If you are contemplating builder software for your company, you probably agree that the subject is too complex to handle in a short article. We aren’t going to provide the magic code for how to choose the right product. Perhaps the best we can do is clear up some of the mystery around what you should expect from software and what it takes to realize its promise.
Let’s start with just what software should do for you. You certainly need a better reason than “Everyone says I should do this”. That, in turn, leads to a blunt statement: If you are one who feels record keeping gets in the way of business, you can stop reading now. Builder software is a better way to collect and share information. That’s all it does. It doesn’t create information or make decisions for you or do any of the building.
Perhaps the least recognized benefit your software can offer is to drive consistency. By bringing structure to what information is gathered and how it is stored or shared, builder software ensures that critical steps are followed, reported, and verified.
By making that information immediately available to the people who need it, software helps everyone make better, more timely decisions.
By keeping track of what got done, software enables the people who do build things to do their jobs without conflict, in the right sequence, with the right materials on hand.
There is a blessing and a curse here. The blessing is that it makes it hard to overlook or avoid critical steps and it allows you to prove that those tasks are done. The curse is that it compels you to do things the way the software creators set things up. (I had a software provider suggest we should simply not pay provincial sales tax because their product couldn’t handle it.)
That sets up your first challenge: deciding on whose software to use. It needs to reflect the way you do business and how you run projects.
Your next challenge is to ensure it can handle everything you need it to do now and in the future. A lot of different disciplines enter the picture and I’m not so sure a single product or provider can be lights-out good at all of them. As a sampling you might want to try:
- Tracking the selling process
- Scoping and estimating
- Project cost control
- Project scheduling
- Ordering/ delivery / inventory
- Time reporting
- Change management
- Customer updates / project portal
The list goes on, and you will probably agree it’s diverse.
So, faced with the dual challenge of selecting an unfamiliar product that mirrors your way of doing things, and making sure it can perform all the functions you might ask of it, what are you supposed to do?
There may be hope for us coming out of the ICI construction sector. Large scale builders around the world are making it clear that any software, from initial design through to building maintenance, must interface with other software products or they won’t use it. That means rather than trying to find the one product that does it all, they can use the software that does the best job for them in each functional area. They can move data across different functions using the most suitable software option for any or all of those other functions. More than this, when one thing turns out to be less than perfect, they can transition to something else without disrupting every function in the business.
Many of the products aimed at residential construction started out with the ambition to be your one and only software solution. Some have gone so far as to make it impossible to so much as download data into Excel. If you are shopping or doing your research on builder software, keep your eye on where this industry is going. Find someone who can advise you on IT and look for products that are open to information exchange. The question of what software to take on becomes less imposing when you aren’t looking for that single all-in-one solution. It can also be reassuring to know you can make a course correction without turning the company on its head.
Steve Ryan is the founder of MMI Professional Services. MMI is committed to the success of contractors by helping them develop the business and management skills they need. For information on way to run a better building business, contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org