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Buyer's Guide

by Eileen O'Loughlin,
Market Research Associate
Last Updated: February 15, 2017

Web-based project management systems are changing the way architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) firms collaborate. By sharing critical documents, schedules and logs over the Internet, efficiency and accountability is improving dramatically. Web-based systems provide a centralized repository to store and manage RFIs, change orders and submittals. Additionally, they give stakeholders a single view of the status of all projects, as well as budgets and spending across those projects.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

What Is Online Construction Management Software?
What Type of Buyer Are You?
Benefits and Potential Issues
The Vendor Landscape
Market Trends to Understand

What Is Online Construction Management Software?

Online construction software (or cloud construction software) streamlines communication among project managers and subcontractors, enforcing accountability and allowing managers to take action on problems as they arise. These systems will be designed for the construction industry, containing all the terminology used by AECs and ensuring regulatory compliance, document control, inventory, scheduling, project management, customer relationship management and/or budgeting specifically for this industry.

What distinguishes a top cloud-based construction software from an on-premise system is that the program will be hosted entirely by the vendor. Rather than buying and installing the system on the contractor’s computer (or multiple computers), software-as-a-service (Saas), users pay a monthly or annual fee, effectively leasing the solution. The benefit of this is reduced upfront costs, less maintenance and the ability to access the information from anywhere with a Web browser.

What Type of Buyer Are You?

When selecting a system, contractors need to consider what modules or functionality they need. There are a lot of systems that focus on one core feature. For example:

  • Project management
  • Construction accounting
  • Project estimating
  • Customer relationship management.

Other programs offer a full-suite, or integrated, solution, combining some or all of these features. Although these systems may come with a higher price-tag, they offer tighter integration between the various departments and will be less expensive and more efficient than using multiple different programs for each type of application.

Before looking at the details of cloud construction programs, identify yourself with one of the buyer types outlined below. Most buyers fall into one of these groups:

General contractors. These buyers are looking for robust functionality that will support bid solicitation, budgeting, document management, inventory, scheduling/deployment of subcontractors and even accounting capabilities.

Speciality and subcontractors. Since these buyers specialize in a particular market and perform the hands-on work, they need to focus on a niche area, as well as maximizing crew performance and minimizing liability. This requires good scheduling functionality and document control.

Estimators. Estimating software focuses less on project management and scheduling and more on the cost and inventory features associated with this type of system. For a Web-based solution it will enable sharing of content and research to ensure accuracy in bidding.

Accountants and office managers. The folks in the office of the construction company, if they’re not looking for a full-suite product to cover all elements of construction management, will want a separate solution that provides accounting and office management capabilities without extra features that cost more and clutter up the interface. These programs will have inventory and ledger control specifically designed for construction projects.

Customer relationship managers. This includes anyone working in sales, marketing and customer service, who want a CRM solution to manage client relationships. There are CRM programs dedicated specifically to the construction industry, tracking new and potential projects and nurturing relationships for long-term business growth.

Benefits and Potential Issues

Online construction management software offers a number of benefits over traditional locally installed software. For example:

Better data accessibility. Contractors deal with all sorts of data: bid proposals, inventory, time tracking, costs, revenues, subcontractors, customer profiles, project status and the list goes on. Having a Web-based construction management tool allows the user to access this data from anywhere, ensuring it’s always entered immediately and accessible whenever necessary.

Improved collaboration. A Web-based system allows project participants to work together closely. From initial bid through execution and follow-up, users can review and mark-up plans and proposals and connect bid estimates and project time tracking to management, accounting and other departments.

Cost amortization. Compared to an on-site software solution, a Web-based construction management program will be far less expensive in terms of up-front costs. SaaS also eliminates the need for an IT infrastructure to manage upgrades and to get the product up and running when problems arise.

Since SaaS construction software programs charge a monthly or annual fee, there is the potential that the user will pay more in the long run than they will for an on-site solution. However, this tends to be the case only for larger companies with bigger budgets and dedicated IT personnel.

Another important consideration when purchasing any kind of construction management system is the implementation plan. Every user will need to be trained on the product, and often the adoption may be met with some kind of resistance from people who are comfortable doing things the old way. Therefore, it’s valuable to get horizontal and vertical buy-in among peers, executives and field users, making sure they can all see the benefits of the software and get excited about using it.

The Vendor Landscape

Although the following list oversimplifies the buying process, the top-rated programs indicated, in general, will be good Web construction software for the specific type of buyer.  

This type of buyer...Should evaluate these systems
General contractors HeadsUp, Paskr, PMWeb, Primavera, Procore, Prolog, Sage
Estimators HomeDev Pro, GiddyUp, Red Rhino, EarthWorks, SmartBidNet, eBid eXchange, Pipeline Suite, e-Builder
Specialty contractors & sub contractors Project DocControl, BuilderTREND, Aconex, BuildTools, IFS, BUILD2WIN FIELD, EarthWorks, eSub, ConstructJob, Procore, Oracle Primavera, Project DocControl
Accountants & office managers HomeDev Pro, attolist, Deltek Vision, Foundation for Windows, Microsoft Dynamics SL, Maestro, Budgetrac, Computer Guidance, Contract Manager, Profitool, EADOC
Customer relationship managers BTBuilder by BuildTopia, Microsoft Dynamics CRM, GiddyUp, Microsoft Dynamics CRM, Sage SalesLogix, Cosential, Sales1440, BlueFolder

Market Trends to Understand

These market trends should be considered as you select a product and vendor.

Mobile applications. Contractors spend most of their time in the field, requiring managers be able to connect to their system remotely. Between that and the popularity of smartphones and tablet devices, demand is huge and rising for mobile apps that integrate with construction management software. Web-based programs will usually have stronger capabilities in this area, but it’s still important to pay attention to the mobile apps available and platforms supported when selecting your product.

LEED tracking. Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) certification is growing in popularity, but requires diligent tracking before, during and after construction. For that reason, more and more systems are offering LEED tracking applications. These automate detailed tracking of points required to achieve certification. Firms that will be building LEED projects should carefully evaluate the LEED tracking capabilities of the software products they consider.

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