Buying construction management software: Do you know what you need?

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By Bharat Rudra

Special to Ontario Construction News

Are you in the market for Construction Management Software? Do you know what you need?

There are hundreds of software packages on the market. A Google search for “construction management software” provides thousands of hits ranging from mobile apps to complete multimillion-dollar enterprise solutions and everything in between.

A few software options offer point solutions for specific functionality (such as estimation, scheduling, or change order management), and several companies provide specialized software that tags extra features with their core product, to appeal to a broader audience. For example, many accounting software companies are offering construction management features such as document management, inventory management, and estimating tagged along with their core accounting product.

On the other end of the spectrum, some software packages provide a complete construction management solution with dozens of features, all in an integrated software package. It gets confusing for the buyer with so many products being advertised as the “best” or the “most complete” construction management solution. The reality is that there are no guidelines on what constitutes “the best” construction management software or what makes it complete.

Considering all the options, it is important to do some homework before starting to search for a solution. With this article, I hope to help buyers flush out their requirements before deciding on a particular software.

Listing your requirements as a first step will help prepare you to choose the best solution for your business while staying afloat in the sea of offerings. And keep in mind, software requirements are different for residential builders, commercial builders, renovators, trades, general contractors, sub-contractors, and custom builders. It is also important to keep your requirements list independent of the software you are currently using (if any) or have used in the past. There are many new and innovative ways to do the same functions.

Here are some criteria to consider:

Productivity

Productivity is the key driver for any business to seek a new software solution or change an existing one. Be it time savings, reduced errors, or automation of processes, all lead to increased productivity, which adds to the bottom line for your business. So, make sure the software you choose provides the critical features that will enhance your business’s productivity. One-time data entry, workflow automation to manage and track communication with clients, auto emails, trades and employees and tools to keep all the work on track with schedules are examples of the features that you might want to consider.

Flexibility

No two businesses use the same processes. Every company has its own intellectual property in the business processes that work best for them, their sub trades, and their clientele. It is important to find software that adapts to your business processes. Software that requires a drastic change in a business process is usually rejected by the end-users (employees), which might result in a loss of productivity and business. Ideally, construction management software should provide the flexibility to be configured to align with your business processes—not the other way around.

If the software requires you to manipulate data in Excel sheets, for example, or to buy other software packages for construction management, you should look at alternatives. Integration with specialty software provides extra flexibility. The ideal software should provide integration with other popular business software, such as Office 365, Outlook, Gmail and accounting software, which provide the flexibility to be used inside construction management software for higher productivity.

Ease of use

No one likes to learn new software. This is especially true for the construction industry because the workforce is usually not tech-savvy with respect to computers. That is one reason why the construction industry is the last one to adopt software solutions for construction. The software of choice must be easy to learn and easy to use. Software with integrated office suites such as Office 365 and with a user interface that mimics the popular software is instantly familiar to users, making it easy and fun to learn. Integrated software platforms with complete construction management functionality makes it easier for the users to learn, as it uses the same user interface for all the functions avoiding the need to purchase, learn and use multiple software packages.

Cost

Determine a price range that your business can afford and that you are comfortable with. Your best-suited software is one that guarantees you a measurable return on investment and that will help you recover the cost in a short period. An ideal solution should demonstrate how the software will enhance productivity, reduce time spent on specific tasks, and avoid costly errors.

For example, if a feature of the software offers 40 per cent-time savings for an employee, it will pay for itself in a short time. For an ideal and cost-effective solution for you, consider a software that provides flexible pricing where you pay only for features you use. This would be optimal for any size business. Most buyers end up starting their search for the cheapest solution that fits their budget even though it ends up costing them a lot more in lost business, lower productivity, and costly errors. Always remember the adage, “you get what you pay for.” This is particularly true when purchasing software!

Future Requirements

The initial cost of acquiring a new software solution is extremely high when you consider the time spent researching and implementing a new system, including the learning curve for all users. But keep in mind that it is also challenging to change the software once it is fully implemented. This is because, on top of having to search for a new unique solution, a change also calls for a plan to extract data from the old system and load it into the new system. Make sure the software under consideration will work for you for several years. Your ideal solution should offer you growth potential, with a degree of functionality that may not be needed today but will be required in the future, as your business grows.

Technology (installed vs. Cloud-based)

There are two main technology options on the market for construction management solutions. Installed software is where a buyer pays a one-time fee for the software, plus annual support and upgrade fees. These software packages are generally installed on a single computer or a local server and cannot be accessed easily off-site or on mobile devices. The initial price for installed systems is generally high, and annual support and software raises that cost even higher. The installed option may also require the purchase of specialized hardware, such as a dedicated server, or an upgrade of existing hardware.

Cloud-based software resides in the “Cloud” and is accessible over the internet. Most companies that are selling installed software these days also offer Cloud-based options. Cloud-based software is available anytime, anywhere, from home, office, construction site or on the road. It can be accessed via any internet-connected device such as a desktop, laptop, tablet, or mobile device with a web browser.

Cloud-based software is mostly sold as a software-as-a-service (SaaS) offering, i.e., no or low up-front costs, and the buyer pays per user per month to use the software. There is no need for a server, maintenance, or backup, and users can generally be added or removed without penalty. There is no extra cost for support with most software, but many companies do require a one-year contract. Most companies today, small, medium, or large, are opting for Cloud-based software.

Support

Software is only helpful if it can be used to get the intended results for your business. Even the most advanced users often need software vendor support for configuration, onboarding, and ongoing technical support. Most software vendors promise support but only a few deliver on that promise. It can be difficult to figure out the quality of support before purchasing the software. Many software vendors offer Web libraries, chatbots, live chat, or email support with a 24-to-48-hour turnaround, but it can take days and sometimes weeks to resolve an issue using only these resources. Look for a vendor that offers quality live phone support. Online reviews sometimes offer insight into how users rate the support provided by the given vendor.

In conclusion, buying construction management software for your company is a significant decision not to be taken lightly. You cannot afford to make this decision without all the relevant information. Good software is like good employees, so when you purchase software (depending on the size of your company), think of it as a key resource of equivalent importance to your key staff. That is how much you can save with good software. Productivity rises when all information and documents are accessible and everyone working on the project is on the same page. Good software not only makes your company much more profitable, but it also makes work fun again. Happy software hunting.

As a vice-president at 123worx, Construction Management Platform, Bharat Rudra has worked with hundreds of business executives searching for best-suited software for their construction business with a wide array of requirements. You can find him on LinkedIn or reach him at brudra@123worx.com.

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