Why You Should Standardize to One "Best-In-Class" Estimating Platform

Summary: For Balfour Beatty's construction estimating software, VP of Preconstruction Ray Miller, chose what he described as "Best-in-Class" - Beck Technology's DESTINI Estimator.

This article was written by Ray Miller, Vice President of Preconstruction at Balfour Beatty US, and published in the July-August 2017 issue of Design Cost Data Magazine.

As part of an international infrastructure group providing general contracting, at-risk construction management, and design-build services, our team at Balfour Beatty US has a significant amount of internal estimating brainpower. We recently identified the estimating technology that we believe will best leverage our collective brainpower across the country to all our offices and help facilitate our continued growth.

Having expanded our presence in the United States through organic growth and strategic acquisitions over the course of the last decade, our estimating teams traditionally used legacy estimating systems already in place in our various markets. Last year, when my own team in Georgia was piloting an estimating platform, the folks in California were conducting their own estimating software evaluation, while teams in other geographies continued using their own legacy software and workflows they had been using for several years. Everyone was using their own systems and methods to achieve their estimating goals.

Then, in one meeting, we collectively recognized an opportunity to significantly improve the way we approached estimating on an enterprise-wide scale that could enable our team to work even faster and smarter than ever before.

The Turning Point
In 2016, we brought together our preconstruction leaders to collaborate on how we could work better together and support our company’s long-term growth strategy. It was the first time since I joined the company in 2014 that all our leaders were together, and it didn’t take long to realize that we had an enormous wealth of estimating expertise and data on which we could capitalize.

Our estimating processes helped us win plenty of work in the past, but we discussed how we could operate more efficiently in the future. Some of us in different offices serve some of the same clients, yet they are spread in different geographies throughout the U.S. However, because we used different estimating technologies, we sometimes encountered challenges in presenting uniform data in formats with which our clients were accustomed.

For instance, when we needed historical cost information from another geographic market, we often found ourselves emailing back and forth to track it down, and then adapting it to use with our own estimating tools.

We wanted to simplify our ability to tap into the wealth of estimating data we already had across the organization, which could make our work more efficient and provide better service for our growing base of clients.

We decided we could best support our growth by standardizing to one estimating system nationwide that drew from a uniform set of estimating data for the entire enterprise. So, we discussed all the different software options already in use across our U.S. Operations and began evaluating new options that might be a good fit for an implementation to all our locations.

Construction Estimating Software Evaluations

At that meeting, I gave a demo of the estimating software we were piloting in Georgia, and my California counterpart gave a demo of DESTINI Estimator from Beck Technology. Although I initially championed a product into which I already invested six months of my time, I came to realize that if we were going to standardize to just one estimating platform nationwide, Beck Technology’s Estimator appeared to be the best for our needs. My initial assessment was confirmed after several months of testing and grading other estimating software offerings, combined with a two-week, hands-on trial of Estimator.

We are now quickly and thoughtfully moving through a phased approach to training and implementation of Estimator across our organization.

Standardizing to one estimating platform in every office will improve service both inside the organization and externally. It will create consistency in scope descriptions, costs, reporting, and communication, so we can present a united front (and a united estimate) to our clients.

But, most importantly, it will give us a single, centralized cost database to capture all of our cost history in every market across the entire country. Once the rollout is complete, estimators in Atlanta will be able to pull up a completed estimate for a 10-story office building created by an estimator in Dallas and have access to ready-to-use cost information to plug right into their own project.

We’ll no longer need to maintain different estimating software for every office, and because we can now link 2D and 3D takeoff directly to the estimate, we won’t need extra takeoff software, either. As our chief information officer, Kasey Bevans, points out, “That’s money saved for us and our clients.

“DESTINI Estimator gives our company, Balfour Beatty, a best-in-class estimating platform, as well as other key capabilities, such as model-based estimating, historical cost tracking, and conceptual estimating,” Kasey says. “Having all of these capabilities rolled into one solution will improve our operational efficiencies and reduce cost by eliminating other technology investments.”

Phased Rollout Begins
While enterprise-wide software standardization projects aren’t known for simplicity, we’ve got solid training and an implementation plan with vendor support that is designed to make the nationwide rollout successful.

We’re training pilot teams of estimators in each region to become “power users” – experts who can assist others as they start to use the software. By the end of this year, all of our estimators will be on the same platform, sharing the same cost database, and working from the same standard descriptions.

We’re confident that we’ve chosen the right path to increased efficiency and information-sharing, and we know that our software vendor will support us. For example, Beck Technology has already taken our feedback to heart and built some of our ideas into its latest software release.

“We told Beck Technology what we needed and where they could improve,” says Manny Teodoro, a leader in Balfour Beatty’s Charlotte, North Carolina-based preconstruction group. “They listened and involved us in the solution. And then they delivered on their promises.”

While building a new, nationwide cost database from the ground up may sound intimidating, we’ve had a lot of help with that, too. The vendor has already spent several months standardizing our cost databases, project data, and estimating processes that had been in use among our various teams, bringing in multiple representatives from each group to collect all the information.

Along the way, our preconstruction teams have discovered that, even though their workflows are now more similar than they are different, regional cost variations still need to be addressed. Our solution is to create a single master cost database to be used as a baseline nationwide, providing common descriptions and coding, while simultaneously allowing each team to build on that foundation with their own databases, adjusting costs for the geographies they serve.

As implementation has progressed, our estimating processes and workflows have been further refined, moving us even closer to a more efficient, consistent approach to estimating across the entire nationwide enterprise. Our San Diego office recently turned in its first bid built on the new software, and even though it was a complex estimate with many line items, the estimator who created it was impressed with Estimator’s capabilities.

Everyone involved in this transition is excited about the potential Estimator offers as we work toward final deployment on single platform. They’re busy but are willing to take the extra time to make this implementation successful because they can see the benefits of standardization to a best-in-class estimating system. And, as a unified estimating enterprise, we are eager to ultimately leverage our national economies of scale as we seek to continuously innovate and deliver expanding value for our clients.

About the author: Ray Miller is the Vice President of Preconstruction at Balfour Beatty. Ray’s project experience ranges from K-12, higher education, commercial office, criminal justice/government, hospitality, biomedical and healthcare. Ray holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Construction Management from the University of Cincinnati, as well as an associate degree in Civil Engineering from Cincinnati Technical College. 

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