Most construction managers know the names Primavera and Prolog, but there are more than 100 additional project management programs on the market. There are systems for general contractors, subcontractors, building owners and construction managers. Some are sophisticated enterprise-class systems, while others are simple solutions for the solo construction manager. We’ve put this comparison guide together to help make sense of this fragmented market.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
Functionality in Project Management
Construction Project Management Software UserView | 2014
Common Features of Construction Project Management Software
What Type of Buyer Are You?
Benefits and Potential Issues
Market Trends to Understand
“The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” Sure, but with the right systems in place, construction managers can deliver more projects on-time and on-budget. And that’s exactly what construction project management software is designed to do, among other things.
The core of a top project management system is its document control module for change orders, submittals, transmittals and requests for information (RFIs). To make collaborating easier, many vendors offer Cloud construction document management software to allow managers and other team members to access mission critical documents anywhere with an Internet connection.
Other core modules include budgeting, cost control, critical path method (CPM) scheduling and punch list management. More advanced systems will include modules for bid solicitation, procurement, online plan rooms, Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) tracking and photo and sitecam management. The functionality map and table below it can help you understand the specifics of what these applications do.
In 2013, Software Advice spoke to thousands of buyers evaluating new construction software. We recently analyzed our interactions to learn what criteria buyers use to make purchasing decisions.
For more insights from our survey, including insights from technology leader Steven Mulka, founding partner of SIS Software and member of the Association of General Contractors (AGC) IT Steering committee, check out our Construction Software BuyerView | 2014.
|Module||What it Does|
|Change orders||Tracks all change orders submitted across projects and updates the budget to reflect the most recent costs.|
|RFI & submittals||Tracks time and date of RFIs and submittals and whether a response has been sent/received.|
|Document control||Archives all project documents to facilitate collaboration and keep everyone updated on the most recent plans.|
|Project scheduling||Assists with planning tasks (and when they need to be completed) in order to keep a project running smoothly.|
|Equipment & resources||Helps allocate how a firm’s equipment and other resources (e.g., labor) are used across projects.|
|Bid proposals||Helps solicit and track bids from subcontractors to find the right team for your projects.|
|Transmittals||Stores a record of communications sent or received between all parties involved for future reference.|
|Purchase orders||Logs all items purchased over the course of working on a project to track and manage expenses.|
|Job costing & budgeting||Monitors current costs against the budget to track the cost to completion.|
When evaluating systems, it’s important to dig into the features each program offers. For instance, you’ll likely want to assess the project dashboard of each package you look at to make sure that the key performance indicators (KPIs) and metrics important to managing your projects are front and center. Of course, you’ll also want to know how customizable this dashboard is so you can adapt it to your unique business needs.
Once you decide which features you need, you have a choice between buying best-of-breed (i.e., standalone) systems or implementing applications available within a full-suite construction software offering. Best-of-breed systems generally offer more sophisticated functionality and allow managers to implement the system faster without depending on other departments, like accounting. Meanwhile, full-suite programs offer tighter integration between the project management application and the valuable financial data stored in accounting and job costing application. You can also choose between proprietary, open-source or free construction project management software based on your technology needs.
Of course, it's also important to select a trade-specific system to fit the firm's needs. For instance, an architectural firm should evaluate architectural project management software and engineering firms should evaluate software developed specifically for engineering firms. Finally, buyers can choose between software as a service (SaaS), or “Web-based,” systems and on-premise systems.
Before you dive into the details of a particular vendor offering—and start reading project management software reviews—you will want to identify yourself as one of the buyer types we’ve detailed below. Most buyers fall into one of these groups:
General contractors. These buyers are looking for robust functionality that will help them track costs, manage documents and in many cases, schedule the project. Project managers at these GCs will seek best-of-breed solutions, while C-level executives may push for integrated construction management and accounting suites. Example vendors: Maxwell ProContractorMX CPM, Paskr, Primavera, Procore, Prolog, Sage.
