Over the years, the process of takeoff and estimation has gone through an evolution, with each step of the process making it easier as time has passed. However, no step of the process has shown such promise as the current evolution, which provides significant advantages over those used in the past. But what came before and what advances have been made over time? Here are some of the methods used in the past and how they compare to today's advanced options.
The Evolution of Digital Takeoff Software
Traditional Estimation Methods
The original methods used to create the takeoffs for projects involved paper and ink. Manual blueprints were marked up carefully, using highlighters, colored pencils or similar marking instruments, requiring care to avoid accidentally concealing the plans markings, as the expense of printing additional copies of the blueprints could be prohibitive, especially to subcontractors bidding only one part of the project. Lengths were measured using wheels, with all the counts and measurements recorded either in list format or later, on a pre-printed worksheet.
The advent of the computer age and networking allowed for delivery of the blueprints via PDF, allowing a contractor to print multiple copies of the blueprints. This made it less expensive to obtain copies of the blueprints, so less care was taken in marking up the blueprints and multiple people on the team could work on the takeoff, a boon for large projects. However, the takeoff count was still recorded on paper, until some enterprising individual began using Excel spreadsheets to record the count and calculate the material costs of the project.
First Generation Digital/Onscreen Takeoff Software
The use of Excel with a PDF blueprint became somewhat commonplace, with some contractors continuing to use it even today. But it wasn't very long before the formulas in the spreadsheet program became terribly complex, and an accidental change could make all the difference between making a profit and losing money on the project. Added to that the fact that many contractors didn't have the time to learn how to take advantage of the software, and it wasn't terribly long before it came to the attention of computer developers.
This first generation of takeoff software included a number of different packages, including PlanSwift, eTakeoff, ConEst, Accubid, Sage and TurboBid. These packages combined the best benefits of PDF blueprints and Excel spreadsheet calculations, and did so in a fashion that allowed the layman to take advantage of the technology. It allowed the blueprints to be observed and counted within the same package, saving time and effort in switching between multiple windows. Formulas for calculating job costing were built in to the system as well, making it much easier to determine the final estimate on costs.
However, many of these software options still had their drawbacks. To determine updated costs, either the contractor had to call around to get updated pricing or pay the additional subscription fees some of these services later charged to research and deliver these prices. These packages were also provided as local installations, allowing them to be used on the individual computer or network. Though this made them available offline, it also meant that any data stored on them could be lost in the event of a hard drive or system crash. It also made it very difficult to access and update the information on the go, requiring long hours spent in the office or additional personnel hired to take up those tasks.
Cloud Era Takeoff Software
The drawbacks of the first-generation takeoff software were especially problematic as our society and industry began relying more strongly on mobile technology. Suddenly, instead of being tied to a specific location and computer, blueprints could be viewed on a tablet on the job site. Contractors could receive information about project changes on their phone while visiting relatives across the country or around the world. Increased availability of mobile data demands a better solution than remaining stuck at the office.
Cloud-based takeoff software provides a wide range of advantages over first-generation takeoff software. By simply logging into your account, you instantly have access to all of your information, allowing you to check on a project from virtually any location. The growing popularity of open source software has led to compatibility and cross-platform options, such as exporting your estimated prices into your accounting system. The advent of analytics and higher levels of computing power allows contractors to analyze jobs, determining what factors lead to the most profitable projects for the company. Automatically-updated cost databases completely remove the burden of price-finding from the contractor to the software company.
Comparison of Takeoff Software Options
So where do the evolved versions of the first-generation takeoff software packages fall compared to a takeoff software developed specifically for the cloud?
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