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Finding, Implementing Construction-Specific Financial Software

Originally published: 03.01.13 by Wayne Newitts


8 questions to ask potential providers, and what to expect when you pick one.

Read part 1: "Have You Outgrown Your Financial Software."

Purchasing business software is unlike buying off-the-shelf software in a number of ways, but perhaps the most important difference is that you are purchasing a relationship. Your provider will be responsible for helping you to implement new software, move your existing business information into the new system, and then keep you current with updates and revisions. The vendor will be providing technical support for a mission-critical part of your business, so a big part of evaluating new business software is evaluating the employees and business practices of the software provider.

Here are some criteria that should be part of the evaluation:

1. Do they include implementation, data conversion, and training as part of the price of their software?

2. Do they spell out the details of an implementation plan and let you review that plan prior to committing to purchase?

3. Do they offer technical support during your hours of business operation?

4. Is their technical support live, local, and unlimited?

5. What is the average wait time for support call?

6. Do they offer software maintenance that will provide tax and payroll updates, bug fixes, and new releases


without charging individually for these things?

7. Do they put out regular software updates and new version releases that include substantial improvements and new features?

8. Do they offer a range of continuing learning and training options, from free online tutorials and knowledge-based articles to customized on-site training?

Chances are the combination of software requirements and the support and service levels you expect will narrow your field of provider choices considerably. However, it’s always good to have multiple perspectives and input, so try to have at least three vendors provide complete demonstrations of their software and services. Ideally, you should have one that fits squarely into the price bracket that makes sense for you, one that provides a less expensive (and likely less capable) system, and one that would stretch your budget but may be worth the investment should you plan on significant growth.

Another point to consider is how well the software will integrate with your current systems. Integration with other software can bring significant benefits and prevent double entry and error in moving data manually between systems. In the case of construction software, many companies have been in the market a number of years and have established integration between their software and others. For example, many accounting software packages have “push-button” connectivity with certain estimating software packages.

Perhaps the most important point of integration for contractors is between their accounting and operations software. For project or field service managers to be effective, they need to have a foot in job finances as well as logistics. Connecting project management software with accounting software should be a priority if this capability does not already exist in the software package being considered.

With the explosion of smaller and smarter mobile-computing devices, mobility is becoming more important to software vendors. (See the article “Benefits of Mobility Keep Growing,” on Page 20.) There are three general ways in which mobile software is being delivered: as stand-alone apps for use on specific mobile devices; as apps for use on specific devices that have data integration to business software; or as part of the business software itself. 

The first two methods have obvious limitations. They might or might not work on the mobile devices being used by field staff, and they might or might not have a built-in integration to a company’s business software. The third method of delivering the entire business software package to field staff is only possible through cloud computing, which puts minimal burden on the user’s device. Both the application and the data are hosted online, so the user need only have an Internet connection and a web browser to access the full software.

As one can imagine, implementation time for a new business software system depends on quite a few variables. Key among them are the differences in complexity between the old and new applications and the complexity of the company’s finances and operations.

A typical scenario involves moving from an off-the-shelf product that has been in use for several years by a couple of users to construction-specific software that will be used by five or more users. In this scenario, on-site implementation and data conversion would typically take less than a week, with users and system administration training taking another two or three days.

The times approximated in this scenario assume two important things. First, that the on-site implementation has been planned in advance and agreed upon by both the vendor and the contractor, and that the vendor offers complementary tools for training such as video tutorials, on-line help and FAQs, etc.   

Wayne Newitts is marketing director for Dexter + Chaney, a Seattle-based software development company that has been providing computer and software solutions to the construction industry for over 30 years. An engineer by training, Wayne has been involved with the development and marketing of business software for over 15 years. He can be contacted at wnewitts@dexterchaney.com, and more information on Dexter + Chaney is available at
www.dexterchaney.com. 


Articles by Wayne Newitts

Finding, Implementing Construction-Specific Financial Software

Purchasing business software is unlike buying off-the-shelf software in a number of ways, but perhaps the most important difference is that you are purchasing a relationship
View article.

 

Have You Outgrown Your Financial Software?

When does construction-specific accounting and operations software start to make sense for HVACR contractors? It varies. Some businesses approaching $50 million in annual revenue are able to get by with off-the-shelf bookkeeping applications. But they are the exception. In general, construction-specific software systems start to make sense financially for contractors with more than $5 million per year in revenue and at least 10 employees.
View article.