Questions to Ask When Choosing Estimating Software

A successful project starts with a thorough bid. Software can help.

On many construction projects, the contractor who submits the lowest bid gets the job. But there's a difference between a low, responsible bid and a bid that wins because it left out important items or valued them too low. Bids that are too high can be equally problematic. Either way, you lose revenue.

This is where a good estimator comes in. And construction companies can make that estimator more productive by investing in estimating software. Using estimating software designed for the construction industry can make estimates not only faster to generate but more accurate.

Before paying for what could be an expensive program, though, here are some questions to ask yourself.

RELATED: Ways to More Accurately Estimate Construction Costs

Does our current software have an estimating product?

Providers of construction accounting and job cost software often have an estimating tie-in. For example, Sage offers accounting, job cost tracking and estimating software, and all are made to work together. This eliminates having to deal with multiple points of contact when questions around software usage arise. Taking an enterprise-level approach also does away with the time and effort it takes to try to integrate products from different providers into an estimating process.

How powerful of a program do we need?

A small subcontractor doesn’t need the same software package as a major general contractor — though they still can benefit from estimating software. (In fact, small firms with limited money for estimators and other preconstruction resources may need estimating software even more because of the time it saves time compared with manual estimating methods.)

Estimating software typically comes with databases of common bid categories — assemblies, materials, labor, etc. — as well as a way to store current pricing information. Some also tie in to pricing data showing the average cost of a foundation, framing, interior finishes, etc. in the zip code where the project is. But if you’re a residential mechanical contractor, for instance, you may not need all that information.

The smart decision from a usability and cost perspective is to choose software tailored for the type of work your company does. It doesn't make sense to use a dozer when a shovel will do.  

How technically advanced are the features?

More construction companies, particularly larger ones, have brought their processes into the digital age, and for those contractors, an estimating program that only crunches numbers won't do.

If your company imports data from drones, does the estimating software allow for that? If  you use building information modeling (BIM), will the estimator be able to export his or her figures into the BIM program using the estimating software?

Already there are software programs that allow the estimator to work within PDF files of blueprints and share their estimates directly with the project team in that format. This type of flexibility makes it easier for the estimator to prepare a bid and receive input, since the document is already in a form with which everyone is familiar.

If your company isn’t yet using drones or BIM or other cutting-edge technology but it plans to soon, choose estimating software accordingly. You shouldn’t have to buy new software in a year or two.

Have our estimators taken it for a spin?

No matter the cost or features, company estimators should take at least 30 days — often the free trial period — to test the software prior to purchase. There is no way to know if an estimating program, even one with the best online reviews or great feedback from customers, is the right fit until the folks who will being working with it try it out. 

 

Kim Slowey is a writer who has been active in the construction industry for 25 years and is licensed as a certified general contractor in Florida. She received her BA in Mass Communications/Journalism from the University of South Florida and has experience in both commercial and residential construction.

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