Trends in Construction Scheduling Software

10 years ago, you'd be hard pressed to find many residential construction professionals giving serious consideration to desktop construction software. Web-based construction software was in its infancy and contractors were generally reluctant to delve into these unproven digital power tools.

About the time the "dot-com bubble" peaked in early 2000, the founders of BuildIT saw a need for a "mobile office" approach to managing construction businesses. A laptop computer or tablet PC, connected wirelessly to the Internet via an "air card" would give contractors access to their critical business information, job schedules and communications from literally anywhere at any time.

Since then, there has been a convergence of trends that has made web based construction software a hot ticket item.

Convergence of Trends

  1. Wireless internet access has expanded to the point of being ubiquitous, and expected.
  2. Laptop computers have come way down in price, and up in speed and screen size, and have built in Wi-Fi.
  3. Handheld wireless devices such as Blackberries and iPhones are becoming standard issue for mobile construction professionals.
  4. Web based construction software tools like BuildIT have been in development for years, building on user feedback from a growing group of "first mover" construction professionals.
  5. As we end this decade, those that were still in school during the "dot-com bubble" of 1998 through 2001 are now in project management and supervisory positions; many of them now own their own construction business. And these folks were raised on technology, so web based construction software is a natural fit for them: short learning curves and high adoption.

As for construction scheduling software, it's important to have a rich feature set. However, there is always the risk of ratcheting up the complexity factor too much, to the point of losing those who just want a simple tool to get their job done. When it comes to residential scheduling, there are a host of options available.  Time and time again the feedback we get is that most construction scheduling software is too complex and way beyond what is needed.

Many potential users suffer from "feature shock" after checking out corporate websites, demo versions, and free online trials of construction software – an enormous number of features that literally bog down the user.

BuildIT Advantage

Our approach at BuildIT is simple - we focus on 3 main areas: organization, scheduling and communications.

Organization – Time and time again, searchers that connect with BuildIT say they are looking to get better organized. They understand that a organized and well run business is a profitable one. BuildIT has a logical place for every piece of information on the job.

Scheduling – Our system allows construction professionals to run multiple projects concurrently, and see the schedules for these projects in one view. This gives them the big picture.  And since the system is web based, they can share the schedules with other stakeholders (vendors, subcontractors, clients, design professionals) and realize the benefits of a real-time collaborative tool. Gone are the days when you'd rely solely on a printed schedule.  In residential construction, a printed schedule is generally out of date about an hour after it has been printed!

Communications – It is one thing to create a schedule, it's quite another to make sure the right people get the right scheduling information at the right time. Web based construction scheduling software allows the construction professional to disseminate time sensitive information to their key contacts, in their preferred method of communication – email, fax, text message, or a website "notice board" where assigned tasks, and related files are readily available 24/7.

Current Trends

Some trends we're seeing:

  1. Pricing - While "enterprise level" construction software packages (software + setup + training + maintenance + consultants + customization $$$) are priced well above the budgets of most small to midsized (SME) residential construction firms, the web based software companies are jockeying for position for the SME marketplace. Competition from agile players like BuildIT is likely having an impact on boardroom discussions – you're hard pressed these days as a construction software company to get away with charging $1,000's per year (some well over $10K), or hundreds of dollars per project per month when that same customer can get a similar feature set and all the main online scheduling benefits from BuildIT for $85 per month.
  2. Schedule creation – Many construction professionals that come to BuildIT are looking for a solution to their problem... today. Rather than mastering a particular software program, what they really want is their problem solved. It's the old adage about the guy who buys a drill bit, but what he really wants is a hole. And their problem is simply this: they need a schedule to satisfy someone – the owner, property manager, design professional, lender, investor, etc. Sometimes, they need this to submit with their bid, and in those instances, time is of the essence. So we offer a service to help them create a schedule, often right there on the spot when they call. They get their problem solved, and they get usage of the web based system, and our support, to help them along the path from "problem solved" to "loyal BuildIT customer".
  3. Handheld devices – Construction professionals are mobile. The days of being anchored to a desktop computer are over. With the advent of Blackberries, iPhones and other handheld wireless devices that can access the Internet, the construction professional literally can have his entire business at his fingertips. BuildIT has strategically invested in building a strong, robust application over the years. With the release of version 4.7 in October 2009, we have the underlying architecture and code ready for a new "mobile development" phase, currently underway and to be released first to our lead users in the next couple of months. Users with small handheld devices will be able to more easily access key information in their BuildIT account.
  4. Disruptive innovations – There is an emergence of free applications, like Google apps, that offer generic solutions.  Construction professionals who have the time to configure and master these solutions may find some of the benefits they need.  Presently, we’re not seeing anything on the market that fits the specific needs that our customers are demanding: like job-centric organization, related construction timelines, construction-specific terminology, etc. However, the challenge for all construction software companies will be to continually improve their apps, and deliver value which ultimately helps their customers become more efficient and generate greater profits.

