Construction software is an umbrella term that refers to a class of applications that help firms manage everything from materials takeoff and estimating to job costing and project management.
With over 200 solutions on the market, construction software is one of the most complex (and fragmented) markets we cover. We wrote this guide to help you understand the various industry applications -- and how they can improve your business.
Here's what we'll cover:
- Application Categories & Benefits
- Common Buying Scenarios
- Trends Impacting this Market
- The Vendor Landscape
Which Applications Do You Need?
Construction software applications map to the processes required to take a project from initial plans to completion. In the table below, we profile the most common applications--and how they are useful--to help you decide which applications you need.
|Takeoff||Enables faster and more accurate takeoffs by allowing the estimator to measure lengths, areas and volumes from paper blueprints or digital files (e.g., CAD drawings or PDFs). Many systems allow you to perform takeoff entirely electronically, eliminating the need for paper records. Example vendors: ProEst, Planswift, OnCenter.|
|Estimating||Creates professional-looking bids based on your takeoff. To increase the accuracy of estimates--and profitability of projects--the system pulls current labor and materials prices from a costs database. Example vendors: ProEst, ConEst, Maxwell, Accubid.|
|Bid Management||Manages procurement, purchasing and contract management processes. For instance, the system provides a database to store subcontractor information so you can quickly pull a list of subs to send bid requests at a later date. Example vendors: pipelineSuite, Bid eXchange, SmartBidNet.|
|Project Scheduling||Enables the critical path method (CPM) to help project managers efficiently schedule people, resources and tasks. It tracks who is working where, when you’ll need project resources to arrive and the use of equipment. To visualize schedules, most systems use familiar Gantt charts. Example vendors: Maxwell ProContractorMX CPM, Primavera P6 and PMWeb.|
|Project Management||Helps you track project costs, manage important documentation (e.g. change orders) and collaborate with all parties involved on the project. It also tracks estimated project costs against actual to help stay on budget. Example vendors: Paskr, Procore, Prolog.|
|Program & Portfolio Management||Provides a specialized set of project management applications to assist building owners, site managers and homebuilders in coordinating capital projects. These commercial construction software applications focus less on scheduling and the hands-on details and more on the high-level overview of the projects and portfolio cycles. Example vendors: e-Builder, Sage Project Lifecycle Management, EADOC.|
|Accounting & Job Costing||Handles the core accounting and job costing needs of contractors. Most offerings are designed around a job costing module that allows accounting staff to allocate costs by the job and by CSI code to manage projects profitability. Example vendors: Dexter & Chaney, Sage Timberline Software, Viewpoint.|
|Customer Management||Tracks all customer contact information, past interactions/jobs performed, and future potential customers. For most firms, a general application will suffice. However, homebuilders should evaluate a homebuilder CRM system due to unique needs. Example vendors: BuilderTREND, Sage ACT!, GoldMine CRM.|
|Field Service Management||Supports the needs of contractors with multiple field service technicians. Allows contractors to create work orders, dispatch technicians in the field and monitor their spare parts inventory. Example vendors: Ascente, Penta, Total Service.|
Common Buyers Scenarios
To help you narrow the field, we present five common buyer goals below. One or more of these goals might align with your needs. Keep these in mind as you read and evaluate construction software reviews.
1. You want to consolidate multiple applications.
If you’re using construction management solutions from multiple different providers and are frustrated by the lack of integration, you should evaluate integrated construction suites. Large companies will want to go with enterprise-level providers such as Oracle or SAP. Meanwhile, mid-sized companies should look at systems like Foundation for Windows, Sage Master Builder Software or ComputerEase because they offer robust core functionality with a variety of add-on modules.
2. You need to boost efficiency in one area (e.g., estimating).
If you consistently have issues with one aspect of your business, you’ll want to look at vendors that offer standalone, or “best of breed” applications so you don’t pay for more functionality than you need. Because these applications are best of breed, they also tend to have deeper functionality than what’s offered in suites.
Buyers often ask us about standalone estimating and project management applications, in particular. If you’re in the market for an estimating application, two of the premier vendors to consider are ProEst and Maxwell. See our buyer’s guide on cost estimating for a more thorough breakdown of this market.
Meanwhile, we frequently recommend Paskr and Procore to buyers that need a standalone project management application. These vendors are laser-focused on this need and have experience serving a variety of specialities. Refer to our project management buyer’s guide to better understand this market.
3. You’re a specialty firm that needs a unique system.
Many specialty firms will find that modules in general software for construction doesn't adequately fit their needs. For example, an estimator for an electrical contractor might require a highly specialized electrical estimating system to adequately estimate voltage drops and the number of conduit boxes needed. Some of our more popular specialty buyer’s guides address the electrical, concrete and heavy/highway trades.
4. You’re having difficulty adapting a general accounting package.
If you find yourself frustrated by having to adapt a general accounting package to accommodate your payroll, subcontracting and job costing needs then it’s time to move to a construction-specific accounting program. Large and medium-sized firms should evaluate Viewpoint V6 and Sage 300 Construction and Real Estate (formerly Sage Timberline Office). Meanwhile, small firms upgrading from an entry-level package such as Quickbooks or Peachtree should evaluate ComputerEase, FOUNDATION for Windows, Maxwell ProContractorMX and Construction Partner.
5. You’re looking to get off pen and paper.
For your first construction company software purchase, it’s important to choose a system that can serve your needs now and into the future. To that end, you’ll want to choose a system that can expand with your business. We find that small firms should start with a lightweight and affordable system that can automate some of your processes right away. A few products to consider in this scenario are Sage 100 (formerly Master Builder), Jonas Construction Software, and Plus Series by Contractor Software Group.
Of course, there are other factors to consider in addition to these buying scenarios. A few things that will influence which vendor offers the best construction software for your business are the size of your business, your trade specialization, and your availability of IT resources and expertise.
A number of trends are worth noting as you evaluate systems:
- Software as a Service (SaaS). SaaS--a deployment model in which applications are hosted by the vendor and accessed via a Web browser--is slowly gaining in popularity within the industry. The most common SaaS, or Cloud, applications focus on project management. SaaS is less common in accounting and estimating. Buyers looking for new project management applications should definitely evaluate SaaS offerings.
- Vendor Consolidation. Larger construction management software vendors such as Constellation, Sage and Maxwell Systems continue to acquire smaller vendors. While these vendors have continued to extend and support acquired products, buyers will generally want to work with consolidators rather than those vendors likely to be acquired. Buyers should carefully assess vendor viability and corporate strategy.
- Mobile platforms and capabilities. Mobile platforms--and the systems that run on them--are improving all the time. This is an important development in this market as many contractors and workers stand to benefit from having access to their project information while in the field. If this is an important feature for you, make sure the vendor’s construction solution is compatible with mobile devices.
Construction Software Market Breakdown
As mentioned earlier, construction business software is a fractured market with a wide range of vendors and pricing models. Below, we’ve created a rough map of the vendor landscape.