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AGC Alaska Conference report

Our CEO Barry Cassell spoke at the 68th annual AGC Alaska conference in Anchorage last month. Barry's session, "Construction Tech Today and Tomorrow" provided historical perspective and a look ahead at the progress of technology in our industry. Among topics covered, a recent survey by McKinsey Global Institute pegged Construction next-to-last of all major industries at technology adoption (only Agriculture does worse than we do!) Paper record-keeping, isolated information silos, and old-school mentality are just a few of the habits holding us back. Recent developments in BIM, Autonomous Equipment, the Cloud, and Mobile Tools are promising initiatives making a dent in the problem. Barry showed the audience 5d takeoff tools available today, & Zach Goepel of Procore demonstrated how Artificial and Augmented Reality are providing visualization tools impossible a few short years ago, resulting in accelerated scheduling with reduced change orders.  

Digital Dryshack #90: Sage SQL Estimating

We've been working with Sage SQL Estimating over the past few months, and are becoming bigger fans of the recent updated version, 15.2. The upgrades over the past year and more enthusiastic client interest had prompted us to put together the first cut of feature comparisons between the 2 versions of Sage Estimating. The 3 biggest changes in most recent version:  Totals Page Templates  All-new Database Editor  JobCost Interface enabled for non-Sage Accounting These were mission-critical improvements that arguably kept legacy clients from upgrading. With these much-needed features available, the decision to upgrade becomes easier. Here's a link to our quick analysis (click the title of this blog post if you cannot see the chart):

DD# 84: 3 Reasons to Adopt Masterformat 2010

Interest in our 2010 Masterformat Sample Cost Code list has been strong recently, reminding us that many contractors are moving to the new platform for their estimating and job cost tracking systems. We think it's a good idea and are surprised so many are taking the head-in-the-sand approach. In our opinion, our construction industry has already achieved critical mass with the new format: The US Government, including the Army Corps of Engineers, NAVFAC, and the Air Force are specifying 100% of their projects in the new format. Most state and county jobs in our region, (Pacific Northwest, Hawaii, and Alaska) are also using 48-division format. MF 1995 (16-divisions) is bursting at the seams, and there's no room to put the emerging technologies in its overstuffed divisions. So why the resistance? Three reasons we hear from our change-resistant clients: "It's just like the metric system, a flash-in-the-pan that will never happen". (We disagree) "The new system just doesn't make sense". (We agree that it's unfortunate that Earthwork, old Division 2, moved to Div 31, 31, 32, & 34. But it was necessary to maintain the familiarity of Div 3-14, as well as accommodate all the work that just won't fit into a single division. Can you imagine the pushback we'd be hearing [...]

DD# 74: Notes from the Floor, World of Concrete 2015

A first-rate trade show such as World of Concrete in Las Vegas is one of the better investments we think a company can make. It's an excellent opportunity to plug in to the latest and greatest tools, equipment, and technology that shape our industry. This year marks the 4th year of continued growth in attendance, coinciding with the continuing economic recovery in construction. I spent most of my time in the technology section, (no surprise), in the Central Hall of the Convention Center. I was primarily interested in what our partners were doing, as well in checking out the show as a whole. It's a daunting task to take in an exhibition of this size. Over a thousand vendors are displaying their best products, a dizzying array of attractions simultaneously competing for your attention. I attended only 2 days of the 4 day show this year, a shorter commando campaign compared to the full meal deal of past years. Back then I stayed the entire duration, affording the opportunity to take advantage of some of the excellent educational seminars on estimating, business management, and team-building, to name a few. Some quick highlights from the floor: ProEst's CEO Jeff Gerardi tells [...]

Digital Dryshack #66, “Accumulator” items for Estimating Cost Analysis

Cassell Consulting is pleased to be working with Dominick Rose on several projects.  We first met at Timberline Estimating Conferences back in the '80s, in  his various roles as a senior estimating consultant, trainer, and database administrator. As Database Administrator most recently at CDM, Dominick, Alan Watt (DPR Construction), & I started the Northwest Estimators Roundtable, an informal group with the goal of sharing ideas as to the evolution of our unique discipline, construction estimating. One of our current projects with Dominick involves building a custom ProEst estimating database for an industrial contractor in the mid-west. A key component of our estimating database is the use of "accumulators", (items that sum overall quantities for estimate analysis). For instance, we use accumulators for the primary Level 2 sections of Div 03 Concrete, as follows: Sec 03-10-00 Formwork: we build an item "Form Oil & Accessories" Sec 03-20-00 Reinforcement- we build an item "Rebar Unload, Sort, & Accessories" Sec 03-30-00 Cast in Place Concrete: we build an item "Concrete Tools & Equipment" Each of these items automatically sums all work under its numerous subsections during  assembly takeoff. That quantity is then easily visible, for evaluating total man hours and dollars. It allows [...]