BuildIT Systems is a great company (we’re biased) that builds even greater construction scheduling software (so say our customers). We started a lean company while the air was quickly escaping the dot-com bubble to provide SME construction companies with an online scheduling, information management and communications tool. Today, many of our first customers are still with us (thanks, we’re honored, really!), and are joined by construction professionals around the world who want better control of their information, and job scheduling. We get up each day eager to meet our next customer, while servicing the dickens out of our loyal user group.

BuildIT Systems sells BuildIT – a web based application, on a subscription basis. We also do custom software development for clients who use BuildIT… and others. Have an idea you think our team can help you with? Call us.

 Scott Hutchinson
 scott@builditsystems.com
 1 866 585 5050 ext 1

BuildIT Lean and Mean

Scott Sedam, President and Founder of TrueNorth Development recently did a presentation on Becoming the Lean Builder.

He nailed it.

For years, as a technical consultant for Weyerhaeuser's engineered wood product line, I saw waste and inefficiences everywhere I looked. Contractors were making money by accident, and leaving a lot on the table, and a lot of waste ended up in landfills.

I saw a big opportunity with BuildIT to help these contractors take the "good" job they were doing, and do it even better by becoming more organized, more attentive to detail, and more in control of their scheduling. So I invested in the Company, and soon afterwards joined the team.

As Scott mentions, from 1991 to 2006, considered by many the "Golden Age" of building, 90% of the margin made by 90% of the builders were made in 3 ways:

  1. Land appreciation
  2. Sales price inflation
  3. Volume expansion

Stuff was built, and people were buying. Efficiency was a great concept, but not really necessary when profits were made by default.

Along comes 2008... and the party's over. It's time to get lean, or get out.

For years, BuildIT has offered a system of tools designed to make contractors more efficent, and keep them more organized. The economic realities today are such that system like BuildIT are necessary for contractors to stay in business, and achieve acceptable profit margins.

Let's talk about "Lean" for a bit.

What is "Lean"?

It's not dropping your price to get the job. No point in working for free, or losing money while someone else gains from your loss. It's not making unilateral cuts across the board (materials, labor). It's not necessarily about reducing your expenses either, the mistake many make when considering whether they can "afford" to keep systems like BuildIT going.

It is about "doing less", but making it "count more". Plug the income and profit leaks in your organization, your product and your processes. Become intolerant of waste.

Lean is identifying waste in all it's forms:

  • Product waste (materials)
  • Process waste (time & labor)
  • Design waste (get it right on paper before mistakes are made on site)

Product waste is fairly self explanatory.

Check out these pile of goodies left over after a job - who do you think pays for this? How much $$ does this represent? Whose pocket would you like that $$ to be in?

         

Less waste = less cost = improved margins for contractors and better products for their clients.

Start becoming lean in the "product" category by becoming obsessive about product waste. Don't let it happen. Design it out at the beginning. Hire consultants like Scott Sedam to find out where this waste occurs in your product offering, and how you can turn this waste into margin. Sometimes it takes someone from the outside to show you.

Now about process...

Scheduling accuracy, wasted trips, change orders, communication issues. These and other process issues are hard to nail down. Quite frankly, it's a lot easier to deal with product related waste. But spend some time on this one... there are gains to be made, and they'll translate to dollars in your pocket. 

Let's look at wasted trips to the building site:

Scott's research shows that the typical builder averages 50 wasted trips to the jobsite. Times that by an average of $200 per trip, and there's $10K savings right there. While this may seem steep to most at first, do your own math. Keep a log of how many trips you make... that you really didn't need to (if you were more organized, and your subs were better scheduled, and you hadn't miscommunicated on some matter earlier). Figure out what your time is worth, per hour (be truthful here, what could you trade your time for), don't forget wear and tear on your truck, fuel, and opportunity cost (you could have used that time to work on a bid, land another contract, see your son's baseball game). Wasted trips are an indisputable time and money waster.

Let's say conservatively that half of those trips could have been eliminated using a tool like BuildIT. You've literally paid for BuildIT for 5 years.

Then there's the "saved day" in a building schedule:

I'm surprised at how many contractors I've talked with that have a loose schedule. They build in 120 - 150 days what an "efficient" builder who schedules with specific intent can do in 100 days.

