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With the economy beginning to recover, contractors that put technology investments or upgrades on hold are starting to consider whether it’s the right time to implement construction accounting, estimating and project management software.

Many contractors—from small, locally owned construction businesses to large, multi-state firms—know they need to replace outdated or basic programs with solutions that enable lean business practices and provide real-time data, but they remain uncertain about how to navigate the software selection process.

The first question businesses should ask is whether they are spending more time managing information systems than building projects. Many construction companies have limited internal resources for managing the accounting, job costing, estimating, financial reporting and project management functions. Some struggle to stay organized by using basic software such as Excel or QuickBooks along with paper binders and a customized program for job costing, plus blackboards for scheduling and service calls. The right software can integrate all of those functions into one tool.

Construction companies that downsized during the recession now have fewer employees to manage their information systems. With a robust accounting and project management system in place, team members can focus on more valuable tasks than just data entry.

Understanding the Benefits One of the most useful technology upgrades is cloud computing and remote connectivity. The ability to stay connected with team members, suppliers and clients from any location is a huge asset that results in improved productivity and communication. It also eliminates the need to invest in expensive hardware upgrades because web-based applications can run from nearly any operating system.

While researching and analyzing construction software options, consider how mobility will improve operations. Many technology providers are investing in ways to make their software available on iPads, tablets and smartphones. Additionally, consider how client relations will be enhanced by using a system that allows team members to create or check work orders online, provides access to construction documents and promotes collaboration among project stakeholders. At the same time, project managers and staff can enter billing data, equipment usage and service call information in real time. It’s all about doing more with less: increasing profits by reducing the amount of time staff spends chasing paperwork.

Unlike most general-purpose software, construction-specific solutions do not rely on third-party applications to provide the customization contractors and other construction businesses need to operate. Following are some of the benefits of an integrated software package.

  • Efficiency. The biggest time waster in any office is locating paperwork. An efficient system with document imaging technology allows employees to electronically store all invoices, construction documents and reports in a central location. Further efficiency can be gained by using electronic document routing and approval processes that tie together various departments and operations. The bottom line: Complete the same amount of work in less time, using fewer staff members.
  • Integration. Integrate the system with Microsoft Office for easy internal organization and communication. Project emails and other correspondence can be filed electronically with search capabilities.
  • Mobility. Allow team members to access real-time data from outside the office via their laptop, iPad or tablet. Workers can better manage field resources by instantly accessing project management information.
  • Streamlined process. Enter all information once to save time, improve accuracy and help maintain tight financial control.
  • Access to data. Drill down into detailed information with high-level executive dashboard reporting and records. The more reliable and accessible the data is, the better the business can use that data to make strategic decisions on a timely basis. With information housed in one system, financial reporting is automated, accurate and reliable.
  • Increased revenues. By using software that integrates all aspects of the business, there’s no need to purchase expensive application upgrades to complement an existing system. Firms also can improve cash flow if job information is better organized, making completion-to-payment cycles shorter. Improve profitability by monitoring estimated labor hours against actual hours, capturing change requests early in the process and identifying over-billings for materials. Monitoring job performance in real time will allow a construction business to identify problems and take corrective actions.
  • Standardized processes. A standardized method of managing jobs streamlines the process of project execution. This makes it easier for team members to learn the new software and quickly navigate from job to job. Standardizing project management documents, such as RFIs and change requests, enhances the business’ reputation for consistency and professionalism.
Making a Decision Once it’s clear how a construction firm can benefit from an integrated solution, it’s time to make a decision. Following is a list of basic software selection steps, which can be customized to meet a business’ unique situation.

  • Internal assessment. Talk to internal users, including the accounting team, IT department and project managers, about how existing computer systems help or hurt the business. Develop a report that summarizes existing needs.
  • Industry assessment. Talk to industry experts about how construction-specific technology or new tools can help the company be more competitive.
  • Research. Develop a list of products to learn more about, as well as criteria a new system should meet to help narrow down opportunities during the research and selection process.
  • Meet vendors. Discuss options with a variety of vendors. Participate in a few product demonstrations to differentiate product features, and develop a spreadsheet or a system for organizing those product features.
  • Analyze. Determine if the software can meet the company’s critical needs. Take the time to follow up with references.
  • Purchase. Review software, training and implementation costs, as well as hardware and ongoing licensing costs.
  • Implementation. Organize the project team and develop an implementation plan that includes milestones, timelines, budgets and team responsibilities.
  • Roll out. Consider the time and costs involved in training employees. Decide when to “flip the switch” from the old system and how this will impact internal processes and the ability to communicate with clients.
By following this process, contractors will be in a position to make a decision that leads to increased profitability and operational efficiency.

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