Software For Contractors Circa 2014
There are many important trends occurring in the construction software industry. But to put things in perspective, let’s look at some evolutionary changes over the years.
Beginning in 1960’s vendors introduced construction accounting systems that ran on mainframe computers. Dumb terminals were placed on users desks and they accessed the mainframe from anywhere. Of course all processing was done on the mainframe whereas data and reports were just fed to the terminal.
Beginning in the mid to later 1970’s construction software was developed for minicomputer systems like the IBM System 36. These were programs that only ran on a particular type of hardware so you bought the hardware and software to run as one solution. Their capabilities were limited to job accounting and the other financial applications. And they were strictly batch processing, there was no realtime information available. These systems were all sold by software/hardware dealers who wrote custom code or modified a standard system to user requirements. The most important criteria for success were having a local reseller who was honest and competent to work with. (Hmm, honest
and competency are not exactly in great supply nowadays.) However many buyers still think it’s an advantage to buy from some local resellers but that is really not relevant today.
With the advent of the PC in the early 1980’s, more robust construction solutions were introduced such as Maxwell Management Suite, Dexter Chaney, Computerease and Timberline. These programs had the advantage of being hardware independent as long as they were operating system compatible. DOS, of course, became the defacto standard for PC operating systems. In those days, many programs were written in Business Basic.
In the late 1980’s relational databases like Foxpro and Pervasive SQL came along which allowed for more robust, multiuser solutions with better customization features. There were also relational databases like Oracle, Sybase (later evolving into SQL), Progress and Gupta which became development platforms for tier one software solutions. Contractor programs such as Masterbuilder (now Sage 100) and Computerease were written for Foxpro, a popular database at that time, as well many financial accounting programs.
In the 1990’s with the firm establishment of Microsoft Window, we saw object oriented programming take hold which allowed for a whole new universe of software development capabilities with multiple open Windows and full integration with MS Office products as well as report writers, query languages and an overall platform that IT departments could adopt as their standard.
In the 2000’s we see dot net which brings in all of the Microsoft reporting services capabilities and the most powerful programming language yet. Products like Viewpoint Software are written in dot net.
That brings to 2014 and the latest capabilities of Accounting Software for Contractors. So what can contractors expect today for their money?
For small contractors (up to 5M) who have 5–15K to spend
Products like Smart Contractor, Computerease, Sage 100, Job Power, Foundation offer good job accounting, project management and basic financials and manage change orders, RFIs and submittals, etc. Most even have dashboards.
For medium size contractors (up to 50M) who have 20 - 100 K to spend
Dexter Chaney, Viewpoint, Sage 300 (formerly Timberline), Pro Contractor MX, Foundation, Jonas.
For large contractors (up to $250M)
Dexter Chaney, Viewpoint, Computer Guidance, Penta, CMIC.
Up-to-date products come equipped with multiple capabilities. Some are even offered by the less expensive vendors.
Workflow – the ability to sequence tasks and create email alerts to other users based on action items that need to be taken for managing documents, approving purchase orders, and action on exception items such as overdue insurance certifications for subcontractors or flagging items over budget.
Dashboards –information centers that each user can personalize according to their needs that provide up to the minute information on job cost, cash collected by job, over/under billing data, change orders in process, PO commitments, budget to actual, progress bills and more.
Screen customization – modify field names, change field data attributes requiring certain rules of entry, enforcing that general ledger and job ledgers are always in balance by having rules for data entry for specified cost codes, and more.
Project management – ability to attach and track any kind of document (including photos) to transactions for easy lookup. Full tracking of change orders, submittals through approvals. Drag and drop emails to associated documents for a full audit trail of all items related to any document.
Reports – Access and combine data tables and print virtually any kind of report using Crystal Report Writer. Alternatively, have the vendor write the report for you for a fee.
Run in the cloud – gain access from any remote location either using a hosted computer outside your office (with data automatically updated to local server) using terminal services or Citrix to dial to the hosting computer (either yours or the vendors). There are also full SaaS solutions where anything can be done with a web connection because the software is designed to run in any browser under html programming and where all program code resides with the vendor’s computer. This kind of software is normally a subscription service where you pay a per user rate each month.
Drill downs – see a summary report on the screen and then drill down step by step to all transactions involving that item from the source subledger to include all attached documents.
Union and tax compliance – handle any and all sales tax rules by state as well as reciprocal withholding tax between states, multistate union dues, certified payrolls for government jobs along with pay rates by craft, by person.
Forms management – customize AIA 702, and other forms as needed.
Construction software has come a long way since the 1960’s. Today’s systems are very powerful informational tools in the right hands. Contractors who stay on old software platforms do so at their own risk.
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