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Do Your Construction Estimates Make You Look Like a Dinosaur?

Technology is advancing at a quick pace. Between 5G for our phones, Alexa in our homes, and using virtual reality to sit courtside during the NBA playoffs, we’re far past the point of “Beam me up, Scotty” and time travel in a DeLorean. What were once mind-blowing examples of the future’s most fantastic ideas now look quaint compared with the tech innovations available today.


If you stop to think about it, many of the technologies you used 30 years ago, whether at work or in your daily life, seem like antiques now, too. Remember the first mobile phones that were the size (and weight) of a brick before they shrank to the just-as-unusable dimensions of a credit card? Or the big desktop computers everyone had to have that came in a box decorated like a cow? And what about the first version of today’s smartphones, the PalmPilot, with that handy little stylus? 


These major developments of their time are now relics replaced by better and faster iterations. Yet spreadsheets—which have been around since the mid-1980s when we were blasting mixtapes on our Walkmans and boom boxes—are still the go-to for some estimators. In fact, of the construction workflows that are still dependent on spreadsheets, estimating sits at the top of the list at just over 63%. 


Learn how to modernize your estimating process in this essential guide.


While some estimators may prefer to stick with spreadsheets to produce estimates—even despite their many limitations and downsides—there’s a whole world of new technologies out there to bring the estimating process and other workflows out of the Stone Age and into an era of greater speed, accuracy, and efficiency.


Today’s Construction Technology Opportunities

As the construction industry navigates the complexity of digital transformation, construction companies are exploring new technologies to improve their daily operations and help them maximize profits. Your company may not have an immediate need for every tool, or be able to support the trendiest of the trends. But some technologies have undoubtedly become a game-changer and a boon to business.


Consider how building information modeling (BIM) software and 3D modeling have made it much easier to implement building changes. BIM provides a digital representation of a building in 3D that can simulate the actual construction site. This enables stakeholders to digitally collaborate and communicate with each other while making amendments to drawings in the field and in real time—instead of losing valuable hours going back to the office to make changes or sifting through an email trail to pinpoint a request. 


Automation and machine learning have also made headway in the construction industry, replacing traditionally slow, manual processes with streamlined workflows and tasks. For example, automated layout software can measure distances and angles and set layout points with just a click or two. And when combined with machine learning applications—which essentially teach themselves on every project—design and layout processes become smarter, more accurate, and more efficient over time, ultimately improving the profitability of construction projects. 


Then there are drones. More than just fun to play with at the park, drones can serve an important business purpose by giving contractors the ability to survey land, track the progress of projects, find faults and defects, and identify potential dangers to workers—all with high-quality aerial photography and sensors. So important has drone technology become to the efficiency and safety of the construction industry that experts predict the industry will have spent over $11 billion on it by 2020. 


Add to the mix a plethora of other workflow platforms that streamline scheduling and project management, ease communication and information-sharing, and integrate with specialized tasks such as performing quantity take-offs during the estimating process, and you begin to see the picture. 


Discover how estimating software makes quantity take-offs easier in this essential guide.


These technology-driven improvements to construction workflows, both out in the field and back in the office, enable more accuracy during all phases of the construction lifecycle. They allow you to work more efficiently and productively, giving your business a boost to its bottom line.  

If construction-sector productivity were to catch up
with that of the total economy, this would boost the
sector’s value added by an estimated $1.6 trillion,
adding about 2% to the global economy. 

—McKinsey Global Institute


Taking the First Step with Estimating Software

As more construction companies adopt these technologies, their benefits will become more widely recognized, not just by those in the trades but by owners, too. And when owners experience the improvements for themselves and hear stories of others who have, their expectations will continue to grow. 


You and your estimating team will need to be able to keep up with these expectations—or risk looking like dinosaurs. Database-driven estimating software is an easy place to start. Some solutions even provide the familiar look and feel of spreadsheets that you’ve grown comfortable with, making the switch to a software solution easier than you may think. But that’s where the comparisons to spreadsheets end. 


When you use dedicated construction estimating software, you’re able to:

  • Improve your accuracy by standardizing how estimates are produced and offering a complete audit trail of all changes to make it much easier to review and resolve issues before the estimate goes to the client.
  • Speed up the estimating process by automating processes like performing quantity takeoffs and modifying labor-productivity factors that save you time and allow your team to turn around a greater number of estimates.
  • Capture valuable experience and tribal knowledge from your best estimators and store them—along with your company’s cost knowledge and unique estimating methodologie—in a centralized database to make it easy for the whole team to access and replicate.
  • Increase your efficiency by flexibly sorting and grouping data, pre-populating project components into templates, and making it simple to customize estimates to meet internal and external demands.


Just like Amazon transformed the retail business, advancements in technology are changing the construction game. And as the technology becomes more mainstream, owners will expect contractors to use the latest tools, particularly when those tools deliver more precise and predictable outcomes that impact budgets and schedules.


Even if your business doesn’t require the latest and greatest technology, you do need to keep pace with customer expectations around speed, accuracy, and efficiency. Dedicated construction estimating software is a smart and easy place to start.


Get your copy of the essential guide to estimating solutions to learn more.


About the Author

Steve Watt is market segment manager of the General Contractor/Construction Manager Division of Trimble Buildings, which is focused on technology solutions that improve collaboration, efficiency and accuracy across the Design-Build-Operate (DBO) lifecycle of buildings. Trimble applies solutions such as positioning technologies, asset management and task- or user-specific software applications to help businesses become more productive.

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