Contractor Talk - Professional Construction and Remodeling Forum banner

1 - 13 of 13 Posts

·
Registered
Joined
·
25 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Anyone here have any advice as to Estimating Software?

I'm a mid-sized electrical contractor ( 10 -15 employees ) that works mostly in large scale residential ( townhouse projects, stick frame apartments ), light duty commercial ( tenant improvements ) and tons of maintenance. I'm currently looking at getting either McCormick Systems or Accubid ... anyone have any experience with either of these two programs and can give me an honest review of what they think of them?
 

·
Fentoozler
Joined
·
5,623 Posts

[ Extracted from Chapter 8 of Mike Holt's Electrical Estimating Book ]

COMPUTER ESTIMATING
Introduction
In today's construction industry, the use of computers for estimating is commonplace. So common in fact, anyone planning a career as an electrical estimator better plan on developing an expertise in using computers - especially estimating software. As the cheapest computers today are very fast and powerful, the computer itself is no longer a focus point: the primary focus is and will forever be the software.
Incredible advances in estimating software have improved the estimating process greatly. These programs allow estimators to increase the number of bids, hone their accuracy, create consistency, improve project management, improve the purchase and control of materials, and better the company's bottom line. Some programs are now capable of actually doing the counting and estimating for you. There are even programs that will assist an estimator with design criteria and learning the NEC.
Today's estimators must possess total control of the software. For this, they will need to develop strong visualization skills. Visualization skills allow the estimator to see their desired output from the software. This will allow them to input the information correctly to achieve the desired, successful output.
Even with all this super-technology, one element of estimating remains and is still required: the estimator and his or her knowledge of electrical installations. This can and never will be replaced by a machine and software. It is the merging, or interface, of the two that today's estimator must master.
8.01 Myths and Truths
Myths and Truths
Myth: Computerized estimates are more accurate than those done the old, by hand method.
Truth: Any estimate, done by hand or with the use of a computer, is only as good as the estimator who makes and reviews it.
Computer assisted estimates are not necessarily more complete or more accurate than a "by hand" estimate. Both types of estimates are deeply affected by a simple formula: Quality in = Quality out.
It doesn't matter how good the software is, or how large the database. If the material items in the database are not priced; or if the labor items are incorrectly labored (or worse - they have no labor values at all); or if you simply fail to make correct entries; or use the wrong database - your estimates can carry the potential to be highly flawed. A highly flawed estimate is either too low or too high. Either way the company loses. It is the estimator's primary job to know if the estimate is right.
Myth: Computerized estimates take less time than those done the old, by hand way.
Truth: This is a slight myth. Most computer assisted estimates can be completed in less time, but they can often take longer. Again, it depends on the estimator. What his 'take-off and entry style' is or what the company's take-off policies are. There are many variables when using computers. These variables give you the choice of how fast or slow you want to be and when.
A standard estimate has 2 primary stages - take-off and extension.
During the take-off stage, using software can often be a slower process than the older, simpler method of counting symbols and writing the totals down on a paper spreadsheet. The interface with software requires additional time and effort to find or build the right items or assemblies in the database. The proper breakout location must be assigned and set prior to entry. A "count entry" function is required. This requires typing in and/or clicking a button for the correct value entry. This is a lot of work compared to hand writing a symbol or note and then placing a figure underneath it.
Where the speed differential occurs is primarily after the take-off stage is done and all the entry is complete. This is the time of extension.
It is in this single function that the computer absolutely, without mercy defeats the old "by hand" method. The old method requires a very detailed write-up and expansion of the counted items. A light fixture, for example, may have 7-10 individual components which need to be written down, along with their associated material prices and labor units. Then these values need to be calculated against the quantities and sub-totals need to be entered for each. After all this, final totals need to be summed up. This takes a great deal of time, effort, accuracy and hand strength. After all this, it is likely that someone else will need to double-check the extensions for accuracy. Imagine the time required to complete this process on a bid that has 3 or more Bid Form items. Worse, imagine what has to be done if something changes or you find a mistake - after you create these final extensions.
With computer estimating software, the extension phase becomes a simple selection of take-off entries and the desired report format. Then a simple push of a button starts the calculations. The computer does the rest with more accuracy and speed than any human or even a large group of humans ever could.
8.02 Advantages and Benefits
The Estimator is still in control
A computer and estimating software are simply estimating tools. They are only as efficient as the estimator - the one responsible for telling the computer what to do. Even with the latest technology of CAD Estimating programs which interface digital drawings and the computer estimating database, allowing the computer to count the electrical designs - the estimator still plays the most vital role by controlling what is counted, entered, calculated and extended.
Today's engineers have the technology to design electrical installations in 3D using high-powered software and computers. Imagine these 3D designs being integrated with an estimating software database. Upon completion of the design, a simple click of a button can create a complete materials and labor report. But again, these reports can only be as detailed as the estimator can imagine them to be and are highly subject to how in-control of the software the estimator is.
Saves you time so you can do more!
A computer does thousands of mathematical computations in a fraction of a second, never makes an error, never gets tired or careless, and never forgets the information that is stored. Computer estimating will reduce your estimating time and cost because you no longer need to price, labor, extend, or total material or labor by hand.
This translates into additional time for other important functions. Such as: more time to review the estimate; time to bid more jobs; time to better organize and manage the company; or to spend more time with the family.
Better Control of Material Cost
Once the take-off is complete and the take-off quantities have been entered into the computer, a report of all the materials required for the job can be printed and broken down by job phase. This list can be submitted to multiple suppliers in order to get competitive prices and fixed delivery dates. The estimate can also be shared by a contractor's purchasing and accounting departments. Cost tracking and inventory control become much simpler when all the information is generated and controlled by a computer. In addition, you can reduce the storage requirements for material, thereby reducing waste and theft.
Labor Savings
A computer generated estimate provides great flexibility to extend the project many different ways. By system, by floor, by building, site work only, by phase, etc. Detailed information like this can be shared with the field, giving electricians on the job labor budgets and goals. This helps them ensure the job gets completed on time. It can also help them order materials, allowing for better control of their arrival to the jobsite, reducing inventory and handling time.
Reduces Overhead
Although the software can be expensive and training costs add yet another expense, a contractor's overhead will still be decreased. Reduced estimating costs are derived from the ability of one estimator being able to bid more jobs faster. Materials inventory control is improved with less storage space cost and reduced financing costs. You'll also improve billing and expedite collections. This will increase cash flow.
When the estimating department is fully integrated with all of other departments, the increased efficiency will spread itself throughout the company and reduce overhead substantially.
Increase Business Volume
The savings in estimating time will permit you to estimate more jobs to expand your business volume. Using computer generated estimates can also improve your marketing as you can present a more detailed and professional looking package to your clients. You should also be able to service your clients better by having the ability to accommodate any pricing structures they require. The more details you can provide your client, the more confidence they will have in your company's knowledge of their projects. This too will result in more requests for bids, which will ultimately result in more contracts won.
Added Confidence and Security
A computer estimate provides you with increased confidence and security that your bid price is correct. It will also provide you with more consistent and accurate historical data for jobs of the same types. This will improve your competitiveness and increase your profit margins.

