Cool Tools: Construction Software

3-D construction tools and equipment laying on top of a tablet.
Construction tools and equipment tablet.

Every construction company—no matter its size or specialty—depends on computers and the software installed on the machines. 

Computing manages office operations,   finances, company assets, field operations—everything. If you need more convincing, consider what happens when a computer system goes down.

For electrical contractors, top software priorities include comprehensive estimating, bid preparation and management. Financial software packages include invoicing and accounts receivable, and other software packages are available for scheduling and dispatching personnel and asset and project management.

New and updated software and applications—many cloud-based —are introduced in rapid succession, and many programs are bundled to incorporate multiple functions. Advances come at such a rapid pace it can be difficult to keep up. Five electrical contractors share details about the software they are using in their operations.

Wheeler Electric Inc., Idaho Falls, Idaho

Cody Wheeler, vice president of preconstruction, said Wheeler Electric’s essential software for project management is Microsoft Office Outlook and Excel, which the company uses for communication and project changes.

“Beyond that, we use Acrobat for most PDF functions and currently are using Bluebeam and Procore. When it comes to essential functions of software, we look for ways to expedite our standard procedures. We are in our 57th year of business, and technology is not always a ‘go-to’ for many of our long-term employees. Functions like on-the-go changes, markups and mobility are attributes we look at in new software, as well as user-friendliness and how can we remove the lengthy paper process and make things easier for those in the office [and] in the field,” Wheeler said.

“Software like Procore is highly beneficial when it comes to project management, especially on the general contractor side. It essentially is a ‘hub’ for all trades to coordinate. The GC can post and track all drawings, submittals, RFIs, etc., all in one place. Subcontractors are also allowed to provide their suppliers a login so that they can also upload any needed items,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler also uses such applications as Bluebeam that help his foremen complete tasks that were harder with other software.

“The keys to benefiting from an asset- management software is having a dedicated person to oversee and manage the program and having everyone on board,” Wheeler said. “If a company has a consistent 20-plus projects going on like we do and multiple PMs managing those projects, it is essential to have their superintendents and them dedicated to utilizing that software, or failure will be the result.

“We need to emphasize the importance of the preconstruction phase, and McCormick software has made the estimating and takeoff process as painless and easy as possible. This saves us a large amount of time on each estimate. Every project begins at estimation, and this software give us a variety of options to track and manage those projects as they go. We can easily track an estimate compared to the actual project financials and labor hours,” he said.

Today, technology often dominates as it changes, and Wheeler realizes that he must change how he uses technology to grow his business efficiently.

“It is essential that we find these software programs and adapt to the ever-changing process of construction. Having the low bid is no longer based on material and labor costs alone, but the ability to benefit and save those costs from the use of these software programs,” Wheeler said.

Ferguson Electric Construction Co., Buffalo, N.Y.

Project manager Charles Watson said Ferguson Electric uses its computer system to reduce and organize the vast amounts of pertinent information for electricians into a single Fieldwire job, but typically it needs to be supplemented with a Dropbox folder structure for drawing documents using Fieldwire.

“We have many large jobs each year that require multiple electrical foremen, and, with Fieldwire, we share with them in real-time specifications, drawings, data and project management information so they always have the most up-to-date information,” Watson said.

“We are beginning to use Milwaukee’s One-Key software and Ticks [tags that are attached to assets] that link a -Bluetooth-enabled device to users’ phones and provides location feedback to the database. This software backs up our list of asset locations by double-checking actual location. This is primarily used to track which tools are at what job locations, and there is the benefit on large job sites of knowing where a tool was last seen,” Watson said.

Commonwealth Electric Co. of the Midwest, Lincoln, Neb.

Commonwealth Vice President Matt Firestone said it is important that software developers listen to end-users.

“Not every contractor uses the same methods for estimating, project management, accounting, etc., but we all use the same or similar software,” Firestone said.  “What makes one software product better over others is when it is customizable to fit within company processes. Software [helps] us do our job better and more efficiently [and it is] another tool in our toolbox to make us more profitable.

“Recently, we implemented the use of McCormick’s DEP [Design Estimating Pro] software into our estimating process, which allows us to load the digital drawing files in to the estimating system and then do our takeoff as an overlay on the plans, which at the same time enters the quantities to price and labor to formulate estimates,” he said.

The company is seeing increased efficiency with this software. Initial test runs showed an increased efficiency of 20% over Commonwealth’s traditional estimating process. Then, once it used DEP for takeoffs, the company is seeing nearly a 40% increase in the efficiency of the estimators.

Commonwealth’s Phoenix branch manager Bob Phillips said project managers also use the estimating program as a tool in their duties managing construction of the projects.

“One of the first things that is done when a project is awarded is set up the project in the progress-reporting system eCMS. Utilizing the export feature, the PMs can export the estimate data for labor hours by the categories needed in the progress reporting system such as branch rough-in, feeder rough-in, etc. They also are able to generate material lists for specific areas of a project or a specific floor. This has been useful for projects with congested job sites where materials need to be delivered as needed due to the lack of storage space on the site,” Phillips said.

Firestone said asset-management software enables Commonwealth to better track locations of various tools and equipment.

“This, in turn, allows us to charge the cost and maintenance of these items to the correct jobs. Another benefit of asset-management software is that it can help stay on top of routine maintenance and repairs for the tools and equipment. Money can’t be made from broken equipment sitting at the shop.

“The biggest thing to remember with any software program is that it isn’t any smarter than the person using it. We still have to get the right information into the system to get usable information out of it,” Firestone said.

Oklahoma Electrical Supply Co., Oklahoma City, Okla.

Tim Sardis, manager of construction, said software available to electrical contractors, if used properly, helps maintain up-to-date records and allows immediate access to all the applicable project files, from safety to RFIs, submittals, drawings, change orders and more, all at one site.

“An example is a University of Oklahoma Medical Adult Tower project where we used Procore to provide all current and old drawings for comparison,” Sardis said. “We can easily track changes and open RFIs as well. Since this is a design-assist project, there are hundreds of RFIs, and it is essential to easily access them all, whether they are open or closed. It also provides all information for all team members to see, making communications more consistent.

“What is needed in the construction industry is more of a focus on efficiency in document control and distribution. The construction industry has adopted lean construction practices regarding the actual construction schedule and functions—what is needed is to apply this same type of thinking and ideas to the management of the projects as well.” Sardis said.

E-J Electric Installation Co., Long Island City, N.Y.

Anthony Mann, president and chief executive officer of E-J Electric, said software programs are an essential part of the company’s success, but it is essential to define processes and doing the internal research to get a handle on what actually is needed.

“Investing in a software solution is not going to magically make things run better, you need to engage all of processes to be successful,” Mann said. 

E-J is using a variety of software to accomplish company goals.

For project management, Procore keeps project documentation up to date, including drawings, submittals, RFIs and progress photos, which reduces the issue of building off outdated documents.

Riskcast gives foremen and field staff the ability to document everything happening on a project every day. Daily time, production quantities, daily logs and employee certifications are the core of the software. McCormick’s software is used for all estimates and also live-screen takeoffs to eliminate printing paper drawings.

“Projects with big footprints show an instant value from the use of the right software,” Mann said. “Instead of forepersons having to carry around sets of printed drawings or having to go back to a shanty 10 floors down to get information, they now have access to all of it on a tablet. Applying the right technology to business will result in an overall culture shift, and other efficiencies will organically happen throughout the company.”

About the Author

Jeff Griffin

Freelance Writer

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

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