Posts tagged estimating
Features to Look For in Estimating Software

ConstructionIf you are shopping for estimating software for you construction business, you may feel overwhelmed by the number of choices and options available to you. Like any other software purchase, we recommend that you spend time determining your company specific needs before you begin looking for solutions. Once you have determined your business needs, you can begin exploring specific features and solutions that will meet those needs. To help you get started, here are some of the typical feature sets that you will find in commercial estimating software solutions.

Core Functionality

Estimating software designed for construction companies will typically have these three sets of core functionality:

  • Takeoff software or systems- help measure plans and blueprints to estimate the amount of materials and labor needed to complete a project by helping you “take off” the quantities of items needed. These systems may work with paper and/or electronic plans.
  • Cost databases - Stores materials and labor costs to reference when creating an estimate. This reference cost data may be your own or may come from a commercial source.
  • Estimating worksheets - these are the “spreadsheets” where the calculations that make up your estimates take place

In addition to the three core elements mentioned above, you will also want to look for other features that will help streamline your process for creating and managing bids. Here are some other features you can expect to find in a commercial estimating software solution:

  • Item List or Activity List - A main project view that outlines the various items and/or activities required to complete your project. This view provides a convenient way to navigate the items in your project. Some solutions will allow you to organize your activities by tasks and  sub-tasks. , or sub-levels.
  • Item Detail or Activity Detail – The supporting list of  of  resources needed (along with their costs) to complete each activity.
  • Resource Costs: Views and reports of costs related to labor (wages, benefits, burden, and workers compensation, etc.), equipment, materials, subcontractors, and any other cost detail items.
  • Markups – In addition to storing standard costs, most programs will allow you to store cost mark-ups. Typically you can store flat, overall mark-ups that can be applied to a variety of costs, as well as resource-specific mark-ups.
  • Overhead – Most construction companies will also want features related to the storing and applying of indirect costs including fees, permits, etc.
  • Reporting – is an important area that is often overlooked. Make sure you will be able to get the information you need to manage your estimates and projects out of your system. Estimating software typically include standard reports such as proposals, activity reports, and cost breakdowns. Some include “ad-hoc” report writers that allow you to design and run custom reports.
  • Integration or Exporting: For a complete solution, you will want to look for estimating software that integrates with your accounting and project management software. Integration is preferred, but a second, less desirable option, is to select a solution that allows you to export the data for use in other applications, such as spreadsheets.
  • Job History – Typically a standard feature, this allows you to store the information from past projects for review and use in estimating similar projects in the future.

Depending on the nature of your business, you may also want to look for estimating software that has been created specifically for your vertical..

Commercial Estimating Programs vs. Spreadsheets

construction estimatingDecreasing margins and more aggressive scheduling are becoming the “new normal” in construction. The ability to create accurate estimates that will help you win projects and turn a profit is a necessity in this environment. While many construction companies still use spreadsheets to prepare their cost estimates, more and more construction company owners are turning to specialized software created specifically for estimating.

Estimating with Spreadsheets

Many construction companies still use spreadsheet programs (i.e. Microsoft Excel) to organize and assemble estimates for construction projects. Spreadsheets are relatively easy to use, which is one of the reason they are popular.

For some companies, using spreadsheets is similar to preparing estimates manually – the spreadsheet does little more than replace the calculator.

As estimators become more sophisticated, they may create templates and lookups that allow them to save time when creating estimates and cost models. Spreadsheets can also save you time completing mundane calculations, however, you must take extra care to reduce data entry, formula, and other types of errors (sometimes more difficult to spot than arithmetic errors) that can lead to calculation errors.

Commercial Estimating Software

While electronic spreadsheets are generic, all purpose types of programs that can be used for building estimates, commercial estimating packages are specialty software programs designed specifically for that job.

Commercial estimating packages usually include one or more reference databases that allow you to store your standard materials, costs, labor rates, etc. Once you create (or update) you database, the information is available to use with all of your estimates.

Another big difference between spreadsheets and commercial estimating software is in the reporting. Estimating packages typically have a robust set of standard reports as well as the ability for you to customize those reports (the amount of customization varies among products). When using spreadsheets, you must create your own reports.

You may also be able to find commercial estimating software that is built to match the particular needs of your specialty. Having software that include libraries, reports, and other features designed specifically for your specialty generally means you will have to spend less time building these things yourself. You are also likely to find that the software will fit the way you do business, rather than having to adapt the way you do business to fit your software.

If you are shopping for commercial estimating software, you will want to check to see if it integrates with your accounting and/or project management software. Being able to seamlessly share your estimating data with these other systems will not only save you time, but will also cut down on data entry and other problems that can result in lost billings and time spent reconciling reports from different systems.

Want to see a demo?

If you are thinking about moving up to a commercial estimating solution, check out the videos on our demo page, or contact us for a personalized demo.