While this may be obvious, it bears repeating. To generate profits in an industry known for razor-thin margins, firms need to maintain control over cost and schedule at every phase of construction. And the more you deviate from your plans, the more your bottom line hurts (usually). This is why so many firms end up saying, “We need the best all-in-one construction software.” But what does that actually mean? And is it really that simple?
If you rely on complex spreadsheets or technology that doesn’t talk to your other technology, this article is for you. Or if you’re exploring more ways to digitize your processes, we’ll give you a crash course on how the right software implementation can help you achieve your goals.
The most successful firms in the world rely on construction software that centralizes all their project data. Many firms, however, still rely on several disconnected solutions that don't (or can't) talk to each other.
According to the 2021 JBKnowledge Construction Technology Report, 51% of respondents in the report still manually transfer data for apps without integrations. This disconnect impedes the same productivity you thought you’d benefit from. Let’s take a closer look at what you need to know about all-in-one construction software and if it’s truly the right choice for your construction project and business.
All-in-one construction software allows you to perform key business operations and project workflows within a single solution. It’s purposefully designed to support all AECO stakeholders at every phase of construction.
All-in-one construction software also makes it possible to automate your most tedious, repetitive, and time-intensive tasks. The goal with all of it is to empower construction software users to make the best decisions possible, and do so quickly with real-time data.
“All-in-one” is a popular, marketable term because it so obviously encompasses what firms need. In reality though, no construction software is truly an “all-in-one” solution for every business and project need. That said, a construction solution built on a “platform” is probably what you need when thinking about enabling an all-in-one construction solution.
The big difference between an “all-in-one” solution and a solution built on a “platform” is that a platform assumes it cannot know all your needs. This is a good thing. A construction solution built on a platform is designed to be more resilient, more flexible, and more scalable to needs that cannot be predicted. In other words, a platform offers broader support than “all-in-one” software because it’s meant to support growth, even as you outgrow current workflows.
When you use a solution backed by a platform,you can connect all your different technology solutions, including third-party, to a single source of truth in the cloud. From the field to the office, that allows the best minds on your team to communicate, collaborate, and support one another much more effectively throughout the entire project lifecycle. Not to mention, this connectivity gives you real-time data, which allows you to make critical decisions quickly and confidently.
The ideal construction solution will be built on a flexible platform that will align with your firm’s short-term project goals, while offering a strong foundation for achieving long-term business objectives.
Recommended reading: Jim Lynch, Senior VP & General Manager, and Sid Haksar, Head of Construction Strategy, both with Autodesk, share an in-depth look at what a true platform experience is and how to make sure you get one.
While moving away from paper-based processes has certainly improved integration in construction software, firms now face the challenge of disconnected technology solutions. Twenty-four percent of construction professionals report that none of their applications are integrated. This leads to siloed information and construction firms often struggle to find the bandwidth and expertise to connect data between their most essential technology.
Integrated construction software simply means that your software solutions are talking to each other. You may have a handful of solutions that you’re able to connect via a single software solution. This is particularly powerful when integrated construction software is built on the flexibility and scalability of a platform. The direct integration between technology solutions improves the flow of information and automates workflows. Other benefits include:
The complexity of construction workflows reflects the complexity of construction projects. Workflow automation assigns routine and time-consuming tasks to a software and any underlying technology. By integrating these repetitive processes into your construction software, you can free up considerable time to focus on project progress where it matters most, rather than staying stuck in the minutia.
Construction firms need to be able to integrate their software with cloud storage to increase team-wide accessibility to data. Cloud storage refers to any type of data, files, or information being held in a place that is accessible via the internet. Autodesk Construction Cloud is an example of cloud storage for all your construction project data. DropBox, Sharepoint, and Google Drive are examples of cloud storage for files.
Where integrated construction software shines is by allowing you to build relationships between your construction project data (in the cloud) and third-party cloud storage solutions. And everyone, with the appropriate permissions, can access the needed data or files from anywhere.
Communication is critical for successful construction projects, but firms often struggle to capture the right information in the right place. It’s easy to lose important documents and updates in email, especially when working on large-scale projects.
By using an integrated construction software solution, your teams can communicate through shared project management tools. This has a positive impact on your ability to solve problems when they are caught—long before the cost becomes a hard pill to swallow.
Even the smallest of details can throw your project off track. Instead of sending and resending requests for signatures, integrated construction software allows you to connect things like DocuSign or AdobeSign to project dependencies. The signed documents can be saved in construction software for future references and purchase orders.
While all-in-one software is unlikely to cover all your business needs alone, you’ll need a solution that enables you to manage key activities like estimates, bidding, design, quality and safety programs, all cost activities, schedules, team communication, etc.
Large-scale projects can have upwards of 50 construction firms involved. With this many stakeholders involved, how you collaborate and exchange information efficiently will impact your ability to successfully meet project requirements. Having this many people involved, however, leaves a lot of room for error in the form of miscommunication, disparate processes, and disconnected systems.
This is why it’s so important to manage projects with quality project management software. Particularly, software built on a common data environment (CDE). A CDE unites all of the project data into a single location that should be accessible from anywhere.
