Regardless of industry, cost overruns are a common concern for project managers. Only 37 percent of IT projects, for example, came in on time and on budget, according to The Standish Group's Chaos Manifesto 2011.
The evolution of estimating software is helping to address the problem. The most recent development trends include an expanded focus on software as a service (SaaS) as well as the introduction of increasingly robust mobile offerings.
“Instead of the traditional on-premise deployment where software is installed at your office, SaaS or web-based software is hosted in a data center by the software vendor,” says Houston Neal, director of marketing at Software Advice, a lead generation firm in Austin, Texas, USA. “Project managers can then access the system through a web browser without the resource limitations common in remote-access situations.”
The result: lower up-front cost, independence from an IT staff that must maintain the system, and instant familiarity with the web browser.
At the same time, robust mobile offerings are surging.
“There is a burgeoning community of app developers offering unique tools for iOS and Android devices. Estimating software vendors are no exception,” he says. “Some vendors have introduced apps that allow users to track an array of job information from their phone or tablet, including subcontractor and supplier bids.”
There are different ways to approach an estimating software package:
■ Industry-focused: Find a system that meets the specific needs of your industry or trade. “For example, electrical contractors should review estimating software that has up-to-date electrical item databases and unique electrical formulas to calculate things like runs, voltage drops, etc.,” Mr. Neal suggests.
■ Properly sized: Complexity, drilldown capabilities and collaboration differ significantly in estimating tools. Select a system that supports your organization's size. On one end of the spectrum, there are estimating systems designed specifically for small-scale project teams; on the other end, there are systems designed to support the needs of the biggest commercial and industrial contractors. These include seamless integration into comprehensive, enterprise-wide project management solutions.
■ Carefully evaluated: Smart buyers have a rigorous process in place to research and evaluate software. Being organized up front helps you cover all the bases. For example, have you asked each vendor for
customer references? Have you discussed the vendor's strategic and financial viability? PM
SPOTLIGHT ON SOLUTIONS
What estimating software fits your industry?
Construction: With a focus on construction, ProEst includes a comprehensive materials database, visual assemblies, and support for services including RS Means, Trade Service and All Priser, which help increase estimate accuracy and streamline the bidding process. ProEst is a prime example of the SaaS trend. It is currently available in various subscription-based options, which can reduce a contractor's up-front investment. Each includes a software maintenance package with unlimited telephone and email support, along with all product updates and enhancements.
IT: Seer-IT helps organizations assess project costs, schedules and risks. It has a collection of IT estimation elements that aid in defining work requirements and comes with a set of sample knowledge bases pre-calibrated for a variety of IT activities. Users can also create custom knowledge bases and perform analysis with metrics derived from their organization's project histories and task labor standards.
Manufacturing: MIE Quotelt is designed to help manufacturing teams create realistic single-detail or assembly estimates. The tool supports user-defined formulas, tables and templates for calculating machine run times and labor hours. Quotelt comes equipped with a host of standard material and hardware files, too. It's not currently available as a SaaS solution, though—making the up-front investment proportionately higher than cloud-based alternatives.