Estimating is one of the most important functions that any business executes every day. Customers want to know how much something will cost them before they pay for it, and an accurate estimating process gives them piece of mind as well as keeps your business from entering into the red. Across numerous industries, Microsoft Excel spreadsheets have been the common tool for estimating. As technology and programming have significantly advanced, businesses still operating with excel are falling behind those that have adopted to the new wave of advanced estimating software.
Excel spreadsheets can be frustrating to use, and their mistake-prone nature can damage business profits. Estimating Software will prevent common mistakes, speed up estimates, and can help keep companies out of the red. Keep reading for some specific ways that estimating software out performs classic Microsoft Excel spreadsheets.
1. Streamlined Customization
Microsoft Excel was not built specifically to be a construction estimating tool. The grid layout of Excel is the only feature that adapts well to estimating practices. For all other estimating functions, businesses have always had to rely on in-house customizations and macros to complete the estimating process.
Creating and managing Excel customizations is tedious, takes time, and requires significant expertise to do. Estimating Software is distinct in this way from Excel because it was specifically designed and built for estimating. Many of the estimating functions that a company would create are already present in the Software, and customization is much easier to accomplish.
2. Collaborative Nature
Version management is one of the most difficult aspects of estimating with Excel. Business estimates are often passed around an organization and collaborated on. There is always a worry when a spreadsheet is emailed from one person to another that some error in the formulas or calculations will get mixed in.
Sigma’s estimating templates and libraries enable businesses to build estimates in a collaborative nature. Functions like drag and dropping data prevent broken formulas and input errors and enable multiple people to work on an estimate at once.
3. Assured Accuracy
With an Excel spreadsheet, one error on row five can drastically change the resulting estimate in row 200. One small discrepancy can alter an estimate completely and cost a company thousands. The more complex a project estimate is, the more mistakes that naturally appear in Excel, and it’s not easy to find them before it’s too late.
Sigma Estimating Software prevents errors in estimates with stored formulas, collaborative data entry, error checking, and drag and drop functionality. A quick and accurate estimating solution provides businesses with the time and confidence to streamline their estimating process, increase business volume, and mitigate risks throughout the project planning process.
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Bill Carey’s Five Best Reasons for Estimators to use Sigma
Bill Carey is Sigma’s U.S. head of Customer Support. That means he’s the guy who helps professional estimators figure out how to get the best results from Sigma Estimates software.
Bill started out as a carpenter over 40 years ago. He soon moved into the construction office and started creating estimates. He’s been at it ever since.
He’s also an old-school techie. Bill still has a Commodore 64 computer and remembers doing electronic estimates on MS-DOS, long before Windows came around. These days, he does takeoffs with the best software tools on the planet. If anybody knows how to craft an estimate on a computer, it’s Bill. (That’s why we hired him).
We asked Bill to sum up the five best reasons for using Sigma. Here’s what he told us:
1. No spreadsheet formulas to break
It can happen to anybody who opens a spreadsheet file — one stray keystroke breaks the entire estimate. Suddenly, the calculations don’t work anymore, and you lose hours you don’t have tracking down the problem.
Sure, you can do all kinds of custom calculations with spreadsheets. But when you’re putting an estimate together for a bid that’s due in three hours, there’s no time for fiddling around with formulas.
Sigma does all the calculations for you — item, unit price, quantity — and always updates them. The math is going to be the math. And it’s going to be right.
2. Templates and libraries save time and avoid repetitive work
With takeoffs, your hours turn into days of scanning every inch of digital drawings and making sure every stud, every wall socket, every square inch of poured concrete, every foot of rebar is accounted for. You can’t afford to miss anything.
Nobody wants to do all that twice. With Sigma, you don’t have to.
Sigma’s estimate templates and libraries let you save the pricing information and assemblies you use every day. Let’s say your general contractor builds chains of grocery stores. They all have similar items like outdoor signage, food freezers, checkout areas, and so on. So, when you finish the bid on one store, you save all your estimate data into a Sigma template or library and reuse it for all the stores to come.
You just drag and drop all that template or library data into your new Sigma estimate and you’re ready to roll.
Could you do all that a spreadsheet? Maybe, but not without running the risk of fouling up your formulas and causing more work for yourself.
3. All your historical data survives
We know, you still have thousands of items and unit prices stored in Excel spreadsheets. All of those sheets have extraordinarily valuable data.
Sigma lets you import all that data into a new library that’s available to all your Sigma estimates. Again, you just drag and drop what you need into the right place in your new estimate.
All that data is sortable and searchable in Sigma. Remember that estimate you made last year with 10,000 square feet of Hardie board siding? You don’t have to comb through a half-dozen spreadsheets trying to track it down this year. You just put the word “Hardie” into Sigma’s search field and find it instantly. Then it’s a snap to add it to your estimate.
4. You have massive reporting options
Some software packages let you create reports based on about a half-dozen categories like labor, material, equipment, subcontractors, rentals and so on. With Sigma, you can have all the categories you want.
