9 Construction Software Features You Need as a General Contractor

By: on November 26, 2019

Looking to buy a construction management software tool?

We can tell with confidence that your search till now has yielded numerous results that list out the x number of best construction management software. No doubt the tools are best in what they do and are rated highly by experts and/or users. But what’s the challenge with lists such as these?

They only tell you what you can buy. They don’t tell you what to look out for in construction management solutions.

Depending on the stage your business is at, you’ll need different construction software features. A general contractor just setting up the shop will not benefit equally as an established firm by using the same set of features in a construction management tool.

Based on the analyses of thousands of conversations with general contractors who call Software Advice seeking help in their software selection process, we’ve charted the features you need to START, GROW, and then OPTIMIZE your operations.

Read more about the methodology we followed to create this piece.

Needs cycle for general contractors

3 construction software features to START

This section is for general contractors just starting out, who want to automate the core functions central to their operations so they can get their business up and running efficiently.

1. Takeoff

What it does: This feature helps contractors determine the scope of a project and measure and create construction plans (i.e., blueprints and drawings). Instead of using pencil and paper, contractors can measure plans electronically, generate materials lists, and then calculate the amount or quantity of materials and labor.

Bluebeam Revu Takeoff

Takeoff in Bluebeam Revu (Source)

Why you need it to start: A manual takeoff process—measuring construction plans by hand with a ruler—is error-prone and time-intensive. And when mistakes are made or the plans are changed, the contractor has to reprint and re-measure, and make sure that everyone involved is working on the most up-to-date version.

The time and resources involved in manually performing takeoff can quickly add up, especially for businesses starting out that have a small workforce and limited project budget. Using the takeoff feature, businesses can avoid the associated costs of manual processes and create construction plans quickly and accurately.

2. Estimating

What it does: Estimating is a feature in construction management systems that helps calculate the cost of materials and labor (identified during takeoff), to create quotes for construction projects.

It might also include integration with a trade-specific item/cost database for automatic cost calculations and support for simulating “what-if” scenarios to derive project estimates under variable conditions, such as delays or unexpected shortage of some material.

Estimator 2.0 Cost Estimation

Cost estimation in Estimator 2.0 (Source)

Why you need it to start: Manually estimating project costs may likely end up with faulty reports (due the possibility of human error), causing loss of construction project bids. While a large firm might be able to financially cushion one or two lost bids a year, small construction firms that typically work only on a few select projects will not survive a slew of lost bids.

The cost estimating feature is critical for small contractors starting out to generate project bid proposals that are competitive and profitable. With the cost-database integration, contractors can create bid proposals that have up-to-date pricing information on labor and materials.

Besides automating the calculation of labor and materials costs, cost estimating functionality also helps calculate taxes and overheads.

3. Project management

What it does: Project management is a capability in construction management solutions that helps contractors automate processes such as creating project schedules, tracking progress on job sites, and communicating with teams.

The feature covers functions such document control and tracking, budgeting, and equipment and resource management. At the most basic level, a construction management software tool should help with project planning and tracking, which are the project management capabilities that contractors should focus on initially.

Buildertrend Project Planning

Project planning in Buildertrend (Source)

Why you need it to start: Using the project management features of a construction management solution, contractors can avoid inefficiencies such as bad project scheduling resulting in overbooked crews. Likewise, they can keep important project documents organized and facilitate team communication, all of which help in delivering projects on time and budget.

Without this feature, small contractors might have limited success, but will find it extremely tough to reach the next stage of growth where they need to scale efforts for managing multiple projects concurrently, and in all likelihood would experience costly project delays.

Key considerations for general contractors starting out

Takeoff and estimating are performed pre-sale, when you’re quoting a job but have not yet “won” the job. Project management, on the other hand, is needed once the job is won. It helps manage the actual build process, allowing you to take a project from the drawing board to a physical structure.

While takeoff and estimating are commonly bundled together (again, because they are both “pre-sale”), project management will require a separate tool.

Firms that are starting out can also look at accounting software, such as QuickBooks or Xero, to manage their finances.

Together, these applications ensure that you’re all set to effectively handle an entire project life cycle. Invest in these systems from the start, so you have a solid foundation in place as you grow and scale operations.

3 construction software features to GROW

This section is for general contractors experiencing growth, who want better oversight on jobs so they can maximize the number of on-time and on-budget projects. They need to layer additional management capabilities on top of basic planning and tracking.

4. Budgeting

What it does: Budgeting, also known as job costing, is a feature of construction management solutions that helps monitor costs in ongoing projects. It supports processes such as importing cost estimation reports for progress reviewing, and helps in creating budget forecasts.

e-Builder Budget Management

Budget management in e-Builder (Source)

Why you need it to grow: As your business grows, it becomes extremely tough to perform functions such as project budgeting, creating purchase orders, comparing actual project costs to estimates, and tracking a project’s earned value using manual methods.

What you need is a construction management tool with budgeting capabilities for tracking and managing project costs. Budgeting, along with accounting (more on this later), is essential for growing contractors to analyze profitability in planned as well as ongoing projects.

5. Timesheet tracking

What it does: This feature lets employees/workers input their time cards into a centralized system, which contractors can review to approve and process payroll.

