department calls you and asks, ‘how did you get to this figure?’ or ‘why is this equation different to this one?’ These conversations rarely end on a positive note because it’s almost impossible to trace the reasoning, or in the case of an error, the root cause. So, estimators get the blame.

For larger projects, the potential for error here increases exponentially. Using excel in these scenarios involves multiple spreadsheets and countless tabs, each with their own set of complex calculations (which are likely interlinked). What happens when you need to change something across the board quickly? How do you ensure it’s done right?

There is no one way, or step by step process, and the inevitable mistakes can be costly.

Q2 – Does the construction estimating software connect your team or add another data silo?

Estimators often look for digital tools that help them manage their workload. The stakes are high, time is short and getting bids out the door quickly is expected. Sourcing tools for each problem you’re facing may seem like a quick way to speed up the estimating process.

But this approach is likely to cause problems down the road. These disconnected and stand-alone systems can cause:

  • Data silos to grow, block visibility, and reduce the efficiency and effectiveness of your decision making
  • Estimating teams to waste time exporting information as spreadsheets and pulling them into their favourite ‘homemade’ calculators
  • Costly mistakes, which are inevitable when transferring data between systems
  • Problems with onboarding and training of new hires on company 'best practice’ because everyone has their own way of pricing jobs

Choosing the right estimating software is crucial to preventing these problems and connecting your team within one system. It standardises your processes, ensuring each team member is producing work in the same format. You can stand behind the output knowing where it came from and how it has been calculated. We know this piece of mind can be rare as an Estimator.

This approach also creates space for collaboration and version control as your team can work on the same estimate at the same time – inside the system..

Q3 – How does the software connect with your broader business?

This is especially relevant if there are several offices within your company. Access to the same historical data for each of these teams ensures that any insight or information captured by one person, can be accessed, and utilised across the entire business. Pooling your company wide knowledge in this manner can give you an edge over competitors.

It’s important to think about the wider business as well. It’s easy to lose sight of a project once the order gets signed. However, really, the journey has just begun.

Operations are likely involved in execution of the project, and the finance team will be assessing the projects profitability. Using an estimating software that can integrate with other business systems, can be very useful here. It can help you understand the true cost of delivery and ensure your pricing is accurate to enable a full circle process.

Q4 - Is the switch to new software going to be painful?

The construction industry is at the back of the pack when it comes to digitisation, ahead of only agriculture. This lack of technology plays a huge part in the productivity gap that is costing the industry billions per year.

With this in mind, be prepared for a certain amount of pushback from team members. A lot of Estimators will be married to their current approach and tools (most likely spreadsheets). Be sensitive here – many have invested a substantial amount of time and effort into improving their Excel skills, and have built a complex web of ‘spreadsheet art’.

Don’t let this put you off driving the digital transformation. Assess the likelihood of your team being open to the change, and then proceed accordingly – armed with information and proof of the benefits. Ask them for their opinions and involve them in software demos and meetings.

Working individually on spreadsheets is a barrier to collaborative work, which is often more productive and profitable. If you choose the right partner, the right software with the right support it will be a short journey to mastering the various tools and reaping the rewards.

Q5 - How does the licensing model suit your needs?

Not all estimating software is created equal. The same goes for pricing structures. Traditional, old school software licensing is often inflexible. You will likely be asked to make a large investment upfront, and then an annual payment to retain access and usage and perhaps even to access ongoing support. This is usually without the flexibility to reduce or increase the number of licenses and/or users as your business changes.

Many new construction software providers are offering a more flexible structure whereby you pay for what you need and the cost is spread out in even payments, usually annually with no requirement for any significant upfront capital expenditure. This type of model with complete flexibility in terms of licenses and users is ideal if you are likely to need the ability to scale in the future.

Don’t fear change: the results are too significant

Thinking about implementing new software can be daunting, let alone actually entering the evaluation process for one. At the end of the day, estimating plays a vital role in any construction business, and it needs to be taken into the 21st century. Short-term disruption to your process is inevitable when implementing anything new, but this will be more than offset by the productivity and profitability for the years to come.

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