Building owners. These buyers manage a portfolio of capital projects, and keep tabs on the timing and costs of all projects in in aggregate. They seek best-of-breed program and portfolio management systems that enforce accountability for all parties, while encouraging collaboration over the Web. Example vendors: Aconex, eadoc, e-Builder, Expesite, Paskr, PMWeb, Primavera, Procore, Prolog, Sage.
Independent construction managers. Construction managers require advanced construction project software functionality that includes budgeting, costing and document control. However, smaller managers may not have the resources to deploy enterprise class CPM systems. These buyers will do well with SaaS systems or independent desktop licenses. Example vendors: Paskr, PMWeb, Primavera, Procore, Prolog.
Sub contractors. These buyers approach managing projects from the standpoint of maximizing their crew’s performance, while minimizing liability. This requires subcontractor project management software with scheduling functionality to make sure the right crew is on the right job at the right time. Document control is critical to create a “paper trail” on change orders, transmittals, RFIs and other documents. Example vendors: ConstructJob, eSub, JobTrac, Primavera, Procore, Project DocControl.
If you're looking for software to manage projects outside of construction, please review our project management software guide.
Project management software is almost an imperative for mid- to large-size builds as it’s difficult to grapple with the sheer volume of information that accompanies these projects. Of course, most firms stand to benefit from investing in software to automate some of their processes.
Firms that implement and make use of these systems stand to realize the following benefits.
Improved accountability. The document control capabilities within a system create a virtual paper trail for plans, change orders, submittals and transmittals. This minimizes the finger pointing often plagues troubled projects. As a result, it helps minimize liability and can change the behavior of participants to keep projects moving efficiently.
Financial visibility. With a budgeting and cost control module is in place, the manager will have far greater insight into actual costs relative to estimates, as well as the likely cost to complete the project. If the system is integrated to accounting and job costing systems, the data will be even more accurate and offer valuable financial insights.
Improved collaboration. The Web-based nature of modern systems are allowing team members to work together more closely. Specifically, parties can review and mark up plans, submit RFIs and receive responses—all over the Web in a single, secure repository.
The primary challenges that arise from deploying these solutions center around adoption and data entry/integration. The value of a system tends to increase as more users are added. Each new user improves the level of collaboration, and reinforces accountability. As a result, it is critical that a broad set of users—inside and outside the company—adopt the system.
Too often individuals shun new systems and stick to historical manual methods, like Excel spreadsheets or legacy desktop applications. Ensuring adoption starts with involving a broad set of users in the selection process. Too often individual managers evaluate systems without executive and peer buy-in and this will limit the successful adoption of these systems from the onset.
But as the IT industry adage goes, “garbage in, garbage out.” The technology will only produce results that are as good as the quality of the data that is entered into the system. This is particularly true when it comes to financial data. Sophisticated buyers will seek to integrate their project management and job costing systems.
These market trends should be considered as you select a software product and vendor.
Software as a Service (SaaS). SaaS, or cloud-based software, is prevalent in this market. There is a substantial need for improved collaboration between participants, and Web-based construction tools make that possible. That, and the cost and ease-of-implementation benefits of SaaS have made Web-based systems very popular. Most systems are now SaaS or Web-enabled and we recommend that buyers seriously evaluate these systems.
Mobile applications. The nature of construction requires that managers spend time in the field, and those managers want to stay connected to their software applications. As a result, there is huge demand for construction apps. The booming popularity of smartphones and iPads is accelerating this trend. Pay close attention to the mobile apps available, and platforms supported, for each vendor.
LEED credit tracking. LEED certification is increasingly popular, but requires diligent LEED tracking during construction. More and more systems are offering LEED tracking applications. These automate detailed tracking of points required to achieve certification. Firms that will be building to LEED standards should carefully evaluate the LEED tracking capabilities of the software products they consider.
Improved offerings from full-suite vendors. Traditionally there has been a trade-off between the deep feature set available from best-of-breed vendors and the seamless integration that results from implementing an integrated suite. In the last few years, a number of full-suite vendors have released stronger applications that can hold their own against best-of-breed solutions.
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