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What is construction software?

Unfortunately, construction companies spend less on IT than any other industry. Given this trend, it’s unsurprising the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) field is infamous for finishing projects over budget, after deadline, and out of scope. Many firms continually struggle to both manage project data and use it to their advantage — yet construction software was created to overcome these specific hurdles, as well as allay the undesirable outcomes above.

Sometimes referred to as capital program management software, or CPMS, construction software is the fusion of accounting, project and document management, process automation, and cost-control technologies — with advanced reporting capabilities woven throughout. This catch-all system was designed to fill the gaps that ERP software and other internal systems of record overlook.

Essentially, construction software is the bread and butter of an AEC operation. It goes beyond construction project management software — which tracks job progress   — by helping businesses aggregate, control, manage, and most importantly, use the valuable data that multiple construction projects generate.

Find your construction software

Do I need construction software?

Managing an AEC operation presents many unique challenges. Without the automated processes, streamlined workflows, and analytics that construction software offers, these challenges are exacerbated.

Do the following issues sound familiar?

  • You have trouble balancing multiple jobs and seeing the “big picture” view across a wide portfolio of projects.
  • You lack reporting capabilities which create summary data on project status and risks.
  • You lose profits through errors, inefficiencies, incomplete information, and redundancies.
  • Your current system is a tapestry of several subpar software programs.
  • You often re-enter data or duplicate work between systems.
  • You battle mistakes from miscommunication, out-of-date documents, and the inability to access information from the field.
  • Your projects suffer from inefficient communication and changing schedules.
  • You lack a methodical approach to client communication, data entry, process management, and information retrieval.

You owe it to yourself and your business to find a solution that doesn’t drive up costs and complicate relationships with customers and employees. You need modern construction software.

But with so many construction software categories and options available, choosing the best solution for your business can be an overwhelming process — especially since vendors constantly update and advance their offerings. It’s even possible that you’ve been down this road before, but your first system isn’t cutting it anymore. Don’t worry. This guide will teach you how to compare systems like an expert and find the best construction software for your business.

How do I compare construction software?

When it comes to construction software, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Your specific business goals and needs will determine the construction software you choose.

While looking for a modern system, it’s best to think of construction software as a Swiss Army knife. Though it offers many useful tools to manage several business processes, sometimes you’ll need additional specialty gadgets. For example, you may already have a CPMS system in place that you love, but the accounting tool just doesn’t fit your needs. Rather than abandon the whole suite, get a sharper knife: look for a best-of-breed accounting system with features tailored to your niche, then integrate it with the existing system.

Additionally, keep in mind the opposite is true — your business may not need a multi-tool.

Though a comprehensive system should include each module below, touchpoint solutions that excel at one business aspect are available. For example, it can be tempting to “go big!” and buy a complete CPMS suite. But if your biggest business issues stem from the inability to manage client relationships, then it’s better to find a specialty gadget — such as standalone CRM software tailored to the construction industry. Why buy a Swiss Army knife when you really need a left-handed can opener?

Clearly defining the issues you need a new system to solve will help you choose the right tool for the job. Let’s take a look at what’s inside the construction software toolbox:

Construction Management

  • Accounting, budgeting, billing and invoicing, bid management, job costing
  • Client communication, supplier, subcontractor, and lead management* Daily work logs, timesheets, incident reporting, job scheduling, task management* Document, photo, change order, permit, purchase order, submittals, warranty, and contract management

Project Management

  • Budget management, bid management and submittals, jobsite logs, and estimations
  • Email Integration, collaboration, file sharing, document tracking and management
  • Planning, scheduling, resource allocation, milestone tracking, time tracking, task management, visual task tracking (Gantt Charts, Kanban boards, progress bars)

Accounting

  • Accounts payable and receivable, general ledger, cash management
  • Payroll, billing and invoicing, purchase order management* Job costing, budgeting, forecasting, and construction breakdowns, bid management

Customer Relationship Management

  • Contact management, customer interaction tracking, contract and quote management
  • Integration with accounting, marketing, or project management systems

Construction Estimating

  • Product and cost database, pricing books, construction calculators
  • Billing and invoicing, job costing, quote and bid management, and subcontractor data

Tool and Asset Management

  • Fixed asset management and budgeting, inventory tracking, maintenance scheduling, issue and warranty management
  • Depreciation calculations, audit trail, and tax management

Field Service Management

  • Customer and work order management, complex scheduling and dispatch, remote inventory management
  • Field worker activity tracking and performance management (driver logs, time tracking, job status updates)
  • Integration with inventory, accounting, and other back-office systems

As you can see, construction software can become very granular. You can buy a powerful CPMS system with all the vast functionality listed above, or you can buy construction project management software to keep your endeavors on track. Or just a document management system to help your firm go paperless. And thanks to cloud deployment and à la carte suites, one vendor often offers each of them.

