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Evolution of Estimating

by James Purpura, Textura Corporation

Technology is reshaping the estimating profession, giving rise to new tools that can greatly improve performance and help estimators stay on the cutting edge.


Construction estimators over the years have embraced new technologies to make their jobs easier, with each advance making their day-to-day tasks simpler and more efficient. From calculators to spreadsheets, these tools helped estimators to be more productive and effective than those who had come before. At the same time, very little technology was being created with the needs of estimators or other construction professionals in mind.


That has changed, as recent years have seen the arrival of powerful tools designed specifically to help professional estimators. These sophisticated tools are not just enabling estimators to do their jobs more easily; in a larger sense, they are driving the evolution of the profession.


Central to these next-generation solutions is the simplification and automation of the manual, math-heavy and paper-based tasks that have traditionally made up much of the estimating process. With point-and-click simplicity, estimating software has improved the speed and accuracy of calculations, while at the same time reducing the risk of error, rework and project delays. And, in a key change, such software has enabled estimators to embrace digital communications and document management, further improving efficiency and enabling Contractors to adapt to new, innovative approaches to design and modeling.


Evolution of estimating tools
A look back at the evolution of technology for estimators underscores the power of today’s solutions.


During the 1960s and 1970s, the rise of the pocket calculator rendered obsolete that tool’s predecessors, the mechanical calculator and the slide rule. Widespread use of pocket calculators improved estimating, boosting speed and accuracy and enabling estimators to take on more projects. The mid-1980s saw another key development in the arrival of calculators designed specifically to perform certain standard calculations in construction.


At around that same time, personal computers began to proliferate, although their use in estimating remained limited for years. The industry then experienced a significant advance in 1993 when Microsoft launched version 5.0 of its Excel spreadsheet software. Empowered by a new ability to develop custom spreadsheets, estimators and other industry professionals began standardizing the estimating process for all their projects, which enabled easier tracking and auditing of projects completed. Still, there was a dearth of construction-specific technology.


For estimators, the quantum leap in technology would follow years later with the arrival of software designed for takeoff and estimating. Construction, which had long been underserved from a technology perspective, began to see more companies offering solutions that began to modernize many of the industry’s traditional, manual processes.


Today, software solutions for estimators offer powerful functionality, enabling users to quickly and easily perform the calculations and related tasks involved in delivering accurate estimates. Because they were designed for estimators, these solutions enabled even greater standardization of processes, while some also allow enough flexibility to accommodate Contractors’ individual approaches.


The most effective of these solutions allow estimators to directly download electronic blueprints and other plan documents, reducing both processing time and the costs associated with printing and exchanging paper plan materials. In addition, in performing takeoff using digital documents, estimators create a digital audit trail that helps eliminate errors caused by incorrectly measuring items by hand. Simple, intuitive interfaces allow estimators to interact directly with plan documents to perform calculations, yielding accurate costing for materials and labor. And leading solutions also integrate with Excel and other third-party software, as well as with cloud storage solutions. Cloud technology enables real-time sharing of project information and collaboration among all project participants, and this collaborative approach to construction helps improve efficiency and reduce risks for all.


What’s ahead?
Collaborative approaches have proven particularly effective in construction, given the complexity of projects and the number of participants involved in bringing them to fruition. In addition to improving productivity and mitigating risk, collaboration enhances communication and gives all participants much greater visibility into project activities and data.


Given these benefits, the next wave of technology will facilitate the integration of activities across the entire construction project lifecycle. With such integration, pre-construction will be much more tightly connected with estimating. Eventually, everything from invitation-to-bid through the awarding of a contract will be connected via a seamless flow of data, with all participants able to interact with that data as needed. Indeed, when true project integration is realized, the entire pre-construction process will be seen as one operation rather than as separate phases.


This concept of integrated construction project management, supported by technology that facilitates collaboration and by innovations such as Building Information Modeling (BIM), will define the next stage in the evolution of the estimating profession. Estimators who continue take advantage of these tools will move forward with the industry; those who do not risk being left behind.


James Purpura is president of PlanSwift® and Submittal Exchange®, which are part of the Textura® Corp. suite of solutions. He can be reached at james.purpura@planswift.com or 888-752-6794.