Choosing the Right Technology
Part 3 of a 5-part series of articles to help small- and medium-sized businesses manage their tech resources and grow their business.
By Regina Gadacz
Technology is king. It has a way of taking over and transforming how customers see products and services, and even how businesses see themselves. The message for small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), as covered in our first two articles, is loud and clear: either “tech” your business or get left behind.
Contractors in the construction market are looking for tech tools that will make them more competitive and help them work smarter. And these can be surprisingly affordable and can produce immediate and visible wins. Yes, this is true even for smaller players.
Change your approach
A few changes in the way SMBs function can go a long way in overcoming hurdles when they embrace technology. Hurdles could include factors such as lack of knowledge about new and emerging technologies; employee resistance to change; lack of resources, e.g., budget as well as a knowledgeable staff to support the tech initiatives.
The good news is that there are tools to overcome them. As information management consultants, we see many businesses over-buy and pay for modules they don’t use. Read on to discover how to avoid those mistakes. And how to select the right software, vendors, and experts at the right time for your business.
Giving the contracting industry a tech-over
Contractors have unique and complex business processes, having to track time, materials, costs, and market opportunities, all while complying with safety and quality regulations. Smaller contracting companies often rely on spreadsheets for their project management and a collection of standalone tools for accounting and work orders. It means manual re-entry from, say, a spreadsheet into the enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. And it means costly delays and errors. Automating core processes will enhance your competitiveness, profitability, and project deliverables.
Essential software options
The Construction Software Buyer Report (SoftwareAdvice.com/construction) says that the business size and maturity level influence the type of software and features needed by the business.
The software that smaller contracting businesses ($1 to 10 million revenue) should look to adopt:
• Project management: Also called construction management, project management systems help contractors schedule projects, coordinate teams, and track progress on jobsites. They are essential for timely, on-budget project deliveries and function as the central workspace for project information, right from contract agreement to project close and for storing estimates, budget information, and documents.
• Takeoff: Takeoff software helps contractors measure blueprints, drawings, and other plans electronically, as well as generate a materials list and calculate materials and labour. They help determine the scope of a project and reduce the time and resources in manually doing and re-doing measurements.
• Estimating: Estimating software helps contractors calculate the total itemized cost of labour and materials (identified during takeoff) and produces a quote for that work. Without software to perform this function, companies lose jobs to faster competition and underbid on jobs.
Contractors at the next level in their growth cycle will be looking to add software capabilities such as:
- Bid management
- Job costing
- Customer management (CRM)
- Timesheet tracking
Think smart when you think software
There are more than 340 enterprise resource planning (ERP) tools for the construction industry alone. To say that it is overwhelming to select the right software would be an understatement. Finding the time and expertise to identify business requirements and the right kind of software in terms of price, features, and type can be daunting.
Contractors typically consult industry peers, explore what competitors are using, try to do research on their own by reading reviews, and reaching out to software providers. They call vendors in for demonstrations, get quotes, and often base their decision on price and features. But this approach does not provide reliable, objective analysis of the best fit solution for your needs.
Should you choose an all-in-one software? Or perhaps just two or three features to integrate with your current package? Some steps to identify the best software for your business are:
1. Start with a thorough analysis of your business needs, requirements, and goals:
- Document your business and technical needs
- Consider customer needs (e.g., they may expect online status reporting.)
- Map your processes
- Identify your pain points
- Profile your company (revenue, number of employees, project size)
- Define roles and responsibilities
- What do you want your business to be in 2 to 5 years?
- Does this product align with your technology roadmap? For instance, is it cloud-based? Is it upgraded?
- What is your budget? (Include hardware, software, telecom, training, maintenance)
2. Use selection criteria to evaluate the product and vendor:
- Compatibility and integration with other systems
- Vendor testimonials and references; reputation; market share
- Service and support
- Fit with partners (e.g., suppliers may have price lists that you should be able to input in your system)
- System reliability
- Will it grow with you?
- Which products offer the most features and most closely meet your requirements?
Even if they are not within your budget now, you may be able to purchase add-on modules down the road (“buffet style”).
3. Select your finalists:
- Download a demo of their software or schedule a live demonstration with each finalist vendor
- Compare a list of pros and cons of every tool
- Look for good design and precise functions
- What is the timeline for implementation?
- Is it easy to figure out how to enter an order?
- Does the software allow you to customize forms and reports?
- Are the modules (in the all-in-one suite) as good as the standalone best-of-breed?
At this point, you should have two or three preferred solutions.
4. Make your final decision:
- Calculate how much you can afford to spend, taking into account cost for any new hardware or support such as moving your operations to the cloud
- Consider hidden costs like installation, setup, data migration, training, and software licensing
- Ensure you are comfortable with the working style of the vendor
- When you distribute your RFI (request for information), RFQ (request for quote), and RFP (request for proposal), make sure all partners complete these requests, not just the software vendor (Vendors often work with IT partners to demonstrate and install their products.)
Technology that exists without a solid foundation of knowledge and resources to carry out the change is destined to collapse. Instead, technology should be built on sound requirements and the right solution. Technology should be strengthened by a work ethic that evolves to embrace changes. Technology should exist for a rational reason – not based on a whim or a trend. Having the wrong solution can make things worse than not having any technology. A trusted advisor would undoubtedly help.
Claudia Mamros, Founder & CEO, iCinfo