Selecting Construction Project Management Software & Technology

by Chuck Schwartz


Are you adding construction project management software or technology to the company’s mix? If so, then this decision should be no different than any other business decision (discussed previously in What every Contractor should know before buying Software or other Technology).


Like all other software and technology purchases, you want to be sure that the project management software/technology investments bring about the desired results; full implementation, integration and success. Because you cannot afford to fail. Failing is costly. Costly in money. Costly in time. And costly in energy. Yours, and others.


With so much software and technology available in the marketplace, and with so many tech sales people ready to dazzle with all the cool features, systems, and tools available, the question becomes: where to start?


Like all software and technology purchases, the best place to start is by asking yourself the same two simple questions that were posed in the article mentioned above (which we strongly suggest you read):


Why?


What?


As in “Why am I buying this?” and as in “What should I buy?”


The first, and key question, is “Why”.


Why are you doing this?


Is it because you’ve heard that everyone is? Or has the company grown to the point where tracking important construction documents is becoming increasingly difficult, and the result of inaction is increasing risk exposure?


Which leads to “What”, as What does the company need? What are we trying to accomplish? What will the impact be? Will this help us make and save money?


When asking yourself “What”, the first place to look is at the accounting software you currently use.


Does it offer an integrated (all-in-one) Project Management component? If so,the accounting software is the foundation of the back office technology. If the accounting software offers an integrated Project Management system it is highly recommended that you use it, as transactions and documents that you process and create will automatically link to the associated jobs for job costing purposes, for billing, for knowing committed cost, and for tracking other important non-accounting functions.


If there are not integration options, what processes are you adding to ensure that nothing falls through the cracks?


While considering accounting, project management, and the importance of integration, the term “Project Accounting” is incredibly important. Project Accounting relates to tasks often carried out by project staff but have a direct connection to and reflection on accounting, job cost, bottom line, and ultimately success.


Examples of Project Accounting tasks are change orders, purchase orders, and subcontract orders.


Using an integrated system ensures that when a change order, purchase order, or subcontract order are created, the information that affects accounting is automatically integrated with the accounting systems they affect. Therefore when a change order is created, a contract that exists in the accounting system increases, triggering billing and receivables.


When a purchase order or subcontract is created, a committed cost is created, triggering a payable. Also you get visibility into committed expenses versus cash on hand. Without visibility, just knowing the cash on hand could potentially give you a false sense of security and spendable money.


Clearly as a construction company grows the demand and need for integrated systems grows too. Examples of integrated systems that smaller and even one person back office contractors could benefit from are:

The integrated systems also include components to create RFIs, Submittals, Schedules, as well as document storage, and dashboards for high level visibility into jobs and more.


Here’s is an example of the Deltek+Computerease Job Center dashboard:


For those who choose to use separate systems for accounting and project management, perhaps because the accounting system does not offer an integrated project management solution, a best practice is entering transactions in the accounting system as close to real time as possible.


Examples of “accounting only” systems that many startup and smaller contractors use include:

Contractors that use accounting systems like those listed often use and receive benefit from programs like Microsoft Excel and Word for creating, developing, and managing project accounting tasks.


For those contractors, what is most important is to establish internal processes for getting project accounting information from Excel and Word into their accounting system as close to the time of approval as possible, and not letting these things fall through the cracks and potentially go unbilled, or worse give you a false sense of available cash. Creating rules and structure (and consequences for not adhering to these) for the timely delivery and entry of this information is critical, and will help you prevent the risk of lost billing and revenue, unknown costs on closed jobs that you thought were more profitable, and potentially prevent fraudulent activities and behaviors.


For creating and managing other project management forms and tasks like RFI’s, Submittals, and Schedules, programs like Excel, Word, and Google Docs are often used for creating these types of documents, especially by start-up and small contractors.. It is also recommended that these types of documents be converted to pdf after they are created to prevent edits and changes once they are shared. An online resource for commonly used construction project management document examples and templates is Construction Logs.


Here are a few examples of some of their downloadable forms:




Cloud based storage services such as Dropbox, Google Drive, and iCloud are also often used as inexpensive (or no cost) options for securely storing documents online.

One of the reasons integrated systems are desirable is they tend to include ready made systems for creating RFI’s, Submittals, Schedules, and document storage and retrieval.



Like all software and technology purchases, the value in purchasing and using the right project management tools will be seen when they are used often and well, and when they clearly show money made and saved. As with all software and technology purchases, when you are ready to introduce project management software and technology into your company, it is prudent to start at “Why”. If you do this, answers (the “What”) begin to show themselves.

To learn more about how Marcum can help you with your back office accounting needs, reach out to Cary.

Chuck Schwartz is a Director of Business Development in Marcum LLP’s national construction practice. Chuck also consults with the firm’s construction clients in the areas of accounting and business management software. Chuck has over 30 years of professional experience, with much of it focused on the construction industry. and implementing construction accounting, construction management, and project management software and systems.



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