May 18, 2016
By: Pat Reitz, B2W Software
Every dollar that comes into a construction company begins with an estimate, and the quality of estimating processes and tools goes a long way toward determining how much of that dollar goes to the bottom line as profit.That’s why enterprises of all sizes and across all sectors are moving away from spreadsheets at an accelerated rate and stepping up to specialized software to manage estimating and bidding. Industry economics are fueling the migration to these more effective, automated tools. While infrastructure and commercial requirements are driving an increase in the volume of work, margin pressure also is increasing in response to funding challenges associated with many projects. That puts construction companies under pressure to estimate with more precision, as well as to operate at optimal efficiency.
The goals, from the estimating and bidding standpoint, are straightforward. Every company wants to complete more bids with less time and effort. Accuracy is also critical to win the right bids at the best possible margins, and standardizing the bidding process company-wide is a high priority.
However, software options to meet those goals can vary greatly in features, functionality and performance. Following are the 10 key capabilities to look for.
- Centralized data. A robust database with up-to-date labor, task materials and equipment cost structures and templates is the foundation of a powerful system, allowing estimators to build bids quickly, accurately and in a standardized manner across the company.
- Flexibility. The best estimating software enables companies to complete and view bids with the most appropriate level of detail and to estimate with pay item, WBS or hybrid methods.
- Ease of use. Busy estimators need to focus on estimating, not mastering software. The logic and functionality of the application has to be intuitive and in sync with the way they work and think.
- Integration. Information from the estimate should flow easily and directly to accounting, project management and field tracking systems, allowing companies to avoid redundant data entry and inaccuracy.
- Simultaneous and mobile access. Estimators should be able to work in the office or remotely, accessing the estimating system and all of its resources. The ability for multiple estimators to work on a bid at the same time also can be extremely important.
- Built-in Department of Transportation (DOT) capabilities. For companies doing DOT work, there are huge time-saving and accuracy advantages when the estimating software has built-in DOT cost items for each state and electronic submission capabilities. Specifically, software can allow estimators to download a DOT bid form from the state, build the bid based on pre-populated cost items matching DOT formatting requirements, and then export for submission.
- Reliable, enterprise-class performance. Nothing frustrates estimators more than software that performs slowly or crashes. Scalability to accommodate growth is also important.
- Management reporting. With a browser-based reporting feature, companies can quickly aggregate summary information on estimates across the company on a scheduled or ad-hoc basis. The data drives better decisions and better estimates.
- Advanced bid analysis. A market analysis feature allows estimators to review bids and compare them with those of competitors–a big advantage in fine-tuning costs and processes for future estimates.
- Security. High-level security features control access to various areas of the estimating software and limit the amount of information each user can see or change. By assigning specific permission levels to specific users, a company can control the creation, modification and deletion of information.
Several additional features further differentiate specialized estimating software from spreadsheets. These include built-in vendor and subcontractor analysis capabilities, an audit trail that maintains a detailed history of changes made within an estimate, an error-checking wizard to detect common mistakes and customizable bid forms.
Specific estimating features may be more or less important, depending on the requirements of each construction company. However, most companies that move from spreadsheets to a specialized software solution find that they can quickly leverage all or most of them to complete more bids in less time and make vital improvements in accuracy and standardization.