In today’s rapidly changing world, estimating software has become a pivotal tool for business. It is used across many industries, from construction and manufacturing right through to industries like software development and IT.
Estimating software helps facilitate the accurate prediction of material, time and resource costs involved to complete a project. This allows for more accurate planning and budgeting within a business. The flow on effects from this include less unexpected expenses, and improved profit.
In this article, we will delve into exactly what estimating software is, and what types there are. Then we will cover why it is important to have the best estimating software. Finally we will delve into how you can choose the best estimating software for your business.
What is estimating software
Estimating software is a software package that can usually either be installed on a computer, or run in a web browser. The software allows a project to be pulled apart piece by piece, while assigning costs, time and materials to each component. This process is known as estimating.
The level of detail for project components when estimating varies between software packages. Some allow to estimate at a cost centre level (like concreting or electrical works). While others will go down to the individual nail and screws in a specific item.
Estimating at the cost centre level works well in scenarios dealing mainly with sub-contractor works like on large building projects. This is because the cost and time estimation for these works will usually be outsourced to the contractor via tendering.
Where a business is performing manual labour and works directly, estimating at the lowest level generally works better. Some examples of businesses that benefit from this may be manufacturing shops like joinery, stone masons or sheet metal fabricators.
With this work, it is important to know exactly how much of each material is required. It is also important to know exactly how many hours of labour are involved, and of what skill set. Knowing this information allows accurate planning and budgeting to take place that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.
Types of estimating software
There are different types of estimating software available, each catering to specific industry needs. Most estimating software packages will contain some similarities, but may focus on different strengths depending on the target industry. Below we will investigate some of these types of estimating software.
Construction estimating software
In the construction industry, projects can be all kinds of size. Starting at building a house, right through to building a multi-billion dollar complex of buildings.
Construction estimating software needs to be scalable for all types of projects. This software aims to accurately estimate the total cost of a construction project. It does this by calculating various factors such as materials, labour and equipment costs.
This software assists in creating bids and proposals to send to clients. These bids and proposals will contain detailed breakdowns of the estimated costs for the project.
General construction estimating software will mainly consist of a line-item system with cost centres attached to each. This helps easily enter in pricing received from subcontractors, and allocating them to certain cost centres. These cost centres may include things like concreting, electrical, plumbing etc.
Construction estimating software may also include tools for project management. These tools assist with scheduling of works, and tracking the overall project progress.
Takeoff estimating software
When there is significant amount of lineal, square or cubic meter items, takeoff estimating software is the go to choice. This software is specifically designed to assist with estimating related to measuring of items such as walls and floors.
Takeoff estimating software usually allows importing of the project drawings directly into the application. The estimator then starts measuring on the plans adding item quantities to an estimate. Comments and annotations can also usually be added to the drawings helping store important information for later.
Takeoff is more accurate as it is usually possible to visually see the measurements overlaid on the drawings. This means it is significantly harder to miss items compared to measuring off a physical printed drawing with a ruler.
BIM estimating software
A newer emerging technology in the architecture, engineering and construction space is BIM. BIM stands for Building Information Modelling which is a new format of storing all information about a building project. This format is designed to supersede traditional CAD (Computer Aided Design) formats by containing all information in one place.
BIM estimating software works within a BIM enabled project and can accurately estimate quantities within it. With detailed 3D models of buildings and all the components within, estimators can see every component of a building. BIM allows estimators to work within the exact same files that the architects and engineers work within. This means that estimators have access to all possible data in a project in a digital format.
Manufacturing estimating software
Estimating in the manufacturing industry generally requires a different approach to that of the construction industry discussed earlier. Manufacturers require in depth estimates that go in detail down to the individual screws and nails in a project. Accurate amounts of every type of labour used within a project are also required for efficient planning.
To get this level of detail, specialised manufacturing estimating software should be used. This software supports having a comprehensive library of all materials and labour types a company may use. From the material and labour library, the software can then build a library of goods or products commonly produced. Within each product, the precise quantity of materials and labour are stored.
Manufacturing estimating software then allows estimates to be composed using this library of products, materials and labour. Detailed reports of all raw materials, labour and overheads may be produced for any project. This allows manufacturers to accurately plan for projects, and confidently place purchase orders for materials. Joinery estimating software is a great example of where this level of detail is critical for accuracy.
We’ve covered a few different types of estimating software and their features. Let’s take a look at the importance of having the best estimating software for your business.
