If your schedule is anything like mine, you have tons of time to surf the Web and research all the new technology and features offered by the many different estimating software companies. You click their links, read what their users say, watch their videos, talk with their sales reps and get live demos from their techs. By now you most certainly must know about every new estimating software and technology there is, right?

What about just the changes and new features for the system(s) you already own? The program you use every day? You certainly know about all their new features and add-on programs? Well, if you don’t, you should, because there are some really exciting additions, enhancements and breakthroughs in technology. Plus, if you have kept up with your support fees, you have already paid for some of them, so it’s time to download and install.

In the last year, there have been some major offerings from the four major software companies, and many others have emerged to challenge their holdings in the industry. CAD estimating is now a real, viable technology and will soon become the standard. Plan recognition (PR) software is getting better. It still is not perfect, but it won’t be long before it actually works every time with any drawing.

There are many options out there, and you need to stay on top of them all. Technology is changing fast, and we soon will be entering into a paradigm shift in estimating software: building information modeling (BIM). Just when CAD estimating and PR software finally sink into our brains, we will have to start thinking seriously about and learning how to estimate with BIM. While some BIM stuff is actually happening now, I don’t really see it entering into the mainstream of electrical estimating for at least another year. But who knows?

Along with their regular eight-hour workdays (ha!), estimators must continually educate themselves on software and technology. It is part of our job to be the technology experts. So how do you keep up with all the changes in technology? First, make the time. Period. Then there is the Internet and its vast amount of information. Click, click, click; study, study, study.

I also recommend finding and attending any seminars, lectures or classes offered by the various software companies, architectural firms, Autodesk, community college courses, universities, etc.—anything you can find. Education is your most powerful tool. The more you know, the more valuable you are.

As for the owners reading this, what about you? How much of this technology do you think you need to be educated on? My opinion is all of it. However, running a company doesn’t leave you with a whole lot of spare time either, this I know.

But I do recommend you make a strong effort to work with your estimators and learn as much as you can about the systems they are running. Also, you need to keep up with the costs of new technology, so you know what to budget for.

Owning two or three different systems and technologies, integrated or not, is not cheap. With the average license fee of $3,500-plus, you just don’t buy five Accubid keys, five McCormick keys, five Estimation keys and five ConEst keys, let alone three AutoCAD licenses and … well, you get the point. Obviously, the best scenario for a multi-estimator office is to find that one perfect system that has all the features you and your estimators need. Then live with it for years and years.

But how do you know which one will be the best for your company? What about owning more than one system? On the surface, it doesn’t make much sense if you have multiple estimators who need to share files or work from a network. Who would do such a crazy thing? Well, I would, but I digress.

Additionally, it is harder to use two or three different estimating programs at the same time—keeping track of, updating and navigating multiple databases; learning each varied keystroke and menus; and knowing how to use different extension features and reports.

However, buying a few different ones in the early stages may be a great investment in the future. It would give your estimators the opportunity to collectively determine which system is best for them and your company. This is another way to keep up with technology.

So, all you owners: Can you keep up? Or will your company lose bid opportunities because you can’t estimate faster than your competitors who are cranking out CAD-based estimates while producing engineered drawings at the same time? And, all you estimators out there: Will you be left behind and replaced by a super-high-tech punk college kid? Maybe he’s the one your boss should hire? Think really hard about that one … and then start studying. EC

SHOOK is the president and chief estimator for his estimating company, TakeOff 16 Inc. He has worked in the electrical construction industry for more than 18 years. Reach him at 707.776.0800 or sfs@TakeOff16.com.