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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Software Integration and What It Means to Contractors

Software Integration: What does it mean to contractors?
By: Jeff Knutson President of Contractors Software Group, Inc.

In this economy when builders and contractors are asking their employees to do more with less, they’re discovering integrated software is helping them sell more, generate more leads, build happier customers, estimate faster, create more accurate proposals, communicate more effectively and make more money than they’re making now.

You’ve heard the catch phrases; integrated software, A-Z integrated software, and fully integrated software, but what exactly does integrated mean? In comparing software, the word “Integrated” is being used so frequently to describe software it has become ambiguous.

The word Integration, as it relates to software, basically means taking a process or procedure and having it communicate with another process or procedure. Integration turns multiple processes into a single entry solution. There are many processes within a contractors’ business that can be integrated. To make it easy, Contractors Software Group, Inc. has broken down a construction company into four departments.

1. Sales, Marketing and Customer Service Department
2. Drafting and Estimating Department
3. Project Management and Field Staff
4. Job Cost Accounting and Administrative Department

Within each department there are multiple processes and procedures that should be integrated. Even within an individual department, processes should be integrated. We highlighted some of the integration benefits that should follow suit within your company.

Sales, Marketing and Customer Service
The benefit of automating and integrating the sales, marketing and customer service department is to sell more, generate more leads and build happier customers. One of the most popular procedures to integrate is lead tracking with follow-up marketing process. A marketing process is a series of activities that includes: follow-up phone calls, e-mails and direct mail. The integration of these two processes will streamline and standardize the contractor’s sales and marketing by turning more prospects into sales.
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Contractors are also integrating their lead tracking and marketing with the tracking of their customer‘s request for service. Builders and contractors are integrating this process to increase time savings. They understand the value in keeping their customers happy, informed and produce a potential referral.
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By integrating the sales process, contractors are discovering they’re selling more, generating more leads and building happier customers.
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Drafting and Estimating Departments
Many successful contractors are integrating the process of drawing a blueprint with the building an estimate. Incorporating the drawing of blue prints with estimating of materials and costs has been around for years but it is becoming even more popular today. When you integrate these two processes you have an integrated Cad Estimating solution. Another phrase that is being used for the same process is Builder Information Management system [BIM].
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Contractors are also integrating digital takeoff devices like electronic digitizers or digital takeoff software with their estimating program they can create more estimates. Digital takeoff devices speed up the process of taking off footages and quantities of blueprints.
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Another process contractors are integrating is the creation of a proposal/specification directly from the estimate. Integrating these two processes reduces mistakes because the proposal that is presented to the customer is actual estimate.

The idea of integrating the CAD, estimating and proposal writing into a single entry solution is helping builders and contractors estimate faster and create more accurate proposals.
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Project Management & Field
Once a job is sold the work of completing the job on time and on budget is typically the responsibility of the project manager running the job. To accomplish this task the project manager must communicate what was sold to all the vendors and field staff.

Many contractors are turning to the use of written purchase orders, subcontracts and internal work orders to communicate more effectively with their vendors and internal employees. Since all of the costs and specifications are in the estimate many successful contractors are integrating their estimating process with the creation of these documents to speed up the process. What once took hours is now taking seconds.
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Typically the construction site is not in the same location as the contractor’s back office. For this reason, many contractors are using wireless laptops in the field and integrating them to their software in the office. Many contractors now have the ability to update their schedules, approve work, and receive materials in the field all remotely from their wireless laptop.

The combination of improved communication along with integration between estimating, project management, the field and back office, a construction company can communicate more effectively and produce higher quality construction.
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Job Cost Accounting
Many successful contractors are investing in fully integrated Job Cost Accounting programs to help them reduce time, control costs and better manage the financial side of their business. Most integrated job cost accounting programs will integrate, streamline and manage payables, bill paying, job costing, payroll, billings, and financial reporting into a single entry system. Having financial information at your fingertips will help you make more informed decisions and bring more profit to your bottom line.

Integrating the estimating process with the job cost accounting process has many benefits. Tracking and managing one’s actual cost versus budgeted cost aides in reducing the chance of cost overruns and verifies that your estimating process is working.

By integrating estimating with job cost accounting, a contractor can reduce the time to re-enter job information, contract amounts, budgeted hours and budgeted dollars by category of work, purchase orders, subcontract agreements and any new customers into the job cost accounting program.
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Fully Integrated Software
A fully integrated construction software solution will integrate the four departments together into a single entry solution. The information from the sales, marketing and customer service department will flow over to the CAD/estimating department so there is no re-entry of information. The information from the CAD/Estimating department will flow over to the project management department so that all bids and purchases are communicated to the vendors and the people in the field. The information from the estimating and project management department will flow over to the job cost accounting department verifying what was ordered, delivered and completed so the job comes in on budget.

When provided with the correct automated tools such as a fully integrated program, it enables contractors and their business to streamline their operations and increase business productivity and longevity.
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Construction software vendors can’t guarantee that you will make millions of dollars by using their integrated software but they can guarantee if you use their integrated software correctly you will be able to sell more, generate more leads, build happier customers, estimate faster, create more accurate proposals, communicate more effectively and make more money than you’re making now.

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