Construction accounting software is a must-have, but may seem daunting to implement new solutions if your accounting technology hasn’t kept up with the complexities of your growing business. Managing the myriad of accounting activities across an entire construction business, or at any phase of an individual project, you’re going to want access to the most accurate, real-time numbers possible.
No stranger to disruption, the construction industry is experiencing higher levels of digitization than ever before. The pandemic has accelerated digital transformation by as much as seven years according to some experts. Technical tools and solutions are making some of the most complicated and manual practices in construction a concern of the past.
That includes accounting. Sure, accounting may have a bit of a reputation for being mundane. But the latest innovations in construction project management software provide an exciting level of financial clarity—especially useful to connect project finances to accounting decision-makers. If you’re exploring options to make construction accounting more efficient and accurate, you’ll find plenty of helpful information on choosing the right software below.
The Basics of Construction Accounting & What Makes It Different
At its most basic level, accounting helps businesses understand and capture accounting activities. It’s essential to business administration, management and financial reporting. Sometimes referred to as the “language of business,” accounting personnel document an organization’s accounting activities to accurately measure financial performance. This information is then communicated to owners, investors, creditors, and regulators. It will also dictate who you do business with and how.
Construction accounting takes into consideration the challenges that come along with the construction business. This includes tracking revenue, job costing, payroll, and managing several contracts and project risks simultaneously. Because the building process is so uniquely complex, accounting practices must be adapted to the construction industry.
Let’s look at what makes construction accounting different from most other businesses.
Everything Is Moving All the Time
The nature of construction is quite different from your average business. Outside of a major project roadblock, all aspects of a construction project are moving forward simultaneously. Instead of operating from a fixed location with a fixed set of products or services, construction projects rely on a range of locations, materials, and services. Everyone and everything tends to always be on the go. As a result, accurately managing milestones and finances throughout the life of a project—whether payables or receivables—can be challenging.
Unique Project- and Contract-Based Milestones
Firms typically work on multiple projects at a time. Instead of having one transaction, organizations may have multiple transactions occurring simultaneously across several project partners. Each project partner likely has their own set of timelines and milestones that impact accounting. Furthermore, it can take time to actually receive payment for services rendered. Some firms use project-based accounting. In this practice, each project functions as its own entity with profits and losses.
Another consideration for construction accounting is long-term contracts. It’s not uncommon for projects to take years to finish. In these scenarios, expenses and revenue may occur at different times than had been originally planned. Knowing the implications of when and how to accrue income and expenses across multi-year projects is an art in itself.
Businesses often create categories and cost codes to track sales. There are often multiple vendors on projects in construction, whether that’s to account for materials or services, there are often tens, if not hundreds, of billable line items on any given job. Traditional accounting practices leave a lot of room for error and confusion. Purpose-built construction accounting software can help to automate this process and meet the need for multiple service or product categories. Smarter categorization enables a much cleaner look at overall business performance. This is made especially easy with dedicated construction accounting software.
Industry-Specific Costs and Expenses
Every construction job involves direct and indirect costs that cross multiple categories. To make things even more complex, items that you might consider overhead expenses are often actually costs of goods sold because they are connected to a client project. Overhead costs can fluctuate month to month based on workers’ compensation, subcontractors, insurance, training, and more.
What to Include in Construction Job Costing
The complexity of construction accounting extends to calculating how much a project will actually cost the firm. That’s where job costing comes into play. This calculation method divides the project into specific tasks. That way, you can track expenses to the various tasks of a project. It provides greater visibility into which projects, activities, and materials are generating the most costs.
With job costing, you can separate the project into the main phases and then sort scopes of work into each phase. Organizations can then create unique construction cost codes to track the expenses. You may choose to create a handful of codes or multiple codes for a more granular view. After developing the codes, you can generally divide them into five categories: labor, materials, subcontracts, equipment, and overhead.
How much does your crew cost you? That’s what the labor categories in job costing can help you answer. To find this number for each project, start by calculating how much it costs per day to have your crew. This is likely to be your high level hires like general contractors, who you’ll interface with regularly. Don’t forget to include insurance, worker’s compensation, and taxes into the figure. You can then multiply the number of days you’ll have the crew on the project.
Be sure to include a buffer for unforeseen labor costs in your estimates. Project progress is rarely linear. You’ll also want to parse out subcontractor costs with the help of your general contractors. More on that below.