So how do you decide which one you need?

Once you’ve identified your business goals and used them to make a list of must-have features, the next step is to determine how you’ll be using the software.

What are the common construction software applications?

With construction management software, everyone with access stays up to date on each job process —   bids, contractor forms, order processing —   without skipping a beat. But depending on the size or type of AEC business you manage, there are special considerations to make. Let’s explore some of those differences.

Enterprise construction software

Large firms need end-to-end construction software that encompasses all aspects of a project-based business — from concept to asset. Enterprise CPMS systems are known for their security, efficiency, and customization.

The biggest concern when choosing an enterprise solution is complete system integration.

These solutions are designed specifically to help firms lower project costs, increase resource productivity, reduce duplicate data entry, and enhance operational efficiency. Synthesis between systems is beneficial because it increases communication by allowing information to flow seamlessly through the enterprise: from the field, to main office, and back again. This integration also provides decision-makers with a clear picture of each project’s status and performance of the organization as a whole.

Midsize construction software

Midsized firms have specific characteristics and challenges that can lead to diminished profits without the right tools. It’s likely that you’re:

  • Fighting the steady creep of corporate overhead
  • Expanding your single service offerings to a one stop shop to pacify increasing client demands
  • Serving a mix of public and private sector clients
  • Opening multiple branch offices and augmenting your regional footprint
  • Adopting formal management structures, governance policies, and IT systems
  • Struggling with slower decision making as teams grow and your responsibilities are delegated

Overall, your midsized firm’s technology needs can be summarized in two words: growing pains. As the awkward Jan Brady of the bunch, enterprise vendors are too complex for your business, but you’ve outgrown your smaller system — or collection of touchpoint systems.

So what’s an awkward middle child to do?

Most importantly, you need a vendor that helps you consolidate multiple systems. This means finding construction software with strong core functionality and tailored add-ons. A centralized hub will help you do two things:

  1. Avoid the overly complex pricing and customization of enterprise solutions
  2. Stay competitive against smaller, agile firms with lower costs and niche markets

A centralized database will also provide customizable reports and easy access to information to help you identify issues before they become a problem.

Small business construction software

Small firms expanding staff from a one or two person business can use construction management software to help scale gracefully. At your growing firm, you likely wear a lot of hats. Your day isn’t predictable; you are reactive rather than proactive, and you spend a lot of time putting out fires. To combat these issues, you need a system that helps you automate processes, delegate responsibilities, and increase transparency.

For example, you may be accustomed to doing job estimates by hand for a few projects every week. But as you land larger projects, this process becomes inefficient. Additionally, the spreadsheets you use for tracking projects aren’t best for collaboration and locating information quickly. Construction estimating software can help you — or another employee — complete the bid process swiftly and accurately. As far as collaboration goes, construction project management software is your answer. It provides a central place to track projects, assign tasks, and view progress at a glance.

Cloud-based systems are deployed quickly and without an IT department, and often provide a powerful solution at an affordable price. Many large vendors provide construction management software suites tailored to small firms. These systems cover basic construction management functionality, but you may find that a robust accounting or project management module includes all the tools you need.

Software by construction type

In addition to selecting software based on your business size, it’s also important to consider the services you offer. For example, a home remodeling job will need vastly different tools than large industrial projects. Since general, residential, and commercial contractors have varying needs, many vendors have tailored suites for each type.

Additionally, many vendors offer software specifically for niche firms:

  • Subcontractors: Electrical, Carpentry, Plumbing, etc.
  • Specialty Construction Projects: Healthcare, Industrial, Heavy civil, etc.

Investing in technology created for your exact needs will ensure you meet the unique challenges of your industry. For example, let’s say you are an HVAC subcontractor. Every time you work on a new project, you have the potential to do the service work for that client when the job is complete — a huge opportunity to create a customer for life. By choosing HVAC specific software, you know you’ll have the customer relationship and field service management functionality you need to track clients and provide exceptional customer service.

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