Flavors of Construction Software: What to Include in Your Firm’s Stack

May 23rd, 2019

There are many different moving parts and details to manage in construction— it’s necessary to stay on top of all the project teams and updates to meet deadlines and keep job sites safe.

Due to the different elements of a construction project, there are many different types of construction software that map to the different activities and processes that need to be managed. There are several all-in-one construction project management tools, but many project engineers, general contractors, and project managers find themselves needing additional software solutions in their stack.

For professionals who are just getting started researching different types of construction software, here is a break down of the main types of tools and their use cases.

Construction Project Management Software

Construction project management solutions offer a range of features for project engineers, managers, team members, and other stakeholders. This type of software is designed to give professional teams all the tools they need to plan their project from beginning to end.

Project management softwares vary in the features they offer. Basic features typically include support for multiple projects and departments, drawing management, RFI management, submittals, bidding, project directory and scheduling, photo documentation, document management, contact management, and reporting.

These products usually integrate with other types of software that are necessary for large construction projects. For example, many project management systems integrate with construction accounting software to make financial management a seamless experience. Integrations are an important feature to consider — you want all the software in your stack to work together to save time and money.

Popular Construction Project Management Software vendors include: Viewpoint, Prolog, Procore, PlanGrid, Constructware, and CMiC.  Primavera and Microsoft Project are not designed for professionals in the construction industry but they are also frequently used by construction teams for project management.

Accounting Software Designed for Construction

Accounting software that is designed for the construction industry is built with all the industry-specific processes in mind. Construction projects have many materials, cost estimates, employees, tax laws, and budgets to keep track of. Accounting software designed for this vertical offer the tools stakeholders need to manage all of their finances in one place.

Features typically include the ability to manage project costs, automate accounting tasks, and integrate with other project management tools. Accounting software helps make invoicing, managing incoming payments, tax compliance, and financial reporting simpler.

Popular construction accounting vendors include: Sage, Viewpoint, Quickbooks, CMiC, and Deltek Vision.

Bidding Software

Bidding software is often included in project management suites, but can also be offered as a stand-alone solution. Bidding software enables professionals to quickly create project bids, manage them, share project documents, prequalify and manage subcontractors, and more. Some bidding tools offer access to large networks of other contractors and leads. Bidding software often integrates with other solutions professionals need, such as project management software and document management systems. Some vendors include takeoff and estimating capabilities within their bidding software solution. Other vendors have separate solutions for bidding and takeoff & estimating software.

Popular construction bidding vendors include iSqFt and SmartBidNet. Other vendors that include bidding capabilities with their project management softwares include Procore and Viewpoint.

Takeoff and Estimating Software

Takeoff and estimating software enables project managers to perform takeoff and estimating tasks more efficiently. As project managers and engineers go through their plans and ‘takeoff’ every material and associated cost, takeoff software will keep a running tab on the entire estimated cost of the project. Takeoff software is sometimes included with estimating software, and other times offered as a stand alone product.

Estimating software enables professionals to efficiently make accurate cost estimates. This type of software features spreadsheets, digital blueprints, drawings, and more to give leaders an accurate view of the project and all the costs that will accrue. Accurate estimates are necessary for producing competitive, yet honest, bids. To win more projects, contractors rely heavily on this type of software to make the most accurate cost calculations. These bids will be later incorporated into the contract. Though some professionals still prefer spreadsheets and manual documentation, this type of software saves time and reduces the risk of human error.

Estimating software can also update estimated costs during the construction phase of a project. Changes are a reality on construction sites, so estimating software makes it easier to keep tabs on all adjusted costs.

Features typically include job cost estimation, payment tracking, reporting, phase analysis, scheduling, and more.

Popular takeoff and estimating tools include On-Screen Takeoff, HeavyBid from HCSS, Bluebeam Revu, Planswift, B2W Estimate, Trimble Accubid, ProEst, Sage Estimating and WinEst.

Computer-Aided Design (CAD) and Building Information Modeling (BIM)

CAD and BIM software allows architects and engineers to create digital drawings, plans,  lists of needed materials, and share them with their teams. These tools enable engineers to create projects with the correct proportions more quickly and effectively than they could with paper.

CAD technology was developed before modern BIM solutions. CAD software allows architects and engineers to create 2D and 3D construction plans. Professionals can change views of the plans and adjust values as needed. The digital lines are vectors tied to mathematical equations, enabling drawings and plans to remain proportional with any additional adjustments. This saves engineers a great deal of time, because with every change, all other calculations are automatically updated.