These costs can be both direct and indirect. For example, direct material costs can include items like concrete and steel. It’s often easier to link these items to a specific project. Indirect material costs include things like nails and caulking. You may also apply a margin for delivery and cleanup. It’s important to think of the life of a material, and any complimentary materials, when costing your project.
General contractors are enlisted to manage construction activities and schedules, but are also instrumental in minimizing risks and issuing subcontracts. Each subcontract encapsulates costs for a general contractor and revenue to a subcontractor for specific scopes of work on a construction project. Managing subcontractor payment applications is fundamental to construction accounting, and also drives the upstream receivables, as subcontractor costs translate into general contractor revenue.
Depending on whether or not your contracted labor brings equipment to the table, you may want to cost this out separately. At which point, identify your equipment supplier rates and multiply by the estimated length of the project or time needed with that particular asset. It’s possible that equipment needs will span multiple projects.
If your contracted labor does bring equipment to the table, work with them to identify expected costs for a clear picture of how your equipment impacts accounting activities over the life of a project.
A lot of work goes on behind the scenes so you can’t forget to include the cost of doing business. That means you’ll need to measure accounting activities that go beyond the above mentioned categories. In other words, don’t forget about overhead when job costing. Some things to consider including would be full-time staff, office rentals, administration, and depreciation of equipment.
5 Steps for Revenue Recognition in Construction
Revenue recognition is the accounting of revenue when certain conditions are met on a project. Certain governing bodies issue revenue recognition standards to disseminate accounting best practices.
The Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) and International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) updated reporting standards for revenue recognition from contracts with customers in 2014. This standard is known as Accounting Standards Codification Topic 606 (ASC 606), or more simply, the new standard. Prior to the new standard, many organizations relied on the percentage-of-completion method and completed-contract method.
According to FASB, the intent for the latest guidance is to “report useful information to users of financial statements about the nature, timing, and uncertainty of revenue from contracts with customers.”
FASB has adopted a principle-based revenue recognition approach. With this approach, revenue is recognized according to two key factors. First, the contractor must meet performance obligations. Second, the control of goods or services must be transferred to the customer. This transfer can take place at a particular point in time or over a period of time.
To comply with revenue recognition standards, or ASC 606, be sure to follow these five steps:
- Identify the contract with the customer.
- Identify the performance obligations in the contract.
- Determine the transaction price.
- Allocate the transaction price to the separate performance obligations.
- Recognize revenue when (or as) the entity satisfies a performance obligation.
Top Construction Accounting Technologies
Dedicated construction accounting software solutions can help to optimize processes and automate manual tasks. As you consider ways to improve your construction accounting processes, keep these leading solutions in mind.
QuickBooks Online (Intuit): This cloud-based financial management software helps you manage your finances efficiently and gives you time back in your day. Create estimates, build invoices, track sales, monitor cash flow, and manage your customers as well as suppliers from one intuitive platform. Oftentimes, QuickBooks Online will be integrated with a project management platform to track costs and provide an operations team with the tools they need to control documents and manage budgets.
Morpheus: Connect any ERP to Autodesk Build’s leading budget and cost management solution for a truly integrated financial environment. No more double entry, manual errors or missed information. You gain full transparency from the field to the office on job costs. Trusted for over 20 years by the ENR 400.
DataStreet: DataStreet was built to eliminate time and material tag paperwork and reduce the amount of time spent on change order processing. The cloud-based project management platform increases transparency between your office and field teams. All of the data is stored in the cloud for easy access; use project-specific settings to customize your workflows and experience.
Rhumbix: Want to streamline your field operations? Rhumbix can do just that by quickly capturing timekeeping data, time and materials changes, and factors impacting construction labor costs. Get all the insights you need to make smart decisions about labor cost management, risk management, and safety while easily connecting to your existing accounting solutions.
Sage: Autodesk Construction Cloud partners have built dynamic integrations between Sage 300 Construction and Real Estate and Autodesk Build, uniting accounting, project management, and field collaboration. Manage cost-related activities, streamline workflows, and connect data for greater real-time visibility into your project’s financial health.
As you can see, there’s a lot of nuances specific to construction accounting. The software solutions that exist are getting better at addressing these complexities every single day.
With the right construction accounting software, accurately job costing, tracking timelines, and adhering to the revenue recognition standards is much easier. It puts owners and contractors on the same page throughout the life of a project. Plus, the standardized approach makes tracking company-wide finances across all projects a much less daunting task.