Importance of estimating software
Estimating software is critical in various industries, including construction and manufacturing. Its value lies in its ability to improve the accuracy of the estimating process. By automating calculations and reducing human error, project costs can be more accurately estimated than ever before. This accuracy leads to better decision making when planning projects.
Estimating software also enhances efficiency by automating repetitive tasks like costing commonly used components. These components can be accurately estimated once and then reused in future estimates. This allows estimates to be compiled faster, allowing a quicker turnaround time to bids and client inquiries. Multiple team members can also use the same library, leading to consistency across a team of estimators.
Having all information about a projects costs in one place also improves collaboration among employees. This can lead to better teamwork and more efficient project management. Storing estimates in one application also means employees know exactly where to go to find them later.
Advanced estimating software allows the automatic creation of professional quote documents. These documents will be pre-filled using information from the estimate. This saves time by not having to manually type up quote documents every time, and also reduces errors. The quote documents also use templates, meaning every quote will have consistent branding making the company look more credible to clients.
Having accurate estimates backed by real accurate costs can also provide transparency to clients for justifying costs of a project.
Due to the software being a live database of all past and current estimates, businesses can gain new levels of insights. Reports can be run that show past projects estimated cost, and their actual cost once complete. This information allows businesses to adjust future pricing for areas that were under or over estimated.
Choosing the best estimating software
To choose the best estimating software, it is first important to understand the specific needs of a business. This may depend on what industry a business is in, and what specific type of work the business performs.
Based on industry and work
If a business is a commercial builder in the construction industry, it may make sense to only look at certain software. In this case, general construction estimating software, or BIM estimating software may be the best choice. Whereas if the builder was a residential builder, general construction estimating software, or takeoff estimating software may be the right choice.
Now let’s look at an example in the manufacturing industry. If a business was a joinery manufacturer doing residential or commercial works, they would select different software. In this scenario, manufacturing estimating software would be the best choice. This software is optimised to provide the exact set of tools these businesses need.
Based on required features
Another factor to consider is the complexity of the software being evaluated. Some software is designed to be easy to use from the ground up, whereas other software was not designed for that. You should choose the right software for the functionality you need, not more or less. This is important for a number of reasons.
The first of which is so that employees enjoy using the software as much as possible. They will be using the software every day in an estimating role. Maximising ease of use is critical for employee satisfaction and productivity.
The second reason is training required for the software. Complex software may have a feature for every scenario under the sun. However this comes at the cost of being more difficult and cumbersome to use. Consider if it is worth having all that functionality if you need a training course just to use the software.
Likewise, overly simple software may become a limiting factor at times due to a lack of features. This is a delicate balance to strike. Luckily many software packages have a demo or trial period available to see the software in action. This is important to take advantage of to ensure you pick the right software.
Based on licensing and cost
Cost is an important factor when considering estimating software. The prices can vary wildly based on functionality and whether licensing is perpetual or subscription based.
Perpetual licenses can sound appealing at first because you “own” the software license forever. However you should consider whether updates are included, and at what cost and for how long. Some perpetual licenses will only include updates for the first year. They then require another payment for each year of updates after, sometimes called a support plan.
Subscription licensing may sound expensive for a single month, however it can include multiple benefits over perpetual. If the estimating software is cloud hosted, this subscription fee will usually include hosting, data storage and backups. Updates are usually also included for free whilst paying the subscription and will be automatically applied as developed.
Based on support available
Having good support available is key for any software in any industry. Without good support, do you have the confidence that someone will be there to answer your message or call? What happens when the software crashes, or the systems go offline? You can easily hit issues that block any work for days at a time. Being able to talk to a real person as soon as possible is critical.
Some software packages offer support as part of their pricing, others will offer it as an additional paid upgrade. Consider how important it is to you that your business can get back to work, or get your question answered as soon as possible.
It is also worth considering how features get developed for that software. If you have a requirement for new functionality, or a suggestion on how to improve the application, will that be considered? Some software will be more open to suggestions and ideas than others.
Estimating software is a powerful tool that can significantly improve the efficiency and profit of a business. By understanding what it is and how to utilise it effectively, businesses can better manage their projects. That leads to making more informed decisions, and ultimately, achieving their goals.
We hope this post has helped guide your journey selecting the best estimating software for your business. Let us know if there are any other factors that you think are important to consider when selecting the best estimating software and we can cover them here.
If you feel like taking a step in the right direction with your estimating, give Acrual estimating software a go. It is fast, accurate and flexible. Check it out here.