It used to be that we didn’t have a lot of choice in how and where we worked.
For electrical businesses, this has always meant a mix of onsite work, plus essential functions that are carried out at a company office. Within this mix, there has been the need for people to go back and forth: project managers going from the job site to the office, or electrical estimators having to physically pick up the drawings from which they produce their estimates. Timesheets were filled out manually, and someone at the office had to go through them to enter them into the payroll.
These manual procedures take time and cost money. Anything that requires extended human input is using your FTE budget, while any travel back and forth not only costs money, but is dead time for the business. (It can be taxing on the employee as well!).
We’re reaching a point now where technology is significantly changing how we work. While the installation work on job sites will always be a requirement, there are many other necessary parts of the job which we can streamline.
Cloud software has been playing a huge role in helping electrical teams work more efficiently and save money along the way. 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. Here are some of the ways in which cloud software is enabling remote electrical teamwork:
How electrical teams can work remotely
Remote project management
Cloud-based project management software has been a game-changer for the many electrical businesses that have already put it in place. A cloud-based system provides a “single source of truth” through which all updates and communications can be streamed. You can make the project software accessible to anyone who is on or off site, meaning that as long as they have an internet connection, they can collaborate, make updates or give approvals.
We’re at a point where even email is outdated as a means of communication. Inboxes become crowded and messages get lost amongst the pile. There’s also a danger that crucial information gets “siloed”, where only a few people have access to it and others who really need to know don’t.
Communication is an absolutely crucial aspect of any electrical project, and becomes even more important when people work remotely. Poor communication can slow down project delivery, waste time, or even lead to costly errors.
When you need to communicate with a number of people, some kind of centralised solution, where information can be kept and accessed by anyone at any time, is ideal. This is where cloud-based software solutions come in.
On-site team management
The old ways of time cards or sheets which were physically handed in by employees take up valuable time at both ends. Employees spend time filling them out, while whoever is in charge of payroll is then manually entering their hours ahead of payday. This sort of system is prone to mistakes, or perhaps even fraud if someone is writing down extra hours.
You can save time, money and “busy work” by switching to a time tracking app. For example, TSheets was built with construction firms in mind. The app provides mobile time cards, as well as features such as GPS tracking and reporting.
Supervisors have the option to check in an entire team at once, rather than having everyone clock in individually. The whole thing can be populated via integrations to invoicing or payroll apps, such as Quickbooks, Xero, Sage or Gusto. This means that payroll can be generated automatically.
Safety and compliance
Safety certificates, checklists and other compliance documents are necessary parts of field work and help to ensure that jobs are completed safely and effectively. Of course, in a paper-based environment, these sorts of things can also become burdensome, get lost, or not be as accessible as they need to be.
Cloud-based software is making a difference by enabling safety and compliance tasks to be completed on-site, but immediately available to anyone else who needs to see the information. Apps such as iAuditor are taking over from paper checklists and helping to keep data centralised and accessible.
How many times have you found yourself or other team members scrambling to find receipts for account reconciliation? Pieces of paper get lost under seats in work vans, or damaged beyond recognition on the job site. Someone back at the office is waiting on them, but they are nowhere to be found.
New cloud-based solutions can make that information available immediately to whomever needs it. For example, there are apps such as Shoeboxed or other accounting software where you can take a photo of a receipt on your mobile phone, and store it safely on the cloud as soon as you get it. You don’t even need to physically deliver it to the office. Any online-based receipts can be forwarded immediately to the accounting software and this way, nothing is missing when it comes to reconciling accounts.
Keeping track of tools, equipment and other inventory can be a real nightmare, particularly if you have several jobs going on simultaneously. Many thousands of pounds worth of tools and inventory go missing each year, and it can be a significant cost drain for companies.
Tracking and inventory management has now gone more high-tech, using cloud technologies to enable better monitoring. For example, Bosch has implanted GPS tracking on tools which hooks up with their app, “Track My Tools.” This allows quick and easy tracking of the tools, simply by checking in with the app. Other tool makers such as Milwaukee are also using tracking in this way.
When it comes to resource tracking, cloud-based tools are also helping companies to reduce delays, wastage and extra expense. For example, inventory and materials can be tracked and allocated precisely with real-time updates, while tools that incorporate purchase order solutions mean that extra supplies can be ordered on-the-go from the job site. Previously, each request would always have to come through the office, but both on-site and in-office team members can connect through the cloud software.
Best cloud-based tools for electrical estimating teams
Below, we provide a deep look at cloud-based 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 alongside those already mentioned above.
1. Google Drive or OneDrive for working collaboratively on documents
Best for: working in documents at the same time as others within your team.
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.
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
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.
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 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.
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.