Construction Estimating Software: A Summary of the Pros & Cons Associated with Digital Construction Bidding

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The evolution of the construction industry over the past two decades has seen the rapidly increasing use of all-inclusive construction estimating software suites as an integral component in the overall construction project management mix. Software suites such as ProEst® and WinEstimator have aided project managers by streamlining and coordinating aspects of the biding process that were previously conducted and compiled independently. These programs organize quotes, data, and scheduling information, into one convenient and easily manageable dashboard. Additionally, these software suites oftentimes incorporate Building Information Modeling (BIM) or Building Performance Analysis utilities utilizing a Six-Sigma approach which helps design, manage, and evaluate energy efficient and sustainable construction projects. The following case study is designed to discuss the pros and cons associated with the use of construction estimating software suites and make a case for why these software suites can be an invaluable tool for construction project managers in developing energy efficient and environmentally sustainable structures. 

Sustainability Impacts

As resources (whether natural, human, or economic by nature) become increasingly sparse, and as demand for said resources increases, the need for sustainable construction and BIM practices will continue to increase in demand (Boyd, 2013). According to Azhar, Brown, and Farooqui (2008), “It is estimated that buildings account for nearly 40% of all energy consumption in the United States, and account for nearly 40% of global carbon dioxide emissions” (p. 1). With rising international concern over global climate change, energy conservation, and pollution, construction project managers who wish to present an image of environmental stewardship and expertise in sustainable building practices have found construction bidding software packages with BIM/BPA utilities built-in to be an effective tool (Azhar et al., 2008). Furthermore, many states and countries have adopted green legislation which mandate that construction firms adhere to sustainable and energy efficient building practices which supersede the firm’s own internal ethical obligations and profit-driven motives to do so (Azhar et al., 2008). Fortunately, BIM based analysis software utilities such as EcoTec™ and GBS™, which are included in many current construction bidding software suites, have proven effective not only in achieving their established objective (increasing efficiency/reducing energy consumption), but also in helping construction project managers maintain compliance with green legislation in a cost effective and efficient manner (Boyd, 2013). BIM analysis has emerged as an overwhelming positive element from construction estimating software suites. 

Efficiency vs. Expertise (Additional Pros & Cons)

As referenced previously, one of the most notably well-received aspects of construction bidding software suites is their ability to streamline the collection, extrapolation, and interpretation of data submitted by many of the parties involved in the building process (i.e. architects, engineers, city planners/zoning boards, electricians, plumbers, etc.). The programs have been so influential that the role of the construction management and planning has evolved drastically, in that, rather than being an ever-present on-site coordinator overseeing many of the inspections and building processes, the project manager now operates from a more centralized position, utilizing a software suite to coordinate/organize the bidding process, schedule crucial processes, and ensuring the overall efficiency of the project (Boyd, 2013). The time and money project managers save by bidding on materials and equipment digitally, as well as managing human resources, has been an unquestionable advantage of utilizing these software programs. 

Critics of construction bidding software suites argue that an overreliance on these programs can lead to an environment where the human element and transfer of expert-level knowledge from architects, engineers, electricians, and project foreman’s is de-emphasized, and that centralized construction project managers are out of touch with what is happening on the actual building site. As with any industry, managing a construction project carries many unexpected costs/variable expenses which a computer program simply cannot account for with 100% accuracy. For example, a seasonal storm in Oregon may cause delays and increased costs in the transportation and acquisition of lumber. This is where many argue that experience, expertise, and the ability of humans to adapt to varying market environments are superior to anything a software package can reproduce, and that efficiency and accuracy gained digitally can just as easily be lost due to a miscalculation attributed to a program’s rigidity.

Conclusion

In summary, construction bidding software suites have advanced efficiency and cost saving methodologies exponentially within the industry. Construction project managers are now free to manage all aspects of a building project (compliance, payroll/human resource, materials, equipment, scheduling, and accounting) efficiently from an easily manageable dashboard. Furthermore, these programs have made sustainable and environmentally responsible building practices more manageable and effective. While critics of these programs argue that expert-level knowledge and a hands-on management approaches are oftentimes sacrificed in favor of efficiency and centralization, these programs ultimately provide end-users with sufficient benefit that they are extremely likely to continue growing in terms of popularity, and are likely to continue evolving in terms of effectiveness. 

References

Azhar, S., Brown, J., & Farooqui, R. (2008). BIM-based Sustainability Analysis: An Evaluation of Building Performance Analysis Software. Retrieved from: http://ascpro.ascweb.org/chair/paper/CPRT125002009.pdf

Boyd, D. (2013). ARCOM Doctoral Workshop on BIM Management and Interperability. Retrieved from http://www.arcom.ac.uk/-docs/workshops/2013-06-20_Birmingham.pdf#page=51