BIM products evolved from CAD software, and have become the more widely adopted tool for design and modeling of commercial buildings. BIM technology often features parametric modelling, collaboration tools for team members from different departments, scheduling, and annotation. Many BIM tools have the ability to forecast project timelines, and can predict when scheduling conflicts may arise.

Popular CAD and BIM tools include Revit, BIM360, AutoCAD, Navisworks, Sketchup, Tekla, QTO, and Assemble Systems.

Job Site Data Collection & Reporting

Projects are completed on time by staying on top of all the details. This is why daily job site data collection and reporting is important for team leaders and project managers. Stakeholders often want reports of how teams are performing, if work is being completed properly, and how the project costs are matching up to the original estimations. Software that include machine learning technology can give leaders accurate reports on the health of their project. Some data collection and analytics tools feature predictive analytics tools to predict and manage risks to employees, equipment, and other resources.

The following tools provide construction data collection, analytics, and reporting: Autodesk’s BIM360, B2W, HCSS, Procore, PlanGrid, NoteVault, and Viewpoint.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM)

Stakeholders in the construction industry need to manage relationships with their clients just like any other business. CRM systems enable professionals to collect customer information, foster strong relationships with clients, and standardize their sales pipeline. A CRM helps professionals organize all the important details of client, subcontractor, and contractor interactions. A  CRM also enables professionals to keep their bids, project statuses, and assigned tasks in one interface.

CRM platforms designed for the construction industry allow leaders to check off all of their assigned tasks. They can also store and share all needed documents. CRM software generally integrates with other tools like project management systems and accounting software.

Though relationships are incredibly important in the construction industry, this field has been slow to adopt CRM technology. Despite this, there are some CRMs designed specifically for the construction industry for professionals to choose from. These include Cosential and FollowUp Power.

Cloud Storage, Collaboration, and Web Conferencing

Commercial construction projects produce large quantities of documents and involve many personnel that need to access these documents. Professionals also need the ability to communicate effectively about the decisions the documents lay out. Though not designed specifically for the construction industry, cloud storage, collaboration, and web conferencing tools are essential technologies for a successful project. However, some construction tools also includes these capabilities.

Cloud storage solutions for the construction industry must support all the different types of documents a project requires — spreadsheets, drawings, PDFs, RFI, CAD files, and other documents with specific visual formats.

Construction collaboration tools allow different crew members to access shared documents, mark up, and make changes to documents. This can happen across different devices and at the same time. Web conferencing tools improve the communication of stakeholders and professionals. Colleagues can see changes to shared documents, but there are times when professionals need a conversation to clearly get ideas across.  

Construction software solutions that provide these features include PlanGrid and Bluebeam Revu.

Some examples of non-industry specific collaboration tools include Google Drive, Slack, and Trello. Web conferencing tools used across industries include Zoom, BlueJeans, and Microsoft Teams. Examples of cloud storage tools that can also be useful for construction projects include Google Cloud Storage, Dropbox, and Citrix ShareFile.

Other Emerging Technologies

The construction industry is an ideal environment for experimenting with some of the latest technology, ranging from augmented reality / virtual reality (AR / VR) to drones and 3D printers. Augmented reality has some really exciting practical applications that can make construction projects safer and more efficient. For example, SRI International is incorporating augmented reality technology into the inspection process.

Inspectors can wear AR headgear to scan a project and see how the real measurements are lining up with the model. If there is a mistake, the glasses will alert the inspector, the inspector can take a picture, and the device can store and share this information with those who need to be informed. Inspection notes, safety reports, and contractor reviews can all be stored with this technology. Vendors in AR and VR include IRISVR, Holobuilder, Occipital, and more.

Drones are another technology that are making construction data collection, 3D volumetric analysis, and surveillance more efficient and effective. Vendors include 3D Robotics, Airware, DJI, and more.

Construction 3D printers can now create the foundation and framework of homes layer by layer. This process has proved to be more efficient and cost-friendly. These printers can also create other construction materials, like plastic, metal, and glass. This technology is still relatively young, but has the potential to significantly lower labor costs and waste in the industry.  Vendors in construction 3D printing include Apis Cor, 3D Natives, and COBOD.

Building the Software Stack That Works For Your Team

Because there are many different moving parts in a construction project, it can be overwhelming to research all of the potential software tools to incorporate into your stack. But don’t let yourself get  paralyzed by all the options! Reading customer reviews to see what other construction professionals are using is a great way to start narrowing down your search for the right construction software.
A good place to start your research is the Top Construction Software category page on TrustRadius.This page includes a TrustMap that ranks the top construction software by overall user score and research frequency. You can follow the vendors’ links to read real customer reviews to get a feel for what will work best for your team.