Efficiency on the jobsite through integrated software solutions
Viewpoint Software brings a blend of office and field products to help contractors with increased efficiency and lower costs
Forty years is a long time, and a lot can change over four decades when it comes to technology. Many construction software companies have come and gone during that time. One, though, has been operating for those full four decades and today continues to expand its offerings for contractors aiming to improve their efficiency and operations.
Viewpoint Software started in the mid-1970s and has been focused on construction software right from the start. "We are single-mindedly focused on the construction industry," said Matt Harris, Chief Products Officer for Viewpoint.
While many companies have a portfolio of software that stretches across a number of industry sectors, diluting their focus instead of being targeted on one area of expertise, Viewpoint has maintained their focus on the construction business.
Early on, Viewpoint targeted its products to enterprise resource planning (ERP). ERP software has taken the place of many management tools previously used in office environments, allowing businesses to integrate a variety of products for collection, storage, management and interpretation of data. Viewpoint offered support for companies that were starting to incorporate computers into their operational and financial management, Harris said. That focus hasn't changed, with ERP still a large part of the offerings that Viewpoint brings to the market. However, it's become only one part of a larger whole.
"We've developed ERP platforms and acquired and merged best-in-class ERP products with our own to create a formidable portfolio of ERP solutions," Harris said. "Recently, we've recognized that for contractors to realize true value in automation of their businesses, you can't stop with the processes that they're managing in the back office. You can't stop with managing and automating things like purchasing, payroll and contract management. You need to extend that automation, extend some of the value of the workflows to work in a project team, to work with subcontractors, architects, engineers and owners, and all the others who may be participating as part of a project on a broader scale."
Developing construction collaboration
Viewpoint's vision of truly collaborative software began with its Vista solution. This is a powerful, easily configurable and scalable platform used to build a system based on the customer's requirements That allows the customer to manage their entire system out of an office solution.
"When we attach a collaborative project management system to that, we immediately take all of the information you have in your system and pre-populate the project with that information," Harris explained. "All the contacts and people are set up, your equipment is ready, project phases are there, and your organizational structure and business units are set up."
Not only are the various applications ready to launch right off the bat, they also tie in to Vista and share information back and forth with ease, reducing the amount of reporting work that crew members are required to do on a daily basis.
"All that information is captured in our cloud-based application, then . . . written into logs kept within Vista so that you can report on them," Harris said. "If you want to capture information on the jobsite, we enable our mobile applications to capture information around crew time collection, equipment, material consumption - you name it. When you capture that information it writes that back into the office."
Staff on the jobsite are able to share details from the jobsite to the office, allowing executives to see how things are going and if there are issues to be dealt with. That can reduce the time frame for adjustments that might be needed, improving overall efficiency.
Building a suite of solutions
Viewpoint strengthened its ERP portfolio in 2017 when it acquired another major player in the construction software market, Dexter + Chaney. Harris noted that Dexter + Chaney's Spectrum ERP gives Viewpoint a well-rounded suite of solutions to meet the needs of all market segments.
Viewpoint's Vista solution appeals to larger contractors looking for configurability. The web-based Spectrum software is well-suited for mid-sized contractors and specialty subcontractors, while ProContractor is an ideal solution for smaller contractors moving off of home-grown systems or non-construction-specific software like Quickbooks.
Products like the browser-based collaborative project management solution, Viewpoint Team, aim to improve collaboration inside and outside of the construction organization by connecting teams in the office with subcontractors, suppliers, field operators and more to improve planning, coordination and project control, Harris said.
For users seeking productivity management, a product called Viewpoint Field Time that allows collection of time and productivity results from the jobsite can be added to the mix. The company's Viewpoint Field View helps resolve issues, reduce risk and improve the quality of products with accurate processes in the field.
Today's software users are looking for products that work both in the office and out in the field. Not everyone who needs access works in the field and can drop by the office to check a plan or work order.
"You need to give people on the jobsite the tools and mobility solutions they need to manage their projects, review and approve things, ask questions and get things done," Harris said.
More contractors in the construction industry are realizing the potential benefits of technology to their business and recognizing the vast number of applications available to them.
"Having good job cost forecasting tools, having tools that give them visibility into project management, material consumption, equipment utilization and similar data helps them manage their business much better," Harris said. "The category is becoming well established and people recognize they can use software to make a difference.
The proliferation of mobile technology has driven software development towards the Cloud, allowing users to take advantage of their devices in bringing data to the jobsite or wherever they may be located.
"Cloud-based platforms are great for two reasons: first, it's really easy to create a browser-based application that an entire project team can use - anyone can log into a browser and get access to a project management application . . . it also allows contractors to focus more on their business, which is building structures, bridges or highways, as opposed to managing IT," said Harris.
At the same time, those mobile applications can be a challenge to manage if the user is combining multiple platforms to achieve their goals. When users need to provide the same information repeatedly to operate several different apps, the time savings drops quickly. Integration with a core application is the best way to ensure that doesn't happen, Harris said.
"We ensure that mobile applications are highly and tightly integrated to the core application itself. If it's a mobile app for field productivity, then we make sure the time capture, the equipment management and material utilization is all tied into the job cost system you're using in the office," he said. "So, if you enter information around equipment utilization in the field, that's being tracked by the financial people in the office."
Viewpoint provides products that are integration-ready right out of the box, Harris noted. That cuts down on the time needed to get a system up and running.
"If the customer has Vista or Spectrum and they want to add on a field time collection application or collaborative project management tool, we can set that up within a day, and often within a few hours," Harris said. "There is some training on the applications, which are easy to use, and then the customer is off and running. Buying from disparate vendors, attaching various applications and getting set up can often take weeks or months if you're trying to stitch it all together yourself. That's a real benefit we can provide - we can integrate everything, and it gets up and running."
One of the measurements of success for software is the return on investment that the buyer experiences. Viewpoint's solutions improve efficiency quickly and easily, Harris said, and that translates into positive movement for the bottom line.
"Customers using our integrated solutions had 30 percent fewer project delays because they had more visibility on the overall project status. They had 30 percent fewer cost overruns, again because they had more visibility and they were managing costs and their projects more closely," Harris said. "Overall, they have had about three percent higher operating margins because they were more efficient. In a business where operating margins can be eight percent, a three percent improvement is really magnificent."
Financial and project predictability is the future
Beyond the cloud and mobile development of software solutions, the construction industry is starting to adopt emerging technologies like drones. Viewpoint has followed the industry into that area with a partnership recently announced with DroneDeploy to develop software that can integrate drone imagery into its products.
"With our cloud-based platforms, it's really easy to integrate information from various information sources like drones," Harris said. "About a year ago, we read some data that said construction was the second-fastest adopter of drone technologies of any industry. I've been in the construction software industry for about seven years now and I've never heard construction to be the fastest or second-fastest adopter of any technology."
Using drones for jobsite mapping and progress reporting and incorporating that information into the overall system is just the first step in sticking with new technology moving forward, Harris noted. He projected that predictive technology may be the next big move for Viewpoint and the construction software sector.
"What causes one job to be more profitable than another, from a job cost perspective? You can start looking at influencing factors, and when you do that you can become more predictive," he said. "You can then do that across the board - you can do it with financial predictability or project predictability. That, I think, is the future."