Read the article in Construction Outlook, page 63
Technology Makes it Easier
Retrieving data is a big part of the bidding process for utility projects, and API connectivity is amplifying the already important benefits that specialized software applications for estimating provide over spreadsheets. APIs can essentially automate data transfer, speeding up the estimating process by eliminating manual searches. Instant access to actual production rates achieved on active and past jobs is a great example of how estimators can benefit from API connectivity.
What is an API?
An API, or application programming interface, connects software and data sources to each other and provides a shared standard for interoperability. In simpler terms, the API is a messenger allowing two applications to talk to each other. An API can take orders or requests from a system, relay them to another system, and return the information to fulfill the order.
When someone checks the weather or searches for airline travel options on a smart phone, they’re using an API. The API interprets their request for data, sends it to the weather reporting or reservation application, and sends the requested data back to the phone application.
This type of API connectivity provides extensive benefits to construction estimators using specialized software to prepare their bids. That’s because retrieving data from various sources and systems is a major part of their work. Automating this effort saves time and ensures that the information is accurate and up to date.
An API can connect the estimating software application with systems used for accounting, bid collection, contact management and other functions. This eliminates the need to enter the same data in multiple places and ensures that all systems are always up to date with each other.
Updating and retrieval of labor rates, equipment rates and burdens are examples of how the API can eliminate the need to search for and enter data. An API can also automatically update pricing and other information from organizations such as vendors and subcontractors and keep job-cost identification codes up to date and in sync between estimating and accounting systems.
Using Production Rate Actuals to Inform Current Bids
One of the most beneficial estimating breakthroughs with API connectivity involves access to data on past performance, what contractors typically refer to as production rate actuals.
As estimators build new bids, seeing the production rates that crews from their company actually achieved in the past or are achieving currently on the same type of work is an obvious advantage. Getting that data, however, has historically been a labor-intensive, multi-step challenge.
Now, with an API link between estimating software and the field tracking software application used for reporting labor, production quantities and equipment utilization in the field, estimators can review current and historical production rates quickly and easily, without even leaving the estimating application.
Estimators working on a new bid simply select an individual item such as excavation, pipe installation or trucking to review cost structure associated with it. With API connectivity establishing what is essentially a live link with the field tracking software, they can request the actual production rates that have been captured within electronic field logs for that activity.
Filtering options let estimators zero in on the most relevant or comparable work. They can filter by any tracking ID or account ID. They can also select a date range and whether to include jobs that are completed, in process or both.
In the example in the illustration, the estimator has used the API connection between the estimating software and the field tracking software to pull actual production rates for an excavating crew for six jobs and selected three of those jobs to include in the calculation.
The summary area shows that the current bid includes 5,000 cubic yards of material to be excavated at a proposed rate of 800 cubic yards per day. The software has calculated the average actual production rates achieved on the three selected jobs (432 cubic yards per day) and the variances and presented this information for an easy side-by-side comparison. Clearly, this is valuable data that could inform the estimator to revise the current bid.
As bids get increasingly complex and competitive, estimators in utility construction and other heavy civil sectors are turning to technology that lets them work faster, stay accurate and be more strategic. Leveraging API connectivity, particularly for access to production rate actuals, is a prime example.