How mobile estimating systems can meet construction industry’s needs

With the advent of so many mobile application architectures, such as laptops, notebooks, hand-held devices, and numerous other mobile and wireless operating systems, it’s no longer just about getting the job done well, but also about how quickly and efficiently we can get the job done well.

This is especially true in the construction industry, in which the result of whether a bid is awarded, and how profitable that job ends up, is highly dependent on the speed and efficiency of estimators, and the accuracy and reliability of the software they select.

We’ve all talked for years about deploying software across an enterprise that includes vehicles, at home, on a job site, or even at a conference. We are an increasingly mobile society, and estimators in particular are frequently on the road. The tools they need and the access to related information must be available in any and all of these environments – and, most importantly, they must be available in a manner that doesn’t sacrifice efficiency and accuracy.

It is clear that mobility provides great freedom and flexibility for estimators, but there is much at risk when we consider how most current applications sacrifice accuracy and integrity.

There are two major considerations that contractors should contemplate in conjunction with their mobile estimating process.

First, steer clear of mobile pitfalls.

Many of today’s mobile solutions entail a cryptic approach of copying a bid folder or a file from the company network server in order for estimators to go mobile. However, this approach doesn’t emphasize accuracy, data integrity or security, and is laden with problems. Companies using this approach need to avoid critical errors which could occur such as:

• Duplicating files: Multiple parties may obtain copies of the same bid file, make changes and replace or mistakenly overwrite those on the company’s network server. This approach, which can create great confusion and jeopardize accuracy, can result in loss of work and valuable time. Obviously, larger companies are at greater risk for this pitfall.

• Lack of data integrity: Because bid files are still readily available on the company’s network server, as well as remotely (sometimes by multiple parties), there is great risk of altering and upsetting existing data and/or upsetting newly amended information, which could be inadvertently overwritten.

• Inadequate security: Because these systems involve taking copies with little or no audit, tracking or time restriction rather than checking out the bid or taking it read only, it does pose certain security risks. These risks include the possibility that, in this very highly competitive arena, a disgruntled employee could take copies of bid files upon leaving the company with management having no idea of the significant security breach.

• Limited functionality/control: Because a software key is needed to obtain bid files it is necessary to ensure access to the key when needed. This outdated approach to technology can cause obvious problems.

• Additional costs: A mobile license key will generally range anywhere from $500 to $1,000 per user, generating additional cost for a company to gain much needed mobile access.

Even with the existing potential pitfalls, it goes without saying that mobility is critical to a company’s success, and mobile estimating is often a necessity for a company within this industry to stay competitive. However, implementing a system that meets all of your company’s needs and demands is the next critical step in keeping up with today’s technology and ultimately today’s fast-paced business environment.

Keep in mind it is no longer necessary to sacrifice quality and or data integrity in place of mobility. Here’s what your company should expect from its mobile estimating solution:

• Accuracy/efficiency: Companies should expect a realistic methodology with their mobile estimating solution. The system should provide ease of use and elimination of redundancy to ensure accuracy.

• Remote synchronization: A mobile solution should offer the ability to remotely and securely connect to the company network server, even over a dial-up connection, and check bids in or out as needed.

• Security: Companies should expect a true enterprise database solution built on technology such as Microsoft SQL. That type of robust database platform will allow your company to restrict mobile users, maintain and secure your software licensing and move bids to a laptop for mobile use in either a “fully enabled” or “read only” state. This provides the necessary visibility on the network server as to who has bids “checked out”, for how long, and in what state (i.e. “fully enabled” or “read only”).

• Flexibility/control: Companies should expect an enterprise version of software that offers user privileges that can be assigned for added flexibility and security, providing access and control without the use of antiquated software keys.

• Added value: Companies should expect that, considering the necessity of mobility in today’s field, an estimating software package should provide a mobile estimating solution without it resulting in significant additional costs to the end user.

Being mobile isn’t simply about working off site anymore – it’s about working in a seamless and efficient manner to get the job done. But to do this, software providers must consider companies’ growing needs to manage and share massive amounts of data without experiencing redundancy. nhbr

Paul McKeon is president of BID2WIN Software Inc., Portsmouth. He can be reached at 427-0440.

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