Construction software vendors regularly announce new integration between their products and products from other vendors, or sometimes between their products and other products in a portfolio of products they own and offer to the market.
In an IronPros Deep Dive into construction software interoperability, we use new integrations announced by Kojo and Fleetio as examples of how integrations work and how contractors can better understand them as they evaluate and select construction software.
Construction Integrations Grow Over Time
Integrations are not static. They develop and change, and contractors should do due diligence on each integration and the vendor's integration strategy. A case in point is Kojo, a leading provider of procurement management software for construction contractors, which has built tight integrations with enterprise resource planning (ERP) software products used in construction.
- Integrations with Trimble Viewpoint Vista and Trimble Viewpoint Spectrum drive purchase order data into these systems of record to eliminate duplicate entry.
- The Sage 100 Contractor and Sage 300 CRE integrations synchronize vendor, job, phase code, job cost category, tax code, general ledger code and purchase order/commitment fields.
- Kojo’s integration with QuickBooks Desktop updates QuickBooks vendor, job, item, class and purchase order fields while the integration with Quickbooks Online updates vendor, customer, item, tax code and purchase order fields.
- Within Procore, Kojo’s integration updates project, vendor, cost type, cost code, commitment and schedule of values fields.
- Kojo’s integration with ComputerEase synchs with the job, phase, category, tax code, vendor and purchase order fields in ComputerEase.
- Within Coins, a Kojo integration writes to the vendor, job, cost code, tax rate and purchase order fields.
In July of 2022, Kojo announced an initial integration with Autodesk Construction Cloud. In a briefing with Kojo CEO Maria Davison, IronPros learned that this integration is a different beast from the company’s existing integrations with purchasing.
“Using this integration, mutual customers of Kojo and Autodesk can add a partner card into their Autodesk Construction Cloud dashboard,” Davison said. “What this means is that they will be able to access their Kojo environment directly from Autodesk. In other words, the Partner Card acts as an embedded experience straight from their Autodesk Build Insight or BIM360 Project Home Dashboard. Because the construction management process is so fragmented and disjointed, there is a huge risk of mistakes and miscommunications between teams. What integrating with Autodesk Construction Cloud is enabling customers to do is access their procurement and materials insight right from their main construction management platform.”
One way to think about the difference between Kojo’s Autodesk integration and their existing integrations is to see the Autodesk integration as a window to let you see from one system to the other, whereas their other integrations are a door data can pass though. And it is not uncommon in the sector to see two entities standing small with integrations—StructionSite launched a similar integration for bidirectional visibility with Latium’s Job Site Insights Smart Construction platform.
According to Ryvit Vice President of Business Development Greg Mattes, this is par for the course.
“An integration can start very simple,” Mattes said. “Sometimes it is just a connection between one system and another system. In the construction space, you have for instance an integration between Procore and an ERP and accounting product like Viewpoint Vista. Sometimes it can be moving a single field between those two systems. But these really simple integration profiles can provide some amount of automation for a shared business process.”
And getting to that rudimentary point still requires a good deal of planning because the two software products require a shared framework and permissions to access data in the other.
“Even before moving that one field, there is the matter of establishing some sort of connection,” Mattes said. “That enables one system to communicate with another system and understand what credentials need to be used.”
It would depend on the use case. Maybe there is a use case where I would want to be able to see what is happening in this system so I can do double entry in this other system. It makes these tasks simpler. Real value is true interoperability.”
One example of an integration enabling deep interoperability may be when a human resources software product is integrated with a construction ERP or accounting product to enable a contractor to move employee data the HR package to ERP where it is used for payroll and tracking employees, their credentials, and how they are assigned to specific projects or job tickets.
A next step would be a bidirectional integration that pulls payroll data back into the HR package so employees can see their pay stubs without logging into the ERP software.
Determining exactly how deep an integration between two software products in fact can be tricky.
“There are some challenges around the terminology around integration, Mattes said. “Some people use terms like connections or integration or automation. I think when they start using terms like automated data flow, that perks my ears up. Data is moving between one system and another, and vice versa. That is true system integration and true interoperability
Mattes suggests contractors ask vendors touting integrations first of all whether the integration amounts to a simple interface, or whether data is flowing in a unidirectional fashion or bidirectionally. Also, it can be important to determine what data is being moved including:
- See Procore interface
- Change Orders
- Potential Change Orders
Also important is ensuring that the integration does not require manual processes to upload data and whether it happens in real time or near-real time or is a periodic batch update.
TAKEAWAY: The lesson here is that integrations between software products are not one-and-done events. They are like relationships that unfold and grow over time based on customer demand and mutual investments and knowing where two vendors are in their relationship towards deeper integration will be critical in contractors selecting software for interoperability.
Construction Software Facilitates Finance
Just as Kojo exposes supplier information to support the purchasing function, modern estimating software will often be pre-integrated with materials and product databases that populate and roll it up into the total project cost. The integration itself drives value, but much of the value is the result of the work put in by software vendor personnel and vendors that populate and share pricing data that in turn helps contractors specify their products and then include their products in projects. Estimating software serves as a distribution channel for materials and components, and this business model is coming to other back-office functions. Many of these use cases focus on finance and lending, including gap finance to make up for slow application for payment, project finance, small business lending and even legal services to help with collection efforts.
Finance support can come in the form of interoperability with external fintech companies’ transactional systems. In the case of software products from a number of companies, a credit card can be linked directly to the accounts payable functionality in software to help capture and automatically classify expenses, eliminating non-value-added administrative work. In the case of companies that serve very small contractors like Jobber or WorkWave, these credit cards can become essential tools to help an entrepreneur separate their business credit from their personal line of credit. In fleet management software, these credit cards can simplify ongoing expenditures made by drivers. Fleetio, for instance, has a new integration with WEX | EFS fuel cards. The integration:
- Automatically imports fuel transactions to Fleetio within five minutes of the transaction
- Quickly identifies potential fuel theft in real time when a fuel transaction exceeds tank capacity, or the vehicle is outside a specified vendor radius
- Simplifies reporting on fuel efficiency/ cost-per-mile; analyze fuel by vehicle, location, vehicle type, time frame
- Streamlines IFTA reporting using Fleetio's Fuel Summary Location Report
- Improves overall reporting by accurately determining total cost of ownership
Despite the five-minute lag between the transaction and its appearance in Fleetio, the integration is still pretty quick, and this speed will drive value in other areas of the business according to Fleetio Head of Product Management Michael Harrison.
“The amount of time decided on to reduce how often we made the API calls is within five minutes,” Harrison said. “The transactions will often come in before five minutes, which is faster than the industry average for connecting and downloading transactions for fuel data. This integration also leverages other functionalities that already exist, such as Fleetio’s fuel exception alerting. While this functionality is not EFS specific, EFS still benefits from it. The biggest functionality improvement is the speed at which the transactions come into Fleetio, allowing fleet managers to take action on their fuel data faster. With the rising costs of fuel impacting a fleet's budget, having the necessary data for reporting and analyzing is extremely important when evaluating expenses.”
Fleetio also supports integrations with other fuel card companies including Comdata and Fleetcor.
Takeaway: Finance companies are vendors and suppliers just as surely as companies that provide parts, components and materials used in projects. Integrations with fintech can not only eliminate non-value-added administrative work, but can make a contractor more resilient and capable of succeeding in the market.
These are only two of four powerful construction software interoperability concepts we deal with in the IronPros Deep Dive. Learn more now and be prepared for your interoperable future.