For electrical contracting companies that have many large, complex projects underway at the same time, construction management software is the key to making everything go smoothly and to completing each job on schedule and within budget. And today’s project management programs aren’t just for very large contractors. What size should an electrical contractor be to need management software?

ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR asked three major providers of electrical project management programs to share their views on the subject. They are Accubid Systems Inc. (Web-based ConstructJob); Dexter + Chaney (Spectrum Construction Software); and ConEst (JobTrac).

“Any company where the owner and a crew do the work probably does not need a formal project management system,” said George Hague, ConEst president. While general, generic construction management programs are available, those developed specifically for electrical contractors are best suited for managing electrical projects. 

“Once a company begins running multiple crews, it’s time to start a good management program. In real life, company owners usually start looking when they have four or five crews working. But it’s important to recognize that one of the biggest cost issues with small contractors is that they do not know their real costs. With management software, you can get a grip on that,” Hague said.

Accubid, Giovanni Marcelli, founder and chief executive officer: “Project management (PM) is the core competency of electrical contractors and where they make or lose money. Electrical contractors provide a lot more materials and labor for projects than general contractors. Consequently, they require a tool that allows them to coordinate and manage both adequately.

“Yet, project management software is relatively new, compared to accounting and estimating software and, therefore, not as widely adopted. PM software must contain many modules to help contractors deliver projects on time and on budget.

“Electrical contractors start the project management process with an accurate and detailed estimate. From there, they move to the preconstruction planning, where they need all the information from the estimate to prepare the project schedule, purchase materials, process submittals and RFIs, coordinate tools and equipment, and finalize the job budget and schedule of values. ConstructJob will facilitate collaboration among the team members, affording timely access to information 24/7. Also, it will standardize the PM process while facilitating best practices implementation across the company. As a result, project management will become more efficient and more effective.

“Training in the use of PM tools should be divided into three phases: the first one addressing principles and methodology, the second dealing with proper and company-specific implementation, and the third providing product training for the whole team. Successful contractors adopt consistent methodology company-wide and research and implement best practices on an ongoing basis. Training should encourage such a model.

“Our industry is suffering from a shortage of project managers; we need to attract young engineers and train them as project managers. Accubid will be offering a specialized school of PM for electrical contractors using ConstructJob in early 2008.”

ConEst, George Hague, president: “By monitoring a project with management software, a contractor may observe trends that would put them in danger of over budgeting tasks. It is, in fact, easier to correct a problem before the task is completed. Additionally, there’s the quandary of how and where to file massive amounts of paperwork and still be able to access it seamlessly where and when you need it. With Job Trac, because all that paper—memos, RFQs, transmittals change orders, documents inbound and outbound, as well as submittals—is electronically formatted, project information is easy to access and easy to store.

“Prior to today’s specialized construction management software programs, those of the past were generic to all trades and all types of business, from manufacturing and commercial to industrial and beyond. Then, programs started to break off into the construction industry and were mostly addressing general contractor or building-management firms.

“The ‘one-size-fits-all’ mindset simply does not apply because each trade within the construction industry has unique needs that are, by their very nature, difficult for a software developer to address globally across all disciplines. Terminology alone requires segregation. For example, the electrician may call a pipe run a ‘feeder’ while a plumber or HVAC contractor may call it a ‘trunk.’ By the end of the 20th century, construction software began to specialize to meet the needs of individual trades.

“The cost of training is the major component of a software purchase. Formal training offered by the software vendor can actually mitigate the cost of software investment by getting the user up and running in a shorter period of time. Given enough time and mistakes, the average user will conquer just about any software application. The bottom-line benefit is that formal training actually saves additional investment in user time because it allows them to take advantage of more features more immediately.”

Dexter + Chaney, Brad Mathews, vice president of sales and marketing: “Construction management software has grown and developed to incorporate more critical business functions, and the goal of using it is to make your business operate more effectively. Today’s programs have greater capability and are easier to use than just a few years ago. A well-developed program will combine critical project-management functions with all financial processes as well as file documents electronically, manage human resources, control inventory, manage service calls, track and control purchasing and other important business functions. All these activities are fully integrated so that data is stored in a single, secure database. This provides both access to and security for your critical business information. It also enables everyone on your staff to share information as they eliminate duplicate work.”

Mathews said specific benefits electrical contractors can realize from using software that truly fits its business needs include these points:

  • Spotting and solving cost-overrun problems early helps pinpoint and diagnose them before they spin out of control.
  • Streamlining operations throughout the company, for example with paperless processing vendor invoices, provides virtually instantaneous access to this important information.
  • Collecting more revenue on change orders and making the process easier for all company staff members
  • Achieving greater teamwork and cooperation across the company as the staff shares information from the same database and works more efficiently
  • Enabling the company to handle more work with the same level of staff and overhead, which facilitates growth and is easier and more profitable with the right software in place
  • Increasing profits by controlling job costs and holding down overhead

“Adequate software training,” Mathews said, “is essential in order to use software to help your business operate more effectively. Implementing new software is about more than installing the software on your network—it is very much a ‘people process.’ Your staff must use your software in the right way, and they must use it to do new things. It probably doesn’t make sense to provide a powerful tool to people who don’t know how to use it.”   EC

GRIFFIN, a construction and tools writer from Oklahoma City, can be reached at 405.748.5256 or up-front@cox.net.