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The importance of high-quality estimating is no secret—it’s been the unsung hero of the preconstruction process since its inception. According to a survey conducted by QuickBooks and TSheets, one in four construction companies would go out of business if they made just two or three inaccurate estimates. 

But the quantity takeoff process has been historically disjointed, typically involving multiple systems across teams, different tools, tactics and multiple data sets—which are often out of date. These inefficient practices put estimators in a position where collaboration can be difficult; small nuances can be easily overlooked; and precious time, money and opportunity can be wasted. 

Technology trends have the ability to influence companies to bolster estimation efforts and pave the way to error-free quantity takeoffs. 

1. Automation during the takeoff process

While automation is emerging across almost every facet of construction, automation during takeoff remains one of the biggest levers for estimators. Automating repetitive tasks during takeoff helps to cut down time spent running takeoffs, improves accuracy and unearths valuable insight to offer a more complete understanding of projects.

Through automation, estimators can spend less time manually counting in data sheets, models and schedules—and can instead spend more time lending expertise to project managers and executives to help win more business.  

2. Adopting cloud-based collaboration tools

Many quantity takeoffs feature a dispersed team of estimators across multiple companies lending their expertise in different areas, whether that’s in concrete, steel, rebar, etc. These different players need to be able to easily collaborate with one another and ensure accuracy, while working from the most up-to-date data sets, a quality only cloud-based collaboration can provide.

The adoption of cloud-based technology in construction has been steadily on the rise over the past decade, with over 85% of contractors using (or planning to use) cloud solutions; but there’s no question that the pandemic has pushed the fast-forward button. Out of necessity, teams are having to adopt new methods for collaboration and learn new ways to work together remotely and more efficiently.

On top of this increased collaboration, the cloud has another powerful upside: it acts as a single source of truth, with the most current data. 

3. Working with real-time updates

Version control has always been a pain point for construction teams, but it’s an issue that technology (e.g., the cloud) has been able to address head on. Working from a common data source is invaluable during the estimation process and helps teams avoid the familiar, costly pitfall of working from outdated information. This ensures that estimators quickly understand the impact of the latest changes, are working from shared project information and can address changes in real time. 

4. Using 2D and 3D 

Quantity takeoffs have historically been executed from two-dimensional plans, but the introduction of three-dimensional quantity takeoffs has offered invaluable new insights for both estimation teams and owners alike. 

With that said, most teams are stuck conducting takeoffs in 2D because many important details only exist in 2D sheets, meaning contractors aren’t able to take advantage of the intuitive visualization capabilities of the model; however, many modern tools allow estimators to perform takeoffs in both 2D and 3D for the same project. This allows contractors to easily visualize and quantify most items in 3D, ensure all the required 2D details are available, respond to changes faster and easily eliminate scoping gaps. When estimators combine both 2D drawings and 3D models, they’re able to tell a more complete story that enables them to do their job faster while still providing accurate quantities. 

Taking this approach also makes conversations with owners much easier, as it provides a more holistic visualization of how the takeoff is trending. Providing owners with both 2D drawings and 3D models ensures all stakeholders are the same page and minimizes confusion, which pays dividends down the line.  

5. Creating a robust audit trail 

Documentation is hands-down one of the most important parts of construction—and one that oftentimes doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Poor data and information control cost the construction industry over $31.3 billion dollars annually, according to a 2018 report by Autodesk. And with so many important decisions being made during the preconstruction phase, it’s especially important to develop a robust audit trail throughout the quantification process. Having a clear history of adjustments and quantities reduces post-completion disputes and leaves no questions about where quantities are coming from. 

6. Leveraging artificial intelligence 

While artificial intelligence is already being adopted in construction, there is still significant opportunity in the application of AI to quantity takeoffs. Artificial intelligence could allow the industry to push present automation standards and procedures to ingest conceptual plans and models, predict quantities needed and even predict errors before they happen. In addition, the option to transfer data from one project to the next, identify risks and increase accuracy is a valuable tool that will inform decisions in the construction sphere. And while not yet available, this is a future that isn’t far from fruition.

As the industry looks to the future of construction, technology is filling the gaps of many traditionally manual tasks across the project lifecycle—from design to operations. And while quantity takeoff procedures are receiving a much-needed burst of technological innovation as well, there’s no doubt it will continue to grow and new technologies will continue to emerge. 

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