By Jim Flynn
“Great things in business are never done by one person, they’re done by a team of people,” said Steve Jobs of Apple Computers. This is especially true in the construction industry, where projects often require a team of individuals working collaboratively for the project’s best success. Execution usually involves the general contractor (and his whole team), the customer, the architects and engineers, the subcontractors, materials suppliers, and so on. If all the stakeholders involved are not on the same page, the project can wander – possibly missing deadlines and budget goals.
There are so many moving parts on every construction job that it’s essential for the team to be working together towards the same goals: completing a project on time and on budget while meeting quality expectations.
For quite some time, contractors have used technology to help automate tasks and maximize tracking information. Financial departments may use assorted accounting methods to manage GL, AP, AR, payroll, and other financial details and reports. Estimators have employed digitizer technology and, more recently, digital takeoff software, for easier and more accurate calculations of prospective projects. In addition, they likely employ Excel spreadsheets or estimating software to produce quicker, more accurate bids. And project managers are now using software instead of old paper binders to better manage projects for productivity. The various types of software and systems used within one organization can also include preferred applications for owners, equipment managers, inventory managers, and others.
Technology has vastly improved operations for many contractors; however, new challenges have grown from the isolation created by using disparate solutions. With each department using their own software, and even individual departments having multiple software tools to leverage, construction firms now face new obstacles to efficiency and profit.
Challenges of Multiple Systems
These virtual “walls” erected between departments have compromised communication and collaboration. Individual workers tend to be highly concerned with their own roles, and overlook the contributions from other departments, which affects the company as a whole. These tendencies are reinforced when companies use highly specialized software solutions that don’t “talk” to each other.
Using multiple software systems also requires redundant data entry for each one. For example, the estimator enters general job and contact information in the estimating software. Then, when the project is awarded, the project manager enters the same type of data in his software program, the finance department enters it into its applications, and so on. This is not only time-consuming, but exposes the contractor to more risk of mistakes during each round of data entry.
The isolation of using separate systems requires departments to print out documents and circulate them to others for review, additions, comments or approval. Once returned to the initiating department, the new data must be entered back into that specific system. This creates multiple steps for all of the departments involved, increases the risk of losing documents, and requires additional time for overhead tasks.
Lastly, having multiple software solutions puts more strain on IT: they not only must learn and install the various systems, but also ensure that users are properly trained, and deal with numerous vendors to ensure the products are updated and maintained properly.
These are just a few of the challenges that have led many contractors to re-evaluate their processes and look for new options to best increase productivity and profitability across all operations on every project.
The Power of a Single Software Solution
A single software solution allows all team members on a project across a construction company to work effectively toward the same goals from bid to cash.
With a single software solution, many applications can be seamlessly brought together: applications for takeoff, estimating, project management, and accounting, can be empowered to communicate faster and react smarter to address the ever-changing needs of any construction project.
The ability to streamline processes across an entire business with one complete solution not only eliminates any disconnect among owners, estimators, project managers, and back office administrators, but ultimately improves visibility of business performance and profitability for everyone involved.
Starting the Project off Right
With every job, starting at takeoff and estimate, it is typically the estimator who first realizes the benefits of an all-in-one solution. With faster, easier, and more accurate calculations, estimators can bid more work, be more competitive, and have better profit margins. Not only are they more likely to win more work, the details from the takeoff and estimate flow directly along in the process -- for the project and finance teams to manage when a job is won. Everyone is on board the same “train” as it continues through the project to completion.
Time and cost savings are also realized when using a seamless solution for takeoff and estimating, because contractors eliminate the cost and hassle of paper plans while increasing accuracy. This allows them to avoid overbidding and underbidding jobs. Optimal profitability on any project can be established at the first step with the bid -- the foundation for optimal project execution and management.
An all-in-one construction management solution makes the project handoff process a breeze. Instead of a pile of papers being handed off from one person to the next, a complete solution allows the accounting team, project manager, and other team members to be instantly connected to the information they need to do their jobs. With the seamless workflow, the estimate provides the details to perform tasks such as creating purchase orders, buying out the job, and creating a plan for execution of the project.
Effectively Managing Every Project
Although the estimator is the first to realize the benefits of a complete software solution, it is the project manager who probably reaps the most benefits. With a complete software solution, the estimate is tied to the project budget for the duration of the project lifecycle. The right software provides the ability to automatically create a job budget and billing schedules, automate purchasing processes based on estimating details, and bring drawings from the estimating process over to the project’s side -- so the project manager can quickly and accurately create schedules, check lists, and more.
An all-in-one software solution eliminates the need for project managers to lug around out-of-date, paper-stuffed job binders. They can now easily create, track, organize, route, and manage project documents electronically. This gives them a virtual binder easily accessible by anyone on the team, whether they are in the office, on the road, or at a job site.
Web-based and mobile access to a complete solution can significantly enhance the value of the software for the project manager, as well as the rest of the team. By having convenient access to information for timely decision-making, the project manager can easily track progress of projects, be more agile in the field, and better account for all aspects of the job from beginning to end.
Change orders are one feature of every job that are often difficult to manage. Changes in construction are inevitable, anticipated, and often desired for additional profit opportunities. They can be caused by weather, site conditions, material specification changes, owner preferences, etc. They can also negatively impact the bottom line if not managed properly. To handle change orders efficiently, all team members must be involved in the process to address their potential operational and financial impacts. An all-in-one solution can help bring all team members together to help avoid costly mistakes, capture profitable opportunities, access real-time information, and efficiently manage routing, approval, and more.
Controlling the Bottom Line
The accounting team will also quickly see the advantages of using one solution for the entire construction process. Eliminating the need to re-enter data into the accounting system once a bid has been won is a significant time saver. It also prevents errors or omissions of data that can directly impact the bottom line. With all team members working from the same data, contractors are able to maintain tighter control over their financials. They are easily able to pull valuable reports on critical real-time data. And the seamless workflow enabled by an all-in-one solution enables them to electronically route and track documents to all appropriate team members, speeding up approvals, helping to move along the billing cycle, and enabling quicker payment.
With all-in-one software, the team in the field can use mobile tools to automatically transfer daily field report items, so accounting does not need to wait on paperwork, such as timecards, to be submitted. This keeps everyone moving forward with shared, accurate information about project performance.
Empowering the Team
Construction is a team sport. In today’s competitive construction environment there is no room for team members to work in isolation. To position a construction team for success, a contractor needs to empower its team with the tools to increase accuracy, efficiency, and productivity and, in turn, improve profitability on every job.
About the Author
Jim Flynn is President and CEO at Maxwell Systems, headquartered in King of Prussia, PA. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 1-800-688-8226. For more information on Maxwell Systems, visit www.maxwellsystems.com.