Profitability in heavy civil construction begins with the estimate. While many contractors recognize the speed, accuracy and ease-of-use advantages of specialized software for estimating, unifying estimating with adjacent workflows is another important advantage that a strong estimating application provides over manual systems and spreadsheets.
Estimating is not an isolated activity. When estimating software connects seamlessly with field tracking, electronic Department of Transportation (DOT) bidding, accounting and project management systems, a contractor can save a lot of time and effort rekeying data. The contractor can also eliminate errors that go along with that redundant data entry and increase collaboration and efficiency across departments.
The Bid Becomes the Job
With unified systems, bid data can be sent directly to the field tracking software and vice versa. Discrepancies between what was bid and what is expected in the field disappear. Information is defined and measured the same way in both applications, and it is easier to use actual data from the field to make future bids more accurate.
Steed and Evans, a heavy civil engineering, infrastructure and aggregate company serving Southern Ontario, Canada, uses estimating and field tracking applications as a cohesive pair. “The way our estimating and field tracking applications mesh is a huge plus, and the export and import functions save time and greatly reduce the possibility of keying errors,” said Accounting Supervisor Alex Kalmar. “Our software links the information from estimates to our field tracking process automatically, eliminating the added work and inconsistencies of reentering data and managing disconnected systems. We can now monitor and report on virtually any aspect of a job in comparison with the estimate and respond quickly.”
Eric Sellman, vice president and general manager of the civil group within Minneapolis, Minnesota-based M.A. Mortenson Construction, said a platform with unified estimating and field tracking applications has increased the synergy between estimating and project teams and created a feedback loop for continuous improvement. Project managers and superintendents dive into the estimate so they can go into the field with accurate expectations, and estimators evaluate production data from field logs to fine-tune future bids.
Being able to directly compare actual production against the estimate on a daily basis can also be a powerful motivator for managers in the field, and collaboration becomes more natural to the entire team. “Beyond the data link between estimating and operations, the interesting thing is that our integrated estimating and field tracking software capabilities encourages collaboration and is really bringing us closer from a personnel standpoint, too,” said Tom Williams, director of estimating at P. Flanigan & Sons, a Baltimore-area contractor specializing in transportation-related projects and materials.
Taking DOT Bidding to the Fast Lane
Estimating software provides high-speed submission advantages for heavy civil contractors doing DOT work. Leveraging these specialized applications, estimators can import electronic bid forms, convert estimates automatically to match the required DOT format and upload them for submission. The software goes a step further, providing a built-in database containing all of the cost items in the DOT bid forms. By prepopulating these DOT databases with their costs for the items in advance, estimators can easily pull in the information and build bids very quickly.
DOT projects account for a high percentage of work completed by Duininck Incorporated, a contractor with construction and aggregate operations active across the United States. “The process of prepopulating cost items according to the DOT structures and seamlessly importing a bid form, conforming our bid and exporting it is extremely fast and accurate, and there is no way you can duplicate that with spreadsheets,” said Vice President Kyle Duininck.
Jonathan O’Dell, an estimator at Triple B Services, agreed. “The DOT integration features built in to our estimating application provide a critical time saving advantage,” he said. O’Dell and his team complete 10 to 13 bids weekly for earthwork, highway and utility projects in Texas that generate approximately $80 million in revenue annually.
Link with Accounting & Project Management
Triple B transitioned away from Excel when estimating with spreadsheets was slowing the company down. DOT integration was one reason, but the ability to export easily to the Viewpoint Vista accounting program and Oracle Primavera project management software were also big pluses.
With a specialized estimating application, moving data from the bid is fast and easy. Estimators simply export the bid file, and it can then be opened in most common accounting and project management systems. Names, resources and durations all transfer, saving hours of rekeying data and eliminating errors. “The unification of our accounting ERP with field tracking and estimating software has been pretty seamless,” said M.A. Mortenson’s Sellman.
Seamless is also the word Jessica French Goyett, vice president at W.L. French Excavating, uses to describe how her estimating application integrates with the Massachusetts company’s accounting software. “Collaboration between our internal departments has increased tremendously, not only from estimating to the field, but also [from] estimating to accounting,” she said. “Once the job is awarded to us, the estimating department simply uploads the budget to a shared file and sends it to my accounting system. We essentially set up the job together, the budget is sent over to accounting and the job is set up. No room for error. It’s exactly what we estimated and it is done in a matter of 3 seconds with a click and a send.”
Heavy civil contractors tend to be familiar with the foundational advantages of estimating applications. The database of prepopulated cost items puts up-to-date rates for crews, tasks, materials and equipment at their fingertips, and the specialized functionality assists them in pulling those items into a bid quickly, applying strategies and avoiding errors. However, contractors should not underestimate the added benefit of a unified approach. When they move from spreadsheets to specialized software, they open up opportunities to eliminate redundancy, increase accuracy and get their teams working more cohesively and more efficiently.