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By: Conley Smith on November 13th, 2020

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3 Reasons to Add Integrated Estimating Tools

Construction Technology | Takeoff & Estimating

Whether you’re a roofing or concrete contractor, your bidding process likely involves lots of moving parts. While you may already be using a digital takeoff tool to eliminate paper blueprints, your estimating workflow may still include a mixed bag of supplier and vendor spreadsheets. Inevitably, this can make bid day a mad scramble—especially if you’re juggling last-minute addenda and change orders.  

In this case, you would never want a keystroke error to kill your profit or cause you to lose a potentially profitable project. Even so, many construction pros still lean on workflows that include manual processes like spreadsheets or dedicated software that doesn’t integrate with other software and estimating programs. 

Bidding Workflows Rely on Spreadsheets 

Is it true that estimators still lean on spreadsheets?The 2019 JBKnowledge ConTech Report took a deep dive into the workflows the construction industry uses as part of their efforts to gauge whether tech is gaining momentum and traction. As usual, the same construction occupations—estimators, accountants, project, and bid management participantscontinue to hold onto their spreadsheets and manual entry. 

But the overall number of those in construction who rely on spreadsheets dropped by 1% compared to 2018. Even so, the number of estimators using spreadsheets as part of their workflow increased to 64.9% from 63.2% in 2018; accounting also increased to 53.6% from 51%; project management fell to 44% from 45.6%; and bid management fell to 38.7% from 39.7%. 

Of those construction workflows who reported using dedicated software, the 2019 report showed: 

  • Accounting/ERP: 85.7% 
  • Project Management: 57.5% 
  • Estimating: 54.6% 
  • Project Scheduling: 46.6% 
  • CAD/BIM: 40.3% 
  • Takeoff: 37% 
  • Bid Management: 32.4% 
  • Client Relationship: 28.9% 

Contractors Resist Investing in Tech Tools 

It’s no secret that many in the construction industry don’t like to invest in technology—whether it involves estimating software or drones for mapping jobsites. For example, many estimators still use colored pencils and blueprints to quantify and create takeoffs. 

Even when contractors invest in technology, they are only willing to do so sparingly. Once again, the 2019 ConTech Report found that most companies reported spending less than 1% of their annual sales volume on IT (46.7%). Of those surveyed, 51% reported having a dedicated IT department. But these teams tend to be small with 49% maintaining their department size from 2018 with an average of only 1-5 employees (58%). 

As in past years, the 2019 ConTech Report reflected a lack of integration when it comes to choosing software and apps. As a result, workflows, departments, and cross-functional teams continue to struggle with integrated technology. There is plenty of room for improvement as firms begin to embrace tools that provide a seamless exchange of data, which would reduce manual entry and redundancies. 

70% Lack Technology Roadmap 

It is also interesting that the 2020 FMI Industry Report found that 70% of AEC respondents don’t have a technology roadmap. This study found that contractors are not taking advantage of existing technology that could help their businesses. 

For example, while 52% said that maximizing productivity was important, only 40.5% reported using productivity software. Hiring and retaining employees was also cited as critical in the FMI report, but only 25.6% of those respondents said they use technology solutions to achieve their employment goals. 

In addition, many contractors felt they weren’t capable of drawing insights from the data generated by the technology they use. Additionally, 65% said their firms did not have a “stated point of view” about technology.  

Save Time and Money with Integrated Tools  

When it comes to sharing files and collaborating with others on takeoffs and estimates, some contractors still print sheets because their estimating software lacks a file management and sharing utility. As a result, they end up struggling to email files, which can be a severe preconstruction speed bump if your email server has size and attachment restrictions. 

By comparison, life is much easier when an estimator can open a project and see what another estimator is working on or visually show or explain their takeoff with co-workers or even clients. Consider all the data generated on a project. If the data is siloed, each stakeholder only has a limited view of a project. 

As a result, contractors who embrace integrated tools realize major gains in speed, accuracy, and efficiency. Here are examples of why contractors should invest in integrated tools: 

1. Gain a Competitive Advantage

For many contractors, being able to highlight, measure, record, assemble, summarize, price, submit, track, and manage all projects right from their laptops can be a big competitive advantage. Changes during the preconstruction and design phases are also easier to make with integrated tools. Being able to customize and save assemblies in libraries for future projects means it is easier to handle any last-minute changes or requests. 

2. Improve Bid Accuracy

Starting a new project bid or budget is much easier when you create databases where all material pricing, production rates, and more are stored – rather than searching through spreadsheets. Since much of what contractors do is very repetitive, being able to pull information with the click of a button is a game-changer. 

3. Track Productivity and Protect Profits

Multiple change orders can turn into a lot of extra work and rework, resulting in cost overruns and turning profits into losses. With integrated tools, you can have a plan to track labor production, hours, and costs so you can correct overages on the spot. This means you can easily add alternate pricing for items the client may want to see as an add or deduct. 

Step Outside Your Tech Comfort Zone 

It is interesting that tech resistance often comes from the very construction pros who love their mobile devices to stay connected on-the-go. They couldn’t imagine life without them. Or from contractors who are eager to try the latest and greatest new material like self-healing concrete, yet they hang onto their old ways of estimating when the bid is on the line.  

Whether you’re in the roofing, walls and ceilings, or the MEP trade, the best case for adding digital tech often comes from other contractors or competitors. When you ask them about their experience adopting digital tools, they cite benefits like speed, accuracy, and quick ROI. Even better, they’ll tell you that greater predictability in construction timelines can deliver significant cost savings.  

In a highly competitive environment where the low bid gets the job, contractors can lose money before ever setting foot on a project site. For example, if you’re using software for accounting, project management, and/or estimating, it may be time to consider how much time and money you would save by investing in integrated tools.Here are a few questions to ask if your construction business is on the fence about whether to add integrated estimating tools: 

  • Are your existing takeoff and estimating tools limiting your ability to bid on available jobs? 
  • Do you still rely on paper documents and have trouble keeping track of them? 
  • Is estimating accuracy important to your company’s bottom line? 
  • Are you always confident in your bid accuracy and anticipated profit margins?
  • Would a historical record of takeoffs and estimates be valuable for working on new/future project bids?  

Ready to improve your bidding with digital tools? Check out our Takeoff and Estimating Solution Finder. Just answer a few questions to see which takeoff tool is right for you.