by Fred Ode

Q:
In order to understand my job costs better, I recently upgraded to the contractor version of our small business accounting software.  I am hugely disappointed, however, because the canned job cost reports don't give me what I need.  I understand that there are construction-specific accounting packages out there, but they also cost much more.   What do they offer that this software does not?
Alan

A:
There simply isn't enough room for a feature-by-feature comparison of generic accounting software vs. construction-specific.  But since job cost reporting is important to you, let's start there.  At a minimum-if you really want to track your job costs and analyze results for better decision-making-you will need to select software that contains the following features:

  • Job cost detail

No matter how large or small your jobs are, the key to efficient job costing comes down to how costs are defined and tracked.  Good job cost software should speak the language of construction.  Some systems make contractors conform to their classification system (by items, for example), whereas industry-specific systems allow users to define any number of phases, cost codes and cost classes so that even the most specific job detail can be recorded and reported.

  • Reporting flexibility

 

 

Sophisticated systems provide hundreds of standard reports and make it easy to create customized reporting when needed with built-in report writers.  Aside from being easy-to-use and powerful, report writers/designers should allow users to create their own drill-downs, equations, what-if scenarios and more.

  • Date sensitivity

This feature allows any report-in job costing or any other module - to be run for any time period (even months or years in the past).

  • Powerful database

How and where data is stored also has an effect on reporting capabilities.  Newer technologies offer numerous reporting advantages as well as greater data protection.  Microsoft SQL, for example, allows users to take advantage of querying capabilities via Excel and other Microsoft products.  That's like having another built-in report writer.

Of course, these are just the job cost reporting benefits that many construction-specific systems can provide. A good application will also help to automate and streamline other processes (such as payroll, billings, equipment costing and more) that may be wasting valuable time and resources.  Yes, the investment may be higher, but the returns are likely to be well worth it.

Fred

Construction Buiness Owner, June 2009