Specialized Software Delivers Automation Advantages for
Contractors specializing in Department of Transportation projects are under increasing pressure to do more with less. Their profitability begins with an estimate, and a growing number are stepping up from spreadsheets to specialized estimating software to gain speed and efficiency advantages when bidding on DOT work.
The U.S. Department of Transportation estimated that U.S. drivers traveled more miles in 2015 than during any year in history. The volume shows no signs of letting up. Combined with aging infrastructure, it’s creating predictable growth in the opportunities for contractors focused on road, highway and bridge improvement projects.
Those opportunities, however, are not without risk. The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act is expected to provide more than $300 billion in funding over the next five years, but infrastructure demands still outweigh the available funding. As a result, margins for contractors are getting tighter.
Most heavy civil construction estimators find themselves under pressure to produce more bids in less time. Those bids are also becoming increasingly complex and, with tighter margins, it is more important than ever to avoid errors in order to win the right jobs at the right price.
Specialized estimating software makes bidding faster and more accurate through the use of DOT item databases, standardized crew and task templates, and other features that automate time consuming tasks and replace manual data entry with easy import and export tools. By streamlining data collection and making the bidding process more repeatable, estimators are freed up to focus on their bidding strategies, and can modify their bids quickly and with confidence in response to any last minute changes in costs from vendors or subcontractors.
A strong estimating software application allows companies to establish central resource and item databases that they pre-populate with their company-specific rates for labor, equipment, materials and other costs. Templates, including a commonly used combinations of resources and items, can also be created in the database.
For example, a company might create a template for a “concrete paving task” that includes several pieces of equipment, the operators, a foreman, some laborers and the materials that crew would use.
High-performance estimating software also comes with the built-in ability to download and leverage the specific pay items established by every state DOT to populate an estimate. These DOT databases includes item numbers, descriptions and units of measure for each item that each particular state may require on its bid forms. Contractors can identify the DOT items or templates they frequently bid on and populate them in advance with their own costs. When it’s time to create a DOT bid, they already have the building blocks that conform exactly to the DOT requirements.
Automated import, configuration and export
With DOT cost items and templates pre-populated, an estimate for a DOT job for a state supporting electronic bidding can literally be created in minutes.
An estimating application allows estimators to import an electronic DOT bid form and match it to a DOT database that they have already established. The best applications will support Expedite, other state-specific electronic bidding systems, and importing from Excel. The software will search its internal DOT database of templates for any items that match the required items in the bid and copy them into the estimate automatically, including the quantities from the bid the DOT put out, and all the labor, equipment, crew costs and material cost from the estimating software database of templates.
This fast, automated process eliminates the need to manually chose and enter the items. Estimators can then proceed immediately to reviewing the estimate, modifying crews and changing any costs as necessary. When the bid is complete, they can easily export it to a bid file that can be submitted to the DOT electronically.
Triple B Services, a leading earthwork, highway and utility contractor in southeast Texas transitioned away from Excel when estimating with spreadsheets was slowing the growing company down. Triple B chose B2W Estimate, and estimator Jonathan O’Dell says the specialized software has paid for itself numerous times over.
“The DOT integration features built in provide a critical time saving advantage,” according to O’Dell. With specific state DOT cost items already in the software, he says the estimating team at Triple B can prepopulate them and then pull the information into estimates, as required.
Vice president Kyle Duininck concurs that built-in DOT advantages with an application like B2W Estimate are vital. His company, Duininck, Inc., has heavy construction and aggregate operations across the United States, with federal, state and county projects accounting for a high percentage of the projects.
“The process of prepopulating cost items according to the DOT structures and seamlessly importing a bid form, conforming our bid and exporting it is extremely fast and accurate, and there is no way you can duplicate that with spreadsheets,” says Duininck.
Patrick Reitz, is a product manager at B2W Software. He has had a leadership role in the continuous development of B2W Estimate, the company’s comprehensive application for heavy civil construction estimating and bidding that is used by more than 1,500 companies in all 50 states and each Canadian province. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org