Consider "interim financing" or carrying costs. Let's say those costs are $50 per day for a project. The total impact of saving just 1 day in the build schedule can exceed 5X that amount (or $250) IF that day is used for production (taking into account fixed costs and overhead).

Now imagine if using BuildIT (not just subscribing to BuildIT and checking it occasionally, but working with the system regularly to update the schedule, notify subs, and keep scheduled tasks on track and production happening on EVERY working day from start to finish) allowed you to shave off a week or 2 on every project you do for the entire year? Save 5 days per project, on, say 8 projects, and there's another $10K saved.

The numbers get ridiculous... in your favor. And still, I get those that balk at subscribing to our service for $85 per month because, in their words, "they can't afford it".

Yeah right.

What you need to understand: those that think they can't afford BuildIT really haven't done the math yet.

But their competitors will.

We hope you will too, and choose to become lean and profitable.

To your success !

 Scott Hutchinson
 scott@builditsystems.com
 1 866 585 5050 ext 1

Truth in Advertising!?

Oxymoron is defined as a figure of speech that combines two normally contradictory terms.

Truth. Advertising.

Contradictory?!

Can't say that I'm finding much truth in the advertising I'm coming across lately, maybe I'm just skeptical.

Or, it could be that we talk to 1000's of contractors across the planet, and we hear "the other side".

Flipping through the pages of the most recent Construction Executive magazine (March 2009 Issue), I was drawn, obviously, to the construction software ads. I'm always amused by the claims, and the cut throat competition out there is getting nasty.

I wouldn't say any of these are our competitors. We are a niche software product, for small to mid sized contractors, with a particular focus on construction scheduling, file management (organization) and communications.

But the "big guys" are out for blood.

For instance...

Software A

  • states they're so far ahead of their competition, it's not even fair
  • claims they are the leader in construction management software since the early 80's (was there even software back then?! can't remember, perhaps the VIC-20 or Commodore 64)

Software B

  • warns you to "beware of imposters" - those that offer integrated construction solutions... but apparently don't in B's humble opinion 
  • claims if you use other software besides theirs, you'll be left dead in the water (ouch, this is serious business)

Software C

  • claims to be America's #1 construction accounting software (sorry Canada, and the rest of the world, we're only talking America here)
  • has a pretty picture of the CEO on practically every ad (still trying to figure that one out - I guess he's the guy that's writing huge checks for ad space... with your money!!)

So which of these software companies are telling the truth? And how on earth are you and I going to test any of their claims?

Personally, I have never knowingly spoken to any contractor that has used, or is using any of the aforementioned programs, so I'm not here throwing mud. But I do want to raise the issue of whether you and I are getting the truth in any of these ads (or any others we come across). Because, if we buy something based on a claim that ends up being untrue, well, how would you feel?!

A wise colleage said to me years ago... "The truth is good enough." He followed up with another maxim that "it's only true when it's true for you."

So now for the "truth" about BuildIT.

  • We're web based - nothing to install, nothing to maintain, no software headaches - period.
  • We're small - you call us, you'll speak to one of the owners of the company
  • We have extremely low overhead - your subscription goes to pay us - to build a better product - for you
  • We've been around since 2000, so in "Internet" years, we're old
  • We have never advertised in Construction Executive magazine
  • We generally don't do print advertising - most of our leads (including you most likely) come through the Internet from search
  • We're inexpensive, so you should see a return on investment within the first 30 - 60 days if you get lift off with the program

BuildIT has a great system that has helped many contractors over the years get control of their scheduling. It has helped them get more organized, and thus has been responsible for gaining efficiencies, building profits and avoiding costly mistakes, that if all added up... who knows what that number is. But I'll bet it's a big number collectively.

Recall the sage advice - if you think BuildIT is the best fit, test your claim, and see if it's true for you. Try BuildIT on a monthly basis, and if you don't see massive ROI in the short term, cut it loose... and you haven't sunk $1000's into some bloated software product that promised the world, and made some rather clever, if not misleading, claims.

Keep in mind, according to a recent article in Construction Executive, it's highly unlikely you'll use even 50% of a software product's capabilities... so why pay for the excess!? Determine what you need, what you're highest priorities (must-have's) are, and if they have anything to do with scheduling, file management, or improving communications within your team (and with those outside your organization), then there may be a good fit here with us.

(By the way, notice anything wrong with the compass graphic above!? - remember, "truth in advertising").

See you on the inside!

 Scott Hutchinson
 scott@builditsystems.com
 1 866 585 5050 ext 1