The key functions of timesheet tracking include time entry (by project, cost code, job site, billable status, etc.), manual and/or automatic time tracking, time card approval, and timesheet reporting (filter data by time entry variables, such as project or cost code).

WorkflowMax Timesheet Tracking

Timesheet tracking in WorkflowMax (Source)

Why you need it to grow: General contracts experiencing business growth take on larger projects and expand their circle of subcontractors. As a result, it becomes much more difficult to know who worked on what job site and for what amount of time.

Timesheet tracking can automate much of this process and ensure your teams get paid timely and accurately. Construction timesheets not only save employee time and help with administrative payroll functions, but knowing the exact amount of time spent on each part of a project helps contractors schedule projects more accurately in the future.

6. Document control

What it does: This feature helps contractors stay on top of project documentation and ensure everyone is working off the most up-to-date version of blueprints, punch lists, etc.

On top of centralizing files, this feature helps contractors manage workflows and approvals surrounding change orders. Document control supports functions such as revision control, advanced search, archiving, and setting access permissions.

Oracle Aconex Document Control

Document control in Oracle Aconex (Source)

Why you need it to optimize: It’s a simple correlation: As the size and complexity of projects increase, the volume of documentation multiplies. As does the likelihood of error stemming from misplaced or mishandled documents.

If you’re a contractor with a growing business, ensuring you’ve got a digital process for document control is essential so you can reduce the possibility of rework and defend against any claim brought against you.

Key considerations for general contractors experiencing growth

Contractors experiencing growth should look for cloud-based construction management software (ideally with mobile apps).

Budgeting, timesheets, and document control features will do you little good if you aren’t able to enter data and view changes in real time when you’re out of office interacting with newer clients. While cloud-based tools are necessary to gain this edge, mobile apps will extend the benefits by allowing you to access the tool on your smartphone when it’s not possible to pull out your laptop.

3 construction software features to OPTIMIZE

This section is for established general contractors looking to optimize operations, expand their pool of subcontractors, market their business, and improve customer management.

7. Accounting

What it does: The accounting feature helps contractors manage their company finances. This includes core accounting—general ledger, accounts payable, and accounts receivable—as well as job costing, payroll processing, and financial reporting.

Foundation Construction Accounting

Construction accounting in FOUNDATION (Source)

Why you need it to optimize: Large construction businesses will reach a point where it becomes more work than it’s worth using disparate systems for accounting, job costing, timesheet tracking, and payroll.

As they look to optimize their operations, they would need a construction management solution with accounting features that centralize and consolidate this work into a single system.

8. Bid management

What it does: This feature of construction management software helps contractors pre-qualify subcontractors, solicit bids for work, and compare subcontractor proposals. It connects contractors with specialists and subcontractors and helps them expand their pool of resources.

The feature supports functions such as contact management (to store subcontractor information), pre-qualification, inviting bids, accessing online plan room (to share project documents), risk management (to track compliance), and reporting.

SmartBid Bid Management

Bid management in SmartBid (Source)

Why you need it to optimize: Bid solicitation is an arduous process, one that is time consuming, and error prone if done manually. It requires constant communications with subcontractors regarding plan changes and bid negotiation, which obviously becomes complex if new subcontractors are added to the pool. This is why smaller firms typically work with the same pool of subcontractors for every job.

However, as construction projects increase in size and complexity, contractors have to expand this pool to ensure they have the best crew for each job, at the best price. Firms in the optimize stage deal with several subcontractors at a time, and they need a construction management solution with bid management capabilities.

9. Customer management

What it does: Customer management helps contractors manage their sales, marketing, and customer service processes. It assists contractors in running marketing campaigns, increasing brand awareness, and turning prospects into sales.

Customer management supports functions such as contract management, customer portals, business intelligence, and reporting and forecasting.

JobNimbus Customer Management

Customer management in JobNimbus (Source)

Why you need it to optimize: As firms look to optimize operations, they’ll need customer management features for managing their large customer base and business marketing, to stay ahead of the competition.

Typical customer management features of a construction management tool includes contract management and a customer portal. Some might also help businesses execute additional marketing tasks, such as customized branding on client-facing documentation, plus the ability to send surveys and request reviews from customers.

Key considerations for general contractors looking to optimize

At this stage, you already have standardized processes in place; you’ve refined your workflows, and you require advanced construction software features to support the level of your operations. More than ever, integration between the systems you use is of crucial importance, so be sure to discuss this requirement with vendors as you evaluate solutions.

Additionally, at this stage you should be investing in emerging technology and trends that align with your business strategy, such as drones, AR/VR, and green building practices.

Next steps

Now that you know what features you’ll need at different stages of your business development, you’ll have to pick products that are right for your firm.

You can:

  • Use our Buyers Guides to find and filter more construction project management products based on what’s important to your firm (price, deployment, user rating, etc.).
  • Give three small details to request a free, no obligations software consultation. This report offers guidance based on the construction management software features your peers are using, but why not cut to the source? Get your own, personalized consultation and receive a shortlist of products geared to your specific needs. It only takes a few seconds to fill the form, and it’s completely free.

Methodology

To create this Needs Cycle, we looked at Software Advice consultations with general contractors from the past year, and examined a total of 2,130 interactions (determined by annual revenue). We then calculated the percentage within each size range that requested different construction software features and applications to determine the stage (i.e., Start, Grow, or Optimize) at which they reach peak adoption.

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