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Why Electronic Documents and Plan Rooms are Killing Subcontractors

Posted By Phil Tournor, Friday, April 6, 2018

Each year or two, our Chapter administers a great program with the above title.   The purpose is to show the general contractors and other professionals the good and the bad regarding electronic documents.  Electronic documents, of course, are the norm, as opposed to 10 years ago (in fact I can’t remember the last time a job came out in paper form only).  There is plenty to like about electronic documents, such as on-screen takeoff, less paper, and the ability to edit and outline, which make it much easier to ask questions about the bid documents.   However, the drawbacks are also numerous.  After doing a time study of a typical day, my time actually estimating is quite staggering.   I found that 20-25% of the day is in meetings, phone calls, bid solicitations, etc., but 40% of my day is devoted to emails, downloading, and filing bid documents and addendum.   With that being said, I am left with approximately 30% of the day performing actual estimating and take-off functions. 


Subcontractors, like our firm, do not hire a support person for the estimating department, so all the administration duties are our responsibility.   The other thing that is of concern, is many of the general contractors that solicit us for a bid have their own plan room that require time to learn and for set-up of an account.  Some of these contractors bid projects in our city once or twice, so much time is invested on set-up of an account for only a one-time use.    Depending on the system utilized, it can require considerable time to learn; and the worse thing is when you sign up for an account, your information is given to a sales person that will hound you with calls for a paid subscription.   Luckily for us, we have a dedicated server for estimating.  Prior to this, we couldn’t download large files and run our accounting system at the same time.   So for smaller companies, a server is quite an expense.   Also, housekeeping and upkeep are time consuming tasks, as well.   Deleting and cleaning up the server of old files can take as long as the original download.   Our server has roughly 700 jobs that we have not cleaned out, and we heard that the backup that we run every night is taking way too long.


To conclude, electronic plan rooms are great for the construction industry; but we have reached an information overload of sorts that takes away from what we are supposed to do as professional estimators.


Phil Tournor, CPE

Certification Committee

Tags:  certification 

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Comments on this post...

Greg Williamson says...
Posted Sunday, April 22, 2018
Phil, those are great points. i'm particularly interested to hear from others about the % of time spent away from the essential business driver - which is producing the estimate itself. the information age is burying us in a seemingly endless stream of emails and information transfers, and less and less time to produce the estimating product to meet the short deadlines.
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