As you probably know, Countfire is true automated cloud-based takeoff software made especially for electrical estimators. Our customers are well versed in the the main benefits of using Countfire - our software enables all of our customers to save time and money - but we often get asked about the "cloud" part of what we do. Cloud software has grown in use over the last decade or so. Statistics sourced from Gartner show that revenue from worldwide public cloud services continues to grow steadily, while more enterprises are adopting cloud services too.
The cloud is changing how businesses big and small operate, as well as how private individuals store and access key tasks and programs. However, there still seems to be a lot of confusion out there about exactly what the cloud is and how it can be useful. With electrical estimators in mind, let’s take a closer look:
What does “the cloud” mean?
Let’s clear up this question first - what is “the cloud?” It’s one of those tech jargon terms that often confuses people. Put simply, the cloud is a global network of remote servers that host cloud-based services. This means that those services and programs are available via the internet, rather than say, being installed onto the hard drive of your computer. From Microsoft:
“These servers are designed to either store and manage data, run applications, or deliver content or a service such as streaming videos, web mail, office productivity software, or social media. Instead of accessing files and data from a local or personal computer, you are accessing them online from any Internet-capable device—the information will be available anywhere you go and anytime you need it.”
Why use the cloud?
There are many advantages to using the cloud, both for business and personal use. Here are just a few benefits for small businesses, and potentially your electrical estimating role:
- Cloud-based infrastructure can be very flexible and allow you to scale quickly in response to demand. This can save costs in terms of paying for local server space.
- Cloud programs and storage make it easy to keep “living documents” that are always up-to-date for those who need them. It’s easy to keep track of version history and you eliminate the issue of searching for the latest version on someone’s computer.
- Cloud systems enable you to work remotely. For example, you can update documents and send them from the job site, rather than having to travel back to the office.
- No more “lost” work! Cloud systems safely store your files so that they are available just by logging onto the program online. If your laptop crashes, you won’t lose the work that is already backed-up on the cloud. This alone can be a benefit that saves businesses from disastrous losses or time-consuming rework.
- You can save time and go paperless. Cloud systems are quicker than your old manual processes (for example, using Countfire to count takeoffs versus using a spreadsheet). Countfire is one of many cloud-based applications that bring the advantages of automating repetitive tasks to small businesses. You also don’t need to print a whole lot of documentation because it can easily be sent or shared electronically.
- Cloud solutions can improve your efficiency. Your ability to work quickly and effectively just might be your competitive advantage over others.
- You get the advantage of automatic updates and the security of the cloud service being taken care of. When you run these services in-house, you are responsible for all maintenance yourselves.
How can electrical estimators use the cloud?
The applications made available via the cloud are only increasing over time. If we look specifically at how electrical estimators work, here are a few suggestions for using the cloud:
- Electrical estimating software. Good estimating software will help you to count takeoffs automatically, check your work, and produce a professional report. All of this can be done in Countfire without printing off drawings as you simply upload the PDF files.
- Cloud storage. This is one of the earliest applications of the cloud that had mass-adoption among both business and personal cloud users. Cloud storage of your important files helps to ensure you don’t lose them forever. Consider your photos, drawings and key documents. It also makes it harder for unauthorised people to gain access to documents. Cloud storage also helps to make it easy to share access to files that you need others to see, and control that access. So if someone no longer should have access, you can revoke it. Lastly, you can get rid of all the filing cabinets! Cloud storage means your drawings and project files can stay online.
- Communication and project management. Sometimes a text message, email or phone call will do, but in the scheme of important projects, you want to make sure all relevant information is communicated clearly. Cloud-based project management or communications tools can be invaluable to busy electrical estimators who spend a lot of time either out in the field, or communicating with those who are. Programs such as Slack, Trello or Asana help to keep information where it is easily searchable and accessible.
- Working remotely. Following on from that last point, using cloud services can save you on the commute. For example, your estimates can be uploaded to a shared folder for other people to look over. You can do this from wherever you happen to be.
- Invoicing. Are you a contract electrical estimator or do you otherwise need to bill for services? Cloud-based invoicing and accounting helps to streamline the entire process. From applications such as Xero or Quickbooks, you can send and manage invoices, as well as run your key financial reports.Aside from those applications, there are cloud-based programs that simply help you to send and receive money. Cash App, PayPal and iZettle are all examples of these programs.
- Tracking of expenses and mileage. In a related point to invoicing, you can use cloud-based apps to make tracking your expenses and mileage much easier. Apps such as Shoeboxed allow you to upload receipts or load your mileage while you’re out and about. No more tax season scrambles to find the information!
- Send out emails automatically to a list. In some companies, you may be a jack of all trades, including keeping in contact with customers on your list. Cloud-based email programs such as Mailchimp or Drip can help you to easily manage this task.
- Manage customer enquiries. In some electrical businesses, there will be a need to ensure that customer enquiries are routed to the right person and kept track of. Cloud-based support systems such as HelpScout can ensure that nothing falls between the cracks.
- Automate key tasks in between different apps. Sometimes you might need to take information from one place and upload it to another, or trigger a task as a result of an action that occurs in another web application. Smart lighting is an example, or other smart home devices where some kind of automation is required to be triggered. Apps such as IFTTT and Zapier act as the bridge between otherwise unrelated web applications.
Where does Countfire fit in?
Countfire is end-to-end estimating software incorporating true automated takeoff and intelligent automation to help you price estimates faster and with higher accuracy. This means that you can work from anywhere with an internet connection and ensure fast, accurate work. Your projects are automatically saved to the cloud so that you can easily retrieve them whenever you need, knowing that they are up-to-date. Your resulting checks, drawings and quantities folders are safely stored in Dropbox so you can access them at any time and share them with others in your business who need to review it. Overall, like other cloud-based functions, Countfire helps you to work more efficiently. For more information and to start a free trial, click here