Digital Dryshack: Estimating Software Survey

I was intrigued by the request from Houston Neal of SoftwareAdvice.com, to comment on his company's estimating software survey. As it was a topic near and dear to us and right in our wheelhouse, so I agreed. The link to the survey  follows at the conclusion, but first a few comments: The survey had a surprising number of participants by contractors earning < $5 mm/year, (almost half of the roughly 100 who participated), and about half as many were firms with > $ 100 mm, so the sample seems reasonably representative of the market as a whole, and sufficiently diverse to produce useful results. One number that didn't surprise was the leading estimating sofware isn't estimating software at all, but good ol' spreadsheets...(still)....and yet... While I did say not surprising, it is in my opinion, more proof that we are in a very conservative industry, even to a fault. For all the forward-looking companies who embrace BIM, Tablets & Time Capture technologies, there are 2 or 3 who still use spreadsheets to estimate, and paper for Daily Reports & Timesheets. As the presdient of a construction technology consulting firm, it never ceases to amaze me how backward-looking some of us are. [...]

Digital Dryshack: Sage SQL Estimating first look

We got our first look at Sage Estimating's sql server product, coded version 11.2. Its most significant advantage is its modern database engine, (Microsfot SQL), which eliminates Sage Timberline's  Pervasive albatross of the last 10 years. (I hear rousing applause from contractors' IT departments around the country.) With that improvement comes a seismic shift in an estimator's definitions of familiar concepts such as files and databases. Estimates are no longer contained in the standalone Windows files we're used to. They now reside merely as data "blobs" in the overall database. Think of the sql database as a data "cloud" that resides on a company's server. All  estimates are now contained within that cloud. Sound chaotic? Actually it's not. Each project still has its own distinct identity within that "cloud", and can be viewed, and even exported as a separate element. The new estimating suite includes a Estimating Management Console & Data Migration tool in addition to its core estimating program. The Management Module. We were able to smoothly migrate our databases into sql using the migration tool with no issues. The management module gave us an Explorer-like console to view the individual project estimates. This early pre-release version doesn't contain any [...]

Network Estimating vs. Standalone

Network Estimating is better than Standalone Estimating.  Follow our best practices for network estimating, you will be happy 99.6% of the time. I noticed a sudden flood of emails cascading frantically across my screen a week or so ago. One of our clients was experiencing the pain of a network outage with the estimating, takeoff, and scheduling systems on a Monday morning. Not a pleasant way to start off a week to be sure. The emails kept coming, sizzling and becoming more caustic by the hour. The system was down for slightly over six hours, which kept the department scrambling like a grammar school at its first fire-drill, trying to figure out ways to squeeze some productivity out of its collective time. All our usual techniques, restarting license server programs, bouncing servers, and our trusted, tried and true troubleshooting efforts were frustrating and fruitless. When all was said and done, it turned out to be the result of an IT system changeover during the weekend. With apologies, the skilled info systems guys admitted the error upon discovery, and they got us back up and running in time for the last couple hours of the shift. The Network Naysayers proudly rode [...]

Construction Software Reviews

Chelsea asked some time ago to write a blog piece on the different construction software lines that we support and sell at Cassell Consulting, construction software reviews. At first I resisted, thinking it was important to separate "church and state", that is, keeping our blog set distinctly apart from any sales topics. That said, I agree that it's in our cleintele's best interests to explain our products, specifically what sets them apart from one another, and what makes one a better fit than another. To start, it seems relevant to reiterate exactly what it is that we offer our customers at Cassell Consulting: First Class Customer Support is first, last, and always our hallmark. Our main mission to achieve the highest possible standards of excellence and customer satisfaction in our training, consulting, sales, and support services. With our focus on customer service and satisfaction established, estimating product consulting and support was what got us into business to begin with. Back in 1998, I found myself getting burned out working as an estimator-project manager for a commercial construction firm in Vancouver, Washington. One day the phone rang, and two weeks later I was on a plane to Sydney, to build a [...]

How to Find and Recover a Lost Estimate in Timberline

Another recent call we received on the same trip to Alaska was from a distraught estimator in Hawaii. It seems that he had spent five hours on an estimate the night before, and when his ssession crashed at the end of it, the estimate seemed to have evaporated with it. He looked manually where he was sure he'd saved it, searched in Estimating Explorer, all to no avail. The solution was simple though less obvious to many of us than we might care to admit. The solution, How to Find and Recover a Lost Estimate in Timberline: I found it by using Windows Explorer, (not Estimating Explorer), by searching the drive where estimates are stored for the first 5 characters in the estimate file name. Sure enough we found it in a different folder from that which he expected it to be, fully intact with its total just as he'd remembered before the crash, not a byte of lost data. (And 5 hours saved, not wasted!) Takeaway: Try the simplest thing first. When looking for a missing file, spend about 5 minutes max looking based on where you think the file is. Then cut your losses and go straight to [...]