Six years ago, I wrote, “[estimating] software technology is not going to dramatically change” (“Smart Buys,” Electrical Contractor, September 2005). Wow, was I ever wrong about that.

It has changed quite dramatically. Some companies have simply improved on their original designs and platforms, which may be a great thing for their longtime users. But many companies have made a paradigm shift, stepping off the desktop and jumping into our smart phones. They have created an entirely new look, feel and approach to how estimating software works and interacts in our daily lives as estimators.

The in-screen and paperless takeoff programs have finally gotten good, and many are tied directly to the database programs without glitches! Even the once-difficult-to-use computer--aided design (CAD) programs are much more user-friendly and have made their way into mainstream estimating.

The long-standing leaders still are innovating, and they are holding their top positions. Accubid, Cert-In Software Systems, ConEst, Maxwell Systems, McCormick Systems, and Vision Info-Soft, all have made advances and continue to grow their technology base, keeping up with the latest and greatest CAD and in-screen takeoff technologies.

As we near the end of 2011, your choices are better than ever. There are more solid estimating software systems on the market than there ever have been.

How do you prevent buyer’s remorse?
Buying software is still a decision you must make without being able to gather all the facts or thoroughly test every system. In fact, with so many good options to choose from, indecision will be worse than ever, and buyer’s remorse will always linger.

But can you wait? Can you continue estimating and bidding projects by hand? Can you keep using that same old Excel worksheet with all those crazy formulas and limited editing abilities? Can you keep manually updating your material pricing? Can you?

Well, if it is working for you and your company makes profits, why not? If you and your estimators are quickly able to takeoff huge projects and have the ability to share data with each other without things getting crazy, why not?

The answer might not be so easy. Ask yourself a few more questions. What can’t you do now? What could you be doing if you had a modern estimating software system that was directly linked to a CAD design or in-screen takeoff system, a system that networked all your estimators together and was linked to your accounting department?

How would being able to display your marked up drawings on a computer monitor help your estimating and project management team review and build projects? What about having the ability to display those same highly detailed, marked up drawings, which are directly linked to your estimate and database, on a large conference room screen in front of your clients? What are the limitations of your current system? Is it holding you and your company back? Is it keeping you from growing? Is it preventing you from being able to track your labor and materials costs better?

Develop a plan; stick to the plan
I get at least two emails per week asking me to recommend a certain software. And not to divulge any dark, evil secrets here, but I always pull out the same draft email I send to everyone who asks this question. Of course, I personally address their specific questions (I’m not a total jerk), but essentially, my answer goes like this: First, develop a plan. Determine what your company needs and wants from this software. More importantly, decide what this software will do for your company. How will it interact with your current methods of bidding? How will it change what you are doing now?

Second, develop a budget. Expect to spend at least $3,000 to $5,000 for one system and up to $10,000 or more to get three or four networked systems. Also include new computers in your budget if you haven’t bought any for a while.

Third, view demonstrations by at least three of the brands you determined are the best. Don’t buy on impulse; buy with confidence gathered from solid research.

Finally, check out “Smart Buys.” It’s still relevant.

In this month’s “Software Roundup” (page 104), I’ve tried to help you, but it’s barely a start. The hard work is up to you. It’s your decision; it’s your software, which your company might use for the next 20 years. Think about that.


SHOOK has been estimating for more than 23 years. Until recently, he operated a fully staffed estimating company, TakeOff 16 Inc. He is currently focusing on writing, teaching and speaking about electrical estimating. Read his blog at stanshook.blogspot.com or contact him directly at StanleyShook@gmail.com.