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Selecting Construction Software:
You're better at IT than you think

By Don Fornes

If you are like most construction executives, you don't view yourself as a software technology expert. In fact, you probably approach new information technology (IT) projects with trepidation and hand them off to the back-office staff or third-party consultants. This is an understandable fear, and one of the reasons why the construction industry lags behind others in software technology adoption.
The good news is that you probably already have the experience you need to change your company's success with IT because the same skills that make for effective construction estimating and project management can be applied to software selection. Just like laying a new foundation, selecting software requires a detailed set of plans, an accurate budget and meticulous project management.
There are many reasons IT projects fail, but we've isolated what we believe are the top four:
• limited budgeting and planning
• the wrong team for the job
• poor requirements planning
• lack of a rigorous selection process

Ten steps to successful software selection
These clear steps should guide construction companies through a successful, efficient selection process.
1 Assemble the right team. Start with an executive-level project sponsor to ensure the project gets the right funding and attention. Next, assemble a team of a project manager responsible for all details of the project, an IT staff if available, and end-users that will contribute their requirements and ideas.
2 Establish clear goals for the project. All choices throughout the project should be weighed according to how well they help achieve goals such as "Develop more accurate estimates" or "Improve coordination between the field and the office."
3 Build a detailed project schedule. The next step is to create a project schedule that outlines all the major activities and their sub-tasks. Be sure to assign an owner to each activity and task, and to monitor progress with an Excel spreadsheet or Gantt chart.
4 Create a budget for the project. For a successful project, it is critical to have an accurate budget to work against. Be sure to account for costs outside of the software itself, such as new computer hardware required to run the software.
5 Define your requirements. As the most important step in the entire process, define your functional and technical requirements for the new system. Consider a simple list of features, as well as a thoughtful analysis of "current" versus "optimal" business processes.
6 Draft a Request for Proposal (RFP) and Evaluation Framework. The RFP will take the form of a list of questions, critical features, and technical requirements that can be sent to software vendors for their response. The evaluation framework spreadsheet should track each product's capabilities relative to your requirements, as illustrated in the table on opposite page.
7 Develop a short list of products. Create a "short list" of three to five software products by answering questions such as: Does the company serve your specific trade and business size? Do they meet your technology requirements and present a professional image?
8Evaluate short list products. Using the feature-by-feature scores and the weightings for each requirement, rule out any product that falls short of your most critical requirements. After prioritizing the others according to their performance across all of your criteria, select one that you feel is best, and one runner-up.
9 Check customer references. Do your "due diligence" by checking the winning vendor's customer references. To offset "cherry picking" of their happiest customers, require at least three references and prepare a detailed list of questions that require specific answers.
10 Negotiate the deal. In determining the final price, consider key areas such as: what type of license does the vendor offer; how is the software priced; and, what are the maintenance and support policies. As a rule of thumb, the larger the check you write, the more room for negotiation.
Software selection is not easy and should never be considered a second-tier project. The right software, implemented properly, can have a major positive effect on your business. Follow these guidelines and you will be on your way to IT project success.

Don Fornes is president and founder of RiverGuide, Inc., a Web site dedicated to helping construction businesses research and select software applications. E-mail Don at don@riverguideinc.com or visit us for Construction Software at www.softwareadvice.com/construction/.

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