The better costs are controlled, the more likely it is that a project will meet budget and scope requirements. In today’s market, it’s especially critical to manage bidding, estimating, budgets, and accounting effectively in light of more demanding schedules and other strains on a project’s already-thin margins.
Recommended reading: 8 Tips to Manage Cashflow Like Your Construction Business Depends On It
Estimates set the foundation for a successful project. Good estimating software helps you create more accurate estimates generated from integrated takeoffs and quantities. This, in turn, makes your bids more competitive, which adds up to more wins and greater profitability for the business. We recommend solutions that integrate 2D + 3D takeoffs to ensure you’re getting the best estimates possible.
To effectively manage bids, general contractors need to ensure they’re working with qualified subcontractors on their projects. As bids from contractors come in, it’s important to have a centralized place to manage them with access to the most up-to-date information.
Good bid management software allows you to access a network of subcontractors, perform risk analysis, and take bids based on the scope of work. You’ll want to look out for a bid-leveling tool which allows for the comparison of multiple bids from different subcontractors. This makes evaluating and selecting the appropriate bids for your project a much easier process.
Stakeholders invested in a project want to ensure that it generates a profit. The most effective way to ensure profitability is to create a carefully planned budget and schedule. This budget should take into account all indirect and direct costs as well as profit and overhead. Schedule management further supports budget planning by preventing further expenses caused by delays.
Great budgeting and schedule management software connects teams, workflows, and datas. It should be highly configurable and designed to streamline cost workflows, manage projects, accurately forecast risk, support schedule changes, and more.
On the surface, construction accounting is akin to accounting in other industries. It takes into account everything from revenue to payroll, and every cost-related activity between. However, what makes construction accounting unique is the fact that everything is moving all the time. When locations, materials, and services are always in flux, it can be a challenge to accurately manage milestones and finances throughout the life of a project.
All-in-one construction software should be able to connect your project data with third-party accounting applications. That means you’ll want to be on the lookout for a healthy ecosystem of accounting integrations. Some popular accounting solutions that integrate well with construction software are Sage CRE 300, Quickbooks Online, Xero, and more. Your construction accounting software should also be able to support every phase of construction.
When you’re evaluating all-in-one construction software—or a construction solution built on a platform—knowing what makes a good solution good is important. Let’s talk through some of the key considerations.
Before choosing your construction software, take time to understand how your data will be stored and accessed. You want to be able to create and use a common data environment and allow stakeholders to work from the same documents while respecting data ownership. Meaning, not everyone needs access to everything, but you should be able to provide access to whoever needs it.
Some construction software solutions may limit data access or data ownership even if you’re a license holder. This aspect is worth digging into before you get too far in your selection process.
This is an important consideration. How does the all-in-one software define a project lifecycle? Ideally, the software should understand that the lifecycle of a project includes everything from design and planning to building, operating, and more. This is worth noting because you may find that some software solutions are not holistic in their approach as you need. A solution that might be an all-in-one for the design phase, may not be equipped to handle the nuances through operations.
While a restricted project lifecycle can work in theory, you have to be mindful of the costs incurred when these parts of the project are managed in separate systems entirely. This is why it might be better to ensure the solution you choose is built on a platform, enabling more flexibility and integration of software throughout project phases.
What kind of customer support, training, and informational resources does the all-in-one construction software provider or platform offer? How they support your success should be weighted in your decision. Ongoing training and support is something you should question. The idea here is that your ideal provider should have the skills and expertise to help your team navigate new challenges. They won’t just help you implement the solution. They’ll act as your partner to help you maximize its effectiveness and unlock all kinds of opportunities to improve the project at every step, for everyone involved.
As mentioned above, integrations allow you to seamlessly connect your construction software to third-party solutions. You may see a number of integrations listed on a potential software provider’s website, but how they work for your particular workflow may require some investigation.
Good construction software will not only offer great integration options, but that software company will work hand-in-hand with integration developers to build the best integration possible. That means the software companies you rely on are collaborating to create highly useful integrations. They’ll be tested in real-life scenarios and improved on regularly to make sure they’re practical in function.
Ultimately, look for construction software that have a robust integration ecosystem – solutions backed by a platform will enable this. Your options should be expansive and flexible enough to fit your specific workflows.
A good all-in-one or solution that is connected on a platform will offer flexible pricing models rather than limiting how you can purchase technology. For best results, determine whether the provider has price certainty so you know what you’re paying out the gate. Otherwise, you may risk sticker shock in the future. Look for solutions that offer multiple ways to consume the offerings—such as user-based or account-based licenses—for extra flexibility.
Ultimately, the best construction software is the one that works best for you. So the big question remains: What should you buy?
We always recommend doing your homework and approaching the software selection process with cautious optimism. A good place to start? Build a spreadsheet based on your needs and what you should consider from the previous section.
As discussed above, solutions built on a platform may vary from all-in-one construction software. Make sure you understand if the software you’re considering will become a disconnected solution in time, or if it has the needed expandability to grow as you grow.
Now that you have a deeper understanding of the benefits of comprehensive construction software and platforms, you’re in a better position to support your firm at every stage of the project lifecycle.
If you’d like to learn about Autodesk Construction Cloud, which connects your workflows, data, and teams, please contact us. We'd be happy to show you how it works and what a game-changer it could be for your construction business.