There are plenty of benefits of moving to cloud-based software for project teams working within construction. Studies show that the adoption of cloud-computing is on the rise, with 85% of construction contractors using or planning to use cloud-based solutions in 2017, and that was before a global pandemic that led everyone to work a little more remotely.
Today, there are plenty of cloud-based tool options across accounting, project management, takeoff and estimating.
In this guide we’ll walk you through what to look for when purchasing cloud-based software in construction and some recommendations of the tools available.
Guide to cloud-based software for the construction industry
Before you begin to get prices and set up trials there are a couple of good questions to ask during the research phase:
1. Is it truly cloud-based?
The first aspect to look for when searching out a new construction software is whether it’s cloud or web based. True cloud-based software does not require you to download or install anything to your laptop or PC and should be accessible from any browser, whether you’re working on Mac or PC.
2. Does it work offline?
One specific factor to consider is whether any software you choose has an “offline mode” so that if you lose connection or have a WiFi issue you don’t lose hours worth of work.
One tip we give at Countfire is to not refresh the page if your connection drops temporarily. Yes it’s tempting, but if you can hold off then when your connection resumes you can usually just pick up where you left off without losing any of your inputs.
3. Is it device agnostic?
It’s a good idea to check whether your software of choice works on the device you use most often. Although cloud-based programs should, in theory, be accessible from anywhere, double check that yours works with your preferred browser such as Chrome, Safari or Firefox. Although the software will likely still function on an older browser such as Internet Explorer, it may not be optimised or tested within this browser and you could find bugs or quirks that affect your work.
Similarly, your cloud-based software may not work on a tablet, iPad or smartphone due to the smaller screen size and touchscreen capabilities. If this is essential to your own workflow then it’s good to ask the question before you buy into a package.
4. Is the software all-in-one or specific to one element?
There are now plenty of options which fall under the wider “construction management software” bracket. Everything from BIM object software, to estimating and takeoff, to project management and document handling.
When reviewing which software to purchase you’ll need to decide whether to choose an all-purpose construction management software, or combine two or three products in order to cover all areas.
The pros of an all in one solution is that you won’t have to learn the interface of different systems and you’ll have start-to-end visibility across your project. However these systems can be pricey and more suitable for large enterprises that can afford team training and onboarding from the product’s own success team. In our experience it’s also unlikely that you’ll find one software that will cover absolutely every function in your workflow, so approaching with an open mind can help you to build the best tech stack for your organisation at a lower cost.
5. What type of support is included?
Software companies traditionally offer a great deal of customer service, which can usually be accessed online or through a help centre. At minimum, you should expect to be able to reach someone within 24 hours during core working hours, whether that’s by online chat, email or over the phone.
Detailed documentation, particularly if there are recorded video tutorials, can also be really useful and a great resource for training your own team on how the software works. Look for a “Help Centre” or “Resources” section on the website to give an indication of what support information is available.
Different types of cloud-based software for the construction industry
When it comes to different categories of construction industry software here are a couple of the main ones to consider:
Project management software for construction
Project or “construction management software” is usually the one size fits all term for covering software in the construction industry. However under the surface there can be a big difference between tools within this category.
Some construction management software will be solely for internal use, helping project teams to stay aligned on project costs, timelines and budgets throughout. Others will provide a bridge between contractor, subcontractors and client, allowing them to share project data and collaborate on schedules and documents.
Here are some of the main benefits when using construction project management software:
- Keep track of projects in one place - particularly if you have multiple construction projects on the go at once, having a project dashboard can be really useful. Some project management tools will even allow you to upload photo evidence that you can refer back to at a later date.
- Save time - with the right software your project managers should be saving time and even reducing project duration, helping to increase profit margin.
- Compliance - project management software can help to safeguard compliance processes by saving forms and checklists for subcontractors to complete.
Examples of project management software for construction include:
Procore is a suite of construction management products that helps contractors to control projects from pre-construction tender management stage, through to project management, invoicing and financial projections. Procore is best for firms looking to have a “one size fits all” solution across multiple teams, for example keeping architects, designers and subcontractors on the same page throughout projects. It also works on iOS and Android, so users can access it on the go. Procore is a slightly more pricey option, so may be more suited to larger projects and Enterprises.
PlanGrid is a tool that offers “connected construction”, providing one place for contractors and architects to collaborate across plans, specs, photos and RFIs. This is useful for monitoring project progress and highlighting any issues, with storage for snag lists and photo evidence.
PlanGrid is very much a system for the construction process, letting you manage from RFI stage through to contractor management and will let you log projects changes as they occur. However, it doesn’t contain tools for budget or accounting management, so this needs to be managed elsewhere and you do need to pay for additional seats for any subcontractors who are added to your projects which can get pricey.
Buildertrend is construction management software aimed towards the sales process of construction projects. Its basic features include client tracking, contract management and sales pipeline management, to help increase the success rate and organisation of new projects.
Buildertrend is well suited to smaller building firms working within home renovations, as well as speciality contractors. Its core CRM function helps companies to manage all client-facing areas within the sales process and keep track of projects once they begin.