8.03 Software Selection
Purchase Considerations
Some things to consider before purchasing:
Simple to Use. The software should be logical, intuitive, simple to use, and easy to understand. The commands must be precise and there should not be any danger of losing data. There should be an on-screen audit trail to review and modify the take-off at any time.
Portability. A software package should be portable so it can be used at the office, at home, or even in your car with a laptop or possibly a palmtop computer.
Flexibility. The software should provide the capability of factoring labor or material cost for every line of the take-off to reflect diverse installation conditions. You should be able to view or change anything in the estimate at any point.
Reports. A wide variety of reports should be available to furnish information to the client, as well as to provide information for project management decisions.
Don't expect computer estimating software to fit all of your needs. There will always be something your software can't do that you wish it could. However, a quality estimating system should not require you to make too many major adjustments in your estimating style. In fact, estimating software should considerably improve your estimating techniques by giving you greater flexibility to be creative.

How Much Should It Cost?
The cost of computerizing a business depends on whether or not you already have a computer. However, do not make the mistake of trying to use an old, outdated computer to run new, super-charged software. There will be great frustrations and much disappointment. Also, you will not be getting the most from your software investment.
There are always lower priced systems available, but strong consideration of the major players should be given. A single user license for a quality estimating software system costs between $2,500 and $4,000. Multi-user or Network versions will cost more according to how many users will need to be licensed.
Make your decision based on the value you will receive for your investment. Be sure you can count on long-range service from the company and that they always give you close personal attention.
One last budget issue: Don't forget to account for annual tech support fees. These fees and the services can cost as much as a single user license but they will pay for themselves easily over the course of a year. Especially when a tech helps you restore a job file an hour before the bid is due.
Software is not a 1-time expense. Just like your computers, it carries a continuous cost of annual support fees, maintenance, repair and upgrades.

Can I Afford It?
In today's world, it's highly unlikely that you can be competitive if you estimate without a computer. The question is not whether you can afford to purchase a computer and estimating software but whether, can you afford not to use these tools when estimating jobs?
To determine the dollars required in sales to cover the purchase of computer estimating software, use the following formula:
Sales needed to cover cost of estimating software = Cost of Estimating System per Year/Gross Profit Percent (Overhead + Profit)
Example: How much must sales increase per year to cover the cost of an estimating system, based on the following factors: Estimating system to cost $6,000 includes software, computer, and training and your accountant indicates that your gross profit margin is 30 percent.
Sales Increase Required per Year = $1,500/0.30 = $5,000
Sales Increase Required per Month = $5,000/12 = $417
To pay for the software you only need $20,000 in additional sales over the life of the software!

