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gram,” Wheaton said. “Contractors can use one program to do
it all, from the very beginning when they receive the plans, all
the way through the estimating process, to the proposal and
Good estimating software also makes it possible to break a
bid down into details. Wheaton said that a common mistake
contractors make is not supplying the details when they are
estimating a job.
“Breaking a bid down fully in an estimating software takes
very little time but provides you with so much assistance later in
the job,” he said. “A few more minutes of work in the estimating
software could provide a huge return for the contractor later
in the job.”
The takeoff takes off
Estimating software makes the cumbersome takeoff process
easier and less prone to costly mistakes. Most software vendors incorporate a variety of features to handle this function.
For example, Portland, Ore.-based Viewpoint Construction
Software’s Viewpoint For Estimating allows estimators to perform takeoffs for on-target bids and enables them to submit more
bids in a shorter time frame. The solution calculates materials,
labor and equipment needs for the job and considers variables
such as weather conditions and workers’ skill levels. What-if scenarios are run to make the bid more accurate, and the software
scans plans for shapes and symbols using its shape-recognition
function. Finally, the software compares old plans to new versions and makes it easier for the estimator to spot the changes.
Flexibility for all sizes
According to Ruffner, smaller contractors need to do some calculating to identify an affordable software that will bring them
the necessary return on investment.
“If you think about it, if it helps you win just one profitable
job, it’s paid for itself,” he said. “Or, just one avoided mistake on
the right job would pay for the program.”
Most small ECs need a program capable of estimating
a wide variety of work, such as commercial, residential,
remodel, service work and flat-rate pricing. The database
should include assemblies for new construction, flat-rate
service and remodel work.
Ruffner said the same material labor units cannot be used
to bid commercial and residential jobs, since the latter typically
have a faster pace of production and include more repetition.
Most larger ECs have been using software for many years
to save time and money. For small contractors, the commonly
offered ones may be too expensive or overkill for their type of
work. Often, they are designed for a specific type of work, they
don’t offer a professional bid package, and the learning curve
is too steep.
Most estimating systems include extensive, comprehensive
material and assembly databases to help contractors find and
price items they need.
“However, we know that we must continue to add new items
and assemblies in order to remain relevant,” Ruffner said. “We
add these new items and assemblies to our secure Microsoft
Azure SQL Server, which is located in the cloud.”
With TurboCloud technology, users can view new items and
assemblies and add them to their local database. It also includes
a feature in which users can come together as a community and
share new items and assemblies that they’ve created and added
to their local database.
“This incredible process means that we have TurboCloud
users from around the world helping each other develop and
expand their database,” he said.
Work breakdown structure
In many cases, software can be used well beyond estimating.
ConEst offers its IntelliBid for this purpose, said Ed Coffin, the
company’s chief technology adviser.
Three obstacles thwart contractors in their estimating success: Time, the labor for which can impact a contractor; the
software investment; and the need to educate and train personnel. Combining estimating software with project management
can change the company’s overall efficiency, because best estimates lead to projects that aren’t planned well, which then
aren’t executed well either.
ConEst applies a work breakdown structure that includes
estimating and management and execution of a project. An
estimate can be the opportunity to create a model for how
the project will actually be executed. That information can
be shown to the customer and general contractor and the
project managers can use it.
“Taking the time at the estimate or design phase of a project
to develop a work breakdown structure is a valuable investment
in the commitment and liability you take on when signing a
contract,” Coffin said.
ConEst also offers 3-D imaging in its estimation software
that enables users to design in Revit building information modeling software and make presentations showing the true cost
of itemized installations.
Whatever your company’s size, revenue, or market, estimating is a critical component of contracting, and software can be
a vital tool. Determine your needs, and find the product that
works best for your business.
S WEDBERG is a freelance writer based in western Washington.
She can be reached at
Taking the time at the estimate or design phase of
a project to develop a work breakdown structure
is a valuable investment in the commitment and
liability you take on when signing a contract.
—Ed Coffin, ConEst
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