BuildTools is about to change the way renovators run their businesses and Dwell Design Build Inc. of Toronto is its first beachhead in Canada.
By Robert Koci
Andy Foot, partner of Dwell Design Build Inc., says he is looking forward to getting rid of red tape, piles of paperwork and endless administrative headaches as he prepares to expand his business dramatically. “DesignBuild depends heavily on the internet, smart phones and tablets to be effective,” says Foot. “It seems intimidating at first, but once you get used to it, technology saves a lot of time. This product (the BuildTools software) is a logical progression for us and the next step for technology in the construction industry.”
How the software works
BuildTools in an online tool that starts with the contract between the renovator and the client. All its components (schedule, Bill of Materials, payments, etc.) are put in categories and the categories are password protected according to the access needs of everyone involved. The amount of access for each trade, supplier or employee is determined beforehand by Foot and/or his partner in Dwell Design Build, Pete Koladich.
Once Foot gets the specs for the proposed job from the customer or architect, he sends emails through the BuildTools site to the trades and suppliers, giving them access to files appropriate to their involvement so they can submit their bids. “Once the bidder receives the email and clicks on the link, it takes him to the system and not to me. They just follow the directions and enter in their data,” Foot says. One of the advantages of conducting the bidding process through BuildTools is that Foot can see the activity around each bid on the site in real time. He can tell if a subtrade is interested in bidding by whether they are downloading the information, or asking follow up questions or confirming their attendance at the pre-bid site meeting.
Once a subcontractor works up a price, he can submit his bid online where Foot then studies the details. Questions can be sent back and forth via email and then, once a bid is accepted, the program will send an email to the trade or supplier confirming they are the successful bidder and then provide the project schedule.
“It’s not that hard to use really, and it gives us an advantage over a lot of other builders who are not as eager to accept technology-driven systems like this,“ Foot says. “My partner Pete Koladich and I come from high-tech backgrounds (in the software industry) and so we really appreciate this.
“Our main leverage in this business is our ability to incorporate high-tech solutions in our design and build process. We have gratefully embraced new technology like BuildTools and 3-D rendering. We also use job clocks on all of our smart phones to punch in and out, and use job cost codes. As well, all of us are using iPads to track everything.”
New tech tools
Chad Mayes, director of business development at BuildTools.com, says the building industry has always lagged behind in technology. But the advent of mobile tools like the iPad and smart phones have made emerging technologies more user friendly and easier to incorporate. “This will revolutionize the way business is done. We used to have to rush to the nearest phone to answer our pager messages, then the cell phone made it so much easier to stay in touch and to communicate better and faster,” Mayes says. “And now we have BuildTools, which puts all the information you can possibly need right in front of you immediately. Now everyone has the same starting point and can always be current with the right information, within minutes,
BuildTools provides a detailed change order history, with a view history and list of approvals and rejections. Subs can’t say they didn’t agree to a price when the record shows all. Mayes believes BuildTools will help contractors stay competitive or even give them an edge in an industry where not everyone is tech savvy. In an industry with so little profit margin, any advantage can help a business grow.
“This literally takes all the ’you-said-he-said’ out of the mix and clarifies the entire estimating and building process,” Mayes says. “For example, the minute I update the plans, specs, schedule or documents, my carpenter in the field will be notified by the system and will see the changes.”
The software was developed by builder Sven Gustafson (Chad’s partner) to clear up the endless details that plague the renovation business. Within the website’s layout are tabs that include Dashboard, Messages, Tasks, Schedule, Documents, Budget, Selections, Change Orders, Financial and Service. They give the builder the ability to manage all aspects of the job. For instance, with finances he monitors his draw requirements as per the contract and his invoicing. In the project management module, he manages the punch list and warrantee issues. Schedules and completion dates are all input so he has a constant record of every task ordered and completed.
“Each change order entered and approved automatically changes the budget so the client and contractor can see exactly where they are,” Mayes says. “Designers can interact with the system to keep the project current and people on task. Everyone gets a change order summary, which saves a lot of running around.”
There are numerous views within the software: Project Tracker, Initial Costs, Current Costs and Percent Complete. Program-generated messages broadcast the schedule and create and then assign tasks for every trade and supplier. Meanwhile documents, gantt (bar) charts and a general overview for each project are a few clicks away. Each trade can input their own relevant information to the website, too, which adjusts the schedule chart to reflect reality. And it all gets republished immediately.
Every contractor knows the fastest way to promote company growth is to simplify systems and remove things that choke out growth, such as chasing approvals for change orders. “One of the bigger things in the building industry is change order management,” Foot says. “Here we can update items the customer has agreed to immediately, often right in
front of them.”
There are literally hundreds of decisions to be made regarding fixtures, paint colour, carpentry finishes, location of walls, wiring systems, HVAC issues, that could involve half a dozen trades. BuildTools tracks all of them and provides a running record of each decision by those involved.
The customer’s view
The customer can log into the client portal online and check all of the changes pending approval, then click on them to approve them or comment if they need correction. BuildTools also lets the customer see their whole job at a glance. The most popular view being where the client can see a budget increase on change order approval as soon as they confirm them.
As part of the implementation, Dwell Design Build is using BuildTools with a client as a Beta test. So far, the client is loving it. “The more information and communication you have with a client, the happier they are,” Foot says. “BuildTools helps us improve client satisfaction and streamline communication with everyone involved. This makes it obvious that only somewhat computer savvy trades will be able to bid on our jobs from now on.”
“You have to have a fairly open mind as to how to incorporate BuildTools,” says Foot. The challenge is in the setup process since it covers every element of a renovation business. In the case of Dwell Design Build, it helped a bit that so much of their processes were already computerized, but it hurt, too. “When we started, we decided to start with our own categories but we quickly had to back up and use their system. Our original system used 16 categories, but we found we needed to segment off each trade into its own category. BuildTools’ framework is much more detailed, with 50 to 60 categories and codes, which really drills down to every detail of a project.” Foot is integrating the system slowly at first to find out what customers, managers and subs need to see. There is still fine tuning to do.
Not for the faint heart
“If you are not computer savvy, this is a big thing to bite off, and therein lies the challenge,“ Foot says. “It’s important to understand how windows-type computer models work.” So far, however, feedback from trades, suppliers and customers has been positive. “No one has to come to the office to pick up documents and they all can see how the job is progressing by going online,“ explains Foot. “The program will automatically send an email notification a week or two ahead of time to let the trades know when to start. The trades love this. BuildTools saves everyone a lot of time and they then have no excuse not to show. It allows us to be tighter on the schedule.
“Last of all, this helps pop out the punch list for us, and all the straggling items. The client could log in to report a warranty issue, which would then be sent to the appropriate trade. It can be dealt with, logged in and then signed off by the client. End of story, end of job. Neat and efficient.” cc