Touchplan is a lighter cloud-based construction software option that’s designed to help teams create and manage schedules for project phases within building work. Features include the ability to create master plans and phase schedules, and the ability to alert specific team members when they have a task to complete. Its advanced scheduling and shift pattern tools keep teams on top of project milestones. However, Touchplan is missing some of the tools needed for modeling projects and to capture changes throughout the project duration.
Project estimating and takeoff software
Estimating a project in construction can take days, if not weeks, and much of the work is manual. If you’re still estimating in Excel spreadsheets it’s well worth seeing what cloud-based software there is available.
This is particularly the case with construction takeoff, where manual counts require lots of drawing printouts which you may not have the resources for if still working from home. This type of software will enable you to automatically count every element across a set of drawings and provide an output of totals that you can then transfer into your estimate. Taking hours rather than days, and providing additional abilities like checksheets that help to improve the accuracy of your estimations.
Here are some of the benefits to look for when choosing project estimating and takeoff software:
- Keep track of counts - interruptions are detrimental to any type of manual estimating or takeoff. Using software means it doesn’t matter if you stop or get interrupted, your work is saved up to the point you left off. Learn more in our guide on using takeoff software in the construction industry.
- Increase accuracy - cloud-based estimating and takeoff software is designed to reduce much of the human error that comes with manual counts. You can zoom into drawings to see symbols more closely, which isn’t possible on A1 printouts. This increases the accuracy of your project and leaves less room for project pricing errors.
- Edit and access existing estimates - projects change and develop all the time and revisiting plans to compare before and after can be hard. Using cloud-based software allows you to create the estimate, and refer back to it at a later date, with all of your documents (and their counts) stored in the Cloud.
Our own estimating and takeoff software Countfire is an all-in-one option that offers true automated counting, not just the manual, digital version of counting that’s often provided with online takeoff tools. Countfire’s core feature set was created when we were estimators ourselves, offering takeoff for construction and electrical estimators. This helped us to hone all of the features needed for true takeoff, zones and measuring areas such as containment and cabling. Right now, Countfire breaks down every area of your estimate into an excel spreadsheet output, so that you can take your counts back to an estimating manager or colleague in your team and show the breakdown. Countfire lets you keep everything in one core platform, from takeoff to full estimating proposal.
Construction BIM software
Building Information Modeling (BIM) software has hugely impacted the construction industry in how it lets teams collaborate on building design, especially when all drawings can be stored within the cloud.
According to the NBS 2020 BIM study, “BIM really is a process, not a technology” and despite the construction industry seeing the benefits of digital technology (81% of all survey respondents believe digitization will improve the productivity of the construction sector) we are still a way off of Level 3 BIM adoption. That might be because BIM is renowned for having a steep learning curve and with many employees working from home, some or even all of the time, there is less chance for training and internal adoption campaigns.
This image from the Journal of Information Technology in Construction is a good overview of what processes and people BIM technology serves when implemented to full potential:
The benefits of adopting BIM software include:
- Ability to collaborate on information - the “information” part of “Building Information Modeling” relates to the ability to access 2D drawings, 3D models, work schedules and plans, all of which contribute to successful project completion
- Manage projects end-to-end - BIM lets you connect all of your information, plans and drawings from pre-construction through to handover
- Collaboration and connection - BIM’s real value lies in connecting everyone working on a project in one place, with all of the documents and workflows across the entire project lifecycle. The output of which is greater collaboration that doesn’t rely on sending paper or electronic drawings back and forth
Many BIM softwares are still what we call “on premise” which means you have to install them locally on your computer to be able to use them. There are also a few sub categories of BIM software that just work on one area, for example just the modeling or object use.
However there are some cloud-based options available. Examples of these include:
BIM360 (created by Autodesk)
BIM360 is one of the few cloud-based BIM software offerings and can also be accessed on mobile devices. BIM360 is a tool within the Autodesk suite, and is often used alongside Revit, which is the tool architecture and construction firms use to actually create floor plans and render models. Once created BIM360 enables collaboration, allowing those within structural engineering, architecture, plumbing, and even interior design, to collaborate across the designs.
Both Revit and BIM360 offer access to 2D drawings and 3D models, with BIM360 also being accessible from mobile devices, helping you to collaborate on designs while on the go.
BIM Track is another BIM issue tracking tool that integrates with Revit, AutoCAD and other information modeling tools, and has add-ons for analytics and data platforms such as Power BI.
This makes it powerful for communication functions as well as analytics on project success. Users can comment back and forth on issues and receive real-time notifications. It offers unlimited projects and users within the cost which is helpful if you have a lot of moving parts, and is definitely one of the lower-cost BIM softwares on the market. However, BIM Track doesn’t work offline or on mobile.
Revizto is BIM software that helps you to stay on top of issues, with an inbuilt issue tracker for both 3D models and sheets. Cloud-based, and with a native iOS and Android version, it can be useful for project teams to track and manage conflict even while out on the road. It has an open communication style which means all users can see and contribute to issues, helping with accountability for issues. Similar to BIM360, Revizto converts models from Revit or SketchUp and offers a 2D/3D combined view to compare sheets easily.
Alongside these popular categories you may also want to look at your accounting software package and how you handle and store documents, both of which can be achieved through very affordable cloud-based tools.
Overall, now is a good time to start thinking about digital technology if you haven’t already. Remote working means cloud-based software within construction will soon be the norm and from the amount of benefits seen here, this can only be a good thing.