by: Greg Norris
Massachusetts paving contractor gains estimating speed and flexibility, and powerful, easy tracking and analysis with software technology
Palmer Paving is no stranger to benefits of software technology, and a unified approach to estimating, performance tracking and accounting continues to pay dividends. Technology systems at the company based in western Massachusetts include B2W Estimate, B2W Track and the Vista accounting/ERP program from Viewpoint.
Palmer is a Peckham Industries subsidiary specializing in highway construction, commercial paving and excavation and sitework. The company also supplies asphalt and aggregates with four plants.
Bidding fast and accurately with software
“What makes the estimating software so effective and one of the leading products out there is the availability to customize it, to really tailor it to the jobs that we bid,” says Jim Madden, chief estimator.
Palmer Paving creates more than 500 estimates annually. Large bids are in the $10- and $20-million range. Smaller projects might be worth less than $150,000. Larger ones run to the $10 and $20-million range
Regardless of bid size, a prepopulated database of accurate cost items within the estimating software is a big time saver. Estimators at Palmer have also built various crew structures and tasks for completing work, along with personnel, equipment and other costs associated with these crews and tasks, into the software. These can be plugged into the bid as required.
“We can get a small, routine bid out of here in 15 or 20 minutes, if we have all the information for it,” says Madden. “With a larger more complex job, the software allows us to not have to build the whole thing from scratch.”
Bidding on larger jobs can be a collaborative effort at Palmer Paving. One estimator could be inputting subcontractor pricing while others work on other aspects. This ability for multiple estimators to work simultaneously, without confusion over versions or who changed what, is a powerful advantage of estimating with specialized software.
For DOT projects, the software comes with a database of cost items used by each state. Contractors like Palmer Paving can them prepopulate those item databases with their costs. “The software is great for DOT bidding because it’s so automated,” says Madden. “When we download a state bid form, a lot of items can be pulled automatically from our database, and we just have to add quantities and make adjustments.”
Because they don’t have to look up and enter items manually, estimators instead move right to the more strategic work of reviewing and modifying estimates. When they’re ready, they export bids easily from B2W Estimate to a CSV file for uploaded to the state system.
The fast, seamless process buys valuable time. “We’ve been able to make changes two minutes before the bid time and export it, upload it, and get it in on time with that change in there,” says Madden.
Agile performance tracking in the field
Contract administrator Mary Lessard oversaw adoption of software for field tracking at Palmer Paving. Electronic field logs were a big improvement, she says, citing less effort, more accuracy and instant access to consolidated data in a single place.
“We’re capturing labor, billing quantities, equipment hours, production quantities and subcontractor quantities,” Lessard explains. “All the information for a particular job is in the system and at their fingertips, so there is less error in entering employees, equipment, tracking accounts and quantities.”
Foremen also leave notes in the logs to explain circumstances impacting labor hours or production quantities on a particular day. “The foremen are basically our eyes and ears out there,” Lessard says. “What they enter in those field logs gives me a picture, so I can do the next step and actually bill the job.”
Adoption of the field tracking software was relatively smooth, according to Lessard, once some foremen got over what she calls the ‘I’m scared of a computer’ thing. In a construction sector like paving, where jobs can be similar from a crew and equipment standpoint, the option to create new field logs by copying previous one has proven to be an appreciated alternative to starting from scratch.
Estimating, field tracking and accounting systems are integrated
Palmer Paving has developed tight integration and a smooth data flow between systems used to manage estimating, performance tracking in the field and its accounting or ERP functions.
Bid data, including estimated costs and tracking accounts, are exported directly to the Viewpoint Vista accounting ERP system for budget creation and job costing.
“After I set up the job in Vista, I import it into Track, so whatever is in Vista exactly matches Track,” Lessard explains.
“Payroll hours, equipment hours and production quantities are brought into the accounting system from Track,” Madden adds. Those production quantities, captured on the field logs, are then used for billing. They can also be compared versus the original estimate. The process eliminates the need to reenter the data manually, saving time and removing opportunities for errors.
“Overall, it definitely does save time,” Lessard concurs. The export/import functionality is way more efficient than keying in all of that information, and if something comes in incorrectly, it’s an easy thing to fix.”
Cohesive field tracking and estimating systems give Madden and his team another advantage. They make it easier to use actual production data from work that has been completed to sharpen the accuracy of upcoming bids.
“I can look at production reports, which are derived from daily field logs, and see average tons of asphalt paving per shift, for instance,” Madden explains. “That’s very powerful information for us when we’re bidding a similar job.”