Effective Software Use in Preconstruction
The days of manually taking off drawings with roller wheels, coloring blueprints with pencils and highlighters, and recording quantities and calculations with a #2 pencil are gone for the most part. But, before you think that software and technology have solved all the issues inherent in managing the preconstruction process for modern construction projects, consider some of the key preconstruction tasks that may (or may not) benefit from being dragged into the 21st century. Take-Off Digitizer boards have been around for years with their ability to accurately quantify volumes, lengths, and even irregular areas. The challenge has always been how many to own and who should have priority for use. The current state of the art in quality measurement involves “on screen” take-off. Advantages that have quickly gained acceptance include the ability to color code and uniquely shade different elements (such as flooring types) and save the digital image as .pdf file for sharing with bidders or team members. This eliminates muscling rolls of drawing to the copier or shipping paper copies all over the country. Beyond the actual measurement of quantities, most contractors still employ spreadsheets such as Microsoft Excel and Lotus 123 to manage all detail and summary level take-off information. A number of companies such as Vertigraph and CPR International specialize in Excel Add-in solutions for takeoff and estimating serving the needs of the vast majority of contractors devoted to the spreadsheet approach. The main reason often sited for spreadsheet use – flexibility; can be a two edged sword, however, when formula errors or unprotected cells earn you an unexpected “low bid” notification. To avoid this risk of calculation and bid errors, many contractors prefer to use spreadsheets for the quantity take-off and then estimating software for the pricing and calculation of their estimates and bids. Bid Management Software Initially on-line plan rooms were introduced with many reprographics companies having their own versions. Following the consolidation in plan room offerings in recent years, applications such as iSqFt™ and e-Bid™ Systems have gained a foothold. Users can now manage the entire bid process including notifying bidders of bidding instructions and addenda, tracking bid responses, and sending e-mail and fax invitations all using a contractors own list of known & trusted bidders. These systems have proven to be an extremely efficient means of electronically distributing plans and specs to anyone in the country with internet access. Probably the most neglected area of software utilization for the preconstruction professional relates to capturing historical and unit price data. The tremendous volume of data generated in the course of a typical commercial construction estimate or bid is typically “filed away” afterward in paper or electronic form. This information is often difficult to locate and apply later when data for similar projects or systems is needed. The proverbial “re-invention of the wheel” is done out of necessity as estimators are frustrated in their attempts to locate past relevant data for use in current estimates. Applications such as Advisor™ by EosGroup have been launched recently to provide means of capturing and reusing valuable in house data for future estimates and projects. Other applications, such as D4Cost™, provide a conceptual estimating cost data library from hundreds of projects nationwide for use on new estimates. With all the options and rapid change in the construction software industry you might as yourself a few questions before writing the big check. Are your processes non-negotiable or are you open minded to process change and improvement that may be inherent in a new software application? Do your current systems have the ability to exchange information with each other electronically or are you printing paper reports to type information into the next application?
Have your systems “evolved” over time into a unique custom tool that may be great for your “legacy” employees but difficult for new employees to accept and grasp? Does your company have a good track record of devoting resources to employee training and sticking with it? What software applications are construction and engineering schools teaching their graduates and how attractive are you as an employer of choice without these applications in your toolkit? Are your highest paid estimators & preconstruction staff spending their days “counting widgets” instead of building relationships and providing solutions to clients? Will you be satisfied with a collection of “best in breed” applications that can communicate at some level or will only a truly integrated solution satisfy? It is tempting to assume that new software is the answer to your needs in preconstruction, but don’t make the mistake of “hiring software” when your most precious resources - your preconstruction staff, are likely willing and able to help select solutions that will improve their productivity and your bottom line.
Steve Kuhn is President of Integrity Construction Services, LLC, a management consulting firm. Steve works with construction owners, designers, and contractors to improve their business and project processes and lower costs by making their projects more attractive to bidders. Steve has over 25 years of experience in the construction industry in both field and departmental management positions with two of ENR’s top five contractors. Steve can be reached by phone at (615) 591-1112, by e-mail at email@example.com, or visit www.icsvalue.com.