Over his long home building career, Brooks has worked for several companies, including his own, that have operated on systems using off-the-shelf software. His knock against such systems, he says, is that the companies using them have to conform to the software, instead of the other way around; and that this software generally consists of accounting packages that focus on the tail end of a customer transaction instead of its beginning: sales leads. Brooks’ interest in developing software on his own dates back to the 1970s, when he purchased a TRF 80 computer from Radio Shack and wrote software for it that allowed him to reduce the time it took to project cash flow to three hours from three days.
At Grand Homes, he’s worked with a number of software providers with differing results. He recalls one to which he paid $85,000 for a software package it delivered a year late, and then the product failed “five minutes” into Brooks’ testing it.
About 18 months ago, Brooks began developing his own operational software, which starts with the premise that what appears on the computer screen must visually replicate the document being processed.
He’s convinced that proprietary software is the only way to go, but admits that what he’s come up with so far isn’t “holistic,” in that it doesn’t link all of Grand’s departments yet. Marketing, online leads, traffic, and sales are integrated. And he’s currently communicating with noncompetitive builders—including Betenbough Homes, Keystone Custom Homes, and Signature Homes—to expand his software’s capacity to manage production and construction.
In his 35 years in the business, Gebes says he’s seen every variation of proprietary software. His conclusion is that “custom systems don’t work. They are cost prohibitive. They are myopic. And if your IT guy gets hit by a truck, you’re basically done” because, he explains, proprietary software doesn’t come with the tech support of a reliable service provider available 24/7. To illustrate his point, Gebes points to several builders that have developed proprietary software: One invested $5 million into a system that he says BuilderMT could have installed for $150,000. Another builder hasn’t updated its proprietary software since switching to it six years ago.
Gebes notes that as builders get larger, particularly through acquisition, they tend to jerry-rig systems with customized software. “Many of these systems are now antiquated,” he observes.
Gebes says BuilderMT and its competitors can customize software to the needs of any size builder. Over the years, his own company has enhanced its software to include Web-based bidding, 3D computer-aided design, multimarket scheduling, and integration with accounting packages from three leading software providers. Recently it added a superintendent portal and an iPad app.
Builders’ greatest deficiency, regardless of what software they choose, is that “they don’t know what they don’t know,” says Gebes—meaning they haven’t fully grasped the potential capabilities of their systems. Consequently, he asserts that builders need the support of companies like BuilderMT to educate them on their systems’ functions. “We provide them with a cookbook for success.”