Is it time to look into new software for your construction business? There is a wide variety of applications out there with different ways of accessing the software and more features than you can shake a stick at.
What is the best way to find the software you need? We have a few tips for you on determining the best software solution for your business and for finding the right software vendor for you.
Before you start shopping
Before you even look at a software solution, you need to know what you’re going to use it for, how it fits with any legacy software you are keeping, and whether you need assistance figuring all this out.
Identify all of your company’s construction sotware needs. What applications do you use on a regular basis?
- Bid management
- Job costing
- Contract management
- Subcontractor bid management
- Residential or commercial focused
- On screen design and take-off
You need to decide what you must have, what would be nice to have, and what you just don’t need.
What are some other issues you need to consider?
- Reliable document storage and audit trail
- Ease of use
- Compatibility with legacy software
- Integration of existing records
- Your goal for the new software
Don’t go for one that has a bunch of features you won’t use. Generic software is often inefficient and will not satisfy your needs as well as a solution that has been selected to meet your needs. Generic office software also will lack many of the specialized options you need for construction management.
Look at the complexity of your company and your plans for growth. Your software needs to be able to scale with you.
Plenty of online resources exist to help you learn more about the types of features now available as well as how the software is delivered. Capterra and Software Advice are excellent resources for learning more about today’s software and how to select the right solution for you.
You need something close to “just right” that won’t be either underpowered for your needs nor overpowered. As we stated above, purchasing highly complex software with too many features will result in payment for unused features and a longer time to adoption.
The way software is delivered has changed over the years. Now you hear things like “cloud computing” and SaaS.
Cloud computing simply refers to software solutions that are accessed through a web browser. The software is not installed on your computer or a server at your business but is made available by a vendor that also stores any records you generate so they are available anytime and anywhere.
That is the biggest draw of cloud computing. You can access the software and your records from any device. The vendor takes care of security, back-ups, and software updates.
Other terms you may read or hear are:
- SaaS - Software as a Service
- IaaS - Infrastructure as a Service
- PaaS - Platform as a Service
All of these apply to cloud-based technologies that are designed to take the place of software and hardware installed at your place of business. With cloud computing, the need to have your own I.T. department disappears. You may still need staff to help with your company-owned devices, but no one will need to perform software upgrades or back up records. Your hardware requirements will diminish as well.
Identify potential vendors
Now that you know what you need the software to do, and you have learned a bit more about up-to-date solutions, you can start looking at potential software vendors.
Treat choosing a software vendor the same way you look for a vendor for equipment or materials. What support is offered? Do they train? How easy is implementation with this vendor?
Take a look at their hours of service and support. (Don’t forget to check on time zone.) Are they compatible with your company’s hours? Contact the vendor to get a feel for how it is to work with it. Is the staff professional and courteous? Do they seem knowledgeable about the product and service?
Use your research to create a short list of vendors and solutions to take a deeper dive. Research the website and request a meeting with sales. Does the sales rep start right off with a demo and a pitch full of features and benefits? Or do you have a chance to discuss your specific needs so a more customized solution can be provided?
Take advantage of free trials. Take the time to try out the software to see how user-friendly it is. Is the interface easy to look at and navigate? Are the terms and labels in familiar language?
Make sure your end users have a chance to play with it, too. Nobody knows what is needed better than the people who use it. This exercise will also let you know how much training may be required for successful implementation and adoption.
Many vendors provide training as part of the package, and you can often purchase more training later if needed.
Making the purchase
If you have determined the solution that seems best for you, you may need to get buy-in from a finance team or executive management. The best vendors will help you put together a business case to help persuade others of the need for this particular solution.
When it is time to look at price, don’t go by the initial price alone. Determine the total cost of ownership (TCO) so you have an idea of ongoing expenses associated with this solution. You also want to find out the return on investment (ROI). If the solution will not save you more money than you are spending doing the work the way you are now, it is not a good investment.
Ask for the names of others who use the same software so you can call them as references. Talk to people at companies similar to yours about how they use the software, how easy it is to learn, and anything else you may need to know.
Don’t purchase a solution on the basis of “future features” that may never occur. Get a solution that works for you now and is scalable for the future.
Finding the right software for your business can seem overwhelming. Take advantage of online resources to help you learn what is available, how it works, and a ballpark idea of costs. If you own a large and complex company, you may want to consider paying a consultant to put together your list of requirements.
Once you have a short list, try out the software during a free trial and talk to the sales rep about your needs. Don’t let the vendor jump right into a demo or presentation until you know they can address your needs.
Check out training and support to make sure you and your employees are taken care of throughout the lifecycle of this solution. Narrow down your choices and learn the TCO and ROI to make sure you are making a good deal.