Twenty years ago, the pre-construction process involved stacks of paper, trails of phone calls and nothing more high tech than a filing cabinet. Thanks to the cloud, everything from prequalification to proposal review has become paperless, automated and centralized—cutting administrative costs and boosting project efficiency from subcontractors, estimators and construction managers.
Which technologies are transforming the bid process for today’s general contractors, and what’s in the works to enhance their future operations? Let’s take a look.
Bid invitations are only as good as the list to which they are sent. Qualifying subcontractors before distributing project data is essential as bonding and environmental and HUB regulations have tightened, budgets have been squeezed, and competitors expand areas of operation to find work. With customizable, web-based forms, commercial builders can solicit qualifying information without bulky word documents and manually transferring data to spreadsheets. The Forms features available in Google Docs provide the most basic option for automatic information retrieval into a spreadsheet. More integrated options offered by bid software organize prequalification data received from subcontractors and immediately send it through the review process to form a qualified list for bid invitation.
Extensive subcontractor qualification data is now available without having to request it through online databases. Syncing that publicly available data with subcontractor clarifications submitted through Google Forms or subcontractor management software creates a more complete profile than ever before. Equally important is maintaining a quality subcontractor database. Without proper data management, producing HUB reports for state bids becomes nearly impossible and invitation spam (i.e., inviting firms that should not be invited to a job) becomes inevitable.
The most significant improvement in invitation to bid technology is not the ability to send invitations electronically, but rather the ability to track and monitor those invitations. By analyzing opens, clicks, bounces and replies, the user can sort through the information for faulty data and request more information or clarifications. Thorough activity logs are available in most bidding solutions, with access control features that help general contractors tailor each invitation to the specific subcontractor and corresponding project managers. Tying invitations directly to a plan room and subcontractor management system allows general contractors to seamlessly track subcontractor activity from initial invite to plan download and final proposal.
Online Plan Rooms
Software is redefining the plan room—expanding membership by marking off location and time as limitations. Online plan rooms that are available 24/7 provide access to subcontractors and general contractors seeking the latest project news in their markets. They also integrate with cloud takeoff software, allowing plan room subscribers to pull and populate data quickly within their private takeoff, plan distribution and bid solutions. The most important innovation in this arena is the ability to view, annotate and share plans online without having to download and import them into a client-based takeoff or file viewer.
What Google Docs has done for web-based document, spreadsheet and presentation collaboration, cloud takeoff solutions are now doing for estimating. Real-time estimating takeoff means general contractors and subcontractors can access the same file at the same time, as well as share comments and calculations, and the most updated version is always saved and reflected in the centralized document. The scramble to determine who has the latest spreadsheet should be a thing of the past for all builders with all files and takeoff edits in the cloud. The real innovation here is that no software install is required to view or perform the takeoff or share the data; it’s all done in real time in the cloud.
Realistically, it may be a while before smaller companies can justify the cost and implementation of BIM solutions, especially in pre-construction. But advanced imaging and 3-D technology are not far-fetched for estimating takeoff technologies. Google Earth, Google Maps and Sketchup already offer free modeling capabilities that could be incorporated into visualization and estimating solutions for pre-construction. A recent Autodesk acquisition, Horizontal Glue, delivers the most practical solution to BIM collaboration: the ability to view, measure and mark up a BIM model through a web browser.
As for subcontractor management and communications, improvements in mobile technologies will only speed up the sharing and processing of information. The availability of project data from the various platforms and devices vendors prefer will ensure project participants are always connected and receiving live project information. Expect to see more instant messaging capabilities and more collaboration as accessing information in real time becomes as easy as clicking on an app icon. Also look for much more social media and text message integration.
Ideally, the future of pre-construction will be more integrated and seamless than the fragmented software varieties builders use now. That’s not to say everyone will adopt a one-stop suite, but rather that open application integration standards will encourage niche software providers to allow their solution to talk to other solutions clients are using. A seamless, yet secure, flow of data between complementary accounting, bid and project management software would create the most efficient platform for the end user and ultimately increase innovation and collaboration among technology providers.