It's likely it will not be one software application but several that construction firms use.
Like so many industries, construction is rapidly maturing. Companies are increasingly relying on data, analysis and collaboration tools to remain competitive and streamline processes. Falling under this umbrella, construction firms count on software for tasks such as submitting proposals, evaluating costs, tracking workers' locations and meeting tight deadlines.
"When you evaluate construction management software, several considerations come to mind: cost and budget tracking, document sharing, collaboration, and project management and administration. Not all construction management applications perform all functions equally well," said Christian Burger, principal and owner of Burger Consulting Group, Inc. Burger is a construction industry veteran who consults nationally and internationally with commercial, civil and specialty contractors to develop objective IT solutions.
"Right now, there are several players in the market all working toward the same objective (or at least close), but they are coming at it from different angles."
So, when one is on the hunt for the "best" construction management software, the first rule to keep in mind is that you're likely not looking for just one solution. You're more likely to take a hybrid approach, tailoring the solution to meet your needs to the best of your ability.
Start with your core needs
When evaluating vendors, start with what your core needs are. Where are you experiencing your biggest barriers and what is slowing you down? Many firms first seek to streamline one of these core functions.
Project management (PM). Meticulous project management is critical. The right PM software solution will give you the insights you need to meet all your project administration needs, such as scheduling, submittals, RFIs and changing costs.
Enterprise resource planning (ERP). ERP software digitizes your accounting, payroll and financial management needs. The goal: to eliminate or reduce paper use and gain a more holistic view of finances. ERP is a critical function across all construction software, since cost and budgeting is the backbone of working with subcontractors.
"Most contractors today have some form of construction-specific ERP solution for accounting. These frequently come with an integrated PM solution, which may or may not be as functional or advanced as some of the best-in-class point solutions, thereby setting up the contractor to make a decision between having an integrated solution version one that is more functional."
Collaboration. Collaboration tools give firms the ability to share information multiple ways, virtually "discuss" projects and documents and gain greater control over who can access the information.
But the idea of "collaborating" has many meanings – and can only take you so far. For example, "file sharing platforms like Box and Dropbox make it easy to share but don't necessarily provide the original function (e.g., RFIs or submittals)," Burger pointed out. "I can't see the information unless I open the file, which is by then a static file."
Team and safety. This is a catch-all category of the myriad of important yet administrative details of a project. Collecting and managing the details that fold into inspections, field workers' time cards, the daily report, and tracking observations – these are just some of the data points that lack meaning until you can look at them together.
On the horizon: Trends in construction software
There are several areas for growth or improvement in the construction management space. The first, mobile, points to a growing demand for collecting data and work anywhere.
"Mobile technology is a fast-growing trend. Workers may be on-site and need to use a device without any attachment, for RFIs, punch lists, etc. We're going to see an increased need for that capability," Burger said.
Additionally, Burger noted the challenge of data ownership – something all industries and collaborators should be concerned about. "Contractors may use collaboration software to submit RFIs. When multiple parties are submitting information into the same system, then you get to a question of who owns the data? We're going to see issues regarding the sovereignty of data and records – whose data is it and when can they get it back?