Construction Vendors Turn to Mobile Communications & Tools

Article originally appeared in the July 2011 edition of CPA Practice Advisor

It's no secret that the construction industry is one of the industries hardest hit by the past recession. The U.S. Department of Commerce states that residential construction in March of 2011 is down 8% from March of 2010. Non-residential and commercial construction is even worse, with a 10% decrease in new construction. The good news is that construction-related activity increased from February to March of 2011. Even so, many experts agree that with the glut of existing homes on the market, and vacant commercial construction haunting several cities throughout the United States, the industry is still hurting.

This puts construction-related software vendors in a bind. Just a few years ago, construction was a hot industry, with many companies experiencing untold growth in just a few years. They were the perfect customer; often with rudimentary software that no longer worked with their growing company. Construction and contracting companies needed many of the features that these software products were offering — more in-depth job costing functionality, a better payroll module, scheduling and servicing modules, and estimating/project management capability.

So now where do we go? Several of the products reviewed here have turned to mobile communications and devices, a logical choice in an industry where the majority of employees are seldom in an office. Being able to remotely communicate with field offices, service technicians and even customers, is rapidly becoming a necessity, particularly in the construction industry. And while the core products may remain basically the same, the increase in mobile communication capability and remote access offered by software vendors makes complete sense.

In this review, the products vary widely, from out-of-the box entry-level construction products to top-line, comprehensive construction and contractor products that offer everything from in-depth financial capability to the ability to access the system from anywhere, to color-coded service boards that track service calls and technicians in the field.

The following sections and criteria were used for this product review:

Basic System Functions, such as ease of use, customization capability, multi-location and remote access capability, as well as the platform(s) supported.

Core Accounting Capabilities takes a look at four main core modules: GL, AP, AR and Payroll, along with the availability of additional accounting modules, as well as audit trail functionality and user security.

Construction/Contractor-Specific Features include the availability of staples such as estimating, project management, change order processing, and inventory and purchasing tools. It also focuses on features specifically related to contractors such as dispatch and scheduling, equipment management and integration with GPS devices.

Reporting and Management Tools looks at various reporting options, alerts and dashboards, document management integration and time tracking for employees and contractors.

Integration/Import/Export considers how easy (or not) it is to import or export data from other applications, the availability of add-on modules, and integration with industry necessities such as estimating tools.

Help/Support evaluates the Help options available, accessibility of system updates, and training and support options.

While each product is rated based on these criteria, the final rating is not necessarily indicative of the quality of the product. It's true that a small construction company with less than five employees may not need a five-star product loaded with a lot of features that likely will never be used. The needs of your client take precedence over the features available in the products reviewed. But in certain circumstances, a top-line product may be exactly what they need. Only you and you client can determine that.

Mary Girsch-Bock began her career as an accountant in the property management industry, later moving into the healthcare industry. She is now a freelance writer specializing in business and technology issues and is the author of her first book, several HR handbooks, training manuals, and other in-house publications. She can be reached at mary.girschbock@cpapracticeadvisor.com

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