There’s a range of benefits when it comes to adopting cloud-based software, made even more prevalent by the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic when many teams were forced to embrace a remote-working model.

With so many options out there, it can be difficult to know which tools are nice to have and which ones are essential.

Best cloud-based tools for electrical estimating teams

Previously we looked at why cloud based software is important for remote working and here we go a step further investigating the best tools for electrical teams. Across four key areas including:

  • Document collaboration tools
  • File sharing tools
  • Project management tools
  • Electrical estimating tools 

Thanks to our team at Countfire, many of whom are previous electricians and electrical estimators, here are some of the tools we think would be highly useful for estimating teams.

1. Google Drive or OneDrive for working collaboratively on documents

Best for: working in documents at the same time as others within your team. 

Google Drive image

Most estimators are still working with servers full of folders and stored documents. This works well in the office, but when working remotely, a tool for collaborating on documents will make presentations, workflows and project management much easier.

Google Drive and OneDrive are two very similar systems which both have tools for most of the documents you might need including presentations, documents and spreadsheets. 

With similar functions, they are easily interchangeable but for those working with Outlook it may make more sense to use OneDrive, so that all of your tools fall under the same plan to save on additional costs. Similarly, if you’re already using Gmail as your email client then it will make sense to use Google Drive.

Benefits of using Google Drive or OneDrive include:

  • Only ever work in one version of the document
  • See who else is working within the document and making changes at any one time
  • View changes that were made since you were last within the document 
  • Undo changes or revert to a previous version
  • Automatically saves changes

Limitations of using Google Drive or OneDrive:

No major limitations, although it may not always be possible to integrate with other systems and workflows.

2. Viewpoint for full project management and RFI overview

Best for: storing RFI documents and reviewing the status of projects

Viewpoint project dashboard

When we spoke to the Countfire team about which cloud-based tools were most important in their previous estimating roles, Viewpoint came up a few times as the tool for Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP). Being able to see into the lifecycle of projects helps to predict and forecast what bids will be a success and which ones may be lost. Giving you more time to make changes, increase scope or just analyse at the end of the year to help you better bid for projects in the future. 

Benefits of Viewpoint include:

  • Create workflows which let you automate tasks 
  • Project reports and dashboards to help you see the rate of RFIs won/lost
  • Nested folders and documents to help you securely save files
  • Email reminders when RFIs are due or late

Limitations of Viewpoint:

  • It’s not possible to edit or markup RFIs when they’re saved in Viewpoint, so files must be downloaded and opened within Adobe, in order to make changes
  • Users on Capterra commented that it can take a while for Viewpoint to fix bugs in new releases

3. Close for CRM and reviewing RFI sales cycles

Best for: ensuring RFIs are submitted on time and keeping in touch with clients. 

Screenshot of the Close CRM tool

Many modern estimating managers are choosing to implement a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool for keeping track of the bidding process from enquiry, to quotation review and bid submission. This can be really useful if you have lots of projects out for tender simultaneously, helping you to stay on top of which ones are won or lost. 

Close is a tool we use ourselves at Countfire, and is quoted as “the CRM that stays out of your way”. As well as being easy to use it’s also cheaper than more sophisticated CRMs such as Salesforce, which makes it an affordable price point for electrical estimating teams who want to stay on top of their sales. Using Close would be beneficial for managing workload and people allocation, as well as being able to review your KPIs around winning RFIs. 

Benefits of Close:

  • Create pre-defined sales email sequences and templates to help you chase late or overdue RFIs
  • Zoom integration which is useful for organising calls and meetings with clients
  • Preset reminders and tasks
  • Close is very easy to set up which reduces the amount of onboarding and training needed 

Limitations of Close:

While Close does provide a more granular view of your project tendering process and real time dashboards on pipelines, it isn’t an “all in one” project tendering system like Viewpoint. This means the ability to upload, save or collaborate in tender documents or compile quotations is missing which may make it more of a “nice to have” for some estimating teams than an essential software buy. 

4. WeTransfer for transferring project files

Best for: safe and fast transfer of large project files to those outside of your organisation. 

While working remotely you may need to share and transfer estimation documents to clients. This is possible in a tool such as Viewpoint or Google Drive, but does rely on your client also having access to that tool. WeTransfer is a simple file-sharing tool that allows you to upload up to 2GB of files for free and invite others via email to download the files. 

Benefits of WeTransfer:

  • No registration required and cloud-based, allowing you to send files fast
  • Email confirmation when files have been downloaded
  • Rarely gets caught in spam unlike some file-sharing emails
  • Free to use up to 2GB

Limitations of WeTransfer:

  • Need to pay to send files over 2GB in size
  • May be unfamiliar to clients
  • Despite content being encrypted and files sent over a secure server, some still feel unsafe sending sensitive files over a cloud-based file-sharing site 

5. Countfire for true automated takeoffs

Best for: increasing speed of takeoff by using automated counting. 

Takeoff software

Takeoff can be one of the most time consuming parts of electrical estimating projects, involving hours at the drawing board. In honour of transparency Countfire is our own software so naturally we’re proud of its capabilities. It was built on the back of our own team who knew that there must be a better, more automated way of creating takeoffs. 

Countfire is true, automated takeoff software which means that once you’ve selected a symbol it’s counted across your entire project. You also have the ability to split quantities using demarcations and use a series of inbuilt checks designed to help ensure absolute accuracy in your work.

Benefits of Countfire:

  • True, automated counting which only requires you to input each symbol once for it to be counted throughout entire drawings
  • Automatic check sheets helping you to verify the accuracy of your counts
  • Ability to view a breakdown of your takeoffs across each drawing or floor, which can be useful if your estimating manager or another colleague needs to review the estimation
  • Allows you to count up to 10 times faster than manual counts
  • Saves your work as you go which means that work isn’t lost due to interruption or while you take a break

Limitations of Countfire:

Countfire is primarily takeoff software which provides you with an Excel spreadsheet of count breakdowns that can be added into estimates or useful for showing your estimating manager how you reached your counts. However this doesn’t show equipment and labour costs which will need to be added separately. 

The good news is that Countfire Estimating is coming very soon and will allow you to import your takeoff quantities directly into our estimating software so you’ll be able to complete your takeoff estimates quickly and accurately all within the same platform. 

Final thoughts

With the challenges in the economy affecting electrical estimators and their organisations, it’s more important than ever to consider ways to work more efficiently. Switching to cloud-based tools that are easy to use can help ensure that exercises such as sharing files, producing estimates and working collaboratively are made easier. To begin working up to 10 times faster with automated takeoffs today, try the Countfire free trial