Then you can sort for subcategories to give owners and clients extremely detailed views of specific portions of an estimate. If a hospital contractor needs a breakdown of operating rooms and pediatric ICUs, you have the tools to create reports slicing and dicing these data categories.
You can also create alternates — scenarios that help the owner compare costs with different products and materials. So, it’s quick and easy to tell how much it’ll cost to upgrade the floor tile from vinyl to ceramic or slate.
5. You can future-proof your skill set
Sigma integrates with PlanSwift for takeoff, Autodesk Revit for 5D BIM and the RSMeans construction database for the latest cost and materials information. We also can integrate Sigma into popular platforms like Microsoft Office and programs for ERP, accounting and document management.
Even if you don’t need these high-end functions for the estimates you build today, you probably will in the future. With Sigma, you’re always plugged into the latest waves of technology. That keeps you a step ahead of the competition.
See how Sigma works in this 30-minute webinar
Bill Carey hosted a webinar in November 2018 that explained the main attractions of Sigma Estimates. Click this link to check it out.
Click here if you want to try Sigma – it’s free and with no obligations (but we know you’ll like it).
According to McKinsey, the global construction industry can boost productivity on projects by some 50-60%. For General Contractors aiming at leapfrogging to a more efficient construction paradigm, the partnership between BIMobject® and Sigma Estimates delivers a promises tangible value.
End-to-end BIM is more than WHAT we build. To deliver on the BIM promise of efficiency, resource optimization and quality, the process must support HOW we build. Which means that the BIM/VDC process must move from the conceptual and design phase and into preconstruction and field execution.
In this new territory for full BIM execution, the contractor needs data for Planning, Purchasing, Sub Contracting, Cost Management and information for Project Close Out. If the cost estimator is using a tool like Sigma, integrated with for example Autodesk BIM360 or Revit, all the above data are available at-a-click.
This way of working with full 5D BIM represents a potential for significant productivity improvement. And for many in the construction industry, this represents a revolution in efficiency and transparency. But it is a readily available solution, already implemented in several large and small construction companies.
But the train is only just gaining speed – the partnership between BIMobject and Sigma Estimates, offers a potential revolution in productivity, by putting the cost estimator front-and-center in disrupting the efficiency of the construction industry!
The estimator holds the key to the company safe. Getting bids right makes your career; getting them wrong gets you fired. And sometimes ends the life of the company. Yet studies show that many estimators could complete proposals 35-40% faster and more accurate with better tools. Why is it then, that estimators don’t use better tools?
Managers in construction need to get their estimators off excel. Easier said than done – but definitely possible. Staying with Excel simply creates too many (stupid) mistakes, hinders transparency, forces mind numbing reentry of data and has absolutely no automation or integration opportunity. It is a dead end. Move on or move over.
But how does one approach the process of changing tools in the estimating department? How do you specify demands for the new tools?
Read all of this and more in our new article on ENR.com.
We have spoken with Matthew Morck of Oakwood Contractors to learn more about how they have built an efficient estimation workflow to deliver the highest level of quality working with commercial construction clients under specific schedules and tight deadlines.
Founded in 1982, Oakwood Contractors, Inc. is a Chicago-area contractor that primarily specializes in carpentry for commercial, retail, and healthcare projects. Past projects include the Chicago Bulls and Blackhawks locker room installation and a gut/remodel of the eleventh floor of Chicago’s Willis Tower.
Oakwood sets itself aside from competitors in the construction industry by their focus on building long-lasting relationships. They have achieved extremely low staff turnover, with the average employee tenure at the firm lasting 15 years and they pride themselves on maintaining a relentless attention to detail. Those attributes make their way into every aspect of the business, including the choice of third-party software used to build an efficient workflow.
Oakwood leverages Sigma for estimating because of the significant man-hours saved, features like templates and quick libraries, and the short learning curve.
“It’s so adaptable and easy to use. It pays for itself with one job.”
Why Choose Sigma?
Oakwood continues to use Sigma because it eliminates the math involved with making estimates and hereby removes the possibility of errors herein. “It does the math for you and that definitely saves a lot of man-hours,” Matt said. “You just have to put in the project numbers and then it does all the calculations for you. Hourly wages, material costs, carpentry costs, you can put whatever you have to pay along with the markup for whatever job you’re doing and it tells you the total.”
Support and Features
“I like that I can see my summary, my labors, and my materials. Sigma can break down my labor into hours per line item per category. It can separate it all,” Matt explained, highlighting some of the features he likes the most in Sigma. “I use the templates all the time. We set up a template to use for our estimating and it has all the categories already separated. We’re able to drag and drop the parts we’re doing into each category.” Additionally, he points out how he saves time by using quick libraries. “That’s super nice to have. I like that I’m able to set up a quick library where I can type something in and it’ll already be there. It can streamline the rest of your project.”
Would Oakwood Contractors Recommend Sigma?
“Of course,” Matt said. “For someone to learn it quickly to be able to do their job, it’s definitely possible. If you really want an easy and still comprehensive software to use, this is something I’d recommend.” Matt explained the value of the time he’s saved using Sigma. “For a commercial contracting business, it’s something that I think definitely is cost effective. It pays for itself with one job.”