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Buyer's Guide

by Eileen O'Loughlin,
Market Research Associate
Last Updated: January 24, 2017

When evaluating your options for using software to improve and simplify the takeoff process, it’s important to understand how this technology works in order to choose one that fits your needs. To help, we've created this comprehensive guide that breaks down everything you need to know about construction software, the most common reasons buyers seek a new solution, the benefits it can offer your organization and key considerations to keep in mind. Here’s what we’ll cover:

What Is Construction Takeoff Software?
Common Features of Construction Takeoff Software
Common Reasons for Buying Takeoff Software
Top Benefits of Takeoff Software
How Do I Choose the Best Takeoff Software?
Key Considerations

What Is Construction Takeoff Software?

Takeoff software allows contractors to measure construction plans (i.e., blueprints and drawings) electronically instead of the conventional method using pencils and rulers. Most systems will support the on-screen takeoff method, or the use of a digitizer pen.

Performing a digital takeoff

Performing a digital takeoff using OnCenter Software

Buyers often confuse estimating software with takeoff software. The systems are deployed as one but perform two very different functions. Contractors use takeoff software to determine the scope of a project from quantity of materials to labor needed. They would then use an estimating system to determine how much those materials and labor will cost, and produce a bid.

There are several different components of takeoff software. They are defined as follows:

Tool Definition
Quantity takeoff software This tool leverages multi-dimensional drawings and models to help estimators determine the amount of materials and labor required to complete a project.
Blueprint takeoff software Forgo flipping through pages of plans, this tool (sometimes referred to as plan takeoff) allows you to view and manipulate detailed plans digitally as well as better collaborate with the architect or planroom.
On-screen takeoff Usually integrates with other solutions, including quantity and plan takeoff, to help contractors determine the scope of a project.

The software can be purchased by itself, or as a stand-alone system. However, it’s often purchased together with cost estimating software. There are also cases when an organization will purchase a complete construction software suite to perform all needed functions including estimating, accounting and job costing and project scheduling and project management.

Common Features of Construction Takeoff Software

Here are some common features of construction takeoff software:

Document control and collaboration Puts plans in one place so they can be shared and edited by an individual project manager or a large team. Edits to the plans are typically done in real-time and will sync automatically so everyone on the project is up-to-date.
Estimating Some takeoff software applications will include estimating tools to provide costs of materials and labor, or will otherwise integrate with other estimating applications.
File export Exports plans and material lists to various file formats such as .PDF or .XLS.
BIM integration Allows users to integrate with building information modeling (BIM) platforms so they can visualize project plans in 3D.
Trade specialization Many takeoff platforms will have unique features for specific trades or aspects of the project, such as painting, drywall, concrete or HVAC. These unique features assist with estimating and takeoff for those materials.

Common Reasons for Buying Takeoff Software

There are two common scenarios we hear from contractors researching construction take off software. First, the majority use manual methods and want a faster, more accurate way to produce estimates. Second, they need to replace an existing system because the technology is out of date or it’s too expensive to maintain.

Regardless of their current situation, most companies implement these systems for the following reasons:

  • Speed up and simplify the takeoff process
  • Produce more accurate bids and estimates
  • Reduce resources (e.g., avoid printing plans)
  • Create more professional proposals

Below is a full list of buyer's reasons to switch to takeoff software from our 2014 Buyer's Report.

Top Benefits of Takeoff Software

In our Construction Estimating Software Benchmark Report, we asked contractors to share their opinions on the top benefits and features in takeoff and estimating software. More than 50 percent of companies highly agree that process standardization, speed and accuracy are top benefits of using takeoff and estimating software.

Top estimating challenges


Our Small Business Buyer Report offers further insight in to the pain points and trends for companies with annual revenues of $100 million or less considering construction takeoff software.

It's no suprise that our findings show that the majority of buyers from small businesses are using manual methods, like Excel and scales and rulers, or software that doesn't currently meet their needs. As they start to scale, they recognize that software can help increase their capacity for writing accurate bids.

While the benefits are clear, the type of software they need may not be. That's why it's important to carefully consider all your current and possible future requirements before beginning the search.

How Do I Choose the Best Takeoff Software?

Choosing the best construction takeoff software will depend on the specific needs of your organization. Small to midsize contractors, for example, may require a solution with fewer and less robust features, while large contractors may require a comprehensive solution that offers features such as cost databases by trade and mobile compatibility for field access to project data. Firms must also decide if they only need a standalone takeoff solution or if they need takeoff functionality as part of a larger, integrated construction software system.

Key Considerations

During your research you should consider the following:

  • Does the system meet your feature and functional requirements? For example, does it support onscreen takeoff for measuring PDFs digitally? Does it provide digitizer integration?
  • Does it have capabilities to support your trade? For example, earthwork, sitework and excavation contractors should identify systems that: measure cuts, fills and volumes; measure square footage and lineal feet and support 3D takeoff.
  • Can it integrate with your other construction applications, such as estimating, job costing or project management?

For construction contractors using software for the first time, consider using one of the many free tools on the market. However, once your company and job volume grows, paid software is necessary to complete large-scale projects. It offers more "out-of-the-box" functionality as well as integrations with your other construction tools, trainig and professional support.

Once you do decide to make the switch, many large vendors (including PlanSwift, STACK and Best Bid) offer free trials so you can try before you buy.

Another key consideration is whether you should opt for a cloud-based solution or one that is hosted on-premise. With systems using a cloud-based deployment model, the software is hosted (i.e., housed, served, maintained and delivered) remotely, on the vendor’s or service provider’s own servers. Users can then access it through any device that is both compatible with the system and has an internet connection. This gives users the flexibility to access the system anywhere, anytime.

With on-premise deployment, on the other hand, the software system is hosted in-house, on the user’s own servers. Data in the database and all associated applications are housed and run locally, and users may or may not be able to access the system remotely (it depends whether or not the system is compatible with mobile devices and remote computers).

While larger companies may possess the IT resources to host a solution in-house, this can be a very expensive option for smaller companies. As such, smaller organizations may want to consider cloud-based solutions, which can be quicker to implement and start using and are often less costly to manage and update. However, cloud-based solutions may not include the type of robust functionality that a more comprehensive, on-premise construction takeoff solution might.

When you're ready, head over to our list of top takeoff software to compare products and watch demos.

Free Download:
Construction Estimating Software Pricing Guide

Free Download:
Ten Steps Guide To Selecting Construction Software


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