Know what to expect from construction-specific software and how changing tech trends will impact your business.

Companies must find ways to work smarter. One way to do this is by taking advantage of construction-specific software and BIM (building information modeling) technology.  

Many contractors have abandoned the traditional way of managing construction projects—using spreadsheets and off-the-shelf generic software. “Estimating, project management, accounting and now even mobile devices are available to help contractors increase their efficiency and improve their processes,” says Fred Ode, CEO of Foundation Software.

Software systems can have a powerful impact, especially for construction firms doing more work with fewer staff. “Today’s project CRM (customer relationship management) tools track all the opportunities being pursued, what the next step is and even activities and reminders for those next steps…More importantly, others in the firm have full visibility, so you don’t end up dropping the ball on a project,” says Hugo Dorph, executive vice president and general manager of professional services of Deltek.

Some contractors feel now is the time stick to familiar processes, but the opposite is true. “This is exactly the time they should be reworking or finessing their processes and methods (training, upgrades, etc.) to make the most of what they already have,” says Jim Flynn, president and CEO of Maxwell Systems. 


Software Gets Social


The way people communicate and work together has changed. The best software developers today incorporate ways to let people connect with each other and share work though applications. John Chaney, president and co-founder of Dexter + Chaney, explains that until recently, computing and communicating were in two different worlds, but now these worlds have come together. “Since 2005, Internet traffic has increased over 800 percent, and in the same time, traditional voice network traffic has decreased by about 25 percent,” he says. 

Features that encourage collaboration will work in programs that can be accessed on the go, which has increased the popularity of portable devices such as tablets and smartphones. “There are significant changes to the way information is presented and optimized for the Web and for use on smaller, portable devices. So it’s fair to say that the advent of the tablet and mobile computing (and other supporting technologies) had a fundamental change on the way we looked at our user interface and the ease of use of our products,” Chaney says.  

In general, these delivery devices have forced software developers to create a more intuitive, accessible product. “The smaller screen sizes of most mobile devices create the need for a simple, efficient approach to design in order for the software to be effective,” says Steve McGough, chief operating officer of HCSS.  


Technology Takes a Business-Centric Approach


Some believe the IT Industry has moved toward solving customers’ business problems before technology problems. “This move of IT becoming more business-centric is much healthier for the industry in the long run,” McGough says. 

Imagine an environment in which a small contractor with a little software skill could translate a great idea into an “app” that could be sold for use on multiple enterprise platforms. Chaney would like to see the industry move in this direction, though he acknowledges that the current environment does not provide the platform for a small company or individual to invest time developing these types of applications. “With the advent of cloud computing, I think we’re getting closer to realizing this type of open environment,” he adds.

Software Moves to the Cloud—and Into the Field



Savvy business owners have started realizing they do not need to spend money on constant upgrades, hardware and operating systems. In fact, some experts have characterized new technologies that reduce this overhead cost. “The software industry has been talking about ‘connecting the field and the office’ for years—I believe that using the Internet as the delivery platform for software applications will be the means through which that promise starts to really (and finally) become fulfilled,” Chaney says. 

As a result, many project managers and jobsite-based employees will become integral data managers as well. “There are construction companies who have developed major strategic advantages—not only streamlining how data is collected, but by providing front-line employees with tools they need to get feedback on how they are doing in their daily work,” McGough says. 

Experts caution that employees need more than just software. “Simply having an app and an iPad doesn’t mean the project manager knows how to take full advantage of all the software solution can provide,” Flynn points out. Plus, real-time data is only beneficial when the information is accurate, he explains. In short, adequate training is a must.

The bottom line: Expect cloud computing to ramp up in the coming year. “I expect 2012 to be the year when all the buzz around cloud computing translates into powerful business software for construction available as browser-based applications,” Chaney says.



BIM Gains Substantial Momentum


In 2011, more contractors began adopting BIM and mandating that subcontractors and support teams also use 3-D modeling. To make the transition smooth, many owners decided to create BIM expert teams and train field personnel to use BIM tools and features. “BIM did become a requirement in many bid documents, and of course, GSA and other government entities have led by example in this field,” says Hans Ehrnrooth, president of Tekla, Inc. 

As margins continue to be thin in 2012, progressive contractors aiming to be more efficient will continue to drive the BIM momentum. “The expressed need for most accurate estimates and most effective project executions will further boost the need for BIM for those who want to be competitive and stay in business,” says Ehrnrooth.

He also notes that the capability among software programs that allows models to communicate with one another has been a previous obstacle for contractors using BIM, and this will likely improve with strong global support of IFC (Industry Foundation Classes) as a standard exchange format. 


Ensure You Get Your Money’s Worth


Many contractors purchase a costly comprehensive project management, accounting and estimating software, only to end up squandering their investment.  A word of caution: “Contractors that take that step into purchasing new construction-specific software and only use the base features of it may end up resenting their purchase,” says Ode.

Often, this problem is due to a perceived “lack of time” for training or lack of interest from senior management. “The result is that the powerful enterprise software system they invested in is only used by a select few and even then not nearly to capacity,” Chaney says.

The solution is for vendors and customers to work together to build out a complete phased implementation plan. “It is the responsibility of the vendor to understand how their clients process and use information, and it is the responsibility of the client to involve all the various groups in the company who are affected by the new software to participate in its implementation,” Chaney says. In other words, treat the process just like an incomplete job that has outstanding punch list items.  


Choose Your Software Vendor with Care


When deciding what vendor to work with, contractors should do their homework. Viewpoint Construction Software’s CEO Jay Haladay says contractors should be concerned that many of the core software programs they rely on today lack flexibility or internal design to handle the pace of future technological and construction market changes. He recommends asking these questions to any provider you are considering:

  • Is the software functionality positioned on a contemporary, scalable technology base?  
  • Is the firm’s current software partner providing constant updates to not only the base software but keeping it technologically current?  
  • Is my day-to-day support for this software good enough so that I am comfortable having more of the firm’s employees using this software?  
  • Will the software grow with my business?  
  • Is the software easy enough for my new employees to use? 

Companies that answer “no” to any of these questions have a dead or dying software solution, Haladay explains. “If any given construction software firm does not provide this flexibility and scalability with respect to the technological future, the market will find solutions that do.”