Who Sells Estimating Software?
Because of the technical nature of electrical estimating, estimating software is not available in computer stores. Only a person who has been trained in electrical contracting can adequately explain how computerized estimating works, and the many ways it will benefit you.
Find out as much as you can about the software vendor. How long have they been in the business of selling software? How many customers do they have? What other software products do they sell? What is their background in estimating and electrical contracting? Don't get too excited, take your time to investigate the different vendors and make a selection based on facts, not opinions. If possible, see if you can use the software on a trial basis. Naturally this will cost you a few hundred dollars, insist on money back guarantee.
[ Who Sells Estimating Software? ]
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
25 Posts
Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Thanks for that , but i've already read it. I know i want software ... what i need, is to ask someone who has used either of the products that i'm looking at what the they think of it.

In absence of that, does anyone know where i can find unbiased reviews on electrical estimating software ( These companies have their own reviews but that's like asking college students to grade their own paper ... < Gee look at that , my half-page review of War and Peace got another A+ > )
 

·
Head Grunt
Joined
·
3,270 Posts
I myself dont use any kind of estimating software, i guess i do it the old way but i still do it on a puter. I do all my estimates through Quickbooks, i just have all the parts listed individually and for the most part seperated. Example would be all different size conduit is listed under one # as well as all the parts such as nipples, bushings adapters, etc. I just punch in a #, scroll down to the item, click on it and put in quantity. It is time consuming but it is easy to edit if needed. As stated above every job is different so you cant just go by a sqare footage #, you still need to know what the customer wants and what is needed so it not like any joe smoe can do the estimate for you. If you looked at the job then you need to do the estimate. Otherwise you will most likely loose money or be way overcharging. Most of my customers like to see an itemized list, then they see how much goes into the job and exactly the hours spent doing it. Another nice feature of this too is with 2-3 clicks of the button it becomes an invoice and can still be easily edited. When payment is recieved it keeps track of the amount payed and what is still owed. It also gives me my State tax quarterly report and my schedule-C for the end of the year. You probably do something different for your size company but for little ole me this has been working well so far.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
105 Posts
Anyone here have any advice as to Estimating Software?


Yes, it is expensive, you should estimate on the high side. It is complex, you should estimate on spending a lot of time getting to grips with it. It is unwieldy, you should estimate a few days to curse at it, and it does not replace or even match experience and an excel spreadsheet, you should estimate on not using it after a few weeks of aggro. And when estimating it, you should seriously consider keeping your money and buying a notebook.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
7 Posts
I'm in the same predicament, but I'm a small commercial contractor that is working towards being a mid size contractor. I've looked at Vision Soft bid manager plus, Accubid, Mccormick and Con Est, and Turbo Bid. I threw out Turbo because it was more for residential. I'm leaning towards Bid Manager because of the cost. It seems to do the job, maybe doesn't have all the bells and whistles, but is adequote. Anybody else have similar experiences?

BTE
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
7 Posts
By the way, Emmanual, I've spent hours with the reps testing their software then had their software installed for a free trial. They all use the same material list cost information, so that wasn't a concern. I guess Bid Manager is the new guy on the block, but it looks very easy to use and seems to do the job. I've called several of their customers, one of which went to Con Est then went back to Bid Manager, and they seem very happy. I'd like to hear from anybody with experience with Bid Manager that doesn't have a bias because they have been using the big guys software, that by the way is pretty expensxive to a new contractor.

BTE
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
25 Posts
Discussion Starter · #9 ·
I also looked at Turbo Bid and Con Est as well but i didn't like either of them.

Turbo Bid: It seemed nice for a small company but no good if you want to expand into anything more than single family residential.

ConEst: The biggest problem i had with ConEst is that their Estimating and Bidding software are two different packages ... which means two diffferent support packages ( and over $700.00 a month for support that i may not even use seems way to high to pay )
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
7 Posts
I agree with that. Con Est is very tempting, but too a lot of extra costs. I worked with a sales guy called Mike...again...this week and it's a great system. Have you decided yet. I threw out Mc'Cormick this week. So I am now down to three. Accubid, ConEst and Vision. Have you decided yet? Vison keep pushing, but I'm still not sure. It seems you still have to get tied into Epic for proper pricing, but then again, you'd have to do the same with ConEst or Accubid. It's a dilema. I have another demo with Accubid next week. I don't want to regret a decision once I've paid up.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
187 Posts
ConEst: ( and over $700.00 a month for support that i may not even use seems way to high to pay )
What?!?! I just purchased ConEst about a month ago, I have my first training set up this afternoon. I have NO monthly charge. after the first year I will pay $500.00ish (do not remember the exact amount) a YEAR (not a month) for support.
 

·
CEO, CM
Joined
·
1 Posts
Here are some of the major considerations I would include prior to your decision:
1. What is your current and target(future) sales volume? This will impact your ROI (return on Investment)
2. Evaluation of your current estimating proficiency. (no software will make you a better estimator) if you're making critical mistakes and losing bids or money, software won't fix that.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
1 Posts
I use Red Rhino by Hard Hat Industry Solutions. It is web based, has a ton of products, and you can build your own assemblies. The support and training is really thorough. You can actually use it on your smart phone for quick, on the job estimates. The best part is that it costs less than $60/month! I like it, also, because you can create proposals, work orders, and many other things with it. I would try this before dropping thousands of dollars on the other big boys.
 
1 - 13 